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Starting a fitness journey, or stepping up your existing one requires time, effort, and motivation. A commitment to invest more of yourself into your exercise routine isn’t the easiest thing.

Goal setting helps. It’s an important part of developing physical fitness and something all PTs, fitness instructors, and coaches will use to set the path for your journey.

However, understanding why goal setting helps and how exactly you can do it for yourself isn’t as obvious as it seems. Knowing a little bit more about it can give you the starting point you need to kick it all off.

How can setting goals help you to get fitter?

There’s a reason that goals come up so often when talking about fitness and exercise. It’s not just about #FitnessGoals and smashing PBs. Goal setting puts the framework in place for your progress and lets you maximise that all-important time, effort, and motivation you’ll be putting in.

First off, it helps you manage your time. With a plan in place of how you’ll be exercising across each day, week, and even month, you can get a good picture of what you can expect to achieve within a certain time frame and how long it will take you to reach each point.

Secondly, it lets you maximise your efforts. Being much more focused with your fitness routine to get where you want to be in the most efficient way possible. It can help give you a direction and a plan if you’re not too familiar with gym-based exercise and have often found yourself wandering around the floor with no idea what to do next. Don’t waste effort on activities that drain your energy and aren’t relevant to your goals.

Thirdly, setting goals gives you a big old motivational boost. It’s a pretty common problem to skip a gym session and feel unable to get into the whole exercise thing because you’re lacking the motivation to get stuck in. Having a goal to work towards is another way to help with a clearer sense of direction and a structured routine for your workout sessions that you’ll be way more likely to look forward to.

6 tips for setting fitness goals
1. Make them relevant to you

The great thing about exercise and fitness is that there’s not just one way to get involved.

There’s plenty of options out there for people who are looking to figure out a way to make fitness a part of their life. Although it seems that everyone has to be running many miles and lifting loads of weights, that’s just not the case.

There’s no single definition for fitness. It can mean different things to different people. And there are many different types. Figure out what you enjoy, what you want to achieve, and how that will make you feel.

For example, building strength in your upper body and improving your posture. Becoming more flexible and being able to join the advanced yoga class. Losing weight so you can feel more confident and comfortable.

Make sure your goal is relevant to you. Then make sure your sub-goals and the actions you’re taking to get there are relevant to your goal. If you’re looking to get stronger, running more each week won’t be helpful. Train smarter, not harder, as they say.

2. Break it down and be specific
Where lots of people make mistakes in goal setting is being too broad. When the goal isn’t specific enough, it’s not easy to monitor progress, know what success looks like, and to keep motivated.

Goals should be specific, and if there is a larger goal like losing weight, break it down into smaller stages where you can mark success and tick off milestones.

They key is to focus on the process, rather than the product.

For example, instead of ‘I want to lose weight’, plot out a roadmap of smaller goals that includes ‘I want to reduce my intake by 300 calories per day for 4 weeks’, ‘I want to exercise three times a week for 2 months’, and that will lead to a more tangible goal of ‘I want to lose 3-4 pounds in 30 days’ that’s much easier to measure.

3. Make sure you’re measuring it
Without defining a metric and putting a figure on what success looks like, you won’t feel the same sense of reward or even know when you’ve achieved your goals.

Whether it’s doing a 5km in under 25 minutes, increasing your 1 rep max by 10%, or losing 6 pounds, make sure you’re measuring your fitness progress.

Not only will it help you to be more realistic in knowing what’s sustainable and achievable when it comes to fitness progress, but it will also help you to map your physical fitness overtime and see how far you’ve come in the long term.

4. Set yourself a timeframe
Goals can vary in size, meaning they can also vary in the time taken to achieve them. It’s more than okay to have goals that relate to the short, medium, and long term. In fact, it’s encouraged.

Short term goals can be things you’re looking to achieve within the next 30 days. Like a consistent change of habit or a new type of behaviour. Medium term goals can be things you’ve set your sights on for the next 3-6 months. These might be physical changes in the body that show your fitness is increasing. Longer term goals might be a little bit more aspirational and ones that you’re hoping to achieve within the next 12 months. Like training for a serious event or losing a significant amount of weight.

Just make sure to have your timeframe set out before you start. That’ll help you to define how much you need to be doing and when you can expect to track changes.

5. Be realistic about it
Being overly ambitious and then underachieving is a common fitness faux pass. The single most important rule for goal setting is to be realistic.

Don’t set your sights on something that would mean an intense, extremely demanding, and unsustainable lifestyle change. It’s got to be something that’s worth the effort you’re putting in.

There’s a small element of trial and error here, as it could take you a bit of practice to figure out what’s sustainable and suits your lifestyle. As well as what’s worth the sacrifices you might have to make to achieve the goal.

A little bit of self-kindness goals a long way. Be realistic, enjoy the process, and you’re much likely to progress with your physical fitness.

6. Enjoy the process
It’s a lot easier to spend time and effort on something you enjoy, than on something you don’t. Sounds obvious. But it often gets in the way of goal setting.

If you hate running and it makes you feel like you’re going to throw up your lungs, then don’t set yourself a goal of running a 10km. There’s plenty of other ways to develop your cardiovascular fitness.

Enjoying the process as much as possible will help you develop a healthy relationship with exercise. One you’ll be much more likely to sustain and make part of your lifestyle.