How to set fitness goals

Everyone has goals. Not everyone knows how to achieve them. People who set goals are more successful than those who do not. But when it comes to setting fitness goals, people often become unmotivated when they fail to achieve a goal. Has this ever happened to you?

The key to setting goals successfully is what I call iMAC goal setting. This has nothing to do with Apple computers, but it’s something I came up with because it’s easy to remember and slightly humorous. (Thank you Steve Jobs.)

An iMAC fitness goal is a goal that is Inspirational, Measurable, Achievable and Challenging.

Inspirational – We set goals to motivate ourselves into action. A fitness goal should inspire us to workout. We have a place we want to be, but we’re not there yet. The goal gives us drive, motivation, and inspiration. Achieving a goal can be an inspirational launching pad for tackling more ambitious goals in the future. Set a goal that will inspire you.

Measurable – If your goal is to “get in shape” you really haven’t defined a goal yet. It’s a good place to start, but it’s impossible to measure. A more measurable goal could be to “run a 5k in 30 minutes,” or “bench press 200 lbs.” A measurable goal is more effective because you can track your progress towards your goal, which makes your goal seem more attainable and thus makes you work harder.

Achievable – My wife often sets really ambitious goals. It’s part of what I love about her — her enthusiasm and optimism. She often does exactly what she sets out to do. But other times she tries to do too much at once and feels discouraged by what she isn’t able to do in a given day. It’s a trap we can all fall into. For example, saying you want go to the gym 6 times a week is unrealistic for most people. Instead, aim for 4 visits to your gym. Setting achievable goals will allow you to build off your successes into new, more challenging, goals and will prevent you from being discouraged.

Challenging – Don’t confuse “achievable” with easy. Goals shouldn’t be easy. They should definitely be challenging. You have to find that sweet spot between achievable and challenging. Completing a challenging goal can give you momentum and motivation to move forward and achieve more goals. Not sure if your goal is too easy or too hard? Ask a personal trainer or a friend what they think. Telling a supportive friend about your goal is also a great way to hold yourself accountable.

Has it been awhile since you set a goal? Set one today using these guidelines and tell us about it.

Mark Spurbeck

7 Comments on “How to set fitness goals

  1. My goal… is getting close to attained! My musles are getting well toned ( like I don’t look like a cross between Gollum and a Muppet), and I’ve started doing some aerobic workouts to increase my stamina and endurance. ( my dad is in his fifties and can almost run up Eagle mountain. If my folks do that again, I intend to keep up.) ( I’ve actually hit a few thresholds in my workouts.That’s good, right?)

    But thanks for asking.

    • Great job, Jono. Sounds like going up Eagle mountain is your next goal? You can do it! Let me know when you go for it!

  2. I am struggling to lose weight and I feel like the majority of the problem is that every article and trainer tells me something different, and it’s extremely frustrating ! When I go to the gym I don’t know if I should be doing cardio or lifting weights/strength training. I am doing a calorie counter and going to the gym, I’m just not sure if what I’m doing is what I should be doing, and that is my biggest problem. My goal is to lose 20 pounds, I’m just not sure how I should go about it !

    • Hey Alexis,

      First off, thanks for checking out our blog. You have a great question and I’m sure millions of Americans feel the same exact way. There is a lot of misinformation out there about diet and how to lose weight. Stay away from anything that promises maximum rewards with minimum effort. It’s going to take A LOT of effort, but you can do it and it can be A LOT of fun – eventually!

      I can share in your frustration about what the best thing to do to lose weight is, but the good news is that there are MANY ways to lose weight successfully and healthily. The most important thing to remember is you have to burn more calories than you consume daily. There is no way to lose weight if you don’t do this. A deficit of 500 calories a day will help you lose about a pound a week. Focus on real foods, balancing your meals with carbs, protein, and healthy fat. It won’t matter how much you workout if you aren’t eating right most of the time. I might suggest you set a shorter term goal, say losing 5 pounds in 5 weeks. When you do that you’ll know that losing 15 more is very doable!

      In regards to training, I would definitely recommend weight training. In my experience, women who lift weights are stronger, more healthy and have a higher level of overall fitness. For fat loss, weight training has an advantage of an afterburn – you continue to burn calories after your workout. Lift a weight that is challenging to do 10-12 reps. Don’t be afraid to go heavy. Cardio has its place too. Learn how to do some interval sprints. You can burn as many calories in 20 minutes doing intervals as you can in an hour of slower running. If you wanted to base your workouts on weight training and running. I’d say lift 2-3x a week and run intervals 2-3x a week – but there are lots of variations to that plan that could work. Everybody is different and you might find more success with slightly more running or more lifting, etc.

      Now, my last point, and perhaps most important is this: Find a physical activity you enjoy and invest in it. Becky loves mountain biking. She went biking for a little over an hour the other day and burned close to 900 calories. It’s fun for her and it isn’t a chore. Me? I really don’t have the mountain biking gene. I’d much rather be in the gym. The point is, we all have different interests and when you find an activity that you really like, it makes it so much easier to workout. Yoga, boot camp classes, running, biking, swimming, weight training, the list goes on and on.

      Try some things out, eat right, work hard, burn more calories than you consume, find something you enjoy and do it. If you don’t have something you like, pick the one you dislike the least and keep doing it for awhile, you might learn to like it!

      Also, don’t obsess with the scale. Overall fitness is more important than weight. Try to weigh yourself only once a week, and don’t be discouraged by weeks where the number doesn’t change much. It can take your body a little to adjust to your changes. Keep in mind that it is a lifestyle change for the rest of your life. Keep your eye on the prize and don’t let up.

      Let me know if this helps or if you have any questions, maybe we can train together someday?

  3. Thank you ! That really helps me a lot.
    yes, we should !
    I’ve been told by my friend that hula hooping ( a weighted one) is a good exercise,and it’s fun, so I might try that on top of going to the gym because some days I just can’t make it there. Do you live in Minneapolis or St Paul? I live in Minneapolis now and go to the LA Fitness in uptown.

    • I’m so glad that helps! I got Becky a weighted hula hoop for Christmas. It is a ton of fun. You should get one! I think they are about 30-40 bucks on amazon. Whenever we have friends over we always make them do it.

      I moved out of Saint Paul and we’re living in Eagan now. Not as exciting as the city, but more convenient for our lifestyle.

      I’m finishing up my certification work and hope to be working with clients and friends this summer once I figure out what exactly my plan is. Let’s stay in touch!

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