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SMART Fitness Goals

Whether you’re in the fitness industry or not, you may have heard of SMART fitness goals. Standing for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound, the acronym is most commonly used as a criteria for personal trainers to set goals for their clients. 

There are a whole host of benefits to setting SMART fitness goals, but also some potential drawbacks to consider. We’ll discuss all of this and more- as well as some SMART fitness goals examples. 

Contents:

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What Are SMART Fitness Goals?

‘SMART’ is an acronym that provides a set of criteria to follow when setting goals. It stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound. 

The term is said to have been first coined in the 1980s by George T. Doran, and can be applied to goal-setting in many different contexts- including fitness. 

In the context of personal training, SMART fitness goals are simply fitness-related goals that follow the SMART criteria. Whether it's losing weight or training for a specific event, SMART fitness goals help you stay focused and motivated! 

Setting goals for your client is one of the major roles of a personal trainer. If you’re a personal trainer, using the SMART acronym is a great way to set the right goal for your client. We will explore more reasons why it is so beneficial later in this article! 

Every client will have different needs, objectives and requirements when it comes to personal training. Using the SMART criteria when setting client goals means that you can really understand what your client wants to achieve and create a more tailored programme for them. 

What Does SMART Goals Stand For In Fitness?

Now that you know what SMART goals are, let’s break down each letter, what it stands for and how you can use the criteria to set your clients’ goals.

S- Specific 

When it comes to setting a SMART fitness goal, it needs to be specific. The more specific you are with a goal, the more likely you are to achieve it! Without a specific target to aim for, how will you really know if you have achieved what you wanted to achieve?

Setting goals that are specific removes any confusion as to whether or not a goal has been achieved. Whether it’s reaching a specific bodyweight or being able to run a certain distance, a specific goal helps to mark a point at which it has been accomplished. 

For that reason, all SMART fitness goals must include a start and target figure.

Being specific with what it is you want to accomplish is the difference between "I want to lose weight", and "I want to lose 7 pounds of overall body mass". The latter is a good example of a SMART fitness goal! 

When drafting a SMART fitness goal, try to answer these 5 ‘w’ questions:

  • What does my client want to accomplish?
  • Why is this goal important?
  • Who is involved?
  • Where is it located?
  • Which resources or limits are involved? 

This kind of specificity benefits both you as a personal trainer and your client. For the PT, a specific goal makes it easier for you to track your client’s progress and know when they have achieved it. It also makes it a lot easier for you to create a tailored programme for them, as you will have a specific focus in mind when planning your PT sessions.

Setting a specific goal also benefits the client. Without a specific and quantifiable target to aim for, they are much more likely to feel demotivated and lack commitment to the programme. Setting specific SMART fitness goals helps them to focus their efforts and feel truly motivated to achieve it!

M- Measurable 

The second aspect of a SMART fitness goal is that it must be quantifiable, i.e. able to be measured. 

For example, if a client has the goal of “I want to be able to walk more”, this is not measurable as ‘more’ cannot be quantified. It can be made into a measurable SMART fitness goal by defining how long your client will walk for and how often they will do it. This can therefore be turned into a SMART fitness goal simply by saying “I will walk for 30 minutes on 3 days next week”

As a personal trainer, setting measurable goals helps you track your client’s progress more easily. It also helps keep your client motivated, focused and feel the excitement of getting closer to achieving their goal! 

When setting a SMART fitness goal, to make sure that it is measurable, ask yourself questions such as:

  • How much?
  • How many?
  • How will we know when it is accomplished?

By making your SMART fitness goal measurable, your client is much more likely to achieve it! Plus, it also makes it easier to track progress if you have a quantifiable goal to work towards. 

Some good ways for personal trainers to measure goals include using a food diary or training log. 

A- Attainable/ Achievable 

As a personal trainer, making sure that your client's goal is attainable is crucial to how well they adhere to the programme. A good SMART fitness goal must be a balance of challenging but also achievable! 

If your client is continuing to fail to meet their goals, they are likely to become disheartened and lose motivation to train. Whilst failure is a natural part of any journey- particularly a fitness one, it can be prevented by making sure that the goal is attainable in the first place. 

Being able to push your client to reach their potential is one of the key skills needed to be a personal trainer. Pushing your client’s to their limit is great, but a SMART fitness goal should still be physically and mentally possible. 

Setting an attainable goal doesn’t just mean considering your client’s physical ability to reach it. You should also consider other external factors, such as their budget. For example, if your client does not have the financial means to pay for several sessions a week, they may not be able to reach their goal as quickly as someone who isn’t restricted by financial constraints.

When setting a SMART fitness goal, you should therefore ask yourself the questions:

  • How can my client accomplish this goal?
  • What methods need to be adopted for this goal to be achieved?
  • How realistic is the goal, based on other constraints such as financial factors?

An example of an achievable SMART fitness goal is “I will gain 3kg in lean muscle mass in 8 weeks by weight training 3-5 days a week and increasing their protein intake by 25kg a day”. This is a lot more attainable than “I will gain 20kg of lean muscle in 4 weeks by weight training once a week”!

 

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R- Relevant / realistic

The ‘R’ in the SMART fitness goals acronym refers to whether the goal is relevant and realistic for the client to achieve. In other words, it is about considering the likelihood of your client achieving their goal and whether it is in line with their personal values, wants and needs. 

Personal trainers should question why the goal is realistic and relevant, for example, is it based on current commitments? Is it something the client can currently do? Or, is it based on a national guideline? 

For example, if your client wants to run a marathon in a year's time, a goal such as “increasing their chest press weight by 20kg in 3 weeks” is not relevant! Whilst upper body strength might help a marathon, a relevant SMART goal should instead focus on cardio training. Plus, it needs to include the relevant time frame of one year, not 3 weeks! 

When checking if your SMART fitness goal is relevant, make sure that you can answer ‘yes’ to these questions:

  • Does this seem worthwhile?
  • Is this the right time to work on this goal?
  • Is this goal applicable in the client’s current lifestyle and financial situation? 

A good SMART fitness goal should be one that matters to the client. They are much more likely to be motivated to follow your programme if it is realistic and they can see how it relates to their interests.  

T- Time-bound 

This refers to the timeframe in which to reach a goal. SMART goals in fitness should be time-bound so that there is a deadline to work towards. 

Setting SMART fitness goals that are time-bound helps to keep your client motivated and gives them a clear target to aim for. Having a realistic time-frame plays a huge role in determining whether or not a goal is achievable.

This element of the SMART fitness goal criteria also helps to prevent everyday tasks from taking priority over longer-term goals. For example, if you have a client with a busy schedule, setting out how many sessions they will have a week and for how long, means that they can factor that into their weekly timetable. They will therefore be more likely to stick to it and attend the sessions if a time-frame is set out in advance!

A timeframe also creates an element of urgency and pressure, which will help motivate your client forwards with the programme. 

When setting a time-bound SMART fitness goal for your client, ask yourself the following questions:

  • When will the client have achieved the goal?
  • What can the client achieve 6 months / 6 weeks from now?
  • What can my client achieve today?

A good example for a SMART fitness goal which is time-bound is “I want to fit into a size 10 pair of jeans within the next 3 months”, rather than just “I want to fit into a size 10 pair of jeans”.  

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SMART Fitness Goals Examples

So, now you know what SMART goals stands for in fitness, here is an example of a SMART fitness goal with each part of the acronym broken down. 

SMART fitness goal: Reduce overall body mass by 1 stone, from 14 stone to 13 stone, in 3 months. 

S - To lose 1 stone of weight, from 14 stone to 13 stone.

M - Measure weight loss using the scales every 2 weeks. 

A - Will be achieved by clients going to gym 3 times a week and increasing caloric expenditure whilst decreasing calorie intake by switching unhealthy snacks for healthy alternatives

R- This is a realistic goal based on using the government guidelines for safe weight loss to decide upon an appropriate time-frame. 

T- Aims to achieve this goal within 3 months. 

By using the SMART acronym, it is easier to break down the goal and make sure that it is realistic and achievable. 

Benefits Of SMART Fitness Goals

We have already touched upon why SMART fitness goals are so useful in personal training, but here are the 4 major benefits to using the SMART criteria.

#1 - Provides direction and motivation

As we have seen, a huge benefit of SMART fitness goals is that they provide direction for a client, by setting a clear target to work towards. 

Following the ‘Specific’ part of the SMART acronym is particularly important for providing direction. Setting a goal such as “I want to gain 10kg in muscle mass” is far more specific than just “I want to gain weight”. This gives the client a specific number to work towards, making them more focused and much more likely to reach it! 

One way to think of it is like driving a car. If you don’t have a specific destination in mind, you may end up driving aimlessly and lose focus. But if you are aiming for a specific place, you will drive more efficiently and most likely get there a lot faster! 

If you really want to stand out as a personal trainer, using SMART fitness goals is therefore a great way to help your client reach their goals quickly and efficiently. 

#2 - Makes it easier to track progress 

Another great benefit of SMART goals in fitness is that they make it easier to track a client’s progress. The ‘Measurable’ and ‘Time-Bound’ elements of the SMART acronym are particularly useful for tracking progress. 

For example, saying “I want to lose weight” is a hard goal to track. Whilst you can record a client’s weight once a week, if there is no ultimate target weight, it is harder to determine whether they are on track or not. 

However, “I want to lose a stone in 2 months” is both specific and measurable, making it a good example of a SMART fitness goal! This means that as a personal trainer, you can track your progress numerically and make sure that the client is on track to achieve their goal.

Mobile apps are a great way to track your fitness progress. Check out OriGym’s list of the best bodybuilding and weightlifting apps here to see how you can use them to keep tabs on your gains!

#3 - Helps a PT with making a tailored programme

One of the hardest things about being a personal trainer can be creating the right programme for your client. But setting SMART fitness goals can really help with that! 

By having a goal which is measurable and time-bound, you have a lot more to work with when it comes to designing a programme. The more information you have about what a client wants to achieve, the more tailored you can make your sessions. 

A client will be much more likely to be motivated to see the programme through to the end if it feels specific and unique to them. This also builds a strong PT-client relationship, as they will have more trust in you. 

The ‘Attainable’ part of the SMART acronym is also important to consider when designing a fitness programme. As we have discussed, a client will respond better to an attainable and realistic goal!

 

Enquire now to become a personal trainer with OriGym!

Kickstart your career in the fitness industry with one of our award-leading personal training courses.

#4- Get out of your comfort zone

Setting a SMART fitness goal is a great way to make your client step out of their comfort zone. 

Many clients come to personal trainers because they feel like they aren’t seeing any progress with their current fitness routine. This is very often because they have lost sight of their goals and reasons for training. 

This is where the SMART acronym can help bring some clarity and get a client out of a rut. The process of setting SMART fitness goals with a client pushes them to really think about what, where, how, when and why they want to achieve something!

This balance of being attainable but also challenging is what makes SMART fitness goals so effective. 

If your client is losing focus, these personal training quotes are great to have on hand to give them an extra boost of motivation! 

Potential Disadvtanges Of SMART Fitness Goals

As we have discussed, there are a whole host of benefits to using the SMART acronym to set fitness goals for your clients. But like anything, there are some potential drawbacks to consider too.

  • Too much pressure

Whilst SMART fitness goals can be incredibly motivating, some clients may find the pressure too much. They may become so overwhelmed with trying to achieve it, that it actually becomes a hindrance to their progress.

However, a good personal trainer should be able to motivate their clients without putting unreasonable pressure on them. Putting a client under too much pressure is actually counterproductive and can cause them to disengage with the programme. 

In fact, following the SMART acronym when setting your client’s goals will actually avoid this kind of pressure being put on them. The Time-Bound element of the SMART acronym is particularly important in this case. As we have discussed, the time-frame should be realistic. Setting too short a time to achieve a goal will lead to your client feeling under pressure and overwhelmed. 

You should also remember that goals can be changed! Whilst it is good to stick to a goal, at the same time, you should be flexible and willing to change it if it transpires that it is actually unattainable. A personal trainer needs to know how to be adaptable and flexible!  

  • Disappointment and failure

Since SMART fitness goals are so focused and specific, they are arguably more open to failure than a generic goal.

Take “I want to do a long-distance run” compared to the SMART fitness goal, “I want to run 10km in 58 minutes”. The latter has a measurable and specific target, which although has its benefits, it can also leave more room for failure. For example, if they run the 10km in 1 hour, they may feel like they have completely failed, even though they are just 2 minutes short! This can cause them to lose confidence and feel disheartened to carry on. 

That said, a good personal trainer should be able to motivate their client to push through failure and reach their goals regardless! 

  • Neglecting other goals 

Another potential issue with SMART fitness goals is that since they are so specific, you could neglect goals in other areas of your life. 

For example, some clients may become so focused on training for a big event like a triathlon or ironman, that they prioritise it over a professional goal such as getting a promotion at work. It can even start taking priority over aspects of their personal life too. 

Again, this is where a good personal trainer can prevent this from happening. If you follow the SMART fitness goal criteria correctly, you should have considered your client’s other commitments and how that could affect how much time they commit to the goal. 

Before you go!

So, there are clearly a whole host of benefits to setting SMART goals in fitness. Now that you know what they are and how to set them, why not try using the criteria with your next client? We guarantee that you’ll be amazed with the results!

Are you already a personal trainer and want to take the next steps in your career? Check out OriGym’s Level 4 Personal Training Courses and see where it could take you!

If you’re not already a PT, maybe this article has inspired you to take the first steps in the fitness industry. If so, a Level 3 Personal Training Course with OriGym could be for you! You can also browse our full range of courses by downloading this free course prospectus

References

​the Mind Tools Content Team By the Mind Tools Content Team, Team, the M. T. C., wrote, B. T., & wrote, D. (n.d.). Smart goals: – how to make your goals achievable. Time Management Training From MindTools.com. https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/smart-goals.htm.

Written by Alice Williams

Content Writer & Fitness Enthusiast

Alice is a freelance content writer at OriGym. With a first-class degree in French and Linguistics, she loves all things language, fitness and culture. As part of her degree, she spent a year living in France where she worked for a lifestyle blog, gaining professional experience in both translation and content writing. 

When she’s not writing, you can usually find Alice practicing yoga and she hopes to one day become a yoga instructor herself. She also loves running, tennis and cooking up a vegan storm in the kitchen! It was this passion for health and fitness, combined with her love for writing, that brought Alice to OriGym.

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