Break Conformity and Set Goals!!

Due to our society’s collective fear of failure, setting goals has become a taboo act because of potentially not achieving them- resulting in people spending most of their lives well within their comfort zone, avoiding any potential for growth or positive change. This comfortability in a state of mediocrity is a scary climate in which we live, and is most evident in gyms across America. Goals should be the ultimate driving force behind every single exercise, set and rep performed by anyone in a gym. Regardless of age, gender, sport or relative health, everyone should have individualized goals they are working toward. Unfortunately, many people go to the gym to simply “check the box;” see some friends they’ve made, do whatever body part or exercises they “feel like” doing that day, and are completely devoid of purpose regarding their training. If you want true progress to be made, you’ve always got to feel like you’re running toward something, not just moving in place. Without goals to achieve, how can your progress be measured? How can you stay motivated to continue to come to the gym when there is no real thought process behind why you’re there? You also shouldn’t limit yourself to only one goal- there should be several goals being worked towards at any given time. They should be on the tip of your tongue, ready to tell anyone, because you’re so in-tune with them.

Three Types of Goals

When looking at the big picture in terms of fitness, it’s a good idea to have three different types of goals. An over-arching long term goal, a medium-term goal and a short term goal- all of which are technically different but ultimately related and build off each other. I’ll use myself as an example. My all-encompassing, long-term fitness goal is: to live a healthy, fitness conscious lifestyle.

Now over the course of my year, that healthy, fitness conscious lifestyle may have several different faces- which would be my medium-term goals. For instance, different times of the year I’ll push myself towards different goals- usually shortly after New Year’s, when my motivation is the highest, I’ll challenge myself with some sort of workout or nutritional plan that will drop weight off me. Other times of the year I may slide into a max strength phase or hypertrophy phase, but each of these “sub-goals” are still under the umbrella of my long-term goal of living a healthy lifestyle. Unless you’re some sort of competitor or currently an athlete (both would have down to the week training plans for a full year) it is generally a good idea to change these medium-term goals every 12 weeks or so. Like I’ve mentioned previously, one of the top 3 excuses for lack of gym adherence is boredom. The way to combat this problem is to ensure we’re not doing the exact same routine for 6, 10 or 12 months straight. If you feel in a training rut, the first aspect to change about your routine would be to revise your medium-term goal.

The short-term goals in this sense would be classified as what is done on a daily or weekly basis to reach your medium-term goals.  These short-term goals are the most specific and usually have the biggest impact on the exercise variables in the gym. While the exercises usually don’t change much, the number of sets, reps, rest time, tempo and exercise order will all be tweaked depending on what medium-term goal is being chased.

Here is a sample of each:

  • Long-term goal (Length: 1+ year(s)) : I.E. Live a healthy, fitness conscious lifestyle
  • Medium-term goal (Length: 4-12 weeks): I.E. Put on lean muscle for a tropical vacation I’m taking in the not so distant future
  • Short-term goal (Length: 1 day-1 week): I.E. Hit the gym 6 times per week, with 25-30 sets of volume per workout, with 45-90s. rest between sets and 8-20 reps per set in order to hit my goal of putting on lean muscle

How to Go About Setting Goals

Many different groups use the acronym S.M.A.R.T when talking about goal setting. NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) was the first place I heard this and it resonated instantly with me. When setting any of your goals, short, medium or long term, they should be:

  • Specific- I want to fit into my favorite pair of jeans from high school
  • Measurable- how clothes fit, a scale or body fat % (the last 2 being my least favorite)
  • Attainable- if your mindset is right, anything is attainable through hard work & dedication
  • Realistic- Completely understand the work that needs to be put in  to achieve your goal within the time frame
  • Timely- Give yourself a sense of urgency on it, and make a deadline- i.e. the next high school reunion

Once you have your short term, medium term and long term goals figured out, write them down- EVERYWHERE! Put them as sticky notes on your lap top, the background of your phone or post-it notes around your desk- your goals should be visible to you everywhere. When I’m really working towards something that is extremely meaningful to me, I’ll even create a Goals Journal and write down my 3 goals every single day– sometimes multiple times per day. By writing my goals down with positive affirmation, I am constantly aware of what I’m chasing- all but eliminating any moments of doubt in the journey.

Determine Your Main Goal

There are generally 3 different broad goals that I come across as a Fitness Professional (that could either be classified as long-term or medium-term goals, depending on time-frame).

Most individuals coming to the gym usually desire:

  1. Fat Loss/Muscle Tone
  2. Lean Muscle Gains (increase in strength as well)
  3. General Health Maintenance- maintaining strength, increasing mobility, decreasing joint pain

Now under the umbrella of these broader goals, will be more specific desires such as: “I want a 315 LB Bench Press” or “I want to lose the flabbiness on the back of my arms.” My biggest piece of advice when deciding your goals is: you need to resist “Goal ADD” and hone in on one main goal that every sub-goal can relate to. For example, you can’t set goals that hijack each other; such as wanting to learn Olympic Lifts, but also simultaneously following Arnold Swcharzenneger’s plan.  You’re going to either burn yourself out or just half-ass both of your goals and spin your wheels, and never make gains in either area. So, figure out what’s most important to you at this moment and commit to it whole-heartedly! The reason it is imperative to determine which goal is most important to you is because it creates your workout variables.

The Creation of Workout Variables

Reps, sets, rest time, exercise grouping, accessory exercise selection, volume and training frequency are all dependent on what your goal in the gym is. While the differences are not entirely drastic, there are distinguishing characteristics to each goal’s variables.

Variable Fat Loss/Muscle Toning Muscle Building General Health
Reps 10-15 (sub-maximal effort*) 6-20+ (2/3 to full max effort) 6-12 (sub-maximal effort)
Sets 2-3 4-6 2-3
Rest Time 30-60 s. 45-90 s. 60 s. +
Exercise Grouping Full Body**- Supersets/ Giant Sets (Antagonists***) Body Splits**/ Supersets/Tri-sets/ Drop Sets Full Body Straight- Sets or Superset w/ Mobility
Accessory Exercise Selection Full Body High Metabolic Exercises Isolated Exercises Additional Core WorkStretching & Balance
Volume Low Medium- High Low – medium
Training Frequency 2-3 times per week 4-6 times per week 1-3 times per week

*Sub-maximal effort means that you’re never reaching failure within a rep range. Advanced trainees would have a % associated with each of these rep ranges, but the simplest way to look at it is sub maximal versus maximal effort (max effort meaning you have no reps left in the tank by the end of the set).

**Full Body vs. Body Split is probably one of the greatest age-old debates in the gym setting that very much highlights old school versus new school thought processes. I will delve into this in full detail next week however, just a brief explanation: Full Body means you’re hitting both Lower and Upper Body every workout. Generally, you’d have minimally 1 or 2 days rest in between workouts so Monday/Wednesday/Friday or Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday, would be the perfect splits for Full Body. Body Split training is your most common traditional body builder style of Chest & Back/ Bi’s & Tri’s/ Legs & Shoulders or some variation of that. There are certainly pro’s and con’s of each that next week I will display, however just keep in mind, the right split for you is completely goal dependent.

***Supersets/Tri-sets mean performing one exercise right after the other with little to no rest in between. The advantage of this is workout efficiency and a greater metabolic effect of the workout in general. For example: DB Chest Press and Single Arm DB Row is a prime example of an antagonist (opposing muscle group) super set. If you threw in a Front Plank after the Row (making three exercises) then it would become a Tri-Set.

In Conclusion

The above table is merely a simplified illustration of how goals should shape your workout. From here, we are going to dive further into more specifics having to do with your variables. I’ll throw in my two cents on some age-old debates about exercise selection, while always circling back to creating a workout conducive for reaching your goals.

In a time when New Year’s Resolutions are no longer being made because people say, “I know I won’t keep them anyway;” it is imperative to not lose sight of the value of setting objectives for ourselves. Set goals. Set lots of them. Even if you don’t hit every single goal, you’re going to still learn invaluable lessons along the way, that leave you in a better place both mentally and physically.

This week I challenge you to hone in on your exact goals- long, medium and short term. Write them down daily somewhere that is visible to you. Places that you see often, such as around your bathroom mirror, your desk, fridge etc. Get in tune with exactly what your goals are then you’ll be able to tailor the perfect workout to meet your needs!

Yours In Fitness and Health,


Your Final Reward Will Be Heartache and Tears, If you’ve Cheated the Guy in the Glass.

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