How to Set Fitness Goals That Stick

Turn your exercise habits on autopilot.

By: Emily Freeman

When it comes to reaching your fitness goals, one of the number one tips to keep in mind is consistency! But consistency isn’t always easy. We usually start fitness routines with good intentions because we’re excited about looking and feeling better. That excitement is great fuel to get started, and creating fitness goals is a good next step, but even combined, they may not be the golden ticket. You must also create the behavior change needed to adhere to them. 

We know reaching your fitness goals is important to you, and we’re here to help you get there! So let’s walk through some essential steps to creating goals that stick.

RELATED: The Ultimate Guide to Starting a Home Fitness Routine 

Why Health and Fitness Goals Are Underrated (And Essential) 

Yes, we went there. Setting goals is fun. You start to visualize what your fit, healthier body will look and feel like. But, goals alone will not get you where you want to go. The secret sauce? Behavioral change. 

Behavioral change is when a new set of actions become habitual. That is, the behavior no longer takes as much conscious thought, rather it is triggered by contextual cues — i.e., seeing your workout clothes laid out by your bed, your alarm going off at the same time each morning, watching someone else exercise online, or getting a FitOn app reminder to workout on your phone. 

You may be thinking, “exercise will never become habitual for me.” And for even the most seasoned exercises, some days, exercise can still feel like a chore. But ask a fit person to go a week without exercising, and within a few days, he/she will become stir crazy and restless. Exercise has become such an ingrained part of his/her life that removing it creates more discomfort than the habit itself. No matter where you are in your fitness journey, follow the following steps, and pretty soon, exercise will be a habit that’s hard to quit. Please note, creating an exercise habit is not the same as exercise addiction, which can become harmful. 

The First Step: Set SMART Fitness Goals 

Why is setting goals important? It’s the first step to creating a new habit. But it takes a special type of goal to actually lead you on your way to behavioral change. Goals that stick are SMART


This is your “how.” If you have a goal to lose weight, think about the steps you will take to get there. Will you exercise three days a week? Sleep a specific number of hours? 


How will you track your progress? This should include quantifiable data. Back to our weight loss example, how many pounds do you want to lose? How many pounds per week is this? 


Creating lofty goals is important, but shooting beyond what’s reasonable will only set you up for failure. When you create goals that are attainable, you are able to meet them. The more goals you achieve, the more confident you feel about setting new goals. 


Your goal should resonate with you. It should be something that motivates you to get up in the morning and crush your day. If you’re setting a weight loss goal because your doctor told you to, this may not feel very intrinsically motivating. This is an invitation to find your own “why.” Is it to lose weight so you can live long enough to meet your grandchildren? Spend less money on medical costs? Walk up the stairs without getting out of breath? Whatever it is, find something that feels relevant to you. 


There should be a deadline associated with your goal to keep you on track and create a sense of urgency. How many weeks/months will it take you to reach your goal. 

How to Set Long-term Fitness Goals

Thinking about big goals is exciting. Try it, think about a really big personal health or fitness goal you have for yourself. When you do this, do you notice your eyes widen? Maybe a grin pops up on your face? But then, you start having thoughts about how much time it will take to get there, what obstacles may stand in your way, and soon enough, you’ve talked yourself out of even trying. 

This is why it’s so important to break down your big personal fitness goals into smaller ones to avoid burnout. If something feels too far away, it’s much easier to come up with reasons why it won’t work. 

Start by asking yourself what you need to do each month to reach this bigger fitness goal. Then, each week. This will help you create the SMART goals that will eventually lead you to the big goal. Simply by adhering to your shorter goals, you’ll reach your long-term ones. 

List of Good Fitness Goals

So what does a good fitness goal look like? Here are a few examples:

I will lose 10 pounds over the next 5 weeks by doing strength training 3 times per week, 150 minutes of cardio per week, and eating lean protein, lots of veggies, some fruit, healthy fats, and some complex carbohydrates. 

I will increase my deadlift from 130 to 170 pounds in the next two months by adding deadlifts to my lower body training days two times per week and increasing the weight by 5 pounds each week. 

I will be able to run for 30 minutes straight by next month by running three times per week. I will run for 15 minutes straight in week one, 20 minutes straight in week two, 25 minutes straight in week three, and 30 minutes straight in week four. 

How to Achieve Your Fitness Goals

#1 Create a Fitness Routine 

If you can, try to schedule in your workouts at the same time every day/week. Successful fitness routines need to rely on some structure, especially in the beginning. Working out at the same times will make it, so you start to equate that time of day with sweating it out. This is one of the best ways to create habits that stick. 

#2 Use Sensory Cues

Whether it’s laying out your workout clothes the night before, filling up your water bottle, playing specific music, or setting a reminder on your phone, the more sensory cues you can create to remind you to work out, the better. Your brain will recognize these cues and start to prep your body for exercise. You may notice yourself getting fidgety or starting to daydream about how good it’ll feel to work out. This means it’s working! 

#3 Give it 30 Days 

Most people have been told a habit takes 21 days to stick, but it may take longer. At that 21-day mark, there’s still some desire to go back to previous behaviors. For example, you’ve gone 21 days without meat. The desire for meat is probably still there. You have cravings for it after all and can’t wait for three weeks to pass to eat it again. If you’re not going to be a vegetarian for life, this is okay. However, exercise is a necessary lifelong habit. So, if you’re still longing for a more sedentary life, the habit hasn’t been formed yet. Give it another 10 or more days. Once the alternative behavior feels less appetizing than the new, consider the habit formed!

Remember to Show Yourself Some Grace

No matter how long you’ve been a regular exerciser, there will still be days where you don’t have time to fit in a workout, feel under the weather, or just can’t muster up the motivation to sweat. That’s okay — you’re human. Breath, dust it off and get back to it the next day. Behavioral change takes time and effort. Create realistic standards for yourself. You’re human, and not every day will be perfect.