Setting S.M.A.R.T Goals

Posted in: Mental Strength

We all hear about the significance of goal setting in reaching the next level: the next max weight, the next job promotion, anything. The question is, why is setting a goal so important?

The answer is…”science.” Goals have a quantifiable and measurable effect on performance. A 2015 University Of Leicester study found that men particularly benefitted from setting goals. People were broken down into three groups and asked to take a written test. In group #1, no goal was set. In group #2, the goal was 10 correct answers. In group #3, researchers set the harder goal of 15 right answers. In the “10 correct answer” group, men scored 20% higher than the “no goal” group . In the more challenging goal group, men scored 35% higher.

Imagine if you could be 35% more efficient, productive, faster, stronger…

You can be if you’re smart, as in S.M.A.R.T. Set and work towards a goal that’s: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. This goal framework originated in a 1981 article in the business journal “Management Review” to help business people set specific and measurable goals. But it’s just as useful in the fitness context. For example, in a study involving obese adults, the group that set S.M.A.R.T. goals lost 0.2 kgs on average while the other group gained an average of 0.1 kgs.

Specific: Make your goal precise, clear and easy to understand. Maybe you want to “get stronger.” This is not specific as strength can be defined in many ways. The framework asks that you break this down into what specifically “getting stronger” means to you. For our example, let’s define “get stronger” as 1) improving our core strength; and 2) increasing our max squat rep.

Measurable: You must be able to track your progress and know whether or not you’ve achieved your goal by being able to measure the numbers. In our examples, let’s define our goals as increasing our plank hold by one more minute and increasing our max squat rep by 20%.

Attainable: Had we set our measurable goals as a three minute increase for our plank hold and increasing our max squat rep by 75%, there would have been a low likelihood of success. There’s a balance between setting a challenging goal and one that’s actually attainable, so make sure that your goals are achievable. Otherwise, you’re significantly more likely to quit.

Relevant: Your goal should reflect your life, not something external, like other people’s expectations. Look inward and really think about your goal.

Time-bound: Your goal shouldn’t be open ended, it should have a specific end point. Psychologically, an end point makes your goal easier to achieve as it gives you something to focus on. Setting a time goal also allows you to more easily track your progress. In our example, a reasonable time to achieve our new plank hold time and increased max squat rep is 10 weeks.

Once you’ve set your S.M.A.R.T. goal (or goals), you’re more likely to follow through and stick to it.

Here are a few more tips to keep in mind. To stay on track, write out or type a detailed plan that sets out your S.M.A.R.T. goal. Put it somewhere prominent like on your fridge or on your desk at work. The more you see it, the more real it becomes. In the same vein, tell your friends and family about your goal. There’s nothing like “putting it out there” to others to help keep you accountable to yourself.

Give it a go.


University Of Leicester “Goals” Study. Published 2015 in Economics Letters

Article re: business application of S.M.A.R.T. Published in 1981 in Management Review.

SMART goals setting and biometric changes in obese adults with multimorbidity: Secondary analysis of a randomized controlled trial.

Takahashi PY, et al. SAGE Open Med. 2019 June 24