It’s January, which means it’s time to focus on your New Year’s resolutions. Many of us decide to set ourselves new fitness goals, but in reality, very few of us actually stick to them. This is often because our goals are unrealistic, or too vague. Whether you want to improve your fitness, lose weight or train for an event, setting SMART fitness goals can help you succeed.

Discover 9 Ways to Stick to Your New Year's Fitness Resolutions.

What are SMART fitness goals?

S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym to remind you to set goals that are more specific and relevant to you. These goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. Setting fitness goals using this method will mean that you have realistic, achievable goals to work towards. This is essential in order to progress and improve, so you’re more likely to stay motivated and reach your goals.

S - Specific

The more specific you are with your goals, the more likely you are to achieve them. An overall goal may be to “get healthy”, but you need to break it down so it’s easier to manage. For example, you may want to lose weight, exercise more or stop smoking, which can all contribute to a healthier lifestyle.

M - Measurable

If your goal is to lose weight, then you need to be able to track your progress. How will you know when you’ve reached your goal? Making your goal measurable means adding a number.

A - Achievable

Make sure your goal is possible to achieve, otherwise you’ll probably end up losing motivation. Likewise, a goal that’s too easy is also not very beneficial. Before you can add a number, you need to decide what’s right for you. So you might decide that you want to lose 5lbs, for example.

R - Relevant

Set goals that are important to you and your lifestyle. You’ll be more inclined to work towards them, and you’ll feel a greater sense of achievement once you’ve reached your goal. Choosing a goal which doesn’t suit you and your current lifestyle will be harder to reach. For example, you may want to lose weight, but saying you’re going to go to the gym five times a week if you hate the gym, is sure to make you fall at the first hurdle.

T - Time-bound

You need to set a time frame in which you’d like to achieve your goal. Knowing you have a deadline will motivate you to get going. For example, you could set yourself a goal to lose 5lbs in 4 weeks. Without setting a time frame, you could just be plodding along, not really knowing how well/badly you’re doing. And a short term goal can soon become a long term goal.

What are the benefits of SMART fitness goals?
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Setting yourself SMART fitness goals lets you focus on what you really want to achieve. They can motivate you and will help you to stay on track to achieve bigger goals. Here are some of the other benefits of using this method to set goals:

  • Your goals will be clear and precise
  • You can put plans into place
  • Large goals can be broken down into smaller ones
  • You can complete one goal at a time
  • It’s easier to identify missed targets
  • Easier to see what success could look like
  • You can celebrate both small and big achievements

SMART is a well-respected approach to goal setting, and it can be a great tool for determining personal as well as professional goals.

Are there any disadvantages of SMART fitness goals?

If you don’t use SMART correctly, it could potentially stop you from achieving your goals and have an effect on your mental health and wellbeing. Some of the drawbacks to using this method for setting your goals are:

  • You could become too competitive
  • Putting too much pressure on yourself
  • Feeling of failure for not hitting goals
  • Setting unhelpful goals
  • Overly ambitious approach
  • Stress caused by a fast-paced and time-bound environment

You need to be enthusiastic about the goals you set, but try not to let it become an addiction as it could have a negative impact on other aspects of your life. It’s a good idea to have a break between goals, and concentrate on one thing at once.

SMART fitness goals examples

Now you know what SMART is, and why it’s a useful method to follow when setting your fitness goals, we’re going to go through a couple of examples. They’ll help you understand exactly how each point plays a part in setting fitness goals, and maybe they’ll give you some inspiration to set your own goals. Just remember, each of your goals must include all five parts of the SMART acronym.

Short term fitness goals are a great way to start. Achieving them can help build your confidence, and it can also be part of a larger plan for achieving a long term goal. A short term goal would typically take a few days to a month to achieve.

Short term fitness goals example

“By the end of the month, I will have cut out all fizzy drinks to effectively reduce my sugar and calorie intake, so I can lose some weight without cutting down on food”.

Fizzy drinks contain a lot of ‘empty calories’, meaning they provide nothing of value to your body beyond calories which lead to weight gain. So cutting out fizzy drinks could have a big impact on your waistline and your overall health. If you’re someone who normally consumes several fizzy drinks a day, it can be very difficult to go cold turkey. Instead, it’s best to phase them out over a few weeks.

On week 1, try reducing the number of fizzy drinks you have in a day by 1. The second week, reduce by another 1, until you get to a point where you’re not drinking fizzy drinks anymore. If half-way through you feel you need that extra sugar fix, try drinking a low-calorie drink, lemon water, sparkling water or tea. Or maybe eat some fruit, which is an essential part of a healthy diet, and may aid weight loss. Most fruits are low in calories while high in nutrients and fibre, which can boost your fullness.

Long term goals are more difficult to achieve because they require more time and effort. To make them more achievable, you should break them down into smaller goals and plans.

Long term fitness goals example

“I want to lose 2 stone in weight (28lbs) in the next 7 months, in time for my wedding”.

Losing 28lbs in 7 months is just under a pound a week. In the beginning, your weight loss will likely be higher than this, and in the end, it will be lower. To achieve your goal, you will need to burn around 500 calories more than you consume each day, through a lower calorie diet and regular exercise.

Try cutting out snacks in between meals, or how about going to the gym or for a run three times a week? Or consider walking instead of taking a bus to the shops to squeeze in a bit of extra exercise. Weigh yourself once a week to check progress, so you know whether you’re hitting your 1 pound a week target or not.

What SMART fitness goals can I set for my sport?
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Are you into cycling, or running? Or maybe you’re looking for new ways to get fit over the coming year. We’ve put together some fitness goals ideas to give you some inspiration. Break any long term goals down into smaller, actionable efforts. And take into account any current obligations and time-commitments before you set your goals.

5 SMART goals examples for cycling:

  1. I want to cycle 2 miles every morning before work
  2. I’m going to sign-up for and complete my first charity bike ride by the end of the year
  3. I want to cycle for 1 hour every week for 3 months
  4. I will aim to ride 365 miles this year (a mile a day)
  5. I want to use my spinning bike for 20 minutes a day for the next month

5 SMART goals examples for swimming:

  1. I want to swim 10 lengths of the pool without stopping by July
  2. I want to go swimming at least once a week for the next 3 months
  3. I want to win my next swimming race
  4. I want to improve by PB in the 200m breaststroke
  5. I want to maintain my arm speed and stroke rate in the last lap of the race

5 SMART goals examples for running:

  1. I want to run the London Marathon before I’m 40
  2. I want to run 10k without stopping before the end of the year
  3. I want to run twice a week for at least 30 minutes, every week
  4. I want to beat my PB by 10 seconds at my next 10k race
  5. I want to run on the treadmill for 20 minutes each morning for a month

Ready to tackle new running goals? Read more specific tips on how to choose a running training schedule.

5 SMART goals examples for general fitness:

  1. I want to lose a stone before my holiday in May
  2. I want to try a new sport or physical activity every month this year
  3. I want to complete my first 5k run in August
  4. I want to exercise for 45 minutes every day for 6 weeks
  5. I want to do a different exercise video workout at home every day for the next 2 weeks

If you’re trying to get into the habit of being more active, it’s important to consider how often you should exercise to get the most out of it.

Whether you’re looking for a new challenge, fun ways to improve your fitness or ways to help you succeed in your sport, remember to think SMART, and set yourself manageable short term goals to help you get to where you want to be.

Can setting SMART goals improve your mental health?
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Not only can working towards SMART goals help you improve your physical health, they can improve your mental health too. Having a clear focus can allow you to take control, and let you live your life the way you want to live it.

Let’s take a look at some quick tips for setting SMART goals for depression and anxiety to create a positive lifestyle. Just ensure you use SMART correctly, and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. And of course, make sure you celebrate your achievements to reward yourself for a job well done, no matter how big or small.

Set both long- and short-term goals

You can manage your long-term goals better if you break them down into short-term goals. So, while your long-term goal might be to repair a strained relationship with an old friend, a short-term goal could be to spend time reflecting on what went wrong, before sending them a message.

Make your goals personal

Before writing your goals, identify why you’re doing it. Don’t make goals based on what other people (or society) is saying. You should make them personal to you. Your goals should come from your own values and your vision for your future, especially when it comes to your mental wellbeing.

Use others for support

Reach out for encouragement from your friends and family while you’re working towards your goals. You might find you work best with an accountability partner to keep you on track. You can check in with them on a regular basis to ensure you’re making progress, and it will also give you someone to celebrate your successes with.

Can SMART goals be used in other parts of life?

SMART is an effective tool that provides the clarity, focus and motivation you need to achieve your goals. It can improve your ability to succeed by encouraging you to think about what you really want to achieve and by when. Anyone can use SMART goals, and they can be used in all areas of life. Maybe you’ve always dreamed of travelling around the world but time or money has stopped you. Or perhaps your goal is too vague. Breaking this long term goal into smaller goals will make it seem less daunting, and more achievable. Say you’ll travel to three new countries a year. Or that you’ll put aside £50 per week for the next two years to put towards your big trip. Help make your travel plans a reality by setting specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound goals.

Or perhaps you’ve decided you want to get a new job by the end of the year. Think about how you’re going to achieve it by breaking your goal down into smaller short term goals. You can decide that you’re going to update your CV by the end of the week. Then you’re going to apply for at least five jobs a week for the next three weeks. Or if you feel you’re lacking in certain skills, you can commit to completing three online courses in the next six months.

It doesn’t matter what New Year’s resolutions you’ve set for yourself, using the SMART method to set short term goals will give you a greater chance of sticking to them past Easter. Small achievements will help to build your confidence, and they can form part of a larger goal. And whether you’ve decided to stop smoking, lose weight or you fancy a career change, SMART goals can help you stay focused and keep you on track.