How to Set Realistic Fitness Goals

Setting fitness goals can be a tricky thing. People generally understand that they should have a clear goal in mind when they set out on a new fitness journey, but they often struggle with how to proceed. Unfortunately, without a defined purpose behind all of your hard work at the gym, your motivation and overall performance could ultimately wane. So how can you avoid all of that trouble and set helpful, practical goals for yourself? Here are some tips to help you succeed.

Be SMART

The American Council on Exercise (ACE)—and countless other related organizations—uses the acronym SMART when explaining proper goal setting. According to these guidelines, goals should be:

  • Specific. Your goal should clearly state what you want to do. Instead of saying "I want to lose weight," decide exactly how much weight you want to lose.
  • Measurable. Similarly, it's important that you have a measurable variable in mind when setting your goals. Occasionally, people decide that they want to do something general like "get fit." But what does that mean? If your goal is to lose a certain amount of weight or be able to lift a specific amount, you can easily record those numbers and track your progress.
  • Attainable. It's absolutely vital that your goals are realistic and that they can actually be accomplished.
  • Relevant. Whatever you decide to work toward needs to fit in with your other pursuits and lifestyle.
  • Time-bound. Have a deadline. This will give you an extra boost of motivation and a clear stopping point to work toward.

Consider Personal Factors

A lot of different personal factors are involved in deciding whether your fitness goals are realistic. Start by considering your starting point. If you've never exercised a day in your life, it may take you a while to work up to running a marathon. Similarly, if you're interested in getting down to a specific goal weight, think about how that relates to your current numbers and your end date.

Consider your overall lifestyle as well. How frequently can you workout? Are you able to prepare all of your meals and stick to your proposed diet? What kind of workout equipment do you have available? Will it support your goals? Is your sleep schedule and overall self-care routine set up to support this new venture? Keeping these important factors in mind will help you ensure that your fitness goals are realistic.

Set Attainable Weight-Loss Goals

How much weight can you reasonably hope to lose? Again, that will depend on your starting weight. In general, the higher your body fat percentage, the faster you'll be able to lose fat. As your body fat and weight decrease, and gradually approach healthy levels for you, your progress will slow. Generally, a modest and realistic goal would be to lose about one percent of your body weight each week. Take a look at your goal weight, and then make sure it's attainable within your planned time frame.

Stay Modest When Building Strength

If you're looking to add weight to your lifting routine, your goals should depend on your fitness level when you start. The newer you are to lifting, the faster you'll make progress. As you advance, your gains will be more subtle.

Your progress will also depend on your workout program and how often you practice your target lifts. Typically, you can expect to add at least five pounds to each lift each week. That being said, faster progress is very possible, but it's better to be modest than to push yourself too hard.

Beginner lifters should be able to gain as much as one-and-a-half percent of their total body weight each year, according to fitness expert Alan Arogon. Intermediate lifters are more likely to see yearly gains of about half a percent. Advanced athletes will likely see gains of about a quarter of a percent each year.

Follow These Running Tips

Yet again, the "beginners move faster" pattern emerges. A beginner runner will realistically be able to cut large chunks of time off their runs, while elite-level runners will struggle over fractions of a second. To get a good grasp of where you are, perform periodic time trials of one-third of your target distance.

Whether you've been dedicated to fitness for years or you're just adopting the lifestyle, setting realistic goals is important. Follow these tips as you embark on your journey, and you'll be likely to stay on track and be satisfied with your results.