From the Heart and Stroke Foundation

By Matt Mayer, MSc.

Trying to improve your fitness level can feel like an uphill battle. You want visible results - say, dropping a pant size or gaining more muscle definition. When you don't get them, you feel as if you're not making any progress. That's why it is important to set goals.

The right goals can motivate you through the tough times and help make you accountable - meaning more likely to stick with your activity commitments. But let me emphasize that you need to set the right goals. The wrong ones won't help you.

I set my goals using the SMART acronym. Before we talk about what that means, here are some examples.

Ineffective goals SMART goals
I will become active for my New Year's resolution. By Jan. 31, I will participate in a regular walking routine every other night, to be active at least 150 minutes each week.
I'll try a new activity. I will join a recreational badminton league at the local community center by Oct. 15 and will participate weekly.
I will do push-ups every day. Before my next birthday I will learn correct push-up technique from online videos or a trainer and I will increase the number I can do from three to 15.
I want to look better in my bathing suit. I will sign up for a 5km run next May and follow a training program to get ready, committing to at least two sessions every week until the run.

So what makes a goal SMART?

S is for specific. Be precise about what you want to achieve. A good goal contains the what - say, complete a 10km run in less than 60 minutes - as well as the how - by implementing a five-day-a-week training schedule of aerobic and resistance exercise.

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M is for measurable. A completed goal should have tangible evidence of its completion - the kilograms you can bench press or the number of steps on your pedometer.

A is for achievable. A goal should stretch your ability and challenge you. But it should not be so far out there that you'll never make it. The goal must contain challenges that keep you engaged but within a limit that you don't become discouraged. Once you reach this goal, you'll be ready to set the next one.

R is for result-focused. Goals should focus on outcomes. Instead of just committing to get to the gym twice a week, think about what you want to achieve during those visits. It may be raising your heart rate to a particular target for 20 minutes, or you may commit to completing a set number of reps on various weight machines each time you go to the gym. Use activities to track progress and make adjustments.

T is for timely. Your goal needs a time frame to keep you motivated. A limit of three-months, broken into smaller periods, can work well: It's short enough that you keep the end in sight but long enough to let you build some skills and strength to get there.

SMART goals can help you if you want to break sedentary habits and start getting active. They are also good for building some structure into your existing program.

Before starting any physical activity routine, please check with your healthcare provider.

Matt Mayer is an exercise physiologist.

Posted: September 2012

Heart and Stroke Foundation


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