Exercise Tips

The Benefits of Setting Fitness Goals

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

It’s not uncommon for people to start an exercise regimen with some external prompting. Maybe it’s the number you see on the scale, a routine doctor’s visit, or running out of breath after climbing a flight of stairs. Whatever the reason, the right kind of goal setting is critical when you embark on a fitness program.

Make a Plan

“Proper goal setting can help motivate and inspire both new and veteran exercisers and athletes,” says Rebecca Kurtz, an exercise physiologist at Henry Ford Health System. Whether you’re interested in losing weight, gaining muscle or cultivating health – or a combination of all three – goal setting helps establish a framework around which to structure your time.

Here, we ask Kurtz how to set SMART goals that help you stay on track with your fitness regimen.

Q: What are SMART goals?

A: SMART is a goal-setting acronym. The idea is to make goals Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. So instead of setting a goal to “lose weight,” create a SMART goal:

  • Specific: Lose 20 pounds.
  • Measurable: You can step on a scale to see if you’re on track.
  • Attainable: 1 to 2 pounds each week is a reasonable rate of weight loss.
  • Relevant: It’s a step toward improving your health.
  • Time-bound: You’ll do this in four months.

It’s important to put a plan in place for each SMART goal you create. Using the weight loss example, you may decide to start an exercise program, dine out less frequently and control portions, or begin training for a Couch to 5K event.

Q: Why is it important to create both large and small goals?

A: Often, big goals take more time to achieve, so it’s important to create smaller step-wise goals to help you reach the big goals. Otherwise, you might feel like your big goals are too overwhelming to achieve. So, if it will take six months to achieve your larger goal, you might aim to achieve smaller goals every two to four weeks to help you reach your ultimate goal.

Q: Any suggestions for overcoming hurdles?

A: Accept that you’ll probably encounter setbacks – some of which may be out of your control. So it’s important to devise a plan to get back on track. For example, if you have to work late and miss your exercise class, come up with a plan B. Instead of ditching your workout plans altogether, take a brisk walk as soon as you get home. Or, if you are having a hard time exercising after work, adjust your schedule so you get exercise out of the way in the morning. Sometimes a little creativity is all it takes to get back in the game.

Related Topic: Self-Conscious About Exercise? 8 Tips to Get More Comfortable

Q: Any general advice for helping people get motivated and stay on track?

A: Set goals that are important to you – and write them down. Taking pen to paper makes goals more tangible and can help you feel more accountable. Most important, don’t bite off more than you can chew. If you’re not exercising at all, you might set a goal to take a short walk three days each week – instead of striving to work out seven days straight out of the gate. That way you’ll feel bolstered by your success and can work your way up to exercising more often.

“As the cliché says, ‘failing to plan is planning to fail,’” says Kurtz. Even if you encounter setbacks along the way, establishing goals – and making a plan to achieve them – is the best way to ensure fitness success. With dedication and commitment, you can stay on track with a new fitness regimen.

For a comprehensive analysis of your fitness and athletic performance, call the Henry Ford Human Performance Clinic at (313) 972-4030. 

You can also read more nutrition and fitness advice in our EatWell and MoveWell sections, so subscribe to get all the latest tips.

Rebecca Kurtz is an exercise physiologist who sees patients and athletes at the William Clay Ford Center for Athletic Medicine in Detroit.