How to Set Realistic Fitness Goals

The Simple Truth About Reaching Your Goals

Woman running up stairs

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Whether you want to lose weight, gain muscle, or increase your endurance, it's important to tailor your workout to fit your goals. That seems obvious, but many people who start working out eventually find their enthusiasm waning as their goals get further and further away. One way to avoid giving up on exercise is to make sure your goals are realistic and that you have a specific plan to reach them.

Repeatedly failing to stick to your goals means that either your goal is out of reach or that you haven't quite figured out what to do to reach it. It helps to have a clear idea of what you want and the basics for what's involved in getting it.

Losing Fat

Losing fat is a common goal among many people. At its simplest, fat loss involves burning more calories than you eat. If you burn an extra 500 calories per day, you would lose about a pound a week. You can't choose where you lose fat; spot training doesn't work because your body draws energy from the entire body when you exercise, not just from the area you're exercising.

Gaining Muscle

While weight loss is a common goal, some people also have trouble keeping weight on. In this case, your goal might be gaining muscle, which, believe it or not, can be just as difficult as losing weight.

Gaining muscle, like losing weight, requires careful attention to your workouts and your diet, with a focus on eating more calories than you're burning and lifting heavy weights. If you lift weights, you can build muscle, but if you want to put on some serious size, that requires hard work, extra calories, and commitment.

Sports Conditioning

Training for a race or a sport often requires a different approach than if your goal were to lose weight or gain muscle. Your main focus should be on whatever you're training for. If you want to run a marathon, the bulk of your training will involve running. If you want to be better at basketball, your training will incorporate high-intensity jumps, lateral movement, strength training, and, of course, playing basketball.

Whatever you're training for, you'll usually want to include cross-training. For example, you might lift weights to keep your body strong for running or cross-train with other activities to use your body in a different way and avoid injury.


Being healthy can be a simple goal to reach since there are many easy strategies you can employ to prioritize your health. Drink plenty of water, eat enough servings of fruit and vegetables, go for a brisk walk, and so on.

Even a few minutes of exercise has a number of health benefits, some of which you may experience instantly and some that may come over time. If you want to lose weight:

  1. Calculate your basal metabolic rate (BMR).
  2. Determine how many calories you burn during daily activity.
  3. Add #1 and #2 to get your total calories, i.e., how many calories you need each day to maintain your current weight.
  4. Reduce that amount by about 100 to 200 calories, but avoid going lower than about 1,500 calories (depending on your height) so that you can still provide your body with enough energy and nutrition.
  5. Record how many calories you eat and how many you burn each day. If that number is higher than your total calories, you know you need to reduce the calories you're eating and/or increase your exercise to create a calorie deficit.

The Simple Truth

To lose a pound, you have to burn approximately 3,500 calories. If you burn a total of 500 calories with exercise and diet each day, you'll lose a pound in about 7 days.

If you're eating more calories than you're burning, you need to either work out more, eat less, or try a combination of the two.

Example: If your BMR is 1,500 calories and you burn 500 calories while exercising, you need 2,000 calories to maintain your current weight. To lose a pound a week, you'll need to eat about 1,500 calories a day and burn 500 calories a day with cardio and weight training.

Whether you're looking to lose or maintain your current weight, consider the following:

  • Eating a balanced diet means getting all the nutrients you need so that you feel good all day and you have enough fuel for your workouts.
  • Keeping track of what you eat will help you avoid mindless snacking and eating when you're not really hungry.
  • Staying hydrated can stave off hunger since thirst sometimes presents itself as hunger pains.
  • A complete workout should include strength training, cardiovascular exercise, and flexibility exercises.
  • If you're hungry throughout the day, you're either not eating enough or your meals aren't satisfying you. A combination of carbs, protein, and fat will help you feel full for a longer period of time.

A Word From Verywell

If you're ready to take charge of your health and fitness, then it's time to start exercising. Consider working with a certified personal trainer to help you devise a custom-tailored workout program to help you meet your goals. If you have a chronic injury or health condition, be sure to consult your healthcare provider first to get cleared for exercise.

Give yourself plenty of recovery days so you don't burn out, especially as you're just getting started. Remember to drink water all day long, and follow a well-balanced diet that includes whole fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, legumes, and dairy, and minimizes processed foods and foods containing added sugar. Once you reach your goals, reward yourself for a job well done with new clothes, a massage, or a night out on the town. Be proud of your accomplishments and feel good in your body.

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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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By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."