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Setting SMART Goals

By Daniel Scagnelli | Feb. 10, 2014, 1:28 p.m. (ET)

runningAfter winding down and clearing your mind this offseason, it’s time to start looking back and analyzing the past season’s successes, struggles and obstacles. Use that information and your interests to start envisioning next season and laying out your goals. However, make sure you are being smart about your goals. 

So, how do you know if you’re working smart and setting smart goals? SMART goals are specific, measurable, actionable/achievable, realistic/relevant and timely. 

By employing SMART goal setting techniques to your athletic endeavors, just as in work and business planning, you exponentially increase your chances for success. SMART goals help identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, barriers and areas for improvement while providing objective and precise guidelines for carrying out action items, benchmarking and tracking progress and measuring success.

You may already use these techniques and even find it easy to set SMART goals in work, life or other ventures but it can be difficult to figure out how to set SMART goals for achieving athletic outcomes. 

Be very specific and clear in the goals that you set for yourself. This is where you determine what you are going to do, when you are going to do it by, why you are going to do it and how you are going to get there. Don't be afraid to write these thoughts down, share them with someone and keep them handy so you can reference them during the season.

Goals absolutely, hands down, have to be measurable so you can chart and track progress, benchmark and analyze. If you aren't already using them, there are some great tools out there for helping you measure your training status and logging your workout data. A coach can also be a significant help in this department. 

When setting your goals you need to think of action-oriented words that will help motivate you to achieve those goals. It is important that you think about that goal and describe how you are going to act to achieve it. On the flip side, aligning with our next principle, it needs to be an achievable goal. Don't set yourself up for failure. 

Although you want to pick goals that challenge you to push your limits and take your athletic status to new heights, they must be reasonable. If you haven't run a 5k before, it may be unrealistic to set a goal of completing an Ironman triathlon next season. If you are a 17-hour Ironman athlete, it also may not be very realistic to set your goal at qualifying for the World Championships either. By setting realistic goals you position yourself for success. You are able to take away the stress and help yourself cope with the overwhelming feelings mid-season, like fatigue and doubts that will arise.

I recommend that you further assist yourself by setting incremental goals for the season. Start small to help build your confidence, set another mid-season goal and then a reach goal for the season. These benchmarks will not only help you assess your progress along the way, but will help you better manage your long-term goals and keep you motivated along the way. Lastly, ensure that what you are doing is relevant to your long-term goals. Setting a PR at a local crit in the spring or tearing up the single track in a 24-hour mountain bike race isn't necessarily going to position you for a great triathlon performance in the early summer and may significantly increase your risk of injury, so be mindful of those extracurricular activities.

You absolutely must set a deadline for your goal, otherwise you still don't have a complete goal. Without that target you have no means for developing a road map to success — no urgency or clarity — and you can easily be swayed from completing the action items that support your goals. 

Use these techniques to help have a better winter planning season. Just as in business, dedicate the necessary time to these activities; don't just breeze through them to come up with a quick finished product. The more time and effort you spend goal setting and planning, the more successful you are likely to be next season. Most importantly, have fun, be happy, and train safe!

Coach Daniel holds a masters degree in exercise science, a USA Cycling coaching license, and is a Clinical Exercise Specialist (CES) through the American College of Sports Medicine. He also rocks the SMART goals with One Step Beyond Coaching out of Cary, North Carolina.  Read more at

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.