Creating and Crushing Smart Fitness Goals

Advice to fitness-minded people who have trouble sticking to a program.

Working as a strength coach is a very gratifying career. We are (hopefully) the best part of our clients' days. People who are just starting their journey into health and wellness are a mix of motivated, excited, nervous and overwhelmed. A lot of times, newbies to the gym work hard for a couple weeks and then kind of taper off and ultimately stop completely. If you fall into this category, this article can help you create smart fitness goals and hopefully find joy in the journey of fitness.

RELATED: How to Achieve Your Workout Goals

We all have this beautiful picture in our brains that this time is going to be different, we are going to take control of our lives, drop those 20 pounds, eat "super clean" (whatever that means) and suddenly look like the person on the cover of (insert your favorite fitness or trashy magazine here). Well, I hate to break it to you, but life is still going to happen. The kids will get sick, you'll have to take three kids to five different places, there will be deadlines for work, you will have to travel, pizza will still taste good, and that beer at the end of the day will still be refreshing.

But not to worry! You can still hit all of your goals, despite all the curve balls that life throws at you.

Below I try to get you to think about setting goals a bit differently. With some hard work, mental toughness and a little sweat, you can get where you want to be!

RELATED: Are Your Goals SMART Enough?

1. Behavior Over Outcome

This might be the hardest thing for most people, especially because we live in a world where everything is outcome-orientated. The end result is more important than the process. Well, I'm here to tell you that it is the opposite. If you can focus on the process of things, rather than the final outcome, you will have a better success rate.

Typical Fitness Goals: Lose 20 pounds, 15 inches, and eat nothing but kale smoothies.

Realistic Fitness Goals: Go to the gym at least three times per week for a full-body strength workout, prep food for the week, and start keeping a food journal.

The first fitness goal is what most people tell themselves at the beginning of their journey. Don't get me wrong. I love the confidence and motivation. But I guess you could call me a realist, or a "Debbie Downer." I see the person who makes that first resolution fizzle out after two weeks. The second resolution is more realistic, and it is behavior-orientated, not outcome-orientated.

If we can change the behaviors that are stopping you from achieving your goals, we can get you to your goals.

Say this: I'm going to get at least 3 hours of exercise per week.

Not this: I'm going lose 30 pounds.

2. Change One Thing per Month

One of my favorite lessons I learned in the Precision Nutrition Level 1 program (if you haven't heard about PN, do so.) was about success rates when trying to change/introduce a new behavior. I am paraphrasing, but you will get the gist: if we try to change one thing in a month, we have about an 80 percent success rate; but if we try to change more than one thing per month, our success rate drops to about 20 percent. That's wild! People are often so ready to change that they totally flip their lives upside down—because "that's what they're supposed to do."

Well, I call BS. Fix one thing before trying to fix another thing. If you don't drink enough water, that's what you should work on first. Start drinking more water. Next month, work on something else.

So with that being said, let's dive deeper into goal setting.

3. Goals

There are different types of goals: long-term, immediate, lifestyle, work, financial—the list could go on. But all goals need to have the same characteristics. They need to be tangible, specific, measurable, time-sensitive, written down and discussed with the people around you. All of your goals are different, and they have different motivation behind them; but they should be written down so you can hold yourself accountable, spoken about with your friends and family, time-sensitive so that you can again hold yourself accountable, measurable so you can see if your plan is working, and tangible so that you can actually tell if you're making progress.

Each goal can be broken down into smaller, more achievable goals. The smaller goals get accomplished faster, which will give you more confidence to make more goals and crush them too.

A lot of small goals achieved = A massive goal achieved.

This goes back to realistic and non-realistic goals. Same mindset. So let's make these goals process-orientated.

Think of it this way. If my doctor advises me to lose 60 pounds because I am at risk for Type II diabetes, and my blood pressure is through the roof, and I'm getting pressure from my partner, and I get tired playing with the kids after 10 minutes, it can be a pretty overwhelming situation. 60 is a big number and with all that extra added stress, it's even bigger. But you know what isn't a big number—3. The hours you want to spend exercising each week. Start crushing that goal consistently, and let's see what happens with the weight. Next goal: start meal prepping on Sundays (insert whatever day works for you), and lets crush that goal for a couple weeks, then let's keep adding to those goals.

As you can see, those goals are measurable, time-sensitive, and more importantly, process-orientated.

Goal Setting

4. Little Progress Is Still Progress

We live in a world where people look for the fastest way to do anything. We have become lazy, entitled and soft. (But that's another rant.) I am talking about another mentality shift that may be hard for a lot of people, especially those who are struggling with weight or health. On some TV shows, people lose 150 pounds in 9 months, and yes, that is amazing, but what is it costing them? If you were to look back at all the contestants, I'm sure you'd find more than a few who are still overweight, and maybe even heavier. The New York Times has an article on this exact subject.

A little bit of progress is still progress. It may take longer than most people expect, but hey, they didn't get overweight overnight, so why should they expect to become stick figures overnight? The longer it takes, the longer it stays. If you can consistently (insert your goal: lose weight, gain muscle, drop body fat), you will keep your achievements for a longer time. That's the trouble with fad diets, cleanses, juice diets, etc. People drop weight, but the lifestyle isn't consistent, so they roller-coaster right back up after they stop. Fitness progress needs to be sustainable as lifestyle changes. Don't get it twisted. A good nutritional program and training program will get results. If you aren't getting results, you either don't have the right plan or you're not adhering to it as well as you should. Adherence is the hardest part, but it's the most important thing. Consistency is King.

5. Support Network

Let's look at the extreme end of this. If someone you know is an addict and only hangs out with other addicts, for him to overcome his addiction, he must change his environment. I think we all agree about that. Let's use that analogy and put it in the nutrition and fitness world. If you are surrounded by people who drink nothing but soda, eat McDonald's three times a day, and whose idea of fitness is Wii Boxing, you have a problem.

You will never achieve your goals if you are surrounded by people who don't have the same mindset as you. Am I saying to ditch all your friends and family who don't go to the gym? No. What I am saying is reevaluate how important your goals are, and how much time you are spending with people who aren't supporting you in those goals. Who knows, maybe you can be the one who helps them change their lives as well.

Having a gym buddy is a great way to stay accountable. Letting yourself down is easy. We can always make an excuse for ourselves not to do something. But when you make plans to go to the gym with somebody, you aren't just letting yourself down, you are letting someone else down. And that is harder to do.

Another great way to stay accountable is to sign up for classes, or sessions with a trainer. Group fitness gets better results. Everybody has a competitive nature, and the community aspect is great. And guess what? There is your new support network with like-minded people.

A final part of your support network should be a coach or a trainer. Most of us send our cars to mechanics, our taxes to accountants, and we go to a doctor when we don't feel well. So why do we think we are capable of making our own workout programs? Trust me, the cost of a trainer will be less than the cost of medical bills later in life if you don't fix your health now.

Any way you slice it, the gym and the thought of change bring a bunch of motivation, which is awesome. But let's use our brains a bit more. Let's have a rock solid game plan for the year so that we aren't in the population that starts going to the gym and then stops the following month.

If you would like help on creating your plan, or finding somebody in your area to do so, please feel free to email me at

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock