Setting Goals: A Realistic Approach to Consistent Gains
Everywhere I look, I see training information geared towards the hardcore.
There’s nothing wrong with this – we all need motivation.
The problem comes when examining the population of people who are actually reading and taking this information to heart.
9 times out of 10, they’re novice lifters who don’t know the first thing about proper training, and taking advice intended for people 3 steps ahead of them in their development and experience.
When it really comes down to it, they’d benefit just fine from simplistic advice that can actually stand the test of time.
Truth be told, that can actually apply to us all.
Setting Goals: Back to the Basics
In my first ever personal training certification, I learned about a simple acronym that I later passed off as elementary, but find myself giving newfound respect to: That of setting SMART goals. Truly, anyone who sees a plateau in their training is probably missing one of these factors, if you dig deep enough into them.
Here, it makes sense to go through them one by one.
This may sound like common sense, but you’d be surprised how many clients I meet who have a goal of “getting fit”, or “getting in shape”. At the end of the day, statements like that mean absolutely nothing. Setting a proper goal means first determining what the final product should be.
People usually train to either build muscle or burn fat. Both can be achieved, but it’s more worthwhile to focus and zero in on one of the two for optimal results, and treat any spillover into the other side of the coin as an added bonus.
So let’s say we’ve established in specificity that we want to build muscle. The logical next question would be “how much?”. It’s important that your goal has a numerical component to it. This will make it easier to track your progress and hold yourself accountable.
Related: Smart Training – Don’t Break Your Body Trying to Build It
Instead of simply saying “I’d like to build muscle”, make it more direct. A goal of adding 10 pounds of muscle and an increase of 1 inch in your flexed upper arm would be a good example of applying this directive.
If your goal isn’t measurable, you’ll hardly be able to make and follow a program to attack it.
In high school, this was probably the biggest mistake I made. My friends and I thought that taking a creatine monohydrate cycle would equal an instant 10 pounds of solid muscle in 6 weeks. We thought adding that to some physical labor-intensive work would mean 20 pounds.
All of a sudden our goals for the summer break were to put on 25 pounds of muscle and come back jacked and in charge.
Misinformed as we were, it speaks to this part of the acronym. A goal has to be attainable based on the body’s physiological boundaries. Any program promising a natural increase of 15 pounds of muscle in 6 or 8 weeks is lying, and that’s the cold, hard truth about it.
If you do everything right, your actual lean tissue increase (that’s just muscle – not fat, not water retention or anything else) would probably be somewhere around 1 pound per month. You’d have hit the jackpot if you gained 15 pounds of muscle over the course of a year.
Adding voluminous size in a couple of months is an entirely different conversation and definitely where fat and water do enter the picture. It may look like you’re not much fatter either (since lots of the development would be intramuscular, and not necessarily localized to, say, the stomach), but it’s important not to be misled.
Setting goals that you know the body can reach from the start is an integral part of being satisfied with the results you see. Moreover, don’t trick yourself with the wrong information.
On a similar note, not only do your goals need to be realistic for your body’s physiology. They also need to be realistic for your personal lifestyle.
If you’re working 60 hours a week at your new job, eat 2 meals per day, get 4-5 hours of sleep per night and have a girlfriend who is grinding your gears, chasing an ambitious training goal that relies on sufficient rest and recovery may be a pipe dream – at least for the time being.
Related: Do You Know What it Means to Actually Train Hard?
The results you see will highly depend on your discipline in life, regardless of how earnest your efforts may be in reaching them. Instead of aiming for a 20 pound increase in lean gains and a 30 pound PR squat, it may be more fitting to focus on a fat loss target that will come more easily as a product of better sleep and recovery habits thanks to your hormones functioning more regularly.
We’ve covered everything except the end point. It’s invaluable to realize that a goal should have a deadline. Based on what we’ve learned above, it’s implied that that deadline is appropriate for the goal. If your goal is to train hard for the next 3 months, set a muscle development or fat loss goal that suits that time frame (for example, lose 15lbs of body fat and/or add 2lbs of muscle).
On another note, I’ve personally found one more application for this part of the acronym. Look at your level of training maturation before setting a goal. If you’re a complete beginner and lack foundation, it may not be the proper time to focus on advanced lifting methods or extreme cosmetic development goals before working on a basis of strength.
Likewise, someone who may have 12% body fat to drop in order to be healthier may not benefit as readily from an isolation-rich bodybuilding program compared to a program higher in compound strength and conditioning movements to burn fat.
An immobile desk jockey, though athletically inclined, may not be physically prepared to jump in a hybrid program containing plyometrics, CrossFit style Olympic lifting protocols, and devoid of preventative maintenance.
Your goals will be reached if you realize that at the end of the day, consistency is the key. Also, what you see as a result depends on what you put into it as a trainee. That could involve making the necessary lifestyle changes to make improving your physique or health a reality.
Applying the SMART principle to your thought process will only make things easier, and give you a much better chance for success.