A problem that we often see with beginners is that they do not know how to set goals. Goals are an integral, yet often overlooked, component of an effective training program. Sure, one can make progress without goals — but performance increases skyrocket when high quality goals are set.
Firstly, what is a goal? According to Merriam Webster, goals are “the end toward which effort is directed.” In terms of training, high quality goals are tangible feats, measured by metrics, that you wish to accomplish. Below are some examples of high quality goals:
- Perform 10 dips on parallel bars with good form.
- Run 400 meters in 60 seconds.
- Reduce body fat to 15%.
- Put on 10 pounds of muscle.
- Lose 10 pounds of fat.
Now, when most people set their goals for the first time it is common to see very low quality goals. Low quality goals are typically not well defined and not based in a metric. That is, they don’t include any numbers. For example, some low quality goals are listed below:
- Improve on dips.
- Run without getting winded.
- Lose weight.
- Gain muscle mass.
- Get fit.
We want to establish high quality goals, based on numbers, because we can construct a routine around these goals. In other words, routines are based on progressions towards high quality goals. If you have a goal to perform 10 dips then it is logical that you need to first build up the capacity to perform a single dip, then 2 dips, then 3 dips, etc.
If you are still having a hard time understanding how to set high quality goals then you should keep the SMART model in mind:
Time and Resource Constrained
With that said, make sure that your goals are in line with your overarching objective. Let’s use Bob and Alice as examples. Bob wants to “get stronger” but has set a goal of 150 pushups in a single set. This is somewhat lackluster since 150 pushups in a row is a feat of endurance, not a feat of strength. In another example, Alice wants to “have great handstands” so a goal of performing 30 pullups will not move her closer to her goal.
An easy way to make sure that your SMART goals are in line with your ultimate aim, you should break down your desired movements into separate, distinct components. Going back to Bob, he may want to consider pursuing high strength gymnastics techniques like the planche or perhaps set a goal of performing a squat with two times his body weight on his back. Alice, by contrast, may want to break down the handstand into two separate SMART goals of holding a handstand for 2 minutes against the wall and perform a 30 second freestanding handstand.
One caveat is that many trainees feel that they can improve their performance by sticking to low intensity body weight exercises. An example of this is Bob; he wants to “get strong” by doing 150 pushups in a single set. Speaking more generally, I understand that many people want to stick to bodyweight exercises because it is cheaper and more convenient than weightlifting. Bodyweight exercises are great because you don’t need to go into a gym where people are screaming and grunting while doing leg extensions – a definite plus. Let us be clear, though, doing 150 push-ups in a row does not mean you are strong – it means you have good endurance doing push-ups. If you wish to gain strength through bodyweight training then you must get creative and broaden your horizons. If you really have an interest in increasing endurance then you will find that it is much easier to see endurance gains when you are already very strong and powerful.
A lack of strength will always limit you in all other domains – technique, endurance, skill, balance, flexibility (active and passive), agility, coordination, etc. You must be strong in order to excel in all of these other domains. The converse is typically not true. It is important to keep this in mind as you set your goals.
To understand how goals drive for progress then continue on to Page 2.