Setting Fitness Goals
by Krisha McCoy, MS
The first step in any exercise program should be setting fitness goals. By taking a little time to map out your goals and plan your strategy for reaching them, you will be more successful and feel more satisfied when you achieve them.
Ask Yourself Questions TOP
The first thing you should do when starting a fitness program is ask yourself some questions that will help you figure out what your fitness goals are. Here are some questions to get you started:
Take a few minutes to think about these questions. Write down your answers and refer to them as you go about setting your goals.
Be Specific TOP
What is your long-term goal? Can it be broken into smaller steps? If you break your long-term objective into mini goals that you can reach more quickly, you will be more likely to stay motivated and stick with your fitness program. For instance, if you are hoping to lose 20 pounds, you might consider setting the following mini goals:
Another important thing to think about when setting your fitness goals is your timetable. Before you begin, think about when you expect to achieve your goals. Are your expectations realistic? If you want to drop 10 pounds by next Wednesday or reduce your cholesterol levels significantly before your doctor’s appointment in 2 weeks, you need to reevaluate your timetable. More realistic expectations are losing 1-2 pounds per week or reducing your cholesterol by 10% before next year’s physical.
Write It Down TOP
After you have come up with the specifics of your goals, write them down. Putting your plan on paper will help you commit and will give you something to turn to in a week or a month, when you may begin veering off track. Write down all of your goals (including mini goals) and when you expect to achieve them. Leave room to log your successes and the challenges you face. You can modify your goals and timetable as you go.
Post your goals some place where you will see them often—your bathroom mirror, the refrigerator, your office bulletin board. This will keep you motivated and increase your chances for success.
While you are writing down your goals, make a schedule that you can follow. Decide how many times a week you will exercise, what time of day will be best for you, and which days of the week work best for your schedule. Decide how you will make time in your schedule. By having a concrete schedule on paper, you are 1 step closer to adding exercise into your weekly routine.
Measure Your Success TOP
If you do not measure your progress, it will be hard to stay motivated. Schedule regular intervals when you will measure your success. For example, if you are trying to lose weight, you might log your weight first thing every Monday morning. If you want to build muscle, you can log how much weight you lift each time you workout. As your muscles get stronger, you will be able to lift more weight.
If you are trying to bring your blood pressure or cholesterol under control, you can still measure your progress as you go. Instead of heading to your doctor every week for a blood test, log the number of times you exercise in a week or the weight you have lost. Consider these accomplishments as progress toward your ultimate goal. Then, when the doctor gives you the results, you can study your own log and modify it according to your success or failure.
Reward Yourself TOP
Yes, by adopting a regular fitness program, you will be rewarded with a better physique, better health, and more energy. But why not add a little extra motivation to your plan—in the form of rewards. As you set your goals (pounds lost, trips to the gym, extra weight lifted), plan ways to reward your progress. You might consider buying yourself a new outfit, treating yourself to a round at a new golf course, or going to a new restaurant you have been wanting to try.
Taking some time to set goals before you begin a fitness program will do wonders to keep you motivated and on the right track. Remember, patience is essential in any exercise program. Keep your mind focused on your goal, and enjoy both the pleasure and the benefits of exercise that you will gain along the way.
American Council on Exercise
The President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition
Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology
2008 physical activity guidelines for Americans. United States Department of Health and Human Services website. Available at:
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Accessed January 20, 2016.
How much physical activity do adults need? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
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Updated June 4, 2015. Accessed January 20, 2016.
Last reviewed January 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 2/19/2014
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