Do you know how to set your exercise goals effectively?

The first step to the success of an exercise programme is all about setting appropriate goals. These goals should not be too high, as this demotivates us, and not too low because then we never get an opportunity to fulfil our potential.

Easier said than done? If you follow the tips below, setting goals will not be as dauting a task anymore. 

What are goals?

There is not a person in the world who does not wish for something. Some people dream of a podium performance at the Olympic games, while others hope not to get out of breath when taking the stairs up to their office on the third floor. If we want wishes to come true, we must actualize and visualize them. In order to achieve them, we first need to set measurable endpoints which are called goals. Well-planned goals accurately determine the intention of our activities, (e.g. exercise), as they guide, define, and rationalize our activity.


Set appropriate goals

  1. Effective goal setting is based on the fundamental purpose of the exercise we want to complete (recreational, competitive, rehabilitation…), our age, somatic characteristics, motor and functional abilities, knowledge and experience, health status and capabilities (material, financial, time); which, in turn, requires a thorough analysis of one’s initial condition (diagnostics).
  2. When setting goals, it’s best to link them to the previous ones (if we did some exercise already) and future plans since regular exercise is long-term process; simply put, stringing goals together should be done in a logical sequence of progression.
  3. During exercise, it’s good to ask ourselves frequently whether the goals we set really fit our fitness level, motor skills, knowledge and interests; if we realize that the goals have not been optimally set, maybe there is an objective (e.g. injury) or subjective (e.g. motivation levels, burnout) reason our exercise output has changed, then it’s best to re-evaluate and adjust our goals and deadlines accordingly.
  4. Being proactive each day is key to achieving our goals, whatever they may be.

Appropriate goal classification

  1. When there are several goals set concurrently, it’s a good idea to rank them since not all end-goals are equally important (e.g. if we start exercising as beginners or after an injury, we would prioritize different goals than when we are at peak condition); in competitive sports, short-term goals will often differ based on the athlete’s periodization cycle.
  2.  We write down the goals and highlight the most important ones (write them with larger letters or use different colours).

Reality and achievability of goals

  1. Goals need to be both realistic and challenging; we should ultimately be able to reach them, but not so easily. Goals need to challenge us and inspire us, as this will give us continued motivation, and sense of pride once we achieve them.
  2. Overly demanding goals that we never achieve decrease our motivation, cause constant stress, anxiety, and a feeling of failure - all of these feelings discourage us from exercise, or reaching our potential.
  3. Conversely, goals that are too easily achieved do not motivate us either; and since little effort is made, progress is often negligible. Achieving these easy goals does not satisfy us, and can lead to fears of setting higher, more demanding goals.
  4. Being aware and mindful of our achievements along the way is necessary to adjust goals in a timely manner as we embark on the journey to achieve them.

Measurability of the goals

  1. Goals should be measurable, making it easier to determine whether we achieved them or not; monitoring feedback gives us the feeling that we are on the right track and in control of our goal setting.
  2. To help monitor our goals progress, we can use workout diaries, special marks (☺, ♡, ✌), encouraging words from loved ones, or different apps that help us set and achieve our goals.

Goal Time setting

  1. For all goals we should set a “due date” at which time we achieve them.
  2. Usually, it is good to establish long-term goals (for a year or more) that are less concrete and more distant. Ultimately, we don’t know whether we will achieve them or not, since achieving them is often dependent on other factors in our life which we have less control over (e.g. changes in lifestyle; consistent physical and motor development; proficiency in skiing or tennis); but long-term goals are important to ensuring that we continue to head in the right direction with our day-to-day planning.
  3. Short-term goals are more important for our own feedback (for shorter periods, e.g. six weeks); these should be very concrete, verifiable, and subject to change based on other life circumstances.

Specificity of the goals

  1. Short-term goals that we set need to be specific and simple; the more specific we are when setting our goals, the easier it will be to check if we are on track to achieving them. 
  2. If we are exercising with a coach, we should trust their expertise at creating a set of goals based on their professional experience, and that they reflect your individual abilities; it is very important that the goals are clear to both the coach and yourself, in order to avoid any misunderstandings during the training season/cycle.
  3. If you are a more experienced athlete, often performance goals are together with our coach.

Appeal of the goals

  1. Goals that are appealing are often achieved faster, since motivation is higher.
  2. Appealing goals are the ones that are tangible, suitably distant, reachable, and individually challenging (e.g. for novice runners, continuously running for half an hour at a conversational pace is a good goal, for advanced runners, taking a part in marathon; whereas advanced alpinists may want to conquer 10 peaks higher than 10 000 meters altitude); Achieving these goals makes us feel thrilled and ready for the next challenge.

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