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Set SMARTer goals

Set smarter goals

Goals in muscular or cardiovascular training aren't just an arbitrary checklist; they're a compass that should guide you on your journey. Understanding the different types of goals and how to set them effectively can be a game-changer.

The alternative, not setting any goals, is rife with potential risks and drawbacks, from a lack of direction, focus, and motivation to diminishing returns and decreased mental and emotional benefits

So, let's take a closer look at how you can set clear and effective goals for your training and avoid wasted time and effort.

Goal-setting theory

Alright, let's geek out for a minute about the psychology behind goals. In the late 1960s, a researcher named Dr. Edwin Locke looked into goal-setting and found that clear, specific goals with feedback boosted motivation and performance. He showed that when goals are challenging but achievable, people work harder.

A few years after Locke published his research, Dr. Gary Latham studied the effects of goal-setting and his results supported Locke's findings. They identified 5 key goal-setting principles:

Locke and Latham's 5 principles of goal setting
  1. Clarity: Goals should be clear and specific. Vague goals are hard to measure and don't motivate.

  2. Challenge: Goals should be challenging, but not impossible. Goals that are too easy don't motivate.

  3. Commitment: Teams (or a client and their personal trainer) must collaborate, understand, and agree on the goals.

  4. Feedback: Progress must be regularly checked through self-assessment or feedback from others.

  5. Complexity: Goals shouldn't be so complex that they're unachievable or overwhelming.

Putting it into practice with SMART

The psychology behind setting effective goals aligns seamlessly with SMART goals. They emphasise the importance of clear and quantifiable goals for motivation and performance. Think of them like a GPS for your fitness journey, ensuring you stay on track as you progress towards a clear objective.

Let's look at a common fitness goal that an individual might have, "I want to gain more muscle". That's a great goal, there's nothing wrong with it at all. I've written several times about the numerous benefits of increasing muscle mass as you age, but is it SMART?

SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound

Why it's not SMART

Goal: "I want to gain more muscle"

  • Is it Specific? No, it doesn't specify how much muscle mass the person aims to gain or which muscle groups they want to target.

  • Is it Measurable? No, it doesn't provide a quantifiable measure of progress.

  • Is it Attainable? Sort of, but without a specific target or timeframe, it'll be challenging to assess whether it's realistically achievable.

  • Is it Relevant? Yes, but it's far too broad and doesn't take into account current fitness levels, available resources, or potential limitations.

  • Is it Time-bound: No, without a defined timeframe, there's no sense of urgency or a clear endpoint.

This goal gets a 1.5/5 rating. It's not terrible, but it's not SMART.

Let's make it SMARTer

Goal: "I want to increase my lean muscle mass by 2 kgs in the next 3 months through a combination of full-body muscular training, consuming a balanced diet with adequate protein daily, and getting a recommended amount of recovery time and sleep."

  • Is it Specific? The goal specifies the desired outcome (increasing lean muscle mass) and quantifies it (by 2 kgs).

  • Is it Measurable? The increase in lean muscle mass can be objectively measured using methods like body composition analysis (these machines are now common in many commercial gyms).

  • Is it Attainable? A 2-kg increase in lean muscle mass over 3 months is an achievable goal, especially for novice exercisers who engage in a consistent muscular training programme.

  • Is it Relevant? The goal aligns with the objective of gaining muscle, and it's tailored to the individual's current fitness level and capabilities.

  • Is it Time-bound: The goal has a specific timeline of 3 months, ensuring a sense of urgency and providing a clear endpoint for evaluation.

This goal gets a 5/5 rating. It provides a clear, actionable objective with specific metrics to track progress within a realistic timeframe.

Where to start: Types of SMART goals

When you begin your fitness journey, driven by a set of new and effective goals, don't hesitate to start with conservative targets, particularly in the early stages. Sustained, incremental progress beats a quick burnout any day.

But sometimes, the challenge is simply defining what you want to work on. Allow me to offer some examples to help guide you.

Heart rate

  • Goal: Resting or training heart rate

  • What you can measure: A decrease in resting or training heart rate as you progress through a training programme, measured using a fitness tracker.

  • Potential benefits: A healthier heart rate is a key indicator of better cardiovascular fitness and a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases.


  • Goal: Maximal lifts for key muscular exercises (bench press, squat, deadlift, etc.)

  • What you can measure: An increase in the maximum weight you can lift for a specific exercise.

  • Potential benefits: Increased strength often correlates with improved muscle strength, size, and enhanced overall physical performance.


  • Goal: Blood pressure

  • What you can measure: A decrease in systolic and diastolic readings over time, measured using a blood pressure monitoring device.

  • Potential benefits: Lower blood pressure reduces the risk of many diseases, including those associated with the heart and kidneys, as well as the risk of stroke.

Body composition

  • Goal: Body fat percentage

  • What you can measure: A decrease in body fat measured using skin fold measurements or a tape measure around key sites of the body.

  • Potential benefits: A lower body fat percentage leads to improved overall health, reduced risk of obesity-related diseases, and enhanced body aesthetics and performance.

Emotional wellbeing

  • Goal: Daily mood or stress levels

  • What you can measure: An increase in a positive mood or a decrease in stress levels through self-assessment or mood-tracking apps, especially following exercise.

  • Potential benefits: Improved mood or stress levels often lead to better mental health, improved cognitive function, and an enhanced overall quality of life.

If you're looking for personal training in Singapore, book a free 30-minute consultation with me where we can discuss your fitness journey to date and collaborate on clear and effective goals. If you'd just like to receive a steady stream of free weekly advice, tips, and guides about fitness, consider subscribing to Root Fitness and following me on Instagram.


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