Setting Fitness Goals that AREN’T About Weight Loss

Laura Merkel
5 min readJan 21, 2021

It’s the start of a new year, which means we are inundated by the fitness and wellness industries’ bids for our business. The common theme among many of these marketing strategies? Weight loss. It’s everywhere. And frankly, it sucks. Every day, we have to see businesses tell us that we’re not good enough. That we need to join a special program or gym or do a detox to get our beach bodies ready for summer. Well, guess what…every body is a beach body if it’s at the beach. Instead of trying to shed pounds, let’s shed the stigma of weight.

Here’s the simple truth. Regardless of what you may hear others say, your size and your health are not always correlated. And your health and your worth shouldn’t be correlated either. You can be any size and have chronic health conditions. Does that make you less worthy of love, respect, or joy? Absolutely not.

Now, I am not telling you not to set goals. Goal setting can be an important part of successful training. But goals related to weight are not as beneficial as other types of goals. Weight is multifactorial meaning fitness is just one component out of many. Other factors contributing to weight include diet, genetics, certain medications, and some medical conditions. Some of these factors are within your control while others are not.

Additionally, when it comes to fitness, particularly if you are training for an event, it is normal to gain weight. And not just normal, IMPORTANT. Your body requires fuel (AKA food) to do physical tasks. And your muscle mass will INCREASE as you get stronger. This is exactly how we are designed to function. So even if your fat percentage decreases from an increase in exercise (which it might not because of the factors listed above), your weight may not and that’s okay!

So if not weight loss, what types of goals can you set for yourself? I find it helpful to sort fitness goals into the following categories: functional, sport-specific, and psycho-social.


Functional goals relate directly to your everyday life. Perhaps you fell in the garden and want to improve your standing balance. Maybe you are feeling back pain every time you pick up your toddler and want to feel stronger. Maybe you feel winded after climbing a flight or two of stairs and want to work on stamina.

Examples of functional goals:

  • Improve balance
  • Improve cardiovascular health
  • Increase muscle strength (in a specific area or overall)
  • Increase muscle stamina
  • Increase flexibility/mobility (in a specific area or overall)
  • Increase in Energy
  • Increase coordination

These goals are important because they directly impact your quality of life. These goals help you maintain independence as you age, reduce your risk of injury, and are foundational to preventing or managing some chronic diseases.


A goal that relates to a favorite sport or activity can also be helpful! For example, maybe you signed up for a half marathon. Your goals are going to relate to that event, and more importantly, they have a timeline. If the half marathon is in October, you have until then to get your strength and stamina up so you can complete the race safely. Or maybe you’ve run several half marathons already but want to improve your time. These types of sport-specific goals help a trainer recognize what you need.

Your sport-specific goals can be long-term or short-term. Training for a half marathon may be a long-term goal for someone new to running. A short-term goal for that same person may be to run just a couple of miles. Both short- and long-term goals are important. Know where you want to go, and also recognize the steps it takes to get there.

Note that the goals of someone training for a half marathon are going to be drastically different than someone training for a weightlifting competition, which are different for someone who does horseback riding, or wheelchair basketball, or dance. Determine goals that are specific to your interests and will help you be more effective at your sport.


This is actually one of my favorite types of goals. And I say that because they tend to have the quickest payoff. It may take months of consistent training to have a noticeable increase in strength or balance. But the emotional (psychological) and social benefits of working out can be felt almost immediately. In the words of Elle Woods, “Exercise gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy!”

For this reason, exercise can be a valuable tool in coping with mental health conditions like depression and anxiety and can give you more energy to get through the rest of your day.

We also know that humans are naturally social. Introverted or extroverted, we all crave human interaction. Especially right now, during a pandemic where our social activities are dramatically limited. The act of working out (or simply going for a walk) with someone else can do wonders for our mental wellbeing. Since about April 2020, my sister has hosted a virtual workout class every Tuesday and Thursday. Frankly, the style of class isn’t my favorite but I join the classes every week because I love connecting with friends!

Your goal may be as simple as having a new activity in which to bond with a loved one. What a lovely goal!

I work in an industry and society that shames people into going to the gym while also shaming people at the gym. As a fitness professional, I often think about my role in this culture of fat-shaming. I love movement of any kind, and I know it can add so much to our lives. It can improve mental health, physical health, and it can offer a sense of community and accomplishment. I also KNOW that movement is for every body. Movement is an essential function of life as a human and no matter your age, size, or ability, there is some form of physical activity out there that you can love! Whether your goals are functional, sport-specific, psycho-social, or a combination of the three, feel empowered to look beyond weight to set goals that are specific to you and your life!

Originally published at on January 21, 2021.



Laura Merkel

Laura (she/her/hers) is a holistic fitness trainer versed in yoga, Pilates, restorative yoga, Barre, and dance. She specializes in pre/post natal fitness.