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Facilitating SMART Goal Setting

Suppose you meet with a new client, and you sit down to discuss goals. You are getting to know the client through some conversational icebreakers. You give the client the registration paperwork. After the paperwork is complete, it’s time to set goals. You ask the client, “what are goals?” or “What do you want to achieve?” Clients usually know exactly why they are there and what they want to achieve. You may hear responses like to lose or gain weight, become stronger, be pain-free, or become healthier. However, there are times when the client may not be entirely sure about what they want to achieve. The response to your question might be, “I’m not sure, but I know I should be here.” In these situations, simply asking why will uncover the reason and, thus, the client’s ultimate goal. You can formulate a thorough plan when you and the client clearly understand the goal. This is where the SMART Goal Setting Method comes into play. It will help you cover all bases so that the goal will be specific and attainable within the set timeframe.


The SMART Goal method is a goal-setting framework that helps us make realistic goals so that we can be motivated and encouraged to accomplish our goals. The key word here is REALISTIC. Too often, we have big dreams but give ourselves unrealistic parameters to achieve them. These parameters can leave us discouraged and ready to throw away our goals because we have yet to see progress. This applies to our clients as well. Through this method, you can set them up for success.

What does SMART stand for?

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Based.

S: Specific: The goal/desired outcome is clear

Things to consider:

  • What do you want to accomplish?

  • Why do you want to achieve this?

  • Who is going to benefit from it?

M: Measurable: The goal/desired outcome is quantifiable

How will you know when you have accomplished the goal?

  • What is the goal number to be able to lift if the goal is to become stronger?

  • What is the time to beat if the goal is to become faster?

  • If the goal is to become pain-free, what is the marker used to measure that? Is it a certain number of days? Is it no pain when doing a specific activity?

  • What is the goal weight if the goal is to lose weight?

How will you measure success?

A: Achievable: The goal/desired outcome is attainable

Things to consider:

  • On whom is the achievement of this goal dependent?

  • Do you have any obstacles in achieving the goal? Time constraints? Financial constraints?

Always consider potential hindrances when planning a goal to avoid frustration and possibly abandoning the process. Of course, something will always pop up, but consider the obstacles you know.

R: Realistic: The goal/desired outcome can be realistically achieved

Is this realistic for the client?

If the client is obese and says, they want to look like the people on the cover of the fitness magazine? Is this realistic, given the various factors in their life?

Things to consider:

  • Does the goal match the efforts to reach the goal?

  • Is the goal worthwhile to the client, or is the goal a vanity metric?

If the client does not see the goal as worthwhile, they are more likely to make excuses for actions that do not move the needle toward the goal.

T: Time-based: The goal/desired outcome has a deadline

Things to consider:

  • What is the timeframe to achieve the goal?

Setting a proper timeframe to achieve the goal will keep the client motivated. The timeframe should not be so small that it creates stress or so long that it promotes complacency.

Benefits of the SMART Goal Method

Using the SMART Goal Setting Method:

  • provides direction and clarity

  • evaluates strengths and weaknesses

  • forces you out of your comfort zone

  • keeps you focused and organized

  • motivates you to keep pushing forward

Tips for Goal-Setting Facilitation

  • Determine the client’s “why” first

  • Ask relevant open-ended questions if the client is stuck

  • Be aware of the client’s background and lifestyle

  • If asked for an opinion, be honest and suggest a solution if applicable

  • Encourage short-term goals in pursuit of the larger goals

  • Make a plan for the periodic review of goals

As a personal trainer, you work with your clients to achieve their written goals. Their goals are the focus. Your job is to facilitate the process. The client will be motivated to achieve a goal they created rather than a goal you gave them. They made the goal so, on some level, this goal is important to them. They will take responsibility for accomplishing the goal if it is important to them. Your job is facilitating the process even after the goal is set and written. As the trainer, you provide accountability and help clients change behaviors hindering their goals.

“The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.” Proverbs 21:5


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