Day to day we are constantly bombarded with messages promising unrealistic results.

We’ve all seen the ads promoting the latest diet miracle claiming to burn tens of pounds in a matter of weeks. Quickly losing lots of weight has become an obsession for many.  

Weight loss is often the most common reason many people seek out gym memberships. According to a 2021 survey by biotechnology company Gelesis, 74% of respondents are interested in trying a new exercise program to help them lose weight.  

With the media and our society’s constant focus on losing weight, you’ve likely had conversations with clients about what is and isn’t possible. How do you handle these unrealistic expectations, and more importantly, how do you help your clients set realistic, healthy and attainable goals?  

The Focus on Weight Loss  

Why is it that the driving reason behind so many people’s gym routines is to lose a significant amount of weight? Losing weight is not equivalent to fitness, but the line between the two is often blurred. 

The problem with focusing solely on weight loss is that many people desire unachievable end-weights. Many have a goal of getting back to the weight they were in high school or on their wedding day. Others want to look like supermodels, which may not be possible with their natural frame.  

Setting these types of lofty and unrealistic goals ultimately sets people up for failure and disappointment. 

Setting unachievable goals can also have negative impacts on a client’s overall health. Creating a mindset of continuously needing to lose “just five more pounds” can cause clients to overexert themselves, resulting in overtraining. 

Overtraining is 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 exercising.  

A heavy focus on weight loss has also been linked to a potential rise in depression. One study found that respondents who lost 5% of their body weight over four years were 52% more likely to report a depressed mood than those who stayed within 5% of their original weight over the same timeframe.  

Weight loss can absolutely benefit your health, but it can become a burden when it’s your sole goal. Losing weight should be an additional outcome associated with hitting another goal, rather than the ultimate goal itself. So how can you help your clients set healthier, more achievable goals with a positive relationship to weight loss? 

Setting SMART Goals  

Whether you’re working with clients as a personal trainer, training your staff, or guiding your members, it’s important to set strong, achievable goals. You can set your clients up for success by using SMART goals. 

A SMART goal should be: 

Specific: The goal should be clearly defined and as specific as possible. What does the end result look like? How will the client feel once they accomplish it? Vague goals like “lose weight” are not specific enough. 

Measurable: What gets measured gets managed, so the goal needs to be measurable. If the goal isn’t measurable, how will the client know if and when they achieve it? 

Attainable: Goals should be challenging, but they shouldn’t be extreme. When setting a goal, take a step back and ask yourself, “is this really possible?” 

Relevant: Is the goal realistic when taking the available resources and time into account? The goal should be relevant to your overall objectives and should be achievable with your resources. 

Timely: It’s hard to stay motivated without a finish line to cross. Always have a specific deadline for achieving the goal. Remember, these goals need to be realistic and attainable, so make sure the time frame isn’t too short or far off.  

When setting a goal, always focus on how big it is. If the goal isn’t realistically attainable in three months, break it into smaller goals to keep your clients on track. Typically, smaller goals should be reachable within two to six weeks.  

Alternative Goals to Weight Loss 

What are some solid goals that don’t place emphasis on shedding pounds, and instead include it as an added benefit? Consider these ideas when setting SMART goals with your clients who come in seeking weight loss.  

Lowering BMI 

For clients that come in wanting to lose weight, readjust their goal to instead focus on lowering their body fat percentage. While the weights of muscle and fat are comparable, a pound of muscle is much denser and takes up less space than a pound of fat.  

Encourage your clients to set a goal of decreasing body fat while gaining muscle. This goal is easy to measure and customizable for each client.  

Increase Strength  

Your clients can increase their strength through a variety of options. While the goal of “getting strong” is vague, you can make it more measurable by incorporating skills.  

What skills can you loop into the goal to demonstrate increased strength? Achieving five unbroken, strict pull-ups in a three-month time period is much more attainable than “getting strong.” 

Achieve a New Movement or Skill  

Mastering a specific movement or skill is another achievable, measurable goal.  

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. 

Train for an Event 

Another great idea for setting a SMART goal is to plan it around a specific event.  

Do you 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 of completing that event.  

You became a fitness professional because you are passionate about changing people’s lives through fitness. The personalized attention, advice and accountability you provide are why your clients keep coming back. By setting SMART goals you can help them reach their fitness goals without sacrificing their wellbeing.  

Setting SMART goals is just one of the ways you can upgrade your gym. Looking for other ways to take your gym to the next level? Zen Planner is here to help.  

We pride ourselves on catering our proven gym management and billing solutions to the particular needs of your gym. Reach out today and book a live demo to see everything Zen Planner has to offer! 

Article originally published June 2015 and updated June 2022. 


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.

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