When I begin my training session each day at the gym, I have one goal on my mind. I train to be lean; specifically I am going to hit 8% body fat by July 30th while maintaining my current lean mass, little as that may be. I also train to be generally healthy and to prevent disease, but these are not my number one priorities while I am at the gym.
I believe one of the most important aspects of training, either in a gym alone or with a coach, is knowing exactly why you are even in the gym in the first place. Creating a goal for yourself, whether that goal is related to body composition, strength, or something emotional is a powerful tool for motivation and adherence. A goal guides the programming behind your workouts and the specific matter in which you train, but more importantly it keeps you laser focused in the gym.
If I were to ask the majority of gym goers, “What is your goal for being here?” the answers would almost certainly look something akin to “to be healthy and look good.” Is there anything wrong with that answer? Absolutely not, but these individuals are at the gym to be social and to be able to tell themselves they earned that cupcake every night as they constantly wonder why they haven’t dropped any weight in the last 10 years even though they have been… “working out”. These people are complacent, and complacency in the gym is the key to failure. You aren’t one of these people; you are here to train, not to simply workout.
So what does it mean to train, then? It means that every facet of what you do in the gym, and every exercise that is put into your program is put there to get you closer to achieving your goal. It means, quite literally by definition, that you are there to learn a particular skill or type of behavior through practice and repetition over a period of time. It means that when you are in the gym, nothing else is going to keep your attention (besides your coach) and you are focused in that one hour each day of the week.
If you really want to get better, and you don’t just go to the gym for the sake of telling everyone else that you go to the gym, then you are going to need a goal. This is a little bit more complicated than it sounds, but it is still quite easy to accomplish. We have two different kinds of goals; one is the conventional method that we call outcome goals, and the other is the method of achieving that goal that we refer to as behavior goals.
An outcome goal is your dream with a deadline written on paper and saved to your memory until it is achieved. Here are the major points for outcome goals. They must:
Goals Must Be Specific and Measurable
When we first set out to make a goal, more often than not it is something unrefined like “lose weight” or “tone up.” These are generic and have no real impact behind them. How can you tell if you have actually achieved the aforementioned goals? You can’t, so we need to hone in on it a little bit. An example of a specific goal is, “I am going to lose 4 pounds of fat mass in 6 weeks.” There is something specific about this goal (the fat mass lost) and it is measurable (4 pounds in 6 weeks).
Can we tell if we have accomplished these goals? Absolutely.
Goals Must Be Written Down
Precision Nutrition says this about a goal that is not written down, “If it’s not written down and recorded, it’s not a goal; it’s a wish or a dream. Although wishes and dreams are nice, they usually don’t come true without a written plan of action.”
Physically writing down your goal (and behavior goals!) and carrying that sheet of paper with you is a great way to remind yourself of that goal as you stare down the box of donuts that were brought into the office on Friday. It can be a difference maker in the harder times.
Goals Must Have a Deadline
This is a huge pitfall for many people. We know why we are going to the gym, and that we want to lose a certain amount of weight, but we have not given ourselves a time period to do this in. This is similar to being given a project at the office. Say for this blog post that Josh told me it could be done whenever. I could work on it here and there when I have time but it would not be my main focus. Instead, if josh tells me that I must have a rough draft by July 1st and a final edited version by the 5th, you better bet that I will work my butt off to get it done by that deadline.
So when we transfer this idea to our workouts we can see that when you’re in the gym, you focus on the task at hand knowing that if you slack off it will only become less probable that you will hit your goal in your given time frame. There is no pushing the deadline back here.
So now we know what our outcome goal is, but how do we achieve that goal without a ton of direction and someone telling us exactly what to do? We use behavior goals.
A behavior goal is something that you have direct control over and can do yourself. While the outcome goal guides the process of creating your behavior goals, it cannot be directly accomplished on its own.
Let’s look again at our outcome goal from above. “I am going to lose 4 pounds of fat mass in 6 weeks.” There is nothing in that sentence that tells you HOW to achieve this goal, only that you will know WHEN you have achieved it. After all, we cannot force our bodies to just lose weight miraculously; we must actually do something to cause this.
So here are some behavior goals that would help us achieve our outcome goal from above:
All of these items are small goals that are still specific and measurable, but cumulatively will help you reach your outcome goal. All of these should be written down as well so that they are always in the back of your mind. Bonus points if you make an “adherence chart” and check off each behavior goal every time that it is achieved.
What all of this goal setting and criteria comes down to is one thing: If you adhere to your behavior goals, your outcome goal will fall into place. All it takes is a little bit of effort and a ton of focus in the gym and you’ll be crushing PR’s in no time.