Be Specific With Your Fitness Goals

Birthday cake with year 2007 candlesHappy New Year!

I resolve to…

What are your resolutions for 2007? How many have you kept or broken? More importantly, are your resolutions backed up with goals and a plan to reach those goals? Perhaps one of your resolutions is to get in shape. Perhaps you’ve thought of joining a fitness club.

If your mailbox is like mine, it has been flooded in the last couple of weeks with gym membership deals-offering 2 for 1, 1st month free, no administration fee and many other tempting reasons to join. Fitness Clubs offer these deals because they know that people make New Year’s resolutions about getting in shape. And fitness centres bank on the fact that when they have a flurry of new member sign-ups, their space won’t be overcrowded for long. The majority of new members will only attend the first month regularly and then will only make an occasional appearance, if any, for the rest of the year. Like not attending the gym we’ve just joined, our resolutions are often broken within the first month.

Why is it that so many of us make resolutions we fail to keep? Is it that we are weak-willed or want to set ourselves up for a fall? Or is it that we have good intentions but lack the tools to fulfill those intentions?

I believe that for many of us, it is the latter. We want to lose weight, eat better, become stronger, increase our stamina, and a whole host of other things but we just don’t know how to do it. Sure, we take the first steps by going on a diet, throwing away the pack of smokes, start walking, and joining a gym but we have no real plan because we have no specific goal. We say things like “I want to lose weight” or “I want to get in shape” but we don’t specify what exactly that means and how we will reach that goal. If our goal isn’t specific, our steps to reach that goal won’t be either. And without specific steps, we’ll just be walking aimlessly.

A key to defining your fitness goals and sticking with them is to remember the SMART formula. SMART stands for:


  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Timed


Make sure your goals are specific so that you can plan for and carry out the necessary steps to reach them. Rather than just saying you want to be fitter or be stronger, formulate your goals around functions and activities of daily living. For example, “I want to be able to get up from a chair without anyone’s help”. In order to realize this goal, you will need to exercise the specific muscles involved in that activity, namely the front of thigh or quadriceps muscles. Specific exercises to strengthen the quadriceps include wall squats and leg (knee) extensions. As those muscles get stronger, they will help you function easier. Functional strength can be greatly improved, even in older age. As you impose specific demands on the body, it will adapt in direct response to those demands. This is the SAID principle which stands for Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands.


Goals set at the outset of your program must be measurable. If you don’t include measurements in your plan, you’ll have no way to gauge your progress. I recommend using specific measurements such as number of sets, repetitions, and weight (or resistance) to log your progress. Using the example of strengthening the thigh, let’s say you define your goal as 2 sets of 8-12 repetitions of 50 lb. on the leg extension machine. As you increase from 8 to 12 repetitions and beyond, you’ll want to revise that goal to a higher intensity, such as increasing the resistance to 55 or 60 lb. You will undoubtedly see that the number of repetitions you can perform will drop back at first but this is OK. You have now imposed a higher demand on your muscles. Soon, you will see that you can do more and will have to increase the intensity level once again.

However, the most important measurement you will have of your progress will be that you can now get up from a chair without assistance.


Make sure that the goals you set can be attained. Being able to get up from a chair with without assistance is an attainable goal if you’ve previously been inactive, your muscles are weak, and your joints have been taking all of the load. Being able to get up from a chair without assistance if your legs are paralyzed from a spinal cord injury may not be. Talk to your doctor first about your the feasibility of your fitness goals and then talk to a personal trainer who works with older adults to design a program to get you to realize those goals. Prioritize your goals and set markers to know when they’ve been attained so you can gauge your progress. You should expect improvement over time as long as you challenge yourself. Remember the SAID principle!


Along with being attainable, goals and expectations must be realistic. If you’ve never gone mountain climbing before, don’t attempt Mount Everest! Despite commonly held beliefs to the contrary, older adults can progress their training of the cardio-respiratory (heart and lungs) and muscular systems at the same rate as younger individuals, although they may need to start at a lower level than someone younger and account for weaker bones and joints if they’ve been inactive. Part of being realistic in your goal setting is to look at your current level of health. If you suffer from illnesses such as coronary heart disease, emphysema, or osteoarthritis, then keep in mind that you will need to progress more slowly than a peer without any chronic conditions.


Set your goals within a specific time frame. Exercise goals which stand to be most attainable are those which are set within a period of no more than three months at a time based on 3 days/week for muscle conditioning and 5 days/week for cardio-respiratory, flexibility, and balance. Especially if you are new to regular exercise, the first month or so will be a period of “waking up” the body to exercise. You may not see much gain during this period but you should notice an increase in stamina. Provided you stick with your plan, you should notice that it becomes easier to get through your program. In the remaining 2-3 months, you should notice that you are adapting to those new demands – you will be able to do more and you will benefit from the fruits of your labour. Getting up from that chair will be easier and you will be spurred on to set higher goals for yourself.

So this year, make your resolutions count. Be Specific. Set your goals with a plan in mind. Talk to a personal trainer if you need some motivation and guidance. Be good to yourself. Make this year your year to get fit and remember to be SMART with your goals.

To your health,

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