Set yourself a fitness goal and stick to it

Realistic, achievable targets will help you improve in everything you do.

If you needed any confirmation that fitness goals work, look no further than GB sprinter Zharnel Hughes, who recently ran 100 metres in 9.83 seconds and, a few weeks later, 200 metres in 19.73 seconds. He then went on to even greater things at the World Athletics Championships in Hungary. The times are spectacular for a couple of reasons: they’re both British records but, more amazingly, they’re proof that setting yourself accountable fitness goals can pay dividends.

They are exactly the predicted times he wrote down the night before – to a hundredth of a second. “I prayed for times like this, so I had to grind to get here! Never stop believing in yourself,” he wrote on Instagram. 

The secret he’s learned is something we can all relate to – that when it comes to setting a goal, it’s all about understanding your own body as it is now, and identifying which successful past activities can help you work towards a future target. 

A diary predicting exactly the times Zharnel Hughes would runCredit: Zharnel Hughes
Write your goal down and chase your dream. Zharnel Hughes did exactly that

Set a fitness goal and plan for success

“What goal-setting does is make you more aware of the standard of what you can achieve,” says Andy Lane, Professor of Sport Psychology at the University of Wolverhampton. “Goal-setting is great because it activates your energy levels.” 

It’s something we experience in life all the time, whether it’s doing an activity such as vacuuming the front room every Monday, or – when it comes to running something like a 10k (6.2 miles) – creating a training programme with all the elements you’ll need to achieve that target. 


“Goals like Hughes’ are static and measurable,” explains Lane, adding that of course Hughes has created his targets based on the training and feedback he’s received over the past few months. “When you have that as a background, it helps you to put your plans in place,” Lane adds. 

Fitness goals really do work

“The greater knowledge you have about a task, the more specific you can be,” Lane says. “So when you’re a novice, it doesn’t pay to be too specific.” By that he means that if you’ve targeted, let’s say, a local Parkrun, a good goal would be to learn from the run and decide which elements you can utilise to improve your overall fitness levels.

When you set specific times or performances, it can lead to disappointment and demotivation – exactly the reverse of what we’re looking for. 

It’s something Mike Gratton, who won the London Marathon back in 1983 and now offers one-to-one coaching, does today. “I am a performance-orientated runner, but I recognise that for most it is a weekly chance to be part of something healthy and worthwhile,” he says in reference to his weekly Parkrun.  

Make goals work for you

He’s re-set his goals to make them more health-oriented after suffering a stroke a few years back. “In my last run, I started halfway back from the front line then, after 100 metres, I had to walk for some minutes as the route narrowed. Those in the know went on a parallel path.

“After half a mile or so, I caught the runner who was pacing those hoping to run 34 minutes and, rather than be annoyed, I tried to see how many pacers I could catch.”

For Gratton, running goals are important, but his focus can easily be applied to any fitness goal, whether that’s discovering the benefits of going to the gym or perhaps deciding it’s time to start playing tennis 

An older man jogging with a towel around his shouldersCredit: Perfect Angle Images/Shutterstock
Set yourself a goal and never look back. They work perfectly so many times

Fitness goals prompt the question: “What do I know about myself?”

Goal-setting is all about understanding who you are and what you want. We can all apply that to everyday life, but it’s also hugely relevant to our fitness and sporting goals.

“I’ve run 547 Parkruns so I know what I can run,” explains Lane. “I also know that when other factors come into play – like the weather, for instance – I know I can’t be too specific, and I must adjust my goals accordingly.

So, rather than say I’m going to run 18 minutes, which is my best, I have a goal that says I’m as fast and as efficient as possible for that day and if it’s quicker, then great, or equally, if it’s a bit slower because of the wind or rain, that’s fine as well.” 

It’s a sentiment Hughes agrees with. He told Sky Sports: “It depends how I am feeling and, if I know I am in good shape, I just write down a time and I use that time as a target. I don’t care about winning as long as I execute the plan.” 

Hughes credited a Kobe Bryant mentality – known as the Mamba Mentality (basketball legend Bryant’s way of describing getting better every day) for his impressive recent results. Ive seen some little bits I can work on and its exciting for me, he told Sky.

How to set a goal

The coaching team at Asics have these suggestions for you: 

Specific. Pick a specific goal that you can really focus on, such as running in a Parkrun or perhaps a British Masters Championships event. 

Measurable. Work out how you’re going to track your improvement. Will that be two or three times a week, or are you looking for something more specific, such as 30 miles a week? 

Achievable. Your goal should be the right balance between challenging and achievable. It should not be something you can achieve within a couple of weeks or be unrealistic. 

Relevant. When setting fitness goals, choose something that’s relevant to you. It doesn’t have to be related to pace or distance. For example, it could be something as simple as getting up early and going for a run or walk twice a week before work. 

Time-based. A top tip when setting fitness goals as a beginner is to give yourself a deadline to meet your target. That sense of urgency provides extra motivation and gives you an incentive to really push yourself. 

Paul Larkins

Written by Paul Larkins


Paul Larkins has been a sports journalist for more than 30 years, covering two Olympic Games, one Paralympics, numerous World Championships and, most recently, the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022. He’s also been a magazine editor, heading up titles covering everything from running to cooking and buying tractors.

But his real passion is running. As a former GB International athlete and sub-4-minute miler in the 1980s, Paul has a great understanding of life-long fitness and the benefits it can provide. In fact, he’s still very competitive. In 2022 he ran in the World Masters’ Mountain Running Champs in the over-55 age group and is now looking forward to moving up a category and taking on the 60-year-olds.

He’s also part of the England Team Management set-up in road running as well as being an England team coach in the U18 age group for track and field athletics. Currently, he coaches a group of athletes ranging from 13 years old to 55 at his local club.

Outside of work, Paul loves cooking and driving classic cars. He’s owned everything from a 1966 Ford F-250 pickup to a clapped-out 1987 Porsche 944. He’s married to Elaine and they have a West Highland White Terrier named Benji, who’s not that keen on being timed for every run!