​10,000 steps to failure: How to set your fitness goals – and actually stick to them

We explain how to make your fitness tracker work for you
​How to set your fitness tracker goals

The surge of wearables for fitness tracking has enabled us to track, monitor and store a cornucopia of data about our bodies, our workouts and our habits. But what good is all of this data if we're throwing in the towel after only a few days?

The problem is a disconnect between what we hope to achieve when we buy a fitness tracker and what we experience after we strap it on.

Get more from your runs: Best GPS running watches

And this disparity between expectation and reality is one of the reasons research from Endeavour Partners revealed that one third of those who buy wearable devices stop using it after just six months.

To give you more of an insight into how to set goals and stick to them, we've enlisted the help of two personal trainers to shed light on the nature of goal setting, to help you figure out the kind of device, goals and setup you need to stay motivated.

Pick the right tracker for you

Polly from The Fit Mum Formula believes that to hit fitness goals using a tracker "you want a tracking device to make the process easier not irritating."

She explained that without realising it, most of us have different motivations when it comes to making big changes to our fitness. "Some people love seeing numbers and are motivated by achieving goals, whereas others just want to see results," she said.

Let us help you choose: The best fitness tracker for your needs

It gets even more granular than that, and Polly urged people to really think about how much motivation they have toward the whole process and want they want from their gadgets:

"Some might like inputting their own data, for example food intake, but others might want a device to do work for them, like one that counts steps or distance run," she explained.

Unfortunately there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to fitness tracking.

Most people fail because they do not measure what they are trying to achieve.

Like Polly suggests, you need to work out what motivates you. If you like seeing numbers on your way to a goal you'll need a device with a screen so you can keep your motivation levels high throughout the day, like a Basis Peak or Fitbit Charge.

If you're all about the end game, something more discreet with a great app experience will be more suited to what you're after, like a Jawbone UP Move or Misfit Shine 2.

Set your own goals

Fitness trackers are all about meeting goals – and most devices suggest some to get you started. But if those are unattainable or too easy, it can kill our motivation.

Alex from Xander Conditioning and Fitness First believes many of his clients are selling ourselves too short when it comes to goal setting, saying people approach fitness goals "timidly". Why? "People hate to fail," he said. Polly agreed: "There's nothing more demotivating than 'failing' because you couldn't stick to a plan because it was unrealistic."

The challenge if you're going it alone with a tracker instead of a personal trainer is getting to the bottom of what a 'realistic goal' really is.

I meet people every day who say they want to be able to "fit into a dress" by a certain date

Alex believes something that takes us away from achievable goals and into sketchy territory is being too subjective. He said he meets people every day who say they want to be able to "fit into a dress" by a certain date, "look good on a beach" or just "get fit."

So the first step is having a much more quantifiable outcome in mind rather than approaching your fitness with subjective goals, a process many can find challenging. Often "run 5km" doesn't sound half as appealing as "look like Rosie Huntington-Whiteley on a beach in two months," but when you're using a fitness tracker you have to take personal responsibility for the goals you're setting.

Essential reading: How to use your fitness tracker to get fit

Alex says he tells his clients they're not making their goals realistic enough everyday, but unfortunately your Fitbit can't do that for you.

"I like to see people first achieve the small goals, build their confidence to aim higher and then encourage them to set more ambitious targets."

So what do these small goals actually look like? Well, Polly suggests implementing goals can be as simple as "adding a piece of fruit to breakfast and going for a 15 minute walk after supper every evening, if that's more than they're currently doing and is all they can stick to right now, then that's progress."

She sees goal setting and progress much more about forming habits rather than going for long, gruelling workouts that you're only likely to stick to a few times a month.

Tracking steps might not be as important as you think

Unless you opt for more advanced devices, like the Mio Fuse or Moov, many of the popular trackers are geared up for people who exercise, but who also want to keep tabs on how many steps they take during a normal day.

You could argue we've all become a little too focused on this 'magic metric.' As if hitting that 10,000 goal that your tracker delivered out of the box means you're on your way to becoming the next Usain Bolt. But what do the experts really think?

Polly said that upping the amount of steps you're taking can make a difference to your fitness, especially if you're new to exercise or have been struggling with an injury. Just like bigger goals, she says take it slow, even though you're walking.

"Going from very few steps to 10,000 overnight is unrealistic, so I would set smaller goals and build up, say 5,000 steps per day in the first week, 7,00o in the second and 10,000 in the third, only moving onto the next goal once the first one is achieved."

For weight loss results, be realistic

Steps are a good starting point, but Alex warns us that hitting these rather arbitrary goals isn't going to help us all lose weight, "I find that the number of steps a person takes has little influence on their body fat or weight," he said.

When it comes to weight loss, Polly agrees it's a territory to be approached with caution if you're going it alone. "As you lose weight 'metabolic adaptation' occurs as a result of changes in weight, muscle and body fat percentages, and monitoring a person's diet throughout this will mean you can make changes accordingly," she explained.

Alex agrees that weight loss isn't impossible with a tracker, but can muddy the waters a bit given muscularity is the most important thing to bear in mind when you're trying to shift the pounds. He tells me "most calories are burned at rest based on the amount of muscle mass the person holds, as opposed to being burned during exercise - a common misconception."

This is where some trackers can fall short, estimating the amount of calories you have left for the day but not giving you an accurate indication of how many you actually need. One suggestion would be to employ the use of other apps and devices that paint a bigger picture, like using MyFitnessPal for a better idea of the nutritional value of what you eat rather than relying on less comprehensive database that give you an idea of calories and little else.

Change goals gradually for the best results

It's all good and well setting goals, but armed with just a tracker, how can you know when things need to be changed, adapted or scrapped completely?

Polly said: "If someone is preparing for an event then goals would change weekly so that they progress gradually until race day."

To her this means making a number of changes in your workout programme and back-tracking your goal setting so you'll hit your final distance or time when you need to.

"Usually this involves simply increasing the distance run each time," which would be easy for anyone with a fitness tracker and a calendar to work out. She also recommends those with wearables make sure to "adjust rest and diet protocols in accordance, as more activity will require more rest and focus on nutrition to aid recovery."

Alex recommended persevering with your goals and busting through mental blocks, even if your fitness tracker is telling you that you should change them or have hit them already: "A real goal should only be changed / adjusted / improved once achieved," he said.

Trackers are great tools – so use them

Taking your fitness into your own hands with a tracker can be extremely empowering – if your goals are realistic.

As Alex summed up: "Most people fail because they do not measure what they are trying to achieve."

Even if our wearable tech can't kick us out of bed for a run at 6am every morning – one thing it's damn good at is measuring.

Have you stuck with your fitness tracker or is it languishing in a drawer? Let us know in the comments down there...


  • chelseymax says:

    People, you will NOT have a good body with a "diet". You need to be dedicated in your lifestyle to not only eat healthy but to exercise. I started with something simple i found at http://www.healthandbodyzone.com/ . I started doing yoga just over an hour a week and controlled my eating. Now i have a body I like to look at in the mirror and love it. I lost a good amount of fat so I’m happy!

  • fitnewsbyjulie says:

    I think using fitness trackers is a great way to measure and get motivated to exercise. Many of my clients use trackers whether its fitbit, polar, a generic pedometer, or their phones. I think that we tend to want to over estimate how much we do on a daily basis by having a tracker measure our actual energy expenditure it may (note it may) help us to make better choices because we are aware of what we actually did. I am an avid believer in fitness trackers because they are fun to use and they make getting out and accomplishing something seem much more motivating! http://fitnewsbyjulie.wordpress.com

  • ObsidianPhoenix says:

    I would have to agree with most of this article. Around 7 weeks ago, spurred on by getting the missus a fitbit for her birthday, I fired up the Fitbit (and Jawbone) apps on my phone, along with the MyFitnessPal.

    Being an IT worker (so very sedentary), and medically obese, my ultimate goal was to be fitter, and get my weight down to a healthy weight. To drive that, I started with a couple of more obvious goals (driven by these apps, etc). First: hit 10k steps in a day (I'd average ~5k on a good day, often only 2k); and Second: and lose a pound a week.

    Hitting the step count was easy-ish, I just went for an hours walk every evening when I got home (rather than sitting in front of the TV). That, coupled with eating slightly healthier, and slightly less, let me hit these goals fairly easily to start.

    I also had a polar HR monitor, so I could track my heart rate on these walks. At first it was really high (~150-160 - just with walking). But after a few weeks it started to come down. Now, I'm doing the CouchTo5K program 3 times a week, I kinda had to just to keep giving my heart a work out. So far I'm loving it!

    I'm firmly of the opinion that going on a diet, and exercising like a horse is a sure-fire way to failure. If you make small changes, you are much more likely to sustain the effort over a long period of time. I still eat chocolate, and the unhealthy foods I like. But I try to eat a little more healthily than before (freshly cooked food over ready meals, a bit more veg, actually eating breakfast), and exercise a little more. I'm actually surprised with how long I've managed to sustain this so far - normally I'd be bored and give up.

  • GetWellable says:

    "Going from very few steps to 10,000 overnight is unrealistic, so I would set smaller goals and build up, say 5,000 steps per day in the first week, 7,00o in the second and 10,000 in the third, only moving onto the next goal once the first one is achieved."  The problem with that statement is that is assumes 10,000 is a magical number, but people need to build up to it.  The 10,000 step goal number is from a marketing stunt from the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.  It has no scientific basis.  The more devices set default goals to 10,000 steps  per day and the more "experts" suggest it, the longer this myth will live on.  http://blog.wellable.co/2015/06/10/the-secret-history-behind-the-10000-steps-per-day-myth/

  • widgetball says:

    I have a Misfit Shine and on days when I go for a 6.5 mile run (4 days a week) I only get around 9,000 (about a total of 9 miles) steps for the whole day. I'm not understanding how it's possible to get 10,000 steps everyday.

    • LettySpaghetty says:

      Hey Widgetball, have you calibrated your shine to your stride, or have you connected to additional (gps-based) fitness apps?

      I have a Jawbone Up Move that guesses my steps at 9,000 on average for normal daily movement plus 60 minutes walking (about 4 miles, measured by Runkeeper). On my average, you should be getting closer to 16k steps? It would sound like one of us is getting gypped, one way or another!

  • Amck1429 says:

    Ioiiioioiooioiooooo . Fcvhvgfvgvgvgvtvtvyvg vfffffff 

  • Mpathg7 says:

    I got a Garmin Vivosmart as a birthday present to myself and after realizing that I had gained about 30 lbs since graduating college and getting a desk job. I didn't like the direction my weight was going or the lifestyle I had adapted and I wanted to make a change. The fitness tracker has helped me set my step goal and consistently meet it. However, once I bought my husband a Fitbit Charge HR and he began tracking his heart rate, we started to push our evening walks with our dog a bit further. We now go for 1-1.5 hour walks each night and incorporate as many steep hills and stairs as possible. I think fitness trackers, no matter the brand/style, are great motivators to get started, but I agree you need to keep building up your workout routine or your body will adjust to it.

What do you think?

Connect with Facebook, Twitter, or just enter your email to sign in and comment.