How to Set Fitness Goals You Feel Good About

Planet Fitness members working out on an elliptical
Regular exercise can act as a doorway to a healthy lifestyle.

by Steven Auger

So, you decided to make some life changes, and improving your fitness level is one of them. That's awesome! You survived your first day at the gym, and you even bought the proper workout shoes for training. Next up is setting some fitness goals to help you along your journey.

But first, you need to learn how to set fitness goals correctly. Here are some tips to help you do just that.

What Are Fitness Goals, Exactly?

Chances are if you're heading to the gym, you already have some goals in mind. Whatever has motivated you to join the gym in the first place — improving your health, mixing up your daily routine or meeting new people — can likely be translated into a fitness goal. For instance, you might want to hit your target blood pressure or find at least one workout buddy to keep you accountable.

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) recommends using the SMART method for setting fitness goals. "SMART" is an acronym for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.

How to Set Your Goals

It's a good idea to make your fitness goals specific. That is, they should be clear and concise as opposed to something vague such as "get healthy." Once you know your goal, it needs to be measurable. That means you should be able to chart your progress. If your goal is to run a 5K in under 30 minutes, you can chart your progress by timing yourself whenever you run.

Your goals should also be attainable. Having big dreams is great, but don't make the goal an overwhelming feat if you're just starting out. If you're a new runner, you shouldn't set a goal of running a marathon in less than three hours. Fitness goals should be relevant to what's going on in your life. Running a marathon is an admirable goal, but if you have a toddler and a newborn at home you might not be able to commit the necessary time.

Lastly, your goals should be time-bound — meaning, you've set a fixed deadline to accomplish your goal. Don't give yourself a hard time if you haven't achieved your goal by the exact date you've set. Simply setting a goal in the first place is an accomplishment in itself. Think of the deadline as something to motivate you, not torture you.

How to Achieve Your Goals

Now that you've got a few goals in mind, it's important that you approach them properly. Here are three tips for working toward those benchmarks and staying committed to your fitness journey.

1. Put Goals on Paper. Record all your fitness goals in a notebook. Use short-term goals to help you reach your long-term goal. The short-term goals can be measured on a weekly or monthly basis. If you haven't worked out in a while, don't worry about thinking too big. A short-term goal might be running three minutes on the treadmill without taking a break. This can help you achieve your ultimate goal of running 10 minutes on the treadmill.

Putting your goals on paper gives you a map to follow as you shoot for your ultimate fitness success. Measure progress toward your goal by journaling your workouts. Take note of the type of exercise, duration, repetitions and sets you perform. Write it all down. You'll be able to see your improvement as you work toward achieving your fitness goals.

2. Make Fitness Fun. Choose exercises that you'll find enjoyable and fun. You're more apt to stick to your plan if you enjoy the types of exercises you do. Having a plan to reach your goals won't mean anything unless you're excited and inspired to follow through.

3. Celebrate the Small Stuff. In order to maintain your motivation and achieve your goals, make sure you celebrate every small accomplishment. Simply making it to the gym is something to celebrate. If you find yourself pushing through an additional minute on the elliptical, you've broken through a barrier. Enjoy a well-deserved reward!

Achieving your fitness goals can work wonders for you mentally. The Mayo Clinic lists a plethora of physical benefits from exercise. You can prevent health issues like depression, type 2 diabetes, cancer and strokes. You'll likely also sleep better, have more energy, enjoy some endorphins and improve your overall mood. This is definitely something to celebrate.

Regular exercise can act as a doorway to a healthy lifestyle. And now that you know how to set fitness goals, there's no telling what you can accomplish. As always, please consult with a physician prior to beginning any exercise program. See full medical disclaimer here.