It’s that time of year: Everyone is motivated and eager to transform their physique. As a trainer and group fitness instructor, I love the energy and excitement of people packing into the gym, full of hope and the desire to achieve a strong body and fit mind. While I feel privileged to be part of their journey, I believe that my responsibility extends beyond the gym. For every client I reach, I want to provide education on effective goal setting techniques, thus empowering them with the tools they need to be successful for the long term.
Goals are the impetus for change. They give clients direction and provide a roadmap to success. Resolutions, on the other hand, are notoriously short-sighted and short-lived. Seldom are they structured, so rarely do they last. Resolutions reflect a desire for things to be different, but they lack a concrete commitment and plan for implementing change. In the words of Hall of Fame baseball legend Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might wind up someplace else.”
I use a 5 Step Guide to Goal Setting (below) when helping clients set goals. I also educate them on exercise relapse in order to help them stay on track and avoid future setbacks. Relapse is real, and most clients can relate to how it has affected their exercise journey in the past. (See “4 Steps to Keep New Year’s Fitness Goals on Track” for a plan to prevent it.) The best way to ensure success is to educate clients on effective goal setting and how to manage barriers before they become an issue.
5 Step Guide to Goal Setting
Goals are only effective if they’re well designed and realistic. Most clients experience burnout, injury or other setbacks as a result of ineffective goals, or no goals at all. They strive to accomplish too much too soon, or they don’t have a concrete plan so they are easily thrown off track. Here’s how I help clients turn vague resolutions into mindful goals for the coming year.
- Start with SMART Goals
It’s important to teach clients this acronym, what it stands for and how to implement it.
Specific. Goals should be as specific as possible. Broad, general goals like, “I want to get fit” aren’t recommended. An example of a specific goal would be, “I want to lose 15 pounds in 10 weeks.”
Measurable. Goals should be measureable. You should be able to calculate your client’s progress in weight, inches, distance and other variables. The previous example is measurable in terms of both time and weight.
Achievable. Goals should be attainable. They should be something your client has the physical capability and mental stamina to achieve. Put another way, the goal must be possible for the client to accomplish.
Realistic. Even if a goal is possible, that doesn’t mean that it’s realistic. Goals should be based upon your client’s level of motivation, history and physical abilities. Running a marathon may be achievable for a client, but it may be unrealistic if they have never run before or they don’t have much time to train each week. Ideally, your client goals should be moderately difficult: challenging enough to hold their interest, but not so difficult that they get frustrated.
Time oriented. Goals should have a definitive start and end point. They should be attainable within that time frame.
- Set Short- and Long-Term Goals
Long-term goals give your clients direction and guide their future. They might take a month, 2 months or a year to accomplish. Short-term goals are similar to a staircase. They allow clients to tackle challenges one step at a time, in smaller, more manageable chunks. This allows clients to reach their long-term goal in a safe, progressive fashion and helps them stay motivated throughout the process. Short-term goals may be for today, this week or a particular workout session.
- Record Goals on Paper
Encourage clients to write their goals on paper. Rather than just talking about goals, putting them on paper validates your client’s intentions. It solidifies that they’re serious, and it’s a reference to help them stay focused. Include short-term and long-term goals in this exercise.
- Keep an Exercise Diary
It’s a great idea for clients to do a self-check each time they work out. Keeping an exercise diary, in something as simple as a notebook, is a very effective way to do this. After each workout, request that they take a few minutes to record how they felt about their goals for that day. They can include what they did and any challenges they encountered, then note some encouraging words to keep them motivated.
At the end of the week, they can reflect on what’s working and what’s not, and share any concerns with you. Above all, let them know that it’s okay to adjust their goals, if need be. That doesn’t mean they’re settling for less; it means they’re smart enough to rethink strategies so they can ultimately achieve success.
- Evaluate How the Goals Worked
With SMART goals, there’s a definitive start and end point. At the end of the set timeframe, evaluate. Did the client accomplish their goals, in whole or in part? If not, what got in the way? If so, how can they continue to progress? What might their new goals be? Evaluating goals gives your clients an opportunity to celebrate their gains and strategize future accomplishments.
If we can help our clients set, achieve and evaluate realistic goals, we can shift their opinion of exercise and create the impetus for lasting change.