In our lives, we are constantly being bombarded by messages guaranteeing unrealistic results. From ads promoting the latest diet miracle claiming to burn tens of pounds in a matter of weeks, to the dangerously quick and dramatic results achieved on the ever-popular weight loss show, the Biggest Loser, losing weight and losing lots of it has become an obsession for many. As the owner of a fitness business, I have no doubt that weight loss is probably the most common reason many people seek out a membership at your facility.
With the media and our society’s constant focus on losing weight, you’ve likely had to have conversations with clients about what is and is not a possible and healthy amount to lose. How do you handle these unrealistic expectations, and more importantly, how do you help your customers set realistic, healthy and attainable goals?
The Focus on Weight Loss
When thinking about getting into a regular gym routine, why is it that the driving reason for so many people is to lose a significant amount of weight? Personal trainer and author of the blog Lemon Lifts put the obsessive focus on weight loss in a very straightforward and good way. “Weight is not fitness. Weight is your interaction with the earth via a force called gravity. That’s it.”
The problem with focusing solely on weight is many people are focusing on unachievable end-weights. Many talk about the goal of getting back to the weight they were in high school or their wedding day. Others would like to look like super models, which many times, with their natural frame, would never be possible. According to a study from the University of Pennsylvania, researchers found that on average, overweight people set a goal of losing 32% of their body mass. The article goes on to talk about how this percentage is three times the amount needed to achieve better health, and points out the fact that having a goal to lose one-third of a person’s body weight is extremely unrealistic. Setting these types of lofty and unrealistic goals will ultimately set people up for both failure and disappointment.
Setting unachievable goals can also have negative impacts on an individual’s overall health. Having the goal of continuously needing to lose “just five more pounds” can cause individuals to overexert themselves, resulting in overtraining. Overtraining is defined as a state of intense exercise void of appropriate recovery. Not taking adequate time off or overexerting oneself during a workout can lead to long lasting injuries, and the need to take longer breaks from working out.
Another negative implication of only focusing on weight loss is the potential for depression to arise. A recent study examined 2,000 overweight and obese adults and found that those who slimmed down were 80% more likely to be depressed. The study attributes deprivation and the inability to reach goal weights as some of the leading causes of this depression. While there isn’t a proven connection between weight loss and depression, it absolutely makes sense that setting unrealistic goals that will likely result in failure will leave people feeling down.
Don’t get me wrong, weight loss can absolutely be a good thing. There are many health benefits associated with losing weight. However, how can you go about helping your clients set healthier, more achievable goals where weight loss is an additional outcome associated with hitting another goal, rather than being the ultimate goal itself?
Setting SMART Goals
As a fitness expect, I have no doubt that you aware of how to set SMART goals for your clients, and that you have extensive experience with setting these strong, achievable goals. With that being said, let’s have a quick review of what SMART goals are:
• Specific: The goal needs to be clearly defined, and should be as specific as possible so one can actually achieve it. What does the end result look like? How will the person feel once they accomplish it? Something vague like “lose weight” is not a specific goal.
• Measurable: Every goal set needs to be measurable. If someone doesn’t have a measurable goal, how will they know if and when they achieved it?
• Attainable: Goals should be challenging, however they shouldn’t be extreme. When setting a goal, take a step back and ask yourself, “is this really possible for [myself, this specific person, etc.]?”
• Relevant: With the resources and time available, is this goal realistic? Every goal must be one you’re willing to work towards, and also able to achieve.
• Timely: If goals don’t have time limit, motivation will suffer. Always have a specific date that the goal must be reached by. Remember, these goals need to be realistic and attainable, so make sure that the time frame isn’t too short or on the other hand, too far off in the future.
When setting these goals, always place focus on how big the goal is. If the goal is not realistically attainable in three months, make smaller goals to keep your clients on track along the way. Typically, smaller goals should be reachable within two to six weeks.
Solid Alternative Goals to Weight Loss
Since we’re focusing on having weight loss be an added benefit, rather than the end goal, what are solid goals to set that don’t place emphasis on shedding pounds? Consider setting the following alternative goals with your clients who come in seeking to weigh less.
• Lowering BMI: For clients that come in begging to lose weight, readjust their goal to instead focus on lowering their body fat percentage. While muscle does not weigh less than fat, a pound of muscle is much denser and takes up less space than a pound of fat. Encourage your clients to set the goal of decreasing body fat, while gaining muscle. This goal is easy to measure and totally customizable to each and every client.
• Increase Strength: For me personally, one of the biggest goals I’ve been able to achieve since starting CrossFit is getting stronger. Sure, the goal of “getting strong” is extremely vague, but adding specifics to it can easily make it measurable. Focus on tying skills into the goal that are associated with increased strength. In CrossFit, that could be the goal of successfully achieving five unbroken, strict pull-ups in a three-month time period.
• Achieve a New Movement or Skill: Similar to getting stronger, mastering a specific movement or skill is another great goal to set. For easier movements like pull-ups, consider encouraging your clients to engage in the practice of greasing the groove to eventually master that skill. For bigger movements like muscle-ups, set a series of smaller, attainable goals to help your clients work their way up to the almighty muscle-up.
• Train for an Event: Another great idea for setting a SMART goal is to have a specific event as the end goal. Have a client who wants to complete their first 5k without walking, or another client hoping to compete in their first mud run? Set up a series of smaller goals that will help them achieve their ultimate goal for completing that event.
You became a fitness professional because you are passionate about changing peoples’ lives through fitness and are an expert in your field. In order to change these lives, ensure you’re setting SMART goals with each and every customer. Remember, the personalized attention, advice and accountability you provide are one of the main reasons your clients will continue coming back. Do you agree with the idea of straying away from setting weight loss-specific goals for your clients? Let us know your thoughts and your advice for solid goal setting below. We look forward to hearing from you!
Setting SMART goals for each member can help with your retention efforts. For more tips on member retention, get your copy of our free guide, 7 Essential Strategies for Member Retention.