Many people may lose steam when trying to stick to their fitness goals if they are unrealistic. Those goals can lead to discouragement or a lack of accountability in tracking progress.
However, there are goals that are more attainable and easy to maintain, like doing 15-minute stretches after a workout or including dedicated rest days throughout the week. Here’s how to make goals you can keep up with, including goals recommended by personal trainers.
The key to succeeding in your fitness goals is devising them with the SMART method in mind. This tried-and-true approach creates goals that are:
- Specific: The goal is clear and defined. For example, “workout three times a week” rather than “exercise more.”
- Measurable: There’s a way to track your progress, which could be by logging the weights you lift or the distance you run each week.
- Attainable: This goal can be realistically reached within the set time frame. Very few people could train for a marathon in two weeks, but many could over a couple of months.
- Relevant: There’s a “why” driving your motivation to reach the goal. Maybe you want to feel stronger, increase flexibility, or manage an underlying condition.
- Timely: The goal has a deadline, whether it’s four weeks or six months.
Lindsay Ogden, a NASM-certified personal trainer and digital experience manager at the health club chain Life Time, told Health about a recommendation for adding an “E” for emotion. In other words, what will it feel like to achieve the goal? Will you feel more confident? Empowered?
“Emotion will make it more real,” said Ogden.
If you already have a specific goal in mind, that’s great. If not, here are 10 fitness goals devised by personal trainers you may want to tackle.
Consistency is key for building exercise habits and seeing results. Mike Donavanik, an NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist and founder of the fitness app Sweat Factor, told Health you can set a smaller goal that you know you can stick to, like three workouts a week. To achieve this goal:
- Schedule your sweat sessions in advance. Get a planner and mark at least 12 days next month that you’ll have the time to exercise.
- Set phone reminders on those days. You can remember to pack gym clothes or shoes if need be.
- Share your goal with a friend. It adds accountability, and you can even start a challenge to see who can plow through those 12 workouts sooner.
Once the first month is up, Donavanik said you could reassess and adjust your goal, such as increasing the total workouts to 16 per month.
This goal is great for someone who hasn’t exercised in a while and is looking to improve their cardiovascular health, Hannah Clausen, NASM-CPT, director of coaching for Macros Inc, told Health. Building cardiovascular endurance improves bone, heart, and immune health while reducing the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
While one mile might seem like a lot, Clausen suggested:
- Focusing initially on shorter distances—like ¼ or ½ mile.
- Gradually increasing the distance each week by ⅛ mile.
- Maintaining an easy, steady pace.
- Tracking your progress by writing down how long you were able to run without stopping.
- Using mental mini-goals like committing to running one more block or until the song you’re listening to ends.
Since the best exercise is the one you can stick to, try different workouts every month until you find what you enjoy. To achieve this goal:
- Create a list of different workouts you would like to try, whether it’s yoga, running, kickboxing, or even rebounding (aka trampolining).
- Look into class schedules at local gyms or fitness boutiques, and schedule beforehand. As a bonus, many will offer new student or first-class specials.
- Find a local running group or a free trial for an online fitness app if you would rather stay at home or in the neighborhood.
Achieving a strict 10,000 steps a day may seem daunting. Try focusing on an average for the month instead so you can ease some of the pressure. Since daily steps vary from day to day, Clausen recommended:
- Scheduling longer walks ahead of time, such as on weekends, or when you know you have a lighter workload.
- Keeping a pair of sneakers in your work bag, car, or under your desk—you’ll then always be prepared to squeeze in lunch break strolls.
- Recording your daily step totals in a fitness journal or app.
If you want to increase upper body strength, think about doing push-ups. Consider setting a goal for how many you want to be able to complete after a month or so, whether that’s one no-knee push-up or 10.
If traditional push-ups on your toes are too challenging, Clausen said there are a few beginner variations you can try:
- Incline push-ups against a stable counter, bench, or chair. The more parallel to the floor you are, the harder this variation will be.
- Knee push-ups: This is like a regular push-up, but your knees are on the floor at a 45-degree angle.
- Combo push-ups: If knee push-ups are a bit too easy but you still can’t do a traditional one, try starting in the classic position. Then, (slowly) lower yourself to the floor and push back up with your knees on the mat.
Start with whatever modification you can do 10 reps of three sets of, Elizabeth Treese, a NASM-certified personal trainer and fitness director at 425 Fitness, told Health. Switch to a more challenging version once you increase your rep count to 15.
Once you’re determined to reach a fitness goal, it can be easy to want to push your body every day—but your muscles need a break. Taking a break allows your body to recover so it’s ready for when you do your next exercise session.
Resting for at least two days a week is a good starting point. If you feel good, you can still incorporate light movement into your rest days, like taking a walk or doing some gentle yoga, said Treese.
“Listen to your body,” Chris Musser, a certified personal trainer at Crunch West Hollywood, told Health. “When you’re feeling really exhausted or sore after a workout, then plan an extra rest day. Exercise tends to release cortisol, a stress hormone, and if you already have a lot of cortisol from other life stressors, you could be wearing your body down even more.”
While stretching may not be at the forefront of your mind if your goal is to build muscle, it’s still a crucial fitness component. Stretching increases flexibility, improves range of motion, and reduces inflammation—all of which help stave off injury.
Stretch muscles you specifically worked that day and hold each stretch for 15 to 45 seconds, Kollins Ezekh, a NASM-certified personal trainer and owner of Mayweather Boxing + Fitness in Los Angeles, told Health. For example:
- If you wrapped up a run, stretch your hamstrings by reaching for your toes.
- If you’ve just finished a core-focused Pilates session, lengthen your abdominals with a cobra or sphinx pose.
Just be sure to breathe deeply during your stretch and never push yourself to the point of pain, added Ezekh.
Planks are a great full-body exercise for working your core, or your abdominal and back muscles. The importance of a strong core goes beyond aesthetics: Planks maintain proper posture, which reduces back pain and other injuries.
While planks may be stationary, that doesn’t mean they aren’t hard. Hold a plank two to three times a week to work your way up to your one-minute goal. You can do this by:
- Starting with 20 to 30 seconds.
- Upping the duration by 5-second increments.
You can also begin on your knees and work up to a plank on your toes.
Drinking plenty of water throughout the day is important so you’re already hydrated by the time you start sweating.
How much water a person should drink daily will vary depending on their activity level, diet, body weight, and even the climate where they live. You can also meet your hydration goals with water and fluids from foods.
To ensure you’re drinking enough H20, buy a big reusable water bottle you can carry and fill up throughout the day. You may even want to aim to finish one liter by a certain time so you’re not guzzling it all right before bed.
While running a 5k is a more advanced fitness goal, it’s perfect for someone who may feel more motivated with a race day marked in their calendars. It’s also great for those who have always wanted to run a half marathon or marathon but need to work up their endurance and stamina, said Clausen.
The key is to give yourself enough time to train: Find a race at least 12 weeks out and aim to run three times a week, said Clausen. If you can, recruit a running buddy who can lend a sense of accountability and make the experience more social and fun.
There are advantages to setting fitness goals, such as:
- Controlling how you can progress in the direction of your goals.
- Ensuring you have a way to track progress and stick to your fitness plan.
- Having meaningful and motivating goals.
- Having clear, specific ways to improve your health with better fitness.
- Making goals that fit your abilities and needs.
If you want to set and meet your fitness goals, creating goals you can realistically achieve is helpful. Goal ideas include attempting several push-ups or workout sessions within a month. Ultimately, you want to make your goals as personalized and clear as possible so you stay motivated.