Let me ask you a question.
What if I told you to go to the gym and to workout for 12 weeks and just do whatever comes to mind.
It doesn’t really matter what you do, just get into the gym and train. You know that you’re going to go to the gym, but in all honesty, you’re just going to show up and do whatever.
This requires no mental or physical discipline and in all likely hood, you’re going to show up for a couple of workouts and drop off. You’re not going to make it.
You have an rough idea of what it is you’d like to do, and maybe that’s to get back into shape but that’s really too vague. It’s not enough information to give your brain a clear path.
Now let me ask you another question. What if I told you to sit down for a minute and write down on paper, what you really want most in terms of physical aspirations. Let’s say, you’re sick and tired of being really skinny and want to start looking like you have some muscle mass. Let’s say you really want to gain an additional 20 pounds of muscle mass, add 30 pounds to your bench press, and add an inch of muscle to your arms. You now know what you want. This give your brain a clear direction and some discipline to put together a workout program designed to attain those aspirations.
By doing this, you’re half way to getting what you want – which is a muscular body. Now, you are ready to go to the gym and train for that new body. Now, when you do hit the gym, you know that after 12 weeks, you’re going to have a new body, complete with a new personal bench press record, and a pair of well muscled arms. This goal sets the stage for your weight training program – Everything revolves around this one goal including diet, rest, supplementation and of course, weight training.
By not setting any goals, you’re basically flapping in the wind with no idea of what you want. Nothing will change. You’ll be lucky to last 3 weeks.
I personally see this every year just after new years. I’ll see hoards of people showing up to the gym, walking on the treadmill, doing the elliptical trainer, and some will weight train. Just like clock work, 80 percent of these well intentioned individuals stop coming after 6 weeks or so. Is it lack of motivation and discipline? I’d bet, if you asked those who failed what they wanted out of their fitness routine, most would come up with a very vague answer like, I wanted to get into shape or I wanted to lose 40 pounds. You know what, these answers are too vague. These answers are not good enough to keep you going. These answers don’t have enough substance to give your brain reason to keep going.
These answers are not goals but hopes. I hope to lose weight or I hope to get into shape. You don’t get to where you want to go by hoping. You get there by doing it, and doing it, and doing it again until you’ve reached it.
The real power of realistic and positive goals is brain direction. This is what separates successful individuals from unsuccessful ones. Once your brain knows what it wants, it will signal your body to go for those goals. You see, without the focus that a goal provides, the energy of the mind is scattered. Once your mind loses it’s focus, it becomes lazy and confused. Once this happens, you start to form bad habits and you seriously start to think of giving up.
Goals build confidence and charge up your mind with energy and will. Setting realistic goals help you overcome tough times because you can see that your efforts are a part of a much bigger picture.
The real magic of goal setting is seeing how each hard working training session brings you closer to your goal. Each day brings you closer to your goals and this helps you from getting discouraged when you hit sticking points in your training.
For me, goal setting makes all the different in the world. If I simply show up at the gym to train legs with no clear direction in my mind, it’s a complete waist of time. Why? My mind has no clear objective and it relates this information to my body which in turn, shuts off my motivational factors. My desire to reach a certain level of satisfaction isn’t there. Only when I set a direct goal will my mind and body works as one to reach that goal.
Let’s say, I set a goal to squat 400 pounds in two months. This clearly outlines my overall direction and sets the tone for my training. In order for me to reach this goal, I need to set immediate goals prior to going to the gym. This way, I know exactly what I need to do, each and every time I go to the gym. My sole focus in the gym is to reach that immediate goal and I know, that once I reach that small goal, it brings me one step closer to squatting 400 pounds.
I know this because my mind becomes more focussed and my body is prepared to go forward. You always need a specific target to shoot for, something you can clearly see in your mind. Once you can do this, you will see your gains increase.
With that in mind, let me say that setting your goals will be just as important as showing up to the gym.
Here’s what I suggest you do. Set a long term goal of what it is you want to accomplish which can be anywhere from 3 to 6 months. For example, this goal may be to bench press 300 pounds after 12 weeks. Set short term goals which may be 1 to 3 weeks in length. For example, I know I want to bench press 300 pounds in 12 weeks but first, I want to be able to bench press 205 pounds for 12 repetitions in two weeks – I can only do it for 9 repetitions as it is. You will also want to have immediate goals which are well, immediate. For example, you have an upcoming bench press workout and you want to get an extra repetition with your maximum amount of weight. You did it 8 times last workout but for this workout you want to do it 9 or even 10 times.
Give yourself a goal for the next four to six months. Make sure your long term goals are realistic. Trying to win the Mr. Olympia body building competition in the next 6 months is not a feasible (unless you are already a top bodybuilder) goal. Although this may be a very long term goal in the future (8-15 years).
You will have to judge for yourself what’s feasible. If you are just starting out, I recommend that you set moderately challenging goals.
You should be thinking of these goals constantly and getting them down on paper. I like to plan my immediate goals on my lunch breaks at work. This way, I know what to strive for in my workouts.
I’m not a proponent of spontaneous workouts. Some people don’t know what there going to train until they get to the gym. This doesn’t work for me because I need to know what needs to be done and accomplished in a workout. You’ll find that planning your workouts and goals ahead of time gives your better direction, discipline and motivation.
Remember, give yourself a long term goal, break it down into smaller goals, and than give yourself immediate goals with each workout.
Here’s a little trick that I used to do all the time. After reaching a short term goal, I’d reward myself with a little something. It was usually a splurge dinner or a night out with the boys. After reaching my long term goals, I’d get something that I’ve had my eye on for a long time. Reward yourself after reaching your goals because you’ve worked hard for them. This builds positive reinforcement and it works – Give it a try.
You want to make your goals realistic and attainable. These goals are very short term and should be adjusted every other workout.
It’s important that your set goals and monitor them on an ongoing basis. You want to clarify why you want to build muscle and strength. Maybe you’re tired of being skinny, maybe you want to look better for the summer, whatever your reasons, make sure you clarify your goals and you will see an immediate improvement in the gym.
All the best,
Blake has been weight lifting for about 28 years now. He's 45 years of age and started seriously training when he was 18 years old.
Blake is the founder of Building-Muscle101.com, a successful fitness website that has been around for more than 15 years.