Reach SMART Fitness Goals With This 4-Step Fall Action Plan

Fall is the perfect time to reset your routine. Here’s how to set SMART fitness goals and create an effective action plan, according to experts.
Reach SMART Fitness Goals With This 4-Step Fall Action Plan

It’s not hard to guess when gyms see the highest uptick in attendance. (Hint: Immediately following that big ball drop.) But do you know the second largest boom for fitness classes? Back-to-school season. 

Summer can often feel like months of disarray–managing school breaks, schedule changes and vacations. “Fall represents the school year starting and things getting back to ‘normal,” says Orangetheory research scientist Brittany Leboeuf, PhD. “A lot of people see fall as a time to ‘start over’ before the holidays.”

Healthy behavior change can be hard, and often there is a gap between your desire or intent to change and the actual steps you need to take to make it happen. That’s especially true if you’ve been out of sync. If you’re feeling inspired to revive your workout routine, Leboeuf recommends starting by setting a SMART fitness goal.

SMART Fitness Goals Defined

What is a SMART fitness goal, exactly? It means defining a goal that is: 

  • Specific: you can easily determine success or failure
  • Measurable: something you can track
  • Achievable: based on your current fitness levels 
  • Relevant: tailored toward your life, health and fitness needs
  • Time-bound: set for a specific length of time

Notice how we said “a” goal? That’s an important caveat. “Setting too many SMART fitness goals at once can be a recipe for disaster,” says Leboeuf. “Someone may start off strong, but fizzle out due to so many things happening at once.” 

While experts agree that setting SMART fitness goals is critical to keeping you focused, motivated and ultimately successful, there’s also one major limitation: They don’t specify how the goal will be implemented. Which means, you can’t just set it and hope for the best. You need to take it one step farther by creating an action plan. Here are four evidence-based ideas for how to put your goal into motion and guarantee success this season.

Keep it consistent. A 2023 study found that the most important predictor of gym attendance across individuals is how much time has passed since the previous gym visit–or what researchers refer to as “time lag.” For 76 percent of study participants, the longer it has been since they last visited the gym, the less likely they are to go on a given day. Those who kept a consistent schedule–always going to the gym on the same days–were less likely to skip.

Add some accountability. Find a friend, partner or workout buddy who can help hold you to your SMART fitness goals. By giving them some specifics about how they can best support you–whether that’s showing tough love when your motivation is waning, gently encouraging from the sideline or joining you for your workouts–you’ll be less likely to give up when someone else is involved. (Already an Orangetheory member? Bring them with you! They get their first class free, and you can score a $50 referral discount on your monthly dues if they end up signing up.) 

Focus on the good. ​​When identifying actions that will help you reach yourgoal, consider how you are framing them. Positive approach goals (“I’m going to eat a cup of low-fat yogurt for my afternoon snack”) are associated with greater success and better vibes than a negatively framed avoidance goal (“I’m not going to eat junk food as a snack”). 

Have a backup plan. You know what they say about best laid plans…they rarely go as expected. Say your goal is to go to three workout classes a week. Well, what happens if your work meeting runs long or your kid comes down with a stomach bug? By having what experts call a “coping plan” in place in advance of unexpected obstacles, you’ll be less likely to derail your efforts.


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