Get Started

What's New

Online Personal Trainer

SMART Goal Setting for Real Results With Your Clients

Written by Lauren Shroyer on 30th July 2020.

Coaching2020-07-30 15.46.28

Person-centred coaching and SMART Goal Setting for Real Results

As personal trainers, we have educated ourselves to be the technical experts in many aspects of leading a healthy lifestyle. Now what we need to become is experts at helping others tap into their intrinsic motivation and current strengths.

The good news is, becoming a great coach is a learned skill. A great place to start is to learn the tools of collaborative goal setting

One of the most well-known formats for goal setting is the SMART goals format. You are likely to have heard of it, which is one of the reasons that it is so successful in communication with clients. They are likely to be familiar with the format too, so you immediately achieve a synergy in moving forward. The acronym SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound.

Here’s a quick overview of what it means to set a SMART goal.

Example: I will be able to run the entirety of a 5K race 6 months from now.

Specific: That the goal states running the entire race and the length of the race, makes this a specific goal. An individual will know if it has been accomplished or not.

Measurable: This is a measurable goal for the same reasons stated above – 5K, run the entirety.

Attainable: There is an argument that anyone, with the right time and training, can achieve any goal, but few of us can set a goal to run the 5K race in record time, and assume that it is attainable. Being able to run the entire race without walking or stopping, that is attainable.

Realistic: Whether or not a goal is realistic has more to do with other competing priorities. We know that our clients are often simultaneously holding a full time job, committed to being a great parent, and/or partner to their spouse. Depending on the ability to commit to training, this may or may not be a realistic goal. It is the setting of a Realistic goal that requires the skills of a great coach and the area we will focus on in this article.

Time-bound: As it sounds, a time-bound goal is one with an end date in mind. The 6 month time frame fits the qualifications of a time-bound goal.

Collaborative Goal Setting

The key to helping your client set and achieve goals is respecting the fact that though you are an expert in your job, your client is an expert in themselves. It’s important to support a client’s journey to set the right goal by following a person-centred approach to the discussion – uncovering a client’s values, respecting their priorities, and believing in their ability to succeed. 

Clients may come to you with a goal that seems like it fits the SMART goals format, but upon digging deeper, you may find that their motivation to reach the goal is actually lacking. See my article “Harnessing the power of questions to build motivation and accountability with online coaching” on how to dig deeper with clients to understand the ‘why’ behind their goal setting. Once you’ve identified the goal, you’ll need to understand what is realistic for your client to achieve and determine a realistic timeframe. 

This starts with leading your client through an exercise of self-reflection. 

Step 1: Give your clients two minutes to write down the things in their life that are most important to them. 

Step 2: Then, have them write down the things they do regularly to support those goals. 

By doing this, you raise your client’s awareness of all  the important priorities in their life.



Priorities Activities


Time with spouse

Time with kids

Coaching football


Visiting extended family

Work – 9 hours/day (with commute)

Family dinners

Coaching practice/games

Bike rides 2x/week

Training sessions 2x/week

Visiting family 1x/week

Sleep 8 hours/day


Step 3: Next, you ask them to write down the time each week that they spend on low priority tasks, or even unproductive time that could be spent toward meeting their goals. Most clients will identify some time each week that they are watching TV, scrolling through social media, or  the like. They may even be able to identify the time each day or week that it happens. 

Now that you have a mutual understanding of life priorities as well as the health or fitness goal and your client has outlined their scheduled time, you can move into the essential question.

Step 4: “How many hours per week can you realistically dedicate to this goal? Which activities are you willing to forgo to make more time for this goal?”

Then listen. Remember, in person-centric coaching, the client is the expert in themselves. By helping the client organize their priorities and activities and look objectively at their week, you have provided them the ability to step back and consider their reality. You’ll be thrilled to see how capable your clients are at finding the time without needing to be coaxed. 

You may have to help them find the time or be open to a shifting schedule. As you ask more questions about the schedule – “How many hours of TV each day?” “How late do you stay up and how early do you wake up?” “Are you tired after dinner or do you have extra energy?”

In the end, it may play out like this, “After we clean up from dinner, if I’m not coaching, my wife and I watch TV and the kids do their homework. We both really need to be home to help them with their work when they need it and I’m pretty tired by then. But we tend to watch TV until 10 or 10:30, maybe I could go to bed 30 minutes or an hour earlier and wake up for a run in the morning a few days per week.”

Now the solution becomes apparent and the client hasn’t been told what to do, instead they have decided what is realistic to do. From this weekly commitment, you then extrapolate how long it will take for your client to reach their goal. 

When providing online fitness training, adding these skills to your services creates even more value to your business (check out Adding Value to Online Personal Training with Behavior Change Coaching for more tips). It takes time to shift from giving answers to asking questions, but once you’ve mastered the skill, this person-centred approach to goal setting will improve your relationship with your clients as well as their likelihood to reach their goals.