As fitness and health professionals, we're probably all familiar with the SMART acronym and think we know what it stands for. Yet I bet if you asked 20 different trainers you'd get a variety of suggestions. The S, M and T parts are straight-forward - everyone generally agrees on specific, measurable and time-framed (losing 3kg of body fat in 12 weeks for example) but A and R are more debatable.
Commonly these are defined as achievable (or attainable) and realistic but as I ask students on every course I teach - what's the difference? If it's achievable to lose 3kg of body fat in 12 weeks then it's also realistic and vice versa, so one of them is redundant (and before you say 'but SMAT or SMRT don't work', there are alternatives for A and R!). There is an argument that a goal could be achievable in the sense that it's physically possible, e.g. to train 3 times a day for 6 weeks, but not be realistic, whereas a goal that's realistic - such as dropping a dress size in 2 months - by definition is achievable, so of the two options, realistic seems to cover all bases.
At the School of Personal Training our A is agreed - both trainer and client must be happy with the goal, meaning it has to satisfy the other four elements to be complete. It could also be extended to the client’s social support network - if close friends and family don't agree with the goal for some reason it could compromise progress.
Another alternative is appropriate - for example if your client is looking to gain muscle mass, an appropriate short term goal might be to consume an extra 500 calories per day. However it would obviously be inappropriate if these calories were from highly-processed sugar-laden foods.
Onto R then. While the School of PT has opted to keep realistic over achievable, there are other options to consider. Similar to appropriate, it's important the goal is relevant in the sense that it motivates the client. They may not see the point in setting a target of increasing their bench press 1RM by 5% if all they're interested in is looking good in their swimming costume for example. As a caveat to that, if you can explain how this goal can contribute to the aesthetic one (progressively overloaded muscle fibres leading to more lean mass and increased metabolism for fat loss, etc), then it may become relevant to them.
Another R is recorded. It's debatable just how much of a difference writing goals down has on the likelihood of achieving them (if you aren't familiar with the '1979 Harvard goal setting story' it's well worth a Google), yet you can't deny that without having a physical record of them somewhere it's very difficult to keep track of all the short, medium, long term and process goals that are necessary to give direction to the overall desired outcome. Some people include this R in an extended version of the acronym SMARTER (with the E standing for evaluated or emotive - the latter having overlap with relevant as mentioned above; it's vital the goal resonates with you to give you the motivation to achieve it).
So there’s lots of possible options, all of which have a valid claim for inclusion within the SMART acronym. Note you don't have to pick one definition for each letter...
...and only use that - after reading this you may decide SMAAARRT is the best option!
The bottom line then is that it doesn't matter exactly which definitions you choose for as long as the goals you set (or agree) with your clients cover all the criteria discussed above. The tricky bit of course, is keeping people moving towards them. For more on that, take a look at our Behaviour Change Coaching course.