How to set exercise goals
While living an active life is a journey — not a destination — many people find it motivating and useful to set goals for themselves and what they hope to achieve.
Goals can be short-term (ex: daily goals, weekly goals) or long-term (ex: monthly, yearly, or longer), and it’s good to have a balance of both so that you can be noticing and celebrating short-term progress while also working towards longer-term goals.
Examples of short-term goals
- Tomorrow, I will take a 15-minute class with Alicia.
- This week, I will make sure that I find shoes that are comfortable for me to walk in.
- This morning, I will brush my teeth while balancing on one leg.
Examples of long-term goals
- In six months, I will be able to walk 1 mile without pain.
- By next summer, I will be strong enough to play catch with my grandkids.
- In a year, I will have enough energy to sit and play the piano.
Your goals can come in many different forms, but the key is setting goals that are 1. Realistic, 2. Specific, and 3. Important to you.
What makes these three aspects of goal-setting so important? Let’s take a look.
1. Goals should be realistic
Goals are meant to be motivating and empowering. It’s good to set a goal that challenges you, but by setting a goal that is too ambitious, you could be setting yourself up for failure. For example, if you have a difficult time walking for 10 minutes, it’s probably an unrealistic goal to want to be able to walk five miles in a month. Progress certainly happens, but it doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s important to give yourself something within reach to strive for.
2. Goals should be specific
A useful goal is clear, well-defined, time-bound, and measurable. People often fall into the trap of setting goals for themselves that aren’t actually specific enough to be actionable. For example: “I want to improve my balance.” While this is true, it is not clear what that improved balance would look like or how success is defined here. A better goal would be something like, “In 6-months, I will be able to stand on one foot for 10 seconds without losing balance.”
3. Goals should be important to you
When you’re thinking of making something your goal, always ask yourself, “what does this goal mean to me? Why do I want it and how much do I want it?” Having goals that are important to you is the central pillar of why goals are motivating. Sometimes, however, it’s tempting and more straightforward to set a goal that is valued and understood by others.
For example, maybe you love gardening and what’s most important to you is being able to work in your garden five days a week without experiencing sharp pain in your knees when you bend down. That is likely a more meaningful and motivating goal for you than something like, “I want to be active for 30 minutes, five days a week because that is what my doctor says is good for me.”
When should I set goals for myself?
Goal setting is useful at all stages in your exercise journey. If you’re new to exercise or coming back from a long break, it’s sometimes best to hold off on making goals until you have established what your baseline is. Make sure to review your goals frequently.
Most importantly, don’t forget to celebrate when you accomplish your goals, and don’t get caught up on any goals that you don’t quite meet—it’s all part of the journey!
For more information, read about
how to start and stick to a new exercise program and 3 tips for keeping an exercise routine over summer.