Why SMART goals don't work for fitness and what to do instead

You've likely heard of SMART goals, meaning a goal that is Specific, Measurable, Acheivable, Realistic and Time based. 

And many a coach has encouraged their athletes and clients to set SMART goals as a way to guide them through their health and fitness goals. In fact, when searching the googles for how to set weight loss goals, for example, every single entry I read (admittedly I couldn't be bothered going past the first page) outlines setting SMART goals. 

And whilst SMART goals are better than joining a gym and staring into space like a labotimised teenager at a drive thru, they do suck..more than a little bit.

Whilst many a trainer will tell you that they are the reason that their clients have appeared in their testimonials with shiny teeth and Pantone 16-334 bronzed skin, they are also the reason that drives a mum of 3 to fantasise about climbing a clock tower with a sniper rifle to fire down on her trainer as payback for the shouting and burpees that left her wasted and wounded, but far from her goals. 


Specificity sucks


S stands for specificity, and SMART goals fall down from the start in this regard. When we set a specific goal, such as losing 15kg, we fail to recognize and reward ourselves for the achievements that we make along the way. To add to this, if we hit a goal of 14kg, in the specified time (the Time based T component), then we have failed our goal, despite dropping the pantssize a few cheeseburgers. The very constrained nature of SMART goals assume a fail or succeed, which does little to address all that was achieved along the way. 


Override outcome


Nearly every goal in the fitness world based around the SMART principle, is an outcome goal, which realistically, we have no control over. Often the Attainable component allows us to feel as though we have control over this, but realistically we end up with either setting goals that are too easy to achieve, and place a ceiling on our goal, (many people who surpass their goal end up feeling regret in having set a goal that was too easy) or end up with a goal that we have about as much control over as a 3 year old in lolly store. If we do set a realistic, attainable goal, very often we lack the emotional connection and drive needed to fuel the goal through the tough times, and end up with an uninspired lighthouse, that, in those times when it doesn't shine quietly bright enough, sees us crashing into the rocks. SMART goals inherently contain very little information about emotional connection anyway, which itself is a little uninspiring. Setting a SMART goal fails to take into account your current position, your strength and weaknesses or offer contingency plans for when the shit hits the fan. 




1. Have a larger vision. What is it you are really setting out to achieve. As part of that larger vision, what could you do in the next 12 weeks to get closer to that? So if you vision is to be an Ironman, but the most exercise you have done is paving a well worn path between the fridge and couch, then the goal, no matter the timeframe of becoming an Ironman, is too far removed from where you are. Instead, maybe you might like to think of committing to some type of exercise 3 times a week for the next few months. The overall image of becoming an Ironman, complete with your emotional connection to it, is in the background, but it is not the goal at hand, it is just the guiding light behind it.  


2. Add some emotion. If your goal is to be an Ironman, or lose 15 kg, then really knuckle in on why you want to achieve this goal. Is it to show your kids what you can do and set a great example. Is it to avoid the health problems of your parents, or the looming outcome that the doc has warned you away from. Once you understand your purpose behind the goal, it will be that little boost that pushes you through those daily actions, that become a part of the larger picture. 


3. Set smaller process based goals. Breaking up your bigger vision into smaller goals allows you to not only be held accountable, it also allows you to see if you are actually even on the right path. Sometimes goalposts need to be moved, and that’s fine, because shit happens, and we are all human. The rigid nature of SMART goals, give us little freedom to change course when it’s just not working. Setting smaller goals give constant feedback on where you are at, and allow yourself to feel accomplished on a daily basis. Look to break down your larger vision into goals that may span a few months, then break this down to weekly goals, and those daily actions that need to be part of this vision.  


So could you hit your goals with SMART goals? Yep of course. But the injury rates, states of health in modern society indicate that we are doing something wrong. Maybe if we start riiight back at the start, before we even start, then maybe we might set a course that sees us sailing right to the end (to give an analogy that should please the attention seeking flat earth pretend believers ). 


I’ve touched on just a few points that I think could see you achieving your vision for your health and fitness. I would love to show you the how of actually getting this done. I’m planning a video/webinar series on this, with some cool ways to actually track and plan your entire goal setting and programming. 


If you are interested add your email here and you will be the first to know! Make this your first step!

Free goal setting/programming workshop

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