What are SMART Fitness Goals? Benefits & Drawbacks


SMART goals are a progression-focused, goal setting technique used in all areas of life; personal, career and fitness included. The acronym itself stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound, and is commonly used by personal trainers in order to set realistic goals for their clients.

This article will discuss the details of what SMART fitness goals are, as well as some of the the benefits and negatives of setting SMART goals in fitness. It will present some SMART goal examples to guide personal trainers on SMART goals that they can set for their clients to help achieve progress.

It is important to note at this point that SMART goals are just one of many goal setting techniques in fitness. In fact, we at the PFCA do not teach SMART goal setting as our preferred goal setting method, however we wish to provide objective information surrounding all areas of fitness, coaching, and personal training within our blog. 

What are SMART Goals?

The SMART goal acronym helps to manage expectations by setting realistic and time bound goals for anyone. The concept can be applied to anything, however it especially has a beneficial application for Personal Trainers and Clients. 

By using SMART goals, personal trainers can set realistic expectations for their clients of what they can achieve within a specific time period. By the personal trainer guiding the SMART goals for the client, the client can have confidence that they will achieve the goals which will in turn help them stay motivated to reach those specific goals.

What do SMART goals stand for in relation to fitness?

The acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound. We will now begin to break down what SMART goals mean in relation specifically to Personal Trainers and Clients, as well as giving some examples to help guide personal trainers for setting these goals for their clients.

S =  Specific

The S in SMART Goals stands for ‘Specific’. This means understanding where you are now and exactly where you want to be. Try using numbers and figures to make your goals specific, for example instead of saying “I want to lose weight”, say “I am currently 85kg. I want to reach 80kg, so lose 5kg in this given time period”. Or instead of saying “I want to get stronger”, say “I want to increase my squat, bench and deadlift by 20% each in the next 6 months”.

By attributing a specific number to the goal, personal trainers can help clients mark a finishing point, whether short or long term, to their progress plan. Having a specific number in mind generally helps keep people motivated to reach their goals by giving them something measurable to see progress towards, which brings us onto the next letter.

M = Measurable

As alluded to in the previous section, SMART goals must also be measurable. This means setting quantifiable targets to both your training aims and short/long term goals in order to measure progress. Measuring progress helps to visibly show clients that they are on track towards their goals, helping them to stay motivated over time.

Measurable goals can be attributed to both end goals and ongoing targets. For example instead of saying “I want to train more and be more active”, say “I want to train a minimum of 3 times per week, whilst walking a minimum of 15,000 steps per day”. This would be an ongoing measurable target. 

Another example, this time of a measurable end goal, would be “I want to lose 12lbs in 12 weeks”. The ongoing target for this would be “I want to lose 1lb every week for 12 weeks”.

By using both measurable end goals and ongoing targets, Personal Trainers can help keep clients accountable for their training, and appreciate short term wins along their fitness journey whilst they work towards their long term goals. 

A – Achievable

Potentially one of the most important parts of setting SMART goals is ensuring that they are achievable. This is vital especially for personal trainers and clients, as it can affect clients’ motivation, faith in themselves and also faith in their personal trainer.

Goals that Personal Trainers set for their client must be challenging enough that they have to push themselves to reach it, but also mindful of clients on an individual level. Some clients may want to push themselves to their limits to achieve their goals, whilst some may have a more casual approach. 

The personal trainer must be sensitive to this; for example if they have 2 clients at the same starting point, one having the means to train 5 times per week and stick to a strict diet plan, whilst the other has life obligations which means they can only train twice per week and must be more flexible with their diet, the Personal Trainer shouldn’t set the same goals and expectations for them both. 

In the case where a client repeatedly doesn’t reach their goal due to them being unachievable, it may lead to a situation where a client becomes unmotivated to continue on their fitness journey, or they may even lose faith in their personal trainer’s ability to help them reach their goals. This is a multifaceted reason as to why personal trainers must pay strict attention to this part of SMART goal setting. 

For example, instead of setting the client a goal of losing 10lbs in 10 weeks, with the understanding that it is a busy individual who has a sedentary job and can only train 3 times per week, perhaps give them the goal instead of losing 5lbs in 10 weeks. 

R = Relevant

R in SMART goals stands for relevant. This is important when considering metrics of measurement and ongoing targets for your clients progress based on their personal goals. For example, if your client has the ultimate goal of losing 12lbs in 12 weeks, you may give them ongoing targets of walking 10,000 steps per day, consuming X number of calories per day, and training for a minimum of X number of sessions per week. An irrelevant target or goal within this would be to squat a minimum of 140kg 1RM by the end of the 12 weeks by ensuring they are carrying out 3 squat sessions per week; this goal/target is absolutely not necessary in achieving the overall goal of losing 12 lbs.

T = Time Bound

Setting a time bound restraint to your goal is very important in that it holds both the client and the personal trainer accountable to reaching that goal. For the client, it keeps them motivated by giving them an end point to have reached their goal by, which can in turn provide a sense of urgency which can also be very motivating.  

A time bound goal set between the client and the personal trainer also gives the personal trainer a clearer idea of the kind of results a client wants, and so the personal trainer can prescribe the right kind of programming to the client for their specific goals. For example, client A says that they want to lose 12 lbs in 12 weeks, and client B says they want to lose 12 lbs in 24 weeks, the personal trainer will probably prescribe client A with more calorie consuming exercises than client B, or require them to aim for 15,000 steps per day of activity rather than ust 10,000.

Collaboration between the personal trainer and client for attributing a time bound aspect to their goal is therefore important for managing both the personal trainer’s and client’s expectations. 

Example of SMART goals for Personal Trainers and Clients

Goal: To lose a total of 12lbs in 12 weeks, increasing daily activity to 15,000 steps per day and doing at least 3 high intensity weightlifting/cardio sessions per week.

S – Specific – Losing 12lbs in 12 weeks. 15,000 steps per day, 3 training sessions per week.

M – Measurable – Measure weight once per week to check for losing 1lb per week average.

A – Achievable – Increased daily activity and 3 training sessions per week. 

R – Relevant – All actions are linked to increasing daily calorie expenditure.

T – Time Bound – Within 12 weeks. 

SMART Goals Benefits

Some of the main benefits of SMART goals include:

Clarity: SMART goals provide clear and specific objectives, reducing ambiguity about what clients want to achieve.

Measurability: Goals that are measurable allow clients and personal trainers to track progress objectively.

Focus: SMART goals help personal trainers stay focused on specific outcomes, preventing distractions and unnecessary efforts.

Motivation: Setting achievable goals creates a sense of accomplishment, boosting motivation for clients to continue pursuing their goals.

Accountability: The specificity of SMART goals makes it easier to keep clients accountable for their fitness progress.

Realism: SMART goals promote setting realistic and attainable targets, preventing discouragement from overly ambitious objectives.

Adaptability: The time-bound nature of SMART goals allows for adjustments based on progress, challenges, or changes in circumstances.

Consistency: SMART goals help establish consistent workout routines, contributing to long-term benefits.

Personalisation: Goals can be tailored to individual needs and preferences.

Confidence: Achieving SMART goals boosts self-confidence for clients, reinforcing the belief that further fitness goals are within reach.

Prevention of Burnout: By breaking down large goals into smaller, manageable targets, SMART goals and targets help prevent burnout.

SMART Goals Drawbacks

Whilst setting SMART goals is potentially one of the best ways of setting goals between personal trainers and clients, there are some potential drawbacks that both personal trainers and clients should be aware of:

Rigidity: The specificity of SMART goals may lead to a rigid approach, potentially limiting the ability to adapt to changing circumstances or preferences.

Overemphasis on Quantifiable Metrics: Focusing solely on measurable outcomes may lead to clients overlooking the importance of non-quantifiable factors like overall wellbeing and enjoyment of their fitness training.

Demotivation: The structured nature of SMART goals might lead to demotivation if setbacks occur, and clients don’t manage to reach their goals.

Time Pressure: The time-bound aspect of SMART goals may create unnecessary stress, for some people. It may be worth personal trainers checking with their clients first before putting time bound aspects on their goals. 


In short, setting SMART goals are one of many methods for goal setting in fitness. It is always worth personal trainers having a discussion with clients whilst setting the goals, and briefing how they will achieve them. 

If you’re looking for a potential career change to personal training, then be sure to check out our Level 3 Personal Trainer Course. If you’re already a personal trainer and you’re looking to expand your personal training business, then be sure to check out Grow, our PT business growth course.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What does SMART stand for in the context of fitness goals?

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time Bound when setting fitness goals.

How does the “Specific” aspect of SMART goals apply to fitness?

Being specific in fitness goals involves defining where you are currently and precisely where you want to be, such as stating a specific weight loss target or strength improvement percentage.

Why is the “Measurable” element important in SMART fitness goals?

Measurable goals provide quantifiable targets, allowing both personal trainers and clients to track progress objectively and stay motivated.

What is the significance of the “Achievable” component in setting SMART goals for fitness?

Ensuring goals are achievable is crucial to maintain client motivation and prevent unrealistic expectations, taking into account individual differences in lifestyle and dedication.

How does the “Time Bound” aspect contribute to effective goal setting in fitness?

Setting a time bound aspect to fitness goals helps maintain motivation, creates a sense of urgency, and allows personal trainers to tailor programming based on the client’s desired timeline.