This subject has come up a number of times in the last few weeks. When I get to talking with someone about their physical fitness and their gym routine, or their desire to start, the first thing I usually ask them is "What are your goals?"
Typically from women I usually get a reply like "I want to tone up and get more definition." From men I get something like "I want to lose my gut and get more definition." All the answers I receive are variations on this theme.
These are not goals. They are simply vague statements of an indefinable desire. Setting aside what I consider to be the Myth of Toning, along with other weight loss myths, there is nothing here for the individual to work with. There is no way to measure success, and no way to track progress. How will you know when you're "more toned"? How much "gut loss" will make you feel like you've accomplished something?
This is literally what happens every time I ask someone about their fitness goals. Every. Single. Time. I have lost count of the number of times I've had this discussion with someone. Every time, I have to explain what is possible, what is not possible, and give an example of what a goal is.
My girlfriend introduced me to the concept of SMART goalsetting the other day. It's a tool for the corporate world, supposedly. I've encountered it here and there, but not really had it explained to me. Once I looked it up, it made PERFECT SENSE! This is the perfect tool to explain to people what they're doing wrong when they say "I want to look more toned."
"S"- The S here stands for "Specific". The first problem with "getting toned", aside from the fact that it's a myth, is that it is not specific. What is toned? How can you define it? If you want something aesthetically pleasing, how about saying "I want my lats to flare out like Batman's cape." BOOM! You just described a target area, and an effect you're looking for. If you're like me and you want something more performance oriented, try this, which is one of my goals. "I want to bench press 355 pounds." What do you want? Bench press. How much? 355 pounds. That's pretty specific.
"M"- Make your goals something that you can "Measure". In the case of Latman above, can he measure this? Absolutely, by taking measurements at the beginning of starting his goal, and then once a month as he progresses. Measurements tell you when you're making progress, and they reinforce that your training regimen is working. Conversely, they tell you when you're back sliding and let you know that something you're doing is having the opposite effect.
"A"- Set your sights on something that is "Achievable". Can I bench press 1000 pounds? Maybe. Science says most likely no. Even a 500 pound bench would be pretty extreme. If you set your goal up to be unattainable, you are setting yourself up for failure immediately. That's it, you're done, there's no point in continuing. No matter how hard I try, I cannot bench 1000 pounds. I've failed, and I haven't even started yet. I've bench pressed 355 before, so that's why I set that as my goal.
"R"- Make your fitness goal something that's actually "Relevant" to where you want to be on your fitness quest. Is having a bigger bench press worthwhile to me? Yes, because good upper body strength helps on my Army Physical Fitness Test, and it will help in other fitness related areas, especially pushing heavy things. In this case, it's relevant to where I want to go. Now, if I were to pick something like the pec-deck machine, that's not relevant. I can't see any areas where the pec-deck helps me besides being good at the pec-deck. If that's what you want, then fine. That's not for me, and not for the people who ask for my help.
"T"- "Time Sensitive". If you don't put a deadline on your goal, you have nothing to hold yourself accountable to. 5 years from now I could still be working on my bench, trying to get it up to 355. That would be ridiculous, and I'd never do that. We can see it all the time though, at the Globo Gyms of the world. People go in there, get sweaty, but never seem to add more weight to the bar, or never seem to get slimmer or faster. What are they working towards? They don't know, they're just in the gym "working out". As for me, my time is precious. I want to have my bigger bench, and I want it by June of next year. Tempus fugit, and all that.
Set yourself up for success by knowing how to set goals. This also works in conjunction with visualization, and can be a powerful factor for success in all of your fitness endeavors. See yourself achieving your goals, and see the powerful, fast, agile human that you've become as compared to the "you" of last year. Combined with visualization practices, SMART goal setting is a great way to stay motivated and hungry for success, especially when what you really want to do is go down to the pub for happy hour and fish and chips.