CPT Fitness Weight Loss

Defining and Conquering Goals

Stacey Penney
Stacey Penney

Help your clients define and conquer their weight loss goals. There’s more to it besides just being SMART.

Though any time of year is a suitable time to establish a goal, New Year’s is obviously one the most universal times to start that commitment. Weight loss and fitness goals continually top the New Year’s resolution list. But how do you help your clients achieve their goals? Here are some vital steps to help you and your clients successfully define and conquer goals.

What is the goal?

Start with general statements- but don’t end there. This activity can begin with broad terms, vague ideas, partial sentences, whatever comes to mind (1). Have your client write these down-writing it will make it seem more real and personal (2). Now takes those general statements and clarify them. For example, when your client indicates they want to get in better shape, lose weight, eat healthier, or get toned, what does that really mean? This next step takes these generalities and clearly defines the details by formatting them into SMART goals. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely (3). Let’s consider Joe, a new client, and look at one of his goals - to get in better shape for an upcoming vacation. After talking more with Joe, you find out he really wants to lose 10 pounds of extra weight before he goes on a Caribbean cruise in three months. He’s 37 years old, 5’11” and currently weighs 200 pounds without any medical conditions.

Specific: Lose 10 pounds in three months

Measurable: To weigh 190 pounds. Weight loss can be tracked on a scale. Additionally, if Joe wants to address body composition or waist circumference, these changes can also be measured and tracked.

Attainable: Losing 10 pounds in three months is an attainable goal.

Realistic: Based on Joe’s current height and weight, a loss of 10 pounds is a realistic goal.

Timely: Three months is a reasonable timeline to lose 10 pounds. Experts agree that losing 0.5 to 2 pounds per week is safe.

How are the goals going to be achieved?

Losing 10 pounds is considered a product goal, but how the goal is obtained can be a culmination of process goals. Process goals offer a client more control and can be very motivating milestone achievements (3). Joe’s program to lose 10 pounds could include a variety of process goals such as completing three training sessions at the gym each week, eating 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, or walking during lunch (3). Ideally these process goals will become long-term healthy habits.

Since Joe’s timeline to achieve his goal is approximately 12 weeks in duration, plan out what should be accomplished each week.  He should lose approximately one pound each week by creating a caloric deficit of 3,500 calories. This can be done by increasing activity, decreasing calories, or a combination of the two (4). After 10 weeks, Joe should have lost the 10 pounds if he followed the plan. This gives him two weeks to adjust to maintaining his weight versus losing weight (and to buy clothes before his trip), or a little more time to obtain his goal.

Determine the barriers Joe may encounter as he strives to reach his goal. Help him understand the consequences and develop solutions to the barriers that may stand between him and his goal. For the process goals mentioned, Joe could plan on packing a lunch for work that contained three of his five servings of fruit or vegetables that he could eat throughout the work day. Joe could also schedule his walks and workouts on his calendar, making sure to have a set appointment to meet his goals. If Joe misses a workout, a walk, or overeats at a party, what will the consequences be? Will he still make his goal in the designated time with these slips? One or two slips, he should be able to recover and still meet his goal, but more than that he may need to incorporate an additional workout session or adjust his calorie consumption.

Recognizing when the goal has been achieved.

When the SMART goals were formed, a specific measurement result and a timeline were addressed. If the timeline is short, as it was in Joe’s case, you can measure progress mid-way and at the end. If the goal is longer in length, determine appropriate times to measure progress and establish milestones to indicate the plan is working or if modifications need to be made. Be sure to celebrate achievements along the way to maintain motivation, whether that’s a five pound loss in weight, a loss of inches in circumference measurements, or a decrease in body fat percentage.


  1. Mager R. Goal analysis. How to clarify your goals so you can achieve them, 3rd ed. Atlanta, GA: The Center for Effective Performance, Inc.; 1997.
  2. Johnson C. PUSH. New York, NY: Rodale Inc.; 2012
  3. Renner M, Von Lunen K. NASM Weight loss specialist manual. Leawood, KS: Assessment Technologies Institute, LLC; 2012.
  4. Insel PM, Ross D, McMahon K, et al. Nutrition. 4th ed. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett; 2011.


The Author

Stacey Penney

Stacey Penney

Stacey Penney, MS, NASM-CPT, CES, PES, CNC, is the Content Strategist with NASM and AFAA. A 20+ year veteran of the fitness industry, she's worked with the top certification and continuing education groups. At NASM and AFAA she drives the content for American Fitness Magazine, blog and the social media platforms. Stacey received her degree in Athletic Training/PE from San Diego State University and an MS in Exercise Science from CalU, plus credentials in Health Promotion Management & Consulting (UCSD), Instructional Technology (SDSU), group fitness and yoga. Previous San Diego Fall Prevention Task Force Chair, she’s developed continuing education curriculum for fitness organizations in addition to personal training, writing, and co-coaching youth rec soccer.