5 Common Fitness New Year’s Resolutions: How to Reframe Them

woman using note pad to set goals

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Do you ring in the New Year with a list of vague health or lifestyle resolutions that you have trouble keeping? That's pretty common. The most common New Year's resolution made last year was about "living healthier," which is very vague.

Does that mean you intend to get more exercise, improve your food choices, or reduce stress? A more specific and measurable goal would be easier to achieve.

Turns out, it's rare that simply setting a goal will lead to behavior change. Researchers call this the “intention-behavior gap,” which means that the desire to change behavior isn’t enough to facilitate change.

Instead, you need a plan. Enter SMART goals, a method of goal-setting that ensures your goals are:

  • S - Specific: skip vague goals and be very detailed about what you want to achieve.
  • M – Measurable: make sure your goal can be measured (in reps, weight, minutes, days, etc).
  • A – Attainable or achievable: a goal that's impossible will never be reached. Be practical.
  • R – Relevant or realistic: Make sure you really want the goal and it's doable in your life.
  • T – Time-bound: Have an end date of when you want to achieve your goal.

We’ve taken some popular fitness goals, such as exercising more, getting abs, and running a marathon, and have broken them down into SMART goals that have a better chance of success. Use these as a guideline to create your own SMART goals that are appropriately framed so you set yourself up for success. 

Goal: Get Abs 

Ah, the fabled six-pack. It’s high on the want list for many fitness enthusiasts, but a difficult goal because it’s not measurable, readily attainable, or always relevant based on your fitness starting point.

Some people have more visceral fat in the mid-section, so defined abdominal muscle tone isn’t realistic. And that’s okay! Fitness and diet culture make us think that one body type is desirable, but that’s simply not true. Building core strength is important for the whole body. It helps improve balance, posture, and stability, whether you can see visible muscles or not.

Reframe “get abs” as a SMART goal:

I will strengthen my core abdominal muscles by September. I will do this by performing core strength exercises such as sit-ups and bicycle crunches four times per week during my workouts.

You can make the goal even more specific by adding details about the exact exercises that you
will do, and can make it measurable by adding in specific numbers:        

  • I will do 20 bicycle crunches and will do this four times per week        
  • I will do 10 vertical leg crunches three times per week        
  • I will do 50 sit-ups two evenings per week

Since you cannot control how your body will react to the increased ab exercises, it’s not attainable or relevant to aim for visible ab muscles as your goal. However, you can certainly aim for doing more core strengthening exercises, since that goal is attainable and easily measured.

Goal: Get Stronger

Another common goal centers on gaining strength, which is pretty vague. It’s easier to achieve this
goal if it’s more measurable. For example, if you usually lift 20 pounds, you could measure an increase in strength by lifting 25 or 30 pounds within a certain time frame.

Reframe “get stronger” as a SMART goal:

I will increase my bicep curl weight from 20 lbs to 25 lbs in 3 months by following a strength training
program and by doing arm workouts three times per week.

You can repeat this weight training goal for different arm, leg, and core exercises using specific weights and time frames for measurability.  

Goal: Exercise More

According to the CDC, only 53% of adults met the Physical Activity Guidelines for aerobic physical activity. That means many people remain sedentary or inactive, and set up a resolution to “exercise more.”

Without boundaries or parameters, it’s easy to fail at this goal. To succeed, you need to specific the type and amount of exercise you will get, and how often you will do it.

Reframe “exercise more” as a SMART goal:

I will walk in my neighborhood (or inside a mall if it's too rainy/cold/hot outside) for 30 minutes a day, at least four days a week.  

It’s also important to pick realistic exercise methods that fit your lifestyle, climate, and budget. For instance, if you live in Arizona, you probably won’t be choosing downhill skiing in July as a realistic way to get more exercise.

Goal: Run a Marathon

Depending on your starting point (non-runner, beginner, advanced, etc.) a marathon can be a huge
undertaking. Beyond the physical part of the run, you also need to figure out your hydration and nutrition strategy and deal with potential injuries.

You need to make sure that your goal is attainable. If you’ve never run more than 1k, it would
not be realistic to run a 10k race or a marathon that’s two weeks away.

Reframe “run a marathon” as a SMART goal:

In the next six weeks, I want to improve my personal record of running 3k by two minutes.

After you decide on a small goal that leads towards the bigger goal of running a marathon, you need to develop a nutrition, hydration, and training schedule to follow. You may need to work with a dietitian or personal trainer. The plan should outline specific, measurable, and relevant smaller
goals that feed into the bigger “marathon,” if that’s down the road.  

Goal: Workout 3 Times Per Week

Well-defined goals are important to help you focus and create a measurable plan. One possible limitation of SMART goals is that the goal setter may not specify how the goal will be implemented.

Case in point: working out three times a week seems like a smart goal because it's measurable and realistic, but it doesn't have enough specificity on how to make this goal happen. What will the workout entail? Will you work out in the morning, afternoon or evening? Where will you work out?

Reframe "workout 3 times per week" as a SMART goal:

Starting in January, I will walk on the treadmill at the gym for 30 minutes, then do 10 minutes of weight training. I will do this exercise before work at least three days a week for the next three months.

It's important to note that goals also shift and change from time to time. While you will want to do your best to adhere to the goal you set, you may have to adjust your goal to meet yourself where you are. If you set a walking goal but develop an injury, perhaps you shift to a yoga-centric goal or something that is lower impact.

A Word From Verywell

You are more likely to achieve your fitness and lifestyle goals if you ensure that they are specific, measurable, attainable. realistic and time-bound. Develop an action plan that outlines how you will roll out your goal. Be sure to ask for help when you need it.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is a SMART goal?

    A smart goal is one that is specific, measurable, attainable. realistic and time-bound. It's easier to achieve goals that meet these criteria.

  • What should my goals for the year be?

    Start by evaluating where you currently are in your fitness plan and think about where you want to be. Set specific and attainable goals based on your own baseline, and don't be influenced by unrealistic or lofty goals set by athletes, influencers, or celebrities. If you're not sure where to start, work with a personal trainer for guidance.

5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Bailey RR. Goal Setting and Action Planning for Health Behavior Change. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2017 Sep 13;13(6):615-618. doi: 10.1177/1559827617729634. PMID: 31662729; PMCID: PMC6796229.

  3. Jiotsa B, Naccache B, Duval M, Rocher B, Grall-Bronnec M. Social media use and body image disorders: association between frequency of comparing one’s own physical appearance to that of people being followed on social media and body dissatisfaction and drive for thinnessInt J Environ Res Public Health. 2021;18(6):2880. doi:10.3390/ijerph18062880

  4. Hsu SL, Oda H, Shirahata S, Watanabe M, Sasaki M. Effects of core strength training on core stabilityJ Phys Ther Sci. 2018;30(8):1014-1018. doi:10.1589/2Fjpts.30.1014

  5. CDC Exercise or Physical Activity.

By Cara Rosenbloom, RD
 Cara Rosenbloom RD is a dietitian, journalist, book author, and the founder of Words to Eat By, a nutrition communications company in Toronto, ON.