One of the most underrated and difficult aspects of your fitness journey is determining exactly what you want your fitness goal to be at a given time; and consequently how you want to achieve it. This is difficult because unless a medical professional tells you something along the lines of: “You must lose weight because you are pre-diabetic, have high blood pressure, high cholesterol etc.” your exercise goals are generally determined by what will make the future you happy. Therefore, unless you are working with a trainer, what you chose to do in the gym on a daily basis, ties into working towards a goal that you want.
There are 2 aspects that make this truth difficult:
- Boredom and impatience will generally lead to constant changes and alterations to your workout routine before you can properly progress yourself.
- There are many different training methods that will allow you to achieve your goal- not one is universally correct in every instance. The only correct method is what works best for you in conjunction with your goal.
Just a Review…What Are the Main Types of Fitness Goals?
Individual’s main goals should fall relatively neatly into one of the following categories:
- Fat Loss
- Muscle Gain
- Max Strength & Power Gain
- General Health
There are plenty of sub-goals that branch off these main categories, however it is imperative to identify which goal you are working towards in order to create a workout that coincides with what you’re trying to achieve.
As a reference, below is a table listing the variables that should be present for each of the above goals:
[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||Strength/Power Development||General Health|
|Reps||10-15 (sub-maximal effort*)||6-20+ (2/3 – full max effort)||1-6 reps (Works toward Max Effort at all reps)||6-12 (sub-maximal effort)|
|Rest Time||30-60 s.||45-90 s.||2-3 minutes||60 s. +|
|Exercise Grouping||Full Body**- Supersets/Giant Sets àAntagonists***||Full Body OR Body Splits**/ Supersets/Tri-sets/Drop Sets||Full Body/ Straight Sets or Super Set w/ BW Plyo||Full Body Straight-Sets or Superset w/ Mobility & Core|
|Accessory Exercise Selection||Full Body High Metabolic Exercises||Isolated Exercises||Only supplemental work that benefits main lifts||Additional Core Work/Stretching & Balance|
|Training Frequency||2-3 times per week||4-6 times per week||3-5 times per week||1-3 times per week|
**Full Body vs. Body Split training is probably one of the greatest age-old debates in the gym setting that very much highlights old school versus new school thought processes. 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, 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.
***PROFESSIONAL ADVICE ON GOAL SETTING***
As 2019 comes to a close, spend some time in the next few days reflecting on your past exercise experiences- what worked well for you in 2019 and also what did not- and strongly consider exactly what goal you want to set for yourself in 2020.
Once you’ve established your goal, consider it set in stone until you see it all the way through (minimally 12 weeks, if not longer- more on that below). Make sure to reference the table above when you construct your workout, to be sure your variables correctly align with your goal!
How Can Boredom and Impatience Hijack an Exercise Routine?
Boredom and impatience together will destroy every fitness aspiration you have for 2020. These two emotions will cause you to stray from your goals, as well as “the basics”- which, if combined with proper nutritional habits and a moderate amount of patience, will ultimately get you to your respective goal. With Instagram Fitness models dominating feeds around the world, resist the temptation to try every “new” exercise variation you come across on social media. Instead in 2020, focus on the basics I outline below:
**When I use the term “basics” this implies fundamental movement patterns: **
- Squat Variation (i.e. DB Goblet Squat)
- Deadlift Variation (i.e. DB RDL)
- Horizontal Push (i.e. Incline DB Bench Press)
- Horizontal Pull (i.e. Chest Supported Row)
- Vertical Push (i.e. DB Overhead Press)
- Vertical Pull (i.e. NG Chin Up)
- Bracing Core (i.e. Front Plank)
- Rotational Core (i.e. Medicine Ball Scoop)
- Loaded Walk (i.e. Farmers Carry)
When you get bored in the gym the natural inclination is you begin ‘spicing up’ your workouts. Unfortunately, when you start playing with extremely complicated variations of traditional moves, this will result in the “basics” being put on the back-burner. You generally have this feeling of boredom because of an underlying impatience- it’s been 3 weeks and your arms still aren’t 16” or you haven’t lost 15 pounds.
Understand that having exercise variety is a valuable component of a workout, however, it’s becoming proficient at the basics that will undoubtedly yield the best results. (Regardless of how you organize your workouts- full body or body part- the basics should always be central to programming). Fall in love with the process and learn to adjust variables instead of exercise selection. Notice in the table above, there is a relatively wide range of reps, sets and rest time for each goal. If you adjust just one of those variables, you’ll add plenty of ‘spice’ to your routine if you begin to feel bored.
It Doesn’t Pay to Be a ‘Jack of All Trades with Your Workouts’…
There are very few ‘absolute truths’ in the fitness industry; however, one of them is as follows: You cannot simultaneously excel at every major method of training in the gym. For example, if you’re goal is to become the best Olympic Weight Lifter in your area, you’re most likely not going to also have the best bench press and the biggest arms as well.
Furthermore, many isolation bodybuilding moves will wind up developing parts of your body that won’t be conducive for becoming a successful Olympic lifter; because those areas- such as your chest and triceps- need to be extremely flexible, instead of muscular.
Conversely, if you have a goal of adding 2” to your arms, Power Snatches from blocks, is going to do very little towards attaining that goal. Instead you’d want to gravitate more towards isolation moves throughout your workout.
These examples are personifications of the negative side of the expression- being a “jack of all trades, but master of none.” In other words, you will never actually work towards your singular goal if you try to simultaneously dabble in Olympic lifting, HIIT, Bodybuilding and Power Lifting. With each of these components present together in a workout routine, you’ll most certainly never become proficient or excel at any one method.
Which Method is ‘Best?’
When you begin to approach “how” you want to achieve your specific goal in 2020, it becomes a slippery slope to go down because the “best way” to achieve your goal depends entirely on you. Ask yourself questions such as: What is your exercise experience? What style do you enjoy training? What equipment do you have access to? What style of training aligns best with your goal?
The following are ‘methods’ or styles of training that you can use to achieve a given goal:
- Olympic Lifting– (Goal is maximizing power- Power Cleans, Split Jerks and Snatches)
- Power Lifting (Goal is maximizing strength- Bench Press, Deadlift, Squat)
- Body Building (Goal is maximizing muscular size through compound moves and isolation work)
- Functional Training (Goal is athletic development, general health maintenance, injury prevention- an intelligent blend of the main styles of training)
- Kettle Bell *
- Sandbag *
- TRX Training *
- Steel Club Training*
(* These methods of training can be used exclusively as their own method, or also implemented as accessory work under any of the first four styles of training)
Each of these methods listed above should be viewed as tools in your tool box. Just like if you were to use your tool box on a job (AKA your fitness goal) keep in mind, it is OKAY to not use every single tool to complete that job.
In other words, there are most certainly better options for certain goals. For example, Olympic Lifting or Power Lifting components will be best for someone who’s goal is to maximize their strength versus someone who wants to shed 50 pounds and has never exercised before. If your goal is weight loss, fully commit to functional training with elements of bodybuilding and kettle bell training for accessory work, and you’ll have your workouts ‘working’ towards your goal. Again, resist the “jack of all trade” mindset and stay away from combining several different methods within a single routine.
How Long Should I Stick with a Method Before I Switch?
To gain any traction towards achieving your goals, there must be a degree of progression within the workout. This progression doesn’t necessarily have to be ‘lifting heavier weights’ either. You can progress your workout by adding more volume (through sets and reps), eliminating or reducing rest time, completing the workout in less time (mainly for HIIT style workouts), or adding in additional training days. You should ultimately give yourself minimally 12 weeks of working towards a goal with a specific training method before you completely abandon it and try something different.
To break those 12 weeks down even further, that would be 3- 4 week phases of workouts that are geared towards one overarching goal (fat loss, muscle gain, strength maximization or general health). Every 4 weeks you can make slight changes to variables (such as sets and reps, exercise order or rest time) but continue working towards the same overarching goal. Once 12 weeks are through, if you’ve set a realistic goal, properly progressed your workouts, and your nutrition and recovery have been consistent, then you should be very close to achieving your original goal.
At that point- and only then- should you self-reflect and weigh the pro’s and con’s to transitioning to a different overarching goal and potentially a different training method. If you’re bouncing around from one goal and training method to another within 4-8 weeks, you’re never going to come closer to achieving any one goal you’re striving for.
Final Thoughts…Seek Consistency Rather than Perfection in 2020
Once you’ve honed in on a fitness goal to start 2020, and you determine which method of training suits your needs best, make your next priority consistency. Be consistent with training towards your main goal, as well as the method in which you’re training.
Understand that you’re going to get to the gym a lot of days and just not “feel it.” Those are the days where the most progress is made. The ability to grind out workouts when you just want to go back to bed, or go straight home after work, is the final component to achieving your fitness goals.
Strive to make commitment and consistency your defining characteristics of 2020.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your families!
And best of luck in making your fitness dreams a reality in the coming year!