Realistic Goal Setting

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There’s no better time to set goals for yourself than right now, in this moment. You don’t have to wait for a new month, new moon, or new year to begin - just think of all that you could have achieved by the time ‘the perfect moment’ rolls around. As long as you have something in mind that you’d like to improve upon, whether that’s fitness or nutrition, then you can start putting pen to paper and setting those goals. 


The first thing to keep in mind when setting goals is to forego any self-judgement or criticism, shed that negative mindset, and start focusing on opportunity, your strengths, and the future. Goal setting is all about cultivating a mindset of accomplishment and positivity, so you don’t want any interference from thoughts that might set you back. At the same time, you don’t want to go overboard and set goals that are too high and difficult to reach. 


Realistic goal setting is about finding that happy medium between goals that are achievable and ones that require hard work. So clear your mind, clear a space on the table, and keep reading to learn how to set realistic goals. 


How to organise your thoughts into goals


There are many ways to put your thoughts down into goal setting. One option is to split your goals into categories such as physical, relationships and mental goals. Write down 1-2 goals for each category. As you read through this information, start having a think about what goals might be suitable for you.


All goals are important, but we’ll focus on a few key physical goals to use as an example for realistic goal setting. Physical or fitness goals are one of the most common goals people set for themselves and, to be successful, it’s important that they’re realistic and attainable. 


How to set goals for physical fitness


A good place to start is to get some baseline measures around your current physical health to see what’s going on inside. You can do this by getting an InBodyScan. These give you some great quantifiable measurements to start working with, like:


  • Skeletal muscle mass: The weight of muscles in your body that can grow and develop through exercise.
  • Visceral fat: A type of fat around our organs that we don’t want.
  • Body fat mass: How much actual fat is in our body. 


Why is it important to find out these measurements? Well, they can help provide something that is tangible for you to use to measure your progression. When you have these measurements, it becomes much easier to track how far you’ve come along the way. 


The importance of measurement


People will often set goals like, “lose weight” or “feel better,” While these are great goals to set, they don’t really help you find out how you will achieve them or how you will measure your progress. Some people may “feel better” by losing body fat (body fat mass), while others will find that getting stronger and lifting heavier loads (increasing skeletal muscle mass) is the key to their feeling better.


Now that we’ve got the measurements out of the way, we can spend some time going over what is realistic as a physical goal. Assuming that you have done the InBodyScan and know what some of your measurements are, what is a realistic amount of fat to lose or muscle to gain in a short amount of time?


Realistic goal setting for fat loss


If you’ve rarely done any training and have some extra body fat to lose, you can expect to lose more body fat than someone who is well-trained and has less fat to lose. Let’s assume you are at 30% body fat and have never trained before. It’s possible that you could lose at least 5% body fat in a month if you were to start training or moving your body daily. 


If you have been training for a while and already made some initial adaptations to your physique, then it may be harder for you to lose body fat. If you were at, say, 17% body fat for a female, then you will need to allow more time to decrease your body fat. And even then, you may only lose 1% at a time. 


If you’re a well-trained person, don’t let this deter you from trying to lose fat! You will get there but you may have to allow more time to do so. In this case, it’s unrealistic for you to set huge goals for yourself, like losing 5% body fat in 4 weeks. 


Realistic goal setting for muscle gain


Muscle gain works similarly to fat loss. If you’re a female with an overall goal to gain muscle, then you will have to consider what is physically possible as well as how well-trained you are.


If you’re a newbie to the world of resistance training, then you may expect to gain some muscle in the initial hypertrophy phases of training (initial muscle growth via training). In that case, it can be quite realistic to gain at least 1-2 kilograms of skeletal muscle within 1-2 months. 


If you’re a higher trained person, say, working out 5-6 times a week for over a year, then gaining muscle will take longer for you. Aiming for gaining 1 kilogram of lean muscle (skeletal muscle mass) in a month could be a good, realistic goal to start with. Women do take longer (and have a harder time) putting on muscle, so this would be a great achievement for you.


It’s also important to keep in mind that it is completely normal to gain some fat while gaining muscle. This is nothing to worry about! So if your goal is indeed muscle gain and not fat loss, you may even have to increase some body fat in order to put on some muscle mass. 


Setting SMART goals


So, with all that said and done, what is a realistic goal for you? And how are you going to put that goal into action? Come on, grab a pen and paper. Write down your goal, and don’t forget to be SMART. No, we don’t mean intellectual, we mean setting goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound:


  • Specific: Your fitness goals need to be very specific. It’s not enough to set a goal to “get healthy”, you should narrow that goal down to how you intend to get healthy, for example “start working out” or “lose weight”.

  • Measurable: Now you need to find a way to measure your goal so that you have something to work towards. “Start working out” or “lose weight” may be specific, but they’re not measurable. So you can refine your goal to be “work out 3 times a week” or “lose 3 kgs”.

  • Attainable: Attainable goals go hand-in-hand with realistic goal setting. You need to make sure your goal is one that can be achieved, so if you’ve set yourself a goal to lose 3kgs in one week, that’s not very likely to happen. To set a more attainable goal, you might instead aim to lose 3kg in a month.

  • Relevant: This is all about asking yourself 'why' you want to achieve a particular fitness goal. It’s finding the drive that will keep you working consistently to try and achieve it. For example, you may want to lose weight to fit into your wedding dress, or for better cardiovascular health. Consider your ‘why’ and make sure you keep this in mind when working towards your goals.

  • Time-bound:  Finally, you need to set yourself a deadline or you could be aimlessly working towards your goal for the rest of your life. Set a time limit for achieving your goal and try not to make it too far into the future. An example would be “go to the gym 3 times a week for three weeks”. You can then reassess your goals after the time period is over.


SMART goals help you clarify your fitness goals and outline exactly what you need to do to achieve them easily. It’s a best practice method for goal setting that keeps you accountable and breaks down your goals into bite-sized pieces so that you have a more holistic picture in mind. 


Realistic goal setting for fitness success


Many people set goals for themselves but have trouble achieving them. This is a completely normal process and the key is to not feel discouraged and to use the right formula for goal setting. It’s common for people to start dreaming too far into the future and set goals that are too high, optimistic, or not attainable within a short time frame. Often, this can lead to giving up on those goals as they seem too far out of reach.


To stay motivated and maintain long-term consistency with working towards your goals, it’s important that they’re realistic. Setting short-term goals and utilising the SMART goal formula can fuel success and help you break down those bigger goals into more manageable pieces that you can tackle one at a time. Try the techniques above and see the difference it can make with helping you achieve your fitness goals.


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Written by

Claudia Cramer

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