Goals and Goal Setting

Goals and Goal Setting

“Begin with the end in mind.” –  Stephen Covey Habit #2

Long Term Goals

When we speak in terms of goals, we have long term goals and short term goals.

Long term goals are the things that change our lives and are measured in months, years, and, in some cases, decades.

Long term goals define where exercise fits into our lives and why we exercise at all.

Long term goals are what keep the clock ticking and what keeps you motivated when things get awkward, uncomfortable, difficult, and yes, sometimes painful.

Long term goals can be easily identified: lose 50 pounds;  make exercise a permanent and regular part of my life;  and live vibrantly into my 50s, 60s, and Beyond!. 

However, it is the short term goals that help break down the beast into manageable, meaningful and conquerable chunks.


Short Term Goals

Short term goals are typically measured in weeks or months.

They might even  be completely unrelated to long term goals, but are frequently used as an effective way to parse the long term goal into manageable objectives.

Fitness Professionals frequently use 6 week exercise programming cycles to measure and manage short term progress.  

The body adapts to selective and repetitive exercise stress uniquely within 6 week chunks.  Your nervous, cardiovascular, and muscular systems generally become about as efficient as they can become to a particular set of repetitive stresses within 6 weeks.    Once developed, the adaptation rate found with further repetition is significantly slowed, or halted altogether.  

This condition is frequently called a plateau.  Significant additional similar exercise stress fails to promote the same level of adaption found earlier in the cycle.

Reaching plateaus is why trainers frequently assess and reprogram your exercise routine every 6 weeks: in order to promote additional adaptation and fitness improvements, a less familiar stress needs to be introduced.

As a side note, changing your exercise program more frequently than every 6 weeks can actually have counterproductive results.  

As your body builds new and more efficient body movement mechanics (both nervous and musculoskeletal), there is only so much raw material to go around.  If you use highly varied motor movements within a short term training period, you will still adapt, but you do lose out on the formation of highly efficient nervous, circulatory, and muscular systems development.  

Think of it this way: when second grade elementary students are learning to write the letter ‘b’, they write it over and over and over again.  They still get better at writing, in general, if they simply write out the entire alphabet letter by letter, but they don’t get really good at letter ‘b’ unless it is repeatedly written.  All body movements are the same way: the repetitions matter.  Eventually, this develops what kinesiologists refer to as muscle motor movement memory.

Identifying Short Term Goals

Like long term goals, short term goals can be both lifestyle related and performance related.

Short term lifestyle goals would be things like:

  • Eat a Healthy Breakfast and 5 small meals every day this month
  • Exercise 5 times per week for the entire month of July
  • Walk 30 minutes during lunch every weekday this month
  • Use my heart rate monitor every day I exercise

Short term performance related goals are things like:

  • Increasing the total number of push ups you can do by one or two
  • Reducing your resting heart rate by a single beat per minute
  • Losing 6 pounds in 6 weeks

Short term goals frequently won’t make life altering changes to your health and fitness, but they do matter on a couple of levels.

For one, even those small improvements in life and limb require a level of commitment and dedication to your program.   All progress, even a single added push up requires some effort and some diligence.


More importantly, they help us take one small, measurable, positive step towards a long term goal that can sometimes seem oh so far away.

Short term goals can be further broken down into weekly and daily goals which, in many cases, are the most important goals of all.


Some days will be high effort, short duration exercise days and the goal will be to find some discomfort and then find the shower quickly.  Other days will be longer duration, but lower intensity exercise days where the goal will simply be to complete the event in its entirety with low stress.

Establishing daily goals is sometimes the hardest part of all.  Knowing how and when to push (or push harder) versus how and when to ease up is the true art of exercise programming.  Even experts frequently struggle with it.  However, there are some basic, practical, effective guidelines we’ll be showing you later.

For now, simply recognize that you should never, never exercise without having a specific duration and intensity established for the day.   

You may find that a strain changes your workout.  Or you may find that weather shortens your ride.  You find that you only reach your daily goals 80% of the time.   Nonetheless,  you should never saddle up, lace up, or hit the gym without having a specific goal in mind for that daily workout.



The Seasonal Goal

While your body and trainers find 6 week cycles conveniently manageable, you might find it more practical to develop seasonal goals.   Seasonal goals are, as implied, 12 week cycles tied to the season of the year.


What is convenient about seasonal goals is that each seasonal goal has two 6 week training cycles within it, lending itself very well to some highly manageable programming.  

Frequently this becomes as simple as:

  1. Establishing a baseline fitness level for the first 6 weeks and
  2. Reaching a personal best in some specific area for the second 6 weeks

A good example is the summer seasonal goal of completing the local 10K fundraising run with a personal best time.   

Maybe you’ve just spent the Winter doing mostly strength training indoors, and Spring splitting your time with weights and commuting to work on your bike.

So, you start running.  As with all activities, you start slowly and make progress day by day and week to week.  By the 6th week your circulatory system has developed reasonable efficiency related to the very specific activity of running.  Your leg muscles have developed additional strength, and your ankle, knee, and hip joints have loosened up a bit.

At this point, your body is sufficiently prepared to handle more intense exercise specifically associated with running more quickly … like a Seasonal Goal!

Here’s a good example of an annual plan with four seasonal goals:

  • Ride my bike to work 4 out of 5 days this Spring (lifestyle/volume based goal)
  • Reach a personal best in my community’s annual 10K fundraiser event (performance goal) this Summer
  • Strength train 4 days per week and complete as many pushups as my age by Halloween (performance goal)
  • Cross Country ski at least once each week this winter, stretch daily, and train with weights 4 days per week this Winter (volume and lifestyle goals)

What’s your current, short term, seasonal, or long term goal? 

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