We’ve all set new year’s resolutions like “work out more” or “get in shape.”
But how many times have we signed up for a gym membership, only to quit halfway through the year? That’s why setting clear and measurable workout goals is so important to our success.
Workout goals motivate us, but more importantly they help us visualize a clear and defined outcome. Instead of blindly pursuing a vague concept like “run more,” a specific workout goal like “Run for 10 minutes without stopping” gives us a clear milestone. When we have a specific goal in mind, we’re also better equipped to come up with a detailed fitness plan to help us get there.
How to set workout goals
Before creating your workout goals, it’s important to take a look at long-term versus short-term goals, and see how they complement each other, and help you achieve success.
A long-term fitness goal is one that will usually take 6-12 months or even a year or more to achieve. Long-term goals have a lasting impact, and change your life for the better. Examples of long-term goals can include: running a 5k, increasing core strength, or building muscle.
When pursuing a long term goal, it’s important to understand that dramatic results won’t happen overnight. That’s why long-term fitness goals can seem intense at first— they cover the course of a few months or even a year, and will test your patience and resilience. The key is to shift our mindset and set realistic expectations. That and putting in steady, consistent work will help you stay committed to your big goals.
With that said, we still need to feel a sense of accomplishment, instead of waiting a year to see any results. That’s where short term goals can help us.
Short-term workout goals are goals that you can achieve in a day, week, or month. Examples of short-term workout goals can be: walking everyday for 20 minutes, running twice a week for 5 minutes, or increasing your strength training every month. You want the short-term goal to be as micro as possible so that you actually do it. Once the short-term goal becomes so easy that it feels like second nature, you can begin to incrementally increase your target.
Short-term goals are important because they help you reach your long-term goals. Preparing for a marathon is an overwhelming prospect, but if you break it down into mini goals, you’ll see quick wins and feel more psyched to keep pursuing it.
Here are examples of complementary short-term and long term goals.
- Long-term goal: Run a marathon
- Short-term goal: Run for 10 minutes, walk for one minute. Repeat. Then increase your benchmark on the following week.
- Long term goal: Go the gym regularly
- Short-term goal: Go the gym twice a week for 20 minutes
Keep a log
Maintaining a fitness log is a big part of achieving short and long-term success.
Not only does logging our workouts keep us accountable, but it’s a visual record of our progress. We can keep track of improvements like running a minute longer, or swimming an extra lap, or lifting an additional weight.
Taking note of your improvements, no matter how small, is the trick to firing your motivation. And on days when you feel like you didn’t give it your all, you might surprise yourself and notice that you improved in other areas. For example, maybe you ran slower than usual, but you ran for a longer distance.
As we mentioned, we won’t see significant changes overnight. Instead, it’s incremental progress at first, before you’ll start to see big, significant results. That’s why it’s so important to take note of these changes, so that you can see how much you truly are improving and getting stronger and better with each workout.
Your log also serves as your personal coach. On days when you feel tired or don’t feel like working out, your log can motivate you to push yourself. By looking at previous accomplishments, you’ll have evidence before you, showing you that you were able to run on other days when you felt tired. If you succeed then, you’ll be able to succeed now and in the future.
Workout goals: Scale them down
When it comes to creating successful workout goals, remember: don’t reach for the stars.
That may seem like you’re making it too easy on yourself, but that’s the point. So if you’re hoping to train for a marathon, don’t run five miles during your first training session, especially if you’ve never run long distances before.
If we go too big too soon, we’ll feel pressured to maintain that high level every time we train. Failing to meet this target can make us feel bad about ourselves and cause us to abandon our goals quickly. It’s easy to slip into the mindset of “If I can’t run five miles today, there’s no point in running at all.”
Set a target that you know you can do
Maybe it’s running for 5 minutes without stopping. Once you get the hang of it, build your way up to 10 minutes of running without stopping.
On days when you don’t feel like running at all, aim for the smallest target possible. You can even walk instead of run.
You don’t have to maintain the same level of intensity every time. But you should be consistent in terms of doing some form of exercise. Even if it’s just doing 10 jumping jacks in your house.
Set up visual cues
Oftentimes, it’s the little things that can derail our workout routines. For instance, not having our gym bag organized or misplacing our sneakers or not having clean exercise clothes on hand. Don’t give yourself excuses to skip a workout. Make your environment as conducive to your workout goal as possible, so that you set yourself up for success.
A practical way to achieve this is to set up visual cues around your environment. According to Atomic Habits author James Clear, a simple visual cue “nudges your actions in the right direction.
Here are some examples:
- Hang your resistance bands over the chair where you eat breakfast
- Keep your sneakers by the door
- Organize your gym bag and put it in your car the night before
- Dedicate a cubby or drawer just for your workout clothes so you always know where to find them
- Keep your water bottle in a location where you can always find it
- Display healthy snacks on the kitchen counter
Much like with any goal, you’re bound to see successes along with some dips over the course of your training. The journey to a successful workout goal is not a straight line. Remember to examine your progress and celebrate your accomplishment along the way, and you’ll be reaching your workout goal before you know it.