Despite what some Instagram memes may tell you, reaching your fitness goals is easier said than done—especially if you don’t have a game plan for achieving them. While most of us have a vague idea of what we want from our workouts, like more energy or improved heart health, it can sometimes be hard to translate the vision to a tangible exercise plan. But as it turns out, a technique from the business world is one of the best ways to sharpen your intentions and get the most out of your workouts: setting SMART goals.
According to career education platform Mind Tools, the acronym SMART can help you “clarify your ideas, focus your efforts, use your time and resources productively, and increase your chances of achieving what you want in life.” But what are SMART goals, you ask? The acronym “SMART” has several slightly different meanings, depending on the source. But in a 2002 paper, management professor Robert S. Rubin said it’s most commonly interpreted as the following: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. When you apply each of those criteria to your workout goals, you’re better able to nail down exactly what you want to get out of your sweat sessions.
Let’s take my goal, for example. I want to work out at least 6 days a week in order to increase my energy, decrease stress and anxiety, and get stronger by doing a combination of HIIT, Pilates, and hiking. While I could just say that and hope for the best, here’s what it looks like when I break it down SMART-style:
- Specific: I will do a 20-minute HIIT workout 2 days a week; a 30-minute Pilates class 3 days a week; and a 2-hour hike on one weekend day.
- Measurable: If I notice my energy, stress, and anxiety levels shifting and feel stronger in my workouts, I’ll know I’m on the right track.
- Achievable: I have three workout options I can do to ensure I don’t get bored. I’m also keeping my HIIT and Pilates workouts short enough that I know I’ll be able to fit them in on weekdays.
- Relevant: It’s something I know I need right now and in the future.
- Time-bound: I want to feel energized, less stressed and anxious, and stronger in 6 weeks.
Instead of setting a general goal to simply work out more (something I’ve had many times!), taking the time to clarify everything and set a check-in date gives me a better chance of reaching my goal. Research shows that one of the main reasons why people don’t achieve their goals is that they’re not specific (or challenging!) enough and there’s no planning involved. It’s also important to have a “why”—something that fuels you to achieve your goal. After breaking down my workout goal with SMART, I can see that I have all of the above.
When you create SMART goals and really dig into them step-by-step, you’ll have a clearer vision of how to make it happen and therefore be better able to see it through. Now, please excuse me because it’s time to lace up my sneakers and get to work. I have a goal to reach, after all.
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