To assist you with the “Planning Ahead” strategy in this month’s Small Steps series, here’s a primer on setting fitness goals.
The SMART principle states that goals must be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound:
- Specific: Clearly state what will be accomplished.
- Measurable: Track variables to know if you’re on target as you progress.
- Attainable: Psychologically realistic & physically viable specifically for you.
- Relevant: Must match your needs, abilities and interests.
- Time-Bound: By definition, goal-setting can’t remain open-ended.
To the SMART principle I also add the necessity for planning and accountability. Planning is the strategy that you’ll use to implement your SMART goals. Accountability is important because it’s difficult to quit if you’ve recruited others to be invested in your fitness goals.
See Jane’s SMART Goals
Jane is a 50 year old mom of three school-aged children. She works part-time while her children are in school. At the end of 2016, she went to her doctor for a check-up and learned she’s pre-diabetic. The appointment also revealed she’s 20 pounds overweight. Her doctor said she can avoid full-blown diabetes through diet and exercise if she takes steps soon.
Jane has dieted and exercised on-and-off before but wasn’t able to stick to either. But the sobering news at her appointment has convinced her she needs to take control of her health. She made a 2017 New Years Resolution to start exercising and eat more healthfully to lose weight. She purchased a membership for the month of January to a local gym and vowed to give up desserts and eat more fresh produce.
Jane took a few classes at the gym the first week. The only ones offered when she had availability were crowded and felt too advanced for her. After that negative experience, she decided to workout on machines instead but, after a few workouts, she found it boring and hasn’t been back to the gym since.
She’s done a good job of eating more produce and controlling her portions. She lost a few pounds in the first few weeks. Her son celebrated a birthday in late January and she overindulged. Since then, her cravings for sweets have increased. She gained back a pound within the last week and is discouraged. She’s come to me for help.
Jane is struggling because her goals are too vague, she has no specific plan and she hasn’t set up a system of accountability. In my first meeting with her we’d set up SMART goals together and develope a strategy and accountability to support them. Here’s what Jane’s SMART goals might look like:
Specific: Jane will lose 20 pounds and lower her blood glucose level by making her diet more healthy through better food choices and portion control and exercising for a total of at least three hours each week.
Measurable: Jane will average one pound of weight-loss per week. She will weigh herself twice a week to keep tabs on her progress. Her fasting blood glucose level needs to drop 5 mg/Dl or more to fall within the normal range. She has a follow-up appointment with her doctor in six months when she’ll have another blood test done and her weight checked.
Attainable: Jane’s average of one pound of weigh-loss per week is safe and reasonable. At that rate, it’s possible for her to reach her weight-loss goal of 20 pounds when she sees her physician in six months. Her fasting blood glucose goal of a drop of 5 mg/Dl is a modest reduction and can be achieved in six months for most otherwise healthy individuals through weight-loss and exercise. Jane’s workout target is appropriate since she has 30-60 minutes on most weekdays, and more time on weekends, to devote to exercise.
- Diet: Jane likes fruits and vegetables, so the goal of substituting less healthy choices with her favorite produce is relevant. She has done research on proper portions to keep from over-indulging at meal and snack times. But, Jane’s original mistake with her New Years Resolution was depriving herself of treats which she often craves. So her new plan will include small portions of high quality sweets when she craves them.
- Exercise: A membership to a large gym isn’t a good fit for Jane. She doesn’t enjoy using cardio machines and the classes they offer when she’s available to exercise are intimidating to her. She has enjoyed dance all her life. A smaller studio in her area that offers dance-based fitness classes at a variety of levels in the mornings before work is a much better fit. In addition, Jane has a friend who’s also looking to get into an exercise routine. Jane will schedule walks with her one or two days a week. She’ll meet with me once per week. Together we’ll develop a strength training routine that she can also do on her own at home. Building muscle will help boost her metabolism to assist in weight loss.
Time-Bound: Her follow-up with her physician in six months is her goal date. Because she’s keeping tabs on her weight along the way, she can use those data points to make adjustments to her plan (such as increasing workout frequency, duration or intensity or decreasing daily calorie intake) to ensure she stays on track to reach her goal by that date.
Plan: She’ll plan meals, snacks and occasional treats for the up-coming week on the weekends. She’ll also schedule all her workouts on her calendar. Each week, we’ll evaluate together how she’s progressing, assess what is and isn’t working and make adjustments accordingly.
Accountability: Ultimately, Jane is accountable to herself for her health. But, knowing she’s also accountable to her doctor, trainer, exercise studio and walking friend is external motivation at times when her internal motivation is challenged.
In all your fitness endeavors, remember the SMART principle to strategize yourself to success.