Nicole Thompson by Nicole Thompson

SMART Goal Setting ProcessCreate a Goal the SMART Way

One very important role of a fitness professional is to help clients define their goals. An effective way to set goals is to use the SMART method, which stands for goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Setting realistic goals using the SMART goal setting process can help with client adherence, motivation, progress tracking, and reducing relapses.


The goals must specifically state what is to be accomplished. They must be clear and easy to understand and should not be ambiguous. For example, rather than your client stating that she would like to “get fit,” she can create a more specific goal such as “I want to run a 5K.”


The goals must be measureable so that a client can see if he or she is making progress. For example, a goal of “I want to lose 5 pounds” has a measurable component compared to “I want lose weight,” which is more ambiguous.


A goal should be realistically attainable for the client. The achievement of attaining a goal reinforces commitment to a program or healthy change and encourages the client to continue. For example, a goal of “losing 30 pounds in 1 month” is not an attainable goal. However, “losing 1 to 2 lb a week for a total of 4 to 8 lb in a month,” is attainable.


The goals must be relevant to the particular interests, needs, and abilities of the client. For example, heavy resistance training would not be the best approach to training for a half marathon. However, engaging in a progressive running program would be a suitable strategy for building the endurance required to complete a half marathon. In addition, the goal must be one generated by the client, not the fitness professional, so that it has enough personal meaning to motivate the client.


The goals must contain an estimated timeline or deadline for completion. Timelines can be both short- and long-term and should help the client stay focused and on track. For example, a client can be given weekly tasks to accomplish a larger achievement over a 6-month time period. In this case, short-term goals are accomplished weekly, whereas the long-term goal will be reached in 6 months. Clients should be evaluated regularly to monitor progress toward goals.

Let’s practice developing a few SMART goals.
Poor example of goal setting: “I want to lose weight by running a lot.”
SMART goal: “I want to lose 5 pounds in one month by going on a 3K run five times per week, and I will bring my lunch to work instead of eating out four days this week.”

Now you try. Can you turn each of these goals into a SMART goal?
Goal: “I want to eat healthier.”
Goal: “I want to start exercising.”
Goal: “I want to lose 20 pounds.”

SMART goals should also incorporate product and process goals. A product goal is something achieved or the end desired result, like weight loss, or a specific resistance lifted on a strength machine. For example, when someone states, “I will lose 20 pounds,” the pounds lost is the end product. Or, in the statement, “I will run a 5K,” the 5K achievement is the end product.  Typically, a product goal will fall within the measurable component of a SMART goal.

A process goal is something a client does (e.g., a behavior) to achieve the product goal. For example, “I will run three times per week,” may be part of the procedure of completing a product goal, such as running a 5K. Or, “I will eat a salad once a day,” may be the process of completing a product goal of “I want to lose 5 pounds.” Typically, a process goal is part of the specific component of a SMART goal.

No matter how big or small the goal—whether it’s losing 5 or 50 pounds, walking a mile or running a first marathon—help your clients make the change by planning and setting SMART goals.