How To Set Fitness Goals and Stick With ’Em (Even When You Hate the Gym)

At the start of a new year, many of us have lofty goals about how this year will be the year.

The year we start taking better care of ourselves. Get healthy. Figure out a workout plan. Prioritize fitness and get in shape for real.

But starting and sticking to a fitness routine takes a whole lotta discipline… and it’s pretty easy to give up before you even start.

Making small changes and having realistic expectations are two ways you can inch toward success.

In this article, I’ll guide you through setting fitness goals this year and beyond. But first, let’s talk about why it matters.


Why you should set fitness goals

How often do you set goals for yourself?

Whether those targets are related to your career, finances, or personal health, setting goals helps you stay on track and accomplish more. And that long-term vision will keep you motivated when you feel like giving up on your fitness journey. 

Without goals, it’s easy to lose your sense of purpose; they remind you why you started investing in your health. If you’re wandering around the gym without a proper exercise routine, it will be tough to get inspired.

Setting goals is crucial for your success—so much so that the mere act of identifying your goals and writing them down increases your chances of actually achieving them.


How to get started and stick with your fitness goals

Before you start planning, take some time to reflect on your “why.”

What’s your reason for wanting to set fitness goals in the first place?

You might want to have more energy.  Or feel more confident. Or maybe it’s something specific—like a race you’re training for.

Write this down on a fitness goals worksheet or a piece of paper—and cling to it. On days when you’re feeling less confident or inspired, your “why” reminds you why you started and why you shouldn’t stop. 

Now let’s establish a fitness routine that works for you and your life. These six strategies will get you moving:


1. Shift your mindset

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Believing in yourself is often the most difficult part of achieving your fitness goals. It’s easy to get lost in limiting beliefs and self-doubt. 

To shift your mindset, identify any negative thoughts. At some point in your fitness journey, you might catch yourself thinking, “I’m not strong enough.” When negativity creeps in, talk back to it. Try re-framing techniques and practice self-compassion. Instead of “I’m not strong enough,” tell yourself, “I’m just getting started and I’ll get stronger each week.” (For more on how to stop negative self talk, check out this post.)

It might sound basic, but making this a habit will boost your confidence in a big way. Fake it till you make it, as they say.


2. Make your goals personal

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The benefit of setting your own fitness goals is that you’re the boss. You get to decide what’s best for you.

A long day of classes leaves you drained. And fitting in exercise between a heavy course load, a part-time job, and your social life can be tricky.

Take a look at your calendar and schedule your workouts at the most convenient time. Treat exercise the same way you’d prioritize your classes or a shift at work—view it as a commitment that you must show up for. Here are a few scheduling tips:

  • Exercise on days you’re less busy
  • Let your availability and personality preferences influence your routine (i.e., squeezing in an early-morning gym session if you’re a morning person)
  • Prepare your fitness gear the night before to give yourself one less “to do” item on your workout days
  • Look for ways to naturally sneak in movement throughout the day like walking to your class across campus or biking to a friend’s house

And if you end up missing some workouts? That’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up. What matters is that you follow your plan most of the time and keep at it (even if you miss a day here and there).


3. Switch it up when needed

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If you get bored with your current workout routine, why not add something new to keep your body and mind engaged? You can try a whole range of alternatives like yoga, swimming, running, or cycling. Trying something out of the ordinary can be challenging (in a good way) and help you break out of a fitness rut. 

Remember, you don’t have to limit yourself to traditional fitness activities to call it a “workout.” What truly matters is that you’re active and enjoying what you’re doing.

For instance, if you’re an outdoorsy person who craves fresh air and sunshine, invite a friend to go hiking. Or, if you gravitate toward music and movement, enrolling in a dance class could be the right choice for you. The more you enjoy an activity, the more likely you’ll follow through.


4. Track your progress

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Knowing your target fitness goals is key—this gives you something tangible and actionable to aim for.

But tracking your progress is just as important.

This will keep you motivated, laser-focused on your goals, and bring you a sense of fulfillment in what you’ve accomplished. 

Choose a tracking method that you can use consistently. It can be as simple or as detailed as you want.

Many people like using numbers. For example, the number of minutes you ran or your personal record for a particular lift.

Others track their progress by their weight. Remember that this isn’t always reliable and indicative of your health because of normal weight fluctuations due to hormonal changes and water retention. You may also gain muscle.

Another idea is keeping a fitness journal—tracking workouts, habits, and feelings on each workout day. 

Download our fitness goals worksheet here.

Or, for a digital record, give a fitness app a go. Popular ones include MyFitnessPal, Nike Training Club, and Strava.


5. Gamify your routine to stay motivated

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Some of us need a carrot dangled in front of us to keep us going. 🙋🏻‍♀️ (No shame in that!)

Whether it’s small rewards to push through an intense workout session or a bigger prize that’s more enticing, set up ways to recognize your hard work.

For you, this could mean treating yourself to something special, like a massage, after achieving a certain number of exercise hours. For smaller, day-to-day rewards, celebrate tiny markers along the way: “I’ll get a drink of water after I do X reps.” Or, “I’ll enjoy a cup of coffee after I finish my morning workout.” 

Participate in a 30-day workout series or join your friends on Fitbit challenges to keep it interesting. Engaging in friendly competition can help you stay on track. You can even compete with yourself by setting small goals like beating your own personal records (higher lift numbers or faster run times, for example).


6. Take a holistic approach

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Tackle your fitness goals with a whole-health perspective. Ask yourself: are you getting enough shut-eye every night? Or do you find yourself feeling dehydrated after a long day of studying? Monitoring sleep hygiene and water intake are crucial to achieving your fitness goals. 

Similarly, taking care of your mental health should be a top priority. Mental health isn’t something you can put off until later—it’s equally as important as physical health. Just like regular exercise improves physical fitness, consistent work on mental wellness will help you feel your best.

Adopt activities that are nourishing to your mental well-being like mindfulness, journaling, or counseling. These practices will make you less anxious about work and more confident in difficult situations. They can also contribute to your success when it comes to your fitness goals.


Making fitness a part of your life doesn’t have to be a chore

As with any habit, it takes trial and error, discipline, and commitment. 

Setting achievable fitness goals is a great way to build a healthy lifestyle that works for you. From cardio workouts to strength training, there are endless ways to get moving and stay fit.

Before you know it, fitness will become an integral part of your day-to-day life.

And while setting and sticking to a fitness routine is no easy task, reaping the health benefits (while feeling energized and in control of your body) is priceless.