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Training Tips

Setting Fitness Goals is Essential to Long-Term Success

Setting Fitness Goals

What are your clients’ goals? There are some common things clients say they want to achieve when they come to personal trainers for workouts:

  • Lose weight
  • Get fit
  • Be healthier
  • Get stronger

You’ve probably heard these a million times. But what makes the difference between those who succeed and make positive changes and those who fail or drop out?

The secret is goal setting. Just saying you want to get fit doesn’t mean much. What does fit look like? Can you measure it? To help your clients succeed and truly make changes, you have to first help them set the right goals that will inspire and motivate and that can be measured and tracked.

The Importance of Setting Fitness Goals

Before beginning the process of setting and trying to achieve fitness and health goals, it helps to have an understanding of why doing so is important. As a trainer, you probably already know this fact. You know that you see more and better results when you start with an achievable, specific goal as opposed to just working out with no plan.

But to have a complete grasp of why goals can help you achieve more, you also need to be able to explain the concept to clients. Help them realize why you need to start with goals before you ever hit the gym.

Goals Make Change Seem More Possible

A lot of people hesitate to get involved in training or fitness because making big changes seems insurmountable. It took a lot of courage for that overweight client to come to you for training. She has likely wanted to change for a long time, but doing so felt like climbing an impossible mountain.

Help her set small, actionable goals and she will begin to see that change can happen. It’s not climbing a mountain—it’s just walking up a series of reasonable hills, one after the other.

Goals Spur Motivation

One of the most common challenges trainers face is keeping clients motivated. With goals in place, you have something to return to again and again as a source of motivation. Keep the goal, whether it’s a specific weight loss or being able to finish a 5k without walking, dangling like a carrot and your client will stay more motivated for longer.

With Goals, You See Progress

This fits with the idea of motivation. When you have goals to meet, you actually see the progress you’re making as a result of input of effort. If your client wants to lose a certain number of inches from their waist, for instance, you can measure that. They see that the work they’re doing and the planning you are doing for them are really paying off and that acts as further motivation to continue.

Every Workout is More Efficient with Goals

When your client has a specific goal, or goals, every training session will be more focused than it would be otherwise. Without goals, or with very vague goals, like lose some weight or get stronger, you can’t focus their workouts. With the right goals, you’ll actually save them time by honing in on exactly what they want to achieve and the strategies that will get them there.

Without Setting Fitness Goals, Success is Elusive

What all this adds up to is the fact that without firm goals in place, success is more difficult to achieve. You may lose some weight; you’ll probably get a little stronger; you will be healthier than before you started training; but will you achieve all you hoped? Probably not. Your clients need goals to succeed, to achieve what they hired you to help them achieve.

Tips for Setting Effective Fitness Goals

Goal setting is unfortunately not as simple as just saying what you want: I want to be skinny; I want to run faster; I want to be stronger. Sure, you can make it that simple, but if you do, success will be much less likely. Good goal setting is thoughtful. It takes time, consideration, and planning to create goals that won’t be a setup for failure.

Think about New Year’s resolutions. It’s common knowledge that the vast majority of people fail at the big goals they set for the coming year. This isn’t because we don’t want to achieve those goals or make real changes. Most people fail because they don’t know how to set effective goals that prepare them to succeed.

1. Break goals into parts.

A big reason New Year’s resolutions fail is that they’re too big. Losing 50 pounds by the end of the year is a worthy health goal, but it’s pretty difficult to face something so major. Achieving that goal is more likely if you break it down into smaller parts. For instance, losing one pound a week or four pounds a month is much more manageable and therefore achievable.

2. Make goals specific and measurable.

Your clients with performance goals are more likely to succeed. Why? Because their goals are usually very specific, like running a 5k in under 24 minutes. When you have something specific to hit, you can make a better plan for actually getting there.

Athletic and performance goals are also typically measurable. For a fitness competition, for instance, your client may want to have a certain number of inches around their biceps. You can measure that, which means you can plan more focused training strategies to achieve it.

3. Make goals realistic and attainable

There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big, but big, overarching goals that are unrealistic only set people up for failure. If a client comes to you with a goal that seems unreasonable to you, don’t shut them down completely. Instead, work with them to break it into smaller, attainable goals.

With goals that are unrealistic, clients will only get frustrated and be more likely to quit. With smaller, realistic goals you’ll help them see that they are making progress toward something bigger. This provides greater motivation.

4. Put a time limit on it.

Goals need to be time-constrained. With no time limit, there is no urgency and no reason to push. If your client’s goal is simply to lose ten pounds, when will they achieve it? They could potentially spend the rest of their life trying to lose that weight. Set a larger goal with a big time limit, like one year, and then break it down into smaller goals with shorter time periods.

5. Goals must be meaningful.

If goals are not personally meaningful for your client, they’ll never meet them. There needs to be an emotional attachment, which is why it is essential that clients set their own goals. You should guide them, but never look at new clients and decide what changes they need to make. It has to be up to each individual.

Setting goals is just the first part of helping clients make lasting, positive changes. Check out this ISSA blog post on how to help clients be more successful with long-term changes.

Avoid These Common Mistakes When Setting Goals

Now you know that setting goals are much more complicated than many people imagine. Anyone can set a goal in seconds, but to do it right takes thought and planning. Successful goal setting also requires avoiding some pitfalls. Learn from the mistakes of others and avoid these common mistakes:

  • Setting negative goals. Don’t let your clients set goals like ‘not being fat’ or ‘never eating junk food again.’ Success is more attainable with positive goals like getting to a healthy weight or eating more vegetables.
  • Being afraid to adjust goals as needed. Adjustment doesn’t mean failure. Ingrain this in your clients because failing is a big de-motivator. Always be prepared to change goals if you find they are not realistic or need more time.
  • Not keeping track of progress. Put your clients’ goals in writing, and then keep a record of their progress. Remember, goals should be measurable. When you measure and record progress, they get to see the benefits of their efforts and this is motivating.
  • Punishing failures. Again, avoid the idea of failure altogether, and whatever you do, don’t encourage punishment. This is not helpful but it is a common reaction to not meeting goals. We have a tendency to punish ourselves. Instead, talk to your client about what went wrong and what they can do differently going forward.
  • Not rewarding achievements. Punishment is counterproductive, but rewards can be helpful and motivating. Celebrate each small goal met and each bit of progress recorded, even if it’s just a high five and kind words.
  • Focusing on perfection. Perfection is pointless, and going for it sets even the most motivated client up for failure. Focus on consistency and progress, not perfection.

Setting fitness goals is a cornerstone of success in making lasting, healthy changes. Goals should never be an afterthought, for you or your clients.

Every time you meet a new client and get to know them, talk about their goals. Let them lead, but also guide them and help shape those goals so that the goals are attainable, realistic, measurable, time-constrained, and specific. Help your clients set the goals that will set them up for success.

Is your goal to become the best trainer you can be? Check out the ISSA’s Certified Master Trainer course.

Fitness Goals Handout

Click HERE to download this handout and share with your clients!

ISSA

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