SMART ways to set core exercise goals

Strengthening your core offers big payoffs, including sports successes, a stronger lower back, independent living, and all-around fitness. Sounds great, right?

Even so, finding the time and will to do these exercises may not be easy. But experts say you're more likely to be successful if you set goals that are SMART — that is, specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based. So when you set a goal for your core workouts, make sure it passes the SMART test:

S: Set a very specific goal. I will do a set of four different exercises on Mondays and Wednesdays. Or, This week, I will do a set of front planks on desk plus chair stands on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.

M: Find a way to measure progress. I will log my efforts daily on my calendar, checking off days when I meet my goal.

A: Make sure it's achievable. Be sure you're physically capable of safely accomplishing your goal. If not, aim for a smaller goal initially: I plan to master four easier exercises, then move on to their more challenging counterparts.

R: Make sure it's realistic. Choose the change you're most confident you'll be able to make. Focus on sure bets: on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 equals no confidence and 10 equals 100% certainty, your goal should land in the 7–10 zone. If not, cut it down to a manageable size. For example, I'll do one front plank on desk three times this week. Or, Every week, I'll add five seconds to the length of time I hold front plank on desk.

T: Set time commitments. First, pick a date and time to start. Starting today, I'll take 10 minutes from my lunch hour to do the Office Workout every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Or, Starting today, I'll do two stretches after my morning shower, when my muscles are warm, every day for a week.

Second, choose one weekly check-in time to keep track of whether you're meeting goals or hitting snags. I'll check my calendar every Friday evening and decide if I should make any changes in my routines. Outside deadlines can be really helpful here, too: Signing up for tennis lessons or planning a beach vacation can prod you to get your core program under way.

For more on how to start exercising your core, including our full workout and stretching routines, buy Gentle Core Exercises, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.