How to Set SMART Goals

How To Set SMART Goals

How to Set SMART Goals

“I want to lose 25 pounds by my birthday.”

I did quick math when Madeline made that declaration during our goal-setting session. Her birthday was just shy of two months away. To reach that weight, she would have to lose an average of three pounds per week. In theory, it was doable. Doable, but not healthy, sustainable, or maintainable. I’m not in the business of giving my clients a quick fix and I told her as much.

My proposal was to focus on cleaning up her diet – less fast food on the commute home, more meal prep – and establishing a regular workout routine. Her gym visits had been sporadic at best, and like the Sarah of old, she spent most of her time on the elliptical. I wanted to get her moving more and thinking about her nutrition to create a lifestyle change.

She was skeptical, but she trusted me and so we established a few SMART goals and went to work. While Madeline didn’t lose 25 pounds by her birthday, she did lose 12, several inches, saw gains in her strength, and her arms started to show definition. She was thrilled and now, she’s no longer focused on the scale, but on how her clothes fit and how she feels about herself.

SMART goals are one of the first things I read about when studying for my personal training exam. SMART goals weren’t a new concept to me – they had popped up in a few college classes – but I didn’t utilize them until I started training others.

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What is a SMART goal?

A SMART goal is a goal that is:

  • Specific
  • Measurable

  • Attainable

  • Relevant

  • Time-Bound 

SMART goals are great, particularly in the fitness realm, because they are realistic, increase the potential of adherence in working towards a goal, are motivating, and are easily trackable. Let’s break down how to set a SMART goal.


Get specific about what you’re trying to achieve. Frequently, we say our goal is to “get in shape” or “lose weight.” Those goals are broad and hard to wrestle with. When setting a SMART goal, you might say you want to run a 5K or do five 20” box jumps instead of “get in shape.”


Determine how your goal can be measured. For instance, “Lose 5lbs” or “run a mile in eight minutes” are able to be measured for progress towards the end goal.


Ask yourself if your goal is attainable. As a coach, I’ve found this is where things can get a little hairy. It’s great if a client sets a specific, measurable goal of “lose 10 pounds,” but if there is a “in two weeks” component to that, it’s not necessarily attainable. A more attainable version of that would be “lose 1-2 pounds a week for six weeks for a loss of 6-12 pounds.”


Is your goal relevant for your needs and abilities? If you have a goal of squatting 300lbs, implementing a progressive running program as a goal likely isn’t relevant for you. A routine that includes not just squats but accessory work with the goal of squat gains would be.


Determine an end point or timeline for when you want to accomplish your goal. I find it helpful to create mini goals along the way to track progress. The end date should be realistic. Going from the couch to a half marathon in six weeks isn’t feasible, but in six months? Absolutely.

One of my real-life SMART goals is to do one strict pull up. It fits into the SMART criteria as such:

  • Specific – I want to do one strict pull up.
  • Measurable – One pull up. If I get more than one, I’ll throw a champagne toast, but one is the goal for now.
  • Attainable – A strict pull up is absolutely within my reach, given my currently level of fitness and physical health.
  • Relevant – I’m a CrossFitter and a strength athlete. Pull ups are most definitely relevant in my day-to-day training.
  • Time-Bound – I want to get a pull-up by September. To do this, I’m following a pull up progression that has me advancing from level to level at regular intervals.

I set SMART goals with my clients, as well as personally. They can also be applied to other areas of life. I use them for the business side of this venture, as well as with other projects I have going on.

I’m a visual person and like to put pen to paper when goal planning, even when planning virtually for a client. Mind maps are one of my go-tos, so I created a How To Set SMART Goals mind map to sketch on. I’m sharing my SMART goals mind map for download here – and check out my new Fitness Glossary too!

What is one of your SMART goals? Tell me in the comments!

Or, if you have a broader goal you would like to make a SMART goal out of it, tell me that, too. I’ll help you out!

With that, I’m going to go work on those pull ups.

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