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 add 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. She works part-time while her children are in school. She went to her doctor last year and learned she’s pre-diabetic. The appointment also revealed she’s 20 pounds overweight, according to the Body Mass Index (BMI). Her doctor said she can avoid 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 news at her appointment convinced her she needs to take control of her health. She made a New Years Resolution to start exercising and eat more healthfully to lose weight. She purchased a monthly membership in 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. The next week, she tried cardio machines instead but, after a few workouts, she found it boring and hasn’t been back since.
She’s done a good job of eating more produce and controlling her portions. Her son celebrated a birthday in February and she overindulged. Since then, her cravings for sweets have increased. She gained back the weight she lost early on 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. During our first session we’d set up SMART goals together and develop a strategy and accountability to support them.
I’d give Jane the facts about measuring her fitness level using the waist-to-hip ratio rather than the BMI. We determine her ratio is 0.80 which means she’s straddling the moderate and high risk ranges. Getting that ratio to 0.75 is a top priority to ensure any weight loss she realizes is in the form of visceral abdominal fat as opposed to decreases in lean mass (muscle and bone) or water weight.
Here’s what Jane’s SMART goals might look like:
Specific: Jane will bring her body composition to a low risk level (0.75 or less) and lower her blood glucose 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 measure and record her waist and hips once per week, on the same day and at the same time. She may also weight herself a few times in between, if she wishes, to help her stay on track and keep her motivated. 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 goal of a 0.05 drop in her waist-to-hip ratio is modest. She needs to decrease her waist measurement by less than two inches, which translates to one dress size. 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 healthy eating 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 led to cravings. So her new plan will include occasional small portions of high quality sweets.
- Exercise: A gym membership isn’t a good fit for Jane. She doesn’t enjoy using cardio machines and the classes offered when she’s available intimidate her. She’s enjoyed dance all her life. A small studio nearby that offers dance-based fitness classes at a variety of levels in the mornings before work is a much better fit. 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 fat loss.
Time-Bound: Her follow-up with her physician in six months is her goal date. Because she’s keeping tabs on her body composition 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 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. 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.