The Importance of Setting Smart Fitness Goals

I know New Year’s is usually the time that people set goals for the year, but I have found that spring is the best time for me to set my fitness goals. With the warmer weather, I feel a more motivated to get myself out for a jog or bike ride. Yet, oftentimes my fitness goals fail, not because I can’t achieve them, but because I am not setting smart fitness goals.

I remember a few years ago telling a group of my friends that I desperately needed to get back into shape.  Across the board, every single one of them replied, “Oh, you’re so skinny. No, I’m the one who needs to lose weight.”

Since when did we start equating fitness as weight loss? They are not the same thing. They are related, but women need to understand that thin and fit are not synonyms. Sure I was skinnier than most of them, but I couldn’t run a mile to save my life.

Being fit is much more than losing weight. Losing weight is a great side effect of fitness, but shouldn’t really be your end goal. Smart fitness goals should start with the desire to have a strong and healthy body – to push yourself to achieve more. There are so many more benefits to being fit than just weight loss. You feel healthier, you have more energy, and you generally sleep better.

The problem is that most people don’t know how to properly set smart fitness goals. Today, let’s go over why it’s important to set smart fitness goals and the SMART way to set your goals in general. I’ll even share the smart fitness goals I’ve set for myself this year.

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grey and orange nikes

Fitness Goals

You’ve heard a lot about the obesity epidemic in America. The United States is the most obese country in the world, causing real consequences in the lives of Americans today. Diet and exercise and the best ways to fight obesity. Even if you are not obese or overweight, you should be setting a fitness goal for yourself.

In the US, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. By setting a fitness goal, you will push yourself to be active and healthy, lowering your risk of heart disease and keep you in better health overall.

Recently, I read about My Son’s Father’s 5 Million Step Challenge. This year in an attempt to improve his health, his fitness goal is to walk 5 million steps – the equivalent of 6 miles per day or about 14,000 steps per day. Since he usually has 3-mile runs a few times a week, this goal is just a bit beyond his comfort zone while still being attainable.

His challenge intrigued me. How many steps do I walk in a year? Could I walk 5 million steps in a year? How would I track it? More than anything, it inspired me to set my own fitness goals. Starting this blog has taken up much of my free time, so I have been slacking on exercise lately.

So I sat down at decided to list my fitness goals for the year:

  1. Climb a mountain
  2. Start strength training
  3. Run more
  4. Improve my biking distance

Do you notice the problem with my list? I’ve committed all the major mistakes of goal setting. There is a right way and a wrong way to set goals, and I’ve chosen the wrong way. Let’s see if we can fix my mistakes and change my goals into smart fitness goals.

Related: Four Tips For Your First Time at the Gym


my first 5k

My husband and I before my first 5K.


Have you heard the term SMART goals? It’s a mnemonic acronym used to help people set appropriate goals. You can apply the SMART acronym when setting goals in all kinds of settings: management, fitness, school, business.

SMART Goals are:

My goals don’t fit the SMART acronym at all. Let’s break down my four goals and use the SMART acronym to change them into smart fitness goals. Then you can do the same to your fitness goals.


Vagueness is going to get you nowhere when setting goals. Notice my fitness goals aren’t at all specific. Climb a mountain. Well, that’s much too vague. For a smart fitness goals, we can start with specifying that I want to hike to the summit of a mountain. But which mountain?

When I first moved to Utah for my freshman year of college, I was amazed by the mountains. I almost couldn’t believe they were real. They looked like a postcard.

One particular mountain dominates the skyline from campus: Mount Timpanogos. If I ever needed to find my bearings, I could find Mount Timpanogos in the distance and use it to orient myself.

Hiking to the summit of Mount Timpanogos (11,752 feet) is a popular activity, but I never did it in college. At the time, I wasn’t much of a hiker. Then, I married a hiker who has since converted me. Since I’m still living in Utah, I’ve decided this is the year that I will finally reach the summit of Mount Timpanogos.


Now let’s change my strength training goal into a smart fitness goal. Not only do I want it to be specific but also I need it to be measurable. Without a way to measure your fitness goal, you are unlikely to real push yourself to your full potential.

For my goal, first I need to decided what I want to achieve with my strength training. Because I run and bike quite a bit, I have relatively strong legs. Unfortunately, my arm muscles have been generally ignored. So my specific goal would be to build up my arms muscles.

How am I going to measure my goal? After looking at Pinterest, I found a 21-day arm sculpting challenge I can do at home. With this chart, I can now set a specific and measurable goal: I want to be able to do 15 reps of each of the 5 exercises, repeated three times, with a 15 pound weight.

Since I’m starting basically from scratch, I’ll have to complete the challenge a few times, each time increasing my weight. It will take some time, but will be a great part of my cross-training for my other fitness goals.


Additionally, you always want to set goals that are achievable. Jaclyn has had first hand experience with what happens when you set unrealistic goals.

While preparing for a fundraising event in a previous job, she looked at the previous year’s numbers and set a goal that would be completely reachable with some hard work. Then her boss swooped in and decided to set the goal almost twice as high, commenting, “It just sounds better.” Don’t make this same mistake when you set your fitness goals.

Smart fitness goals should be ones that you can actually reach but are a bit of a stretch. For me, running one mile would be checked off way too easily, but a marathon is way out of the question.

Instead, to be more specific, I think running a 5K would be a great balance for me. I’ve only ever run one 5K before, and it didn’t go too well. I was a bit lackadaisical about training, and then I made the mistake of running it with my husband. My husband is not only a hiker but also a runner. Since the race was run in multiple laps, it was extremely discouraging to get lapped by him repeatedly.

Even without much training, I was able to run a 5K. To be even more specific and measurable, a better goal would be to set the time I want to finish the race in.

I love using my TomTom gps watch  to track my pace and distance whenever I run or bike. (I especially love that it stores 3GBs of music so I don’t have to carry my phone.) My watch has definitely helped me realize how slow I tend to run if I’m not paying attention. Based on my past runs, if I put in some work, I think I can accomplish my 5K in 27 minutes.

Related: A Mom’s Guide to Staying Active After Kids


Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you have to do it. Smart fitness goals are goals that you actually want to do. Yes, with the proper training I could run a marathon if I wanted. But I don’t want to. I’m not naturally a long-distance runner; I was always more of a sprinter. Running a marathon doesn’t interest me in the least.

Smart fitness goals should be relevant to you. Just because my husband does triathlons doesn’t mean that I should. Instead, I focus on activities I love.

While it’s not listed as one of my fitness goals, one of the best ways I’ve found to get exercise is to play soccer. Whenever I mention that I have a soccer game, most people are surprised to hear that I’m not talking about my kids. I just love playing soccer, so I have made it a priority to join a league where I can play once a week. Honestly, the major reason I want to run more is so that I can play soccer better.

Whether it’s yoga, volleyball, dancing, or racquetball, add the activities you love into your fitness goals. Your goal might be to walk a mile, or it might be to run a marathon. It doesn’t matter what your goal is as long as it is tailored to you,


Setting goals is nice and all, but if you don’t have a deadline, you are unlikely to actually achieve your goal. If you are like me, procrastination will overtake any goal if I let it. Without a deadline, other priorities will always insert themselves on your to-do list above your fitness goal. It happens to me all the time.

For example, I want to improve my biking distance. I could be more specific and say I want to bike 40 miles. Since my previous best was 28 miles, that is a measurable, achievable and specific goal. I love cycling, so it’s a very relevant goal to me.

However, without setting an end date, I doubt I would ever really reach this goal. I would bike, and might press myself to bike more. But most likely I continually put off increasing my biking distance until it got too cold to bike.

A truly smart fitness goal will be time-bound with a reasonable timeline. Just like you can’t healthily lose 20 pounds in one week, you don’t want to rush your fitness goal. Find a balance between giving yourself enough time without leaving the end date open-ended, and you’ll have set yourself up for successfully achieving your fitness goal.


My first bike ride

Before my first women’s only bike event.


The SMART method is fantastic when setting any kind of goal. However, when it comes to fitness goals, I have a few more suggestions that can really help. Why settle for smart when you can have SMARTER fitness goals?

Let me warn you, I really ought to stick a giant caveat on this one. These suggestions won’t work in all instances. A lot of it depends on your goal and on your personality.

From my years of math tutoring, I’ve learned it’s great for a school teacher to teach the standard way that the majority will understand, but when you tutor someone, you want to tailor your teaching to the individual. The same thing applies with my SMARTER method. My suggestions are just a way for you to further tailor setting smart goals to you individually.


A more accurate word would be Invested, but I couldn’t bring myself to spell smarter with an I. Expended is the best I could come up with that starts with an E.

Put your money where your mouth is. To truly be invested, you should fork out some cash. Pay for a race, join a gym, sign up for a yoga class, participate in a sports team. Sometimes knowing you spent money on your fitness goals makes you more likely to achieve them. And when you pay for a race, you also give yourself a hard and fast deadline.

You do have to be careful with this one. My friend’s husband worked in an office where most everyone was into cycling. So one co-worker decided to join in and went out and bought a $5,000 bike. Not the brightest decision. Turns out, he didn’t actually like cycling.

Another common mistake people make is to shell out money for a gym membership they don’t use. Going to the gym can be great. Jaclyn joined a gym this year which has provided her the push she needed to work out regularly. You can even read about her Tips for Your First Time at the Gym. But the best way to make sure you don’t lose your money is to combine expense with responsibility.


How can you make sure you don’t back out after paying out some cash? Have a friend join in on your fitness goal! Being responsible to someone else will motivate you to continue towards your goal when you feel like quitting. Plus, it’s way more fun if you can train with a friend.

My friend and I sign up for cycling events together. Once a week, we go on a long distance ride and have a great time chatting while we ride.

Another option is to join in a group that is doing a challenge. Earlier, I mentioned the 5 Million Step Challenge. If you look, there are tons of other options out there.

One of my favorite elementary teachers just did the 52 Hike Challenge. I loved following her as she did one hike a week for a year. I’m in a Facebook group that runs fitness challenges monthly. It’s a great way to participate with friends even if we don’t live close to each other.

One last suggestion (which doesn’t have a letter … SMARTERR?) would be to use a Reward system. I know this works well for some people.

They combine training with a guilty pleasure. I can only watch my favorite show if I do it while I am on the treadmill. For every 20 miles I run I get $10 to spend however I want. If I work out 3 times this week, I can go get doughnuts on Saturday night. It’s the grownup version of a sticker chart.


Mount Timpanogos, Utah

My Smart Fitness Goals

Now, using the SMARTER method, my revised fitness goals are:

  1. Hike to the summit of Mount Timpanogos with my husband in early August when the wildflowers are in bloom.
  2. Complete the 21-day arm sculpting challenge with 15 pound weights.
  3. Run a 5K in 27 minutes on June 16th using a 6-week training schedule.
  4. Train for a 26-mile bike event on July 27th (with my husband) and 40-mile bike ride on September 22nd (with a friend) using an 8-week training schedule.

One thing to notice is that I have staggered the end date of my events. Besides strength training, which is a good cross-training activity, I will be mainly focusing on one goal at a time. First my 5k in June, then my 26-mile bike event in July. Next I’ll hike Mount Timpanogos in August and finish with my 40-mile bike ride in September.

I’ve sabotaged myself plenty of times by setting tons of goals and trying to do them all at once. If you have multiple goals, it’s better to space them out or make sure they are compatible. (I can strength train while working towards a 5K.)

And you don’t have to set four goals at once like I am. Starting with one is perfectly fine. Just make sure you set a goal for yourself.

If you don’t currently work out, setting smart fitness goals can be the motivation you need to start. If you already work out, setting a smart fitness goal can help you from getting in a rut – to motivate you to push a little harder.

It doesn’t matter how big or small your goal is. All that matters is that you are pushing yourself to be a healthier version of you. So start now by setting your own smart fitness goals.

Have you set any smart fitness goals for yourself this year?

If you want to reach your fitness transformation to a healthier body, you need to be setting smart fitness goals. So improve your health by setting smart fitness goals of running, biking, yoga, strength training, weight lifting or whatever you love. You got this!

If you want to reach your fitness transformation to a healthier body, you need to be setting smart fitness goals. So improve your health by setting smart fitness goals of running, biking, yoga, strength training, weight lifting or whatever you love. You got this!

If you want to reach your fitness transformation to a healthier body, you need to be setting smart fitness goals. So improve your health by setting smart fitness goals of running, biking, yoga, strength training, weight lifting or whatever you love. You got this!
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  • Reply cassiethehag April 23, 2018 at 3:36 am

    ‘Every single one of them replied, “Oh, you’re so skinny”‘ – I found this relatable. I’m naturally skinny but also very weak and I’m quite insecure about it – so much so that going to a gym or for a jog makes me feel ridiculous. It’s a shame fitness/health is equated with being slim as there’s so many healthy body types.
    Since I’m going travelling, I set a goal to ‘get stronger’ mentally and physically. First few steps will involve doing more hiking, and I’m scared of heights but would love to try a climbing wall.

    Another lovely post! See you up a mountain some time :)

    PS. I fixed gravatar but I think the work computer kicks me out ;)

    • Reply Rachael April 24, 2018 at 3:01 pm

      With the awesome traveling you’ll be doing, you’ll have so much fun hiking. Looking forward to hearing all about Japan!

  • Reply My Sons Father April 23, 2018 at 9:30 am

    I love the SMART approach, I don’t always use it, but when I do, I usually end up reaching that goal. Great read, thanks for the shout-out! Good luck with your fitness goals, I have no doubt you’ll hit them all!

    • Reply Rachael April 24, 2018 at 3:01 pm

      Thank you for inpsiring me with your challenge!

  • Reply Tanea April 25, 2018 at 9:13 pm

    This is such a good idea! I’ve heard that making more specific goals is good but I don’t think I’ve heard of SMART goals. I love the way it even makes your goals sound more interesting and fun.

    • Reply Rachael April 25, 2018 at 10:05 pm

      Thanks! I first learned about the SMART acronym when talking about school work and just thought it would be great applied to fitness goals.

  • Reply Christine April 25, 2018 at 10:17 pm

    You have a fantastic website! I just love it! You are so right too; I am skinny but just because that’s so, doesn’t mean I am necessarily fit (although these days I do workout a lot).

    My fitness goals for the next or more are to do yoga almost daily and become certified to teach it.

    • Reply Rachael April 25, 2018 at 11:57 pm

      Jaclyn is much more into yoga than me. But when I have done it, I have found it really enjoyable. Good luck with your fitness goal!

  • Reply megan beaver April 26, 2018 at 1:47 am

    This is great advice. By the way, your revised goals are awesome, and I know you will accomplish them. Doing the upper body strength challenge may help your 5k goal a lot. Deena Kastor uses her arms to go faster.

    • Reply Rachael April 26, 2018 at 2:55 am

      Good because I can use all the help I can get.

  • Reply Invisible Lioness April 26, 2018 at 2:26 am

    THANK YOU for saying that being skinny is not being fit! I get the same reaction you got, when I tell my friends I want to get fit again and keep explaining… From now on I’ll just refer them to this article. ;)

    I also really love the thought of setting smart goals for fitness. Definitely food for thought for me.

    • Reply Rachael April 26, 2018 at 2:55 am

      I’m so glad you liked the post!

  • Reply heather April 26, 2018 at 9:14 am

    Great ideas! I think making SMART goals makes goal setting so much easier.

  • Reply Clare June 21, 2018 at 9:32 pm

    This is a great idea. Back when I was in the corporate world we used to use SMART goals to set our performance objectives each year. It makes perfect sense to use them for fitness goals as well! I recently started running again…it’s been four years! Since having kids I’ve told myself I’m too tired, I don’t have enough energy, I don’t have enough time. How easy it is to forget all the things you listed: when you work out you feel healthier, you have more energy and you sleep better. It’s also great “thinking time” and “me time”. Sitting down and developing some SMART goals are on my to do list for tomorrow. This was a great read for me today, very timely, thank you!

  • Reply Laura November 28, 2020 at 9:10 pm

    Great advice! I use this strategy with my personal training clients and nutrition coaching clients often.

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