Tip: The Best Way to Set Gym Goals

What are your goals? Take 3 minutes and outline them like this. You'll be twice as likely to reach them.

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What Are Your Lifting Goals?

Ask most lifters that question and nine times out of ten they'll say, "I'm trying to build size and strength" or "I want to get bigger and leaner." Not coincidentally, nine times out of ten those same guys rarely make significant progress year to year because they don't actually have goals, they only have ideas.

Wanting to be bigger and stronger is like saying you want food for dinner. It's not helpful and doesn't give any real sense of direction or purpose. Any goal you want to reach needs to be smart.

S.M.A.R.T. Goal Setting


Generic size and strength aren't goals – they're things that happen on the way to goals. Adding muscle to your arms, lats, or quads, or improving your overhead press and front squat, are specific goals. And don't try to say you need to always be improving everything. That might be true, but breaking it down to specifics will allow better attention to detail which leads to better overall progress.


"Bigger" and "leaner" are intangible, open-ended terms that produce low-grade body dysmorphia. Bigger/leaner isn't a goal. "204 pounds with ab definition," deadlifting 495 for 8 reps, or 17-inch arms and 26-inch legs are tangible goals.


Any goal you're reaching for has to actually be reachable. Maybe you want to someday deadlift 1,200 pounds but, brother, that's never going to happen. Or if it is, you're not gonna be the guy to do it. If it's June 12th and you decide to lose 40 pounds of fat by the 4th of July picnic, that's not attainable. High expectations are one thing, shooting for the impossible is something else.


Similar to the previous point, goals need to be realistic both in scope and practicality. If you want to squat 365 for 10 reps, but your gym only has dumbbells, a Smith machine, and a siren that dissuades serious lifters, you're not going to squat 365 for 10 reps.


Every goal needs a deadline. First, it gives you a single date on the calendar which will get menacingly closer and closer. This should get your ass in gear on the days you're just not feeling it. Second, it completes the framework that allows you to design the best approach to attack your goal. Competitive bodybuilders and strength athletes benefit from forced timelines with contests. They generally have 12-16 weeks to either hit their goal or miss the mark on the big day. Limiting yourself to X amount of months to reach a specific goal will influence everything from your training frequency to your nutrition approach.

Drop the vague "get bigger and stronger" approach because it leads to simply training for the sake of training. Write out some S.M.A.R.T. goals, both for the short-term (weeks or months) and long-term (years) and then figure out a tailored plan to reach them.

As the great philosopher Yogi Berra once said, "If you don't know where you're going, you might not get there."