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How to set and keep effective fitness goals

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17 November 2021|3 min read

Key points

  • Fitness goals should be measurable and achievable.
  • Break down large goals into smaller goals to track progress and help you stay motivated. 
  • The way you approach different types of goals depends on what you want to achieve and your baseline level. 

Fitness goals can be big and aspirational. But not all goals should require rocket propulsion to the stars to achieve them. Sometimes, simple is best.

A fitness goal to be healthier is meaningless unless you break it down into smaller, achievable and actionable goals. That’s the approach Personal Trainer Gabrielle Petterwood recommends. 

“First things first, just start. Even if you only have five minutes a day, use those five minutes to work towards your goal. Your goal may be to get fitter. How will you achieve that? By breaking it down into mini smart fitness goals to track your progress along the way,” Gabrielle says.

Knowing where to start with your fitness goals may often be the biggest hurdle you need to overcome. Gabrielle shares her top tips to help you set and keep your fitness goals.

The benefits of setting fitness goals

Pounding the pavement to hit your 10,000 steps each day is one thing. But if that action is part of a goal, it could have other benefits.

Research has shown that fitness goals may promote a healthier lifestyle. Other researchers found that when you have a goal, it may help to keep you focused and on-task.

Gabrielle agrees that the presence of a goal could also be motivational.

“If you have something to work towards, you may be more likely to adhere to the fitness or exercise program that you’re following,” she says.

But, according to Gabrielle, goals should also be achievable. Otherwise, if they’re too far-fetched, you may risk losing motivation. 

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Setting your own fitness goals

What is it that you should be aiming for with your fitness goals? Is it to understand how to get rid of sore muscles? Or finally master the best bodyweight exercises for glutes? 

Gabrielle advocates for simple goals that are measurable and meaningful. Your goals should be personal to your situation, not a competition with anyone else. She shares her thoughts on some of the common fitness aspects that you might want to improve in your life.

Flexibility goals

If you’re wondering about how to improve flexibility, Gabrielle suggests making it enjoyable.

“Stretching and mobility might seem boring. But it’s the type of activity you could do while you’re watching TV in the evening or by doing some free yoga online classes. Create the habit and you’ll be more likely to stick to it,” she explains.

You might simply want to have the flexibility to touch your toes or not experience stiffness when you bend down. For people who are already quite flexible, you might have a goal to do the splits or increase the range you have around a particular joint. 

“Flexibility is something that can really impact your everyday life so the goals you set may be really personal,” says Gabrielle, “Not everybody moves the same way. The more specific your flexibility goals are, the better.”

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Core strength goals

Before you set any core strength goals for yourself, Gabrielle wants you to first understand what core strength is. 

“Many people say they want a strong core, but they don’t understand what that really means. Core strength is about being able to engage your pelvic floor muscles, your deep core abdominal muscles and your back stabilisers. It’s not just doing your core exercises at home,” she says.

Gabrielle suggests starting with a simple goal, such as learning how to switch on your pelvic floor. Then you could move on to mastering the plank – one of the best compound exercises that works the whole body, not just the core. 

“When you have a strong core, it could help so many other areas of training and life in general,” adds Gabrielle, “It’s certainly worth thinking about core strength when setting your fitness goals.”

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Weightlifting goals

If you want to embrace the benefits of lifting weights, Gabrielle suggests that you have two types of goals for weightlifting in mind.

“The first type of weightlifting goal is to increase the weight you can lift. That’s an easy type of goal to set. For example, you might have a goal to do a 40kg deadlift. The second type of weightlifting goal is to improve your technique or perform a skill in a certain way,” she explains.

If you have the at home gym equipment for weightlifting, you also have the convenience of being able to work on certain lifts and gradually increase your weights.

“With many of the lifting techniques, there are often many little movements that combine into one big movement. As you work towards a particular technique you could set mini goals to master the little movements along the way. Then you have short-term measurable progress that combines into reaching that longer-term goal,” Gabrielle says.

As with any form of exercise, be aware of the signs of overtraining to help reduce the chance of injury. Also, incorporate rest days into your routine to help with your recovery. 

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Heart rate goals

According to Gabrielle, setting an exercise heart rate goal is a bit more complex. It depends on what you want to achieve with your training, plus some calculations around your maximum heart rate.

“First, you need to work out your maximum heart rate using a heart rate calculator. Your heart rate goals will vary depending on if you’re targeting endurance or working your anaerobic threshold. As a guide, working between 65-80% of your maximum heart rate is a good starting point,” she says.

Gabrielle also explains that there are specific heart rate zones for different types of training. Also, maximum heart rate and heart rate goals will vary from one person to the next. Even if you’re the same age, your training history and other factors will impact your goals. 

Cardio goals

You know the benefits of HIIT and how cardio makes you feel, so you may want to do more of it. Like weightlifting, Gabrielle says that cardio goals are one of the easier fitness goals to measure. If you’re looking for ways to improve cardio, she suggests monitoring your heart rate. 

“If you’re a runner or doing any kind of cardio, you might have a goal to maintain a certain heart rate for longer without it spiking. Or perhaps working above your threshold for a longer period without burning out,” she says.

Once again, Gabrielle recommends breaking down your cardio fitness goals into smaller mini goals.

“If you’re training for a marathon, you’re not going to just train by running long distances. You still want to get your shorter distances faster because in turn that will help your overall time for the marathon. Break it up and make it quite measurable and achievable along the way,” she explains.

Don’t forget the role of warming up in preventing injuries. If you sometimes forget to warm up, then that’s a good fitness goal to start with!

Celebrate your success along the way

Whether you’re doing a 30 day family fitness challenge or making smaller commitments to yourself to make a change to your health, having fitness goals are a great idea.

Don’t forget to stop along the way and celebrate your achievements. It could be lifting an extra 5kg, running a longer distance or identifying how to engage your pelvic floor muscles. Whatever it is, it’s one step closer to achieving your fitness goals.

Setting SMART goals

Hear from Sam Rooney, our Accredited Exercise Physiologist expert from Exercise & Sports Science Australia, on his top tips on setting SMART goals.

Want help setting realistic exercise and movement goals? 

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Related:

Gabrielle Petterwood is a Personal Trainer with a holistic approach to fitness, nourishing the body with fresh foods and living a healthy and balanced lifestyle to realise full body health.

Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board October 2021.

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