Set a Goal before Any Training

A good goal : Finishing a marathon
How do you ensure you get enough exercise, every week?

I see two ways to achieve this.

First is including exercise in your daily routine. I have already mentioned commuting as exercise. Blue Zones populations take it a step further. Ikarians in Greece and Okinawans do not buy vegetables but care for a garden instead. Sardinians are sheepherders, waking up early to cater for their animals and walk great distances. In these areas, there is also no concept of retirement, so elders still continue to have their healthy dose of exercise.

The second way is through weekly training.

I found this can be a journey full of pitfalls:

  • Unlike gardening or farming, there are no financial or food benefits, to the contrary. You have to pay substantial sums for gear, coaches and gyms on a continual basis.
  • Unlike sheepherding, training is always optional. You could get mean words from your coach or training partners. But that’s the worst that can happen. No sheep is going to die.
  • There is initial motivation based on temporary pain (obesity, doctor diagnosis, lack of attractiveness etc.) but we easily forget the initial motivation after a while
  • Friends, bars, spouses, netflix, bad weather etc. can work together to convince us on skipping one or a few workouts
  • After a few years, there are life changes such as baby birth, moving out, new job, relocation or injuries. These can force us to stop training

I found setting a training goal can help go past these pitfalls.

What is a training goal?

A training goal can be an outcome. Many for example aim to be able to finish a 5k run in the Couch to 5K program, a very nice goal to introduce running in their health goals. Others aim to be on the podium at their next competition. It can be also reaching a certain weight or body fat percentage.

A training goal can be a performance goal, for e.g. being able to run a distance in a given time. For example, I have always been slow so I am aiming to run 5k under 20 minutes before the end of the year. This is perfect for since there are no races during fall or winter.

A training goal can also also be a process. A martial artist can aim to learn a kata before the end of the year.

That’s it. Going to the gym X times per week is not a training goal. Aiming to run XX miles per week is not a training goal. Having good nutrition is not a goal but a technique to help you reach your training goal. Make sure you goal is either an outcome, a performance or a process goal.

How does a training goal help go past pitfalls?

A Training Goal provides Meaning 

For any sport, there is a large diversity of techniques and workouts you can try. If you don’t know which technique to focus on, you might be intimidated and tempted to stay at home.

Having a training goal focus your attention towards goal-relevant activities and away from goal-irrelevant activities.

For example, if you want to run fast a 5K, you will need to focus on speed work. Scheduled in a training plan, high intensity interval training and weight training make sense. Training seems simple and easily understood. All this reassure us that our training is efficient and effective.

A Training Goal provides Feedback

After a workout, you can measure if you have progressed towards your training goal.

A better time on your sports watch tells us that what we are doing good work. A worse time is a negative feedback, and can tell us we can do better. Feedback means learning and enables us to devise better training next time.

A Training Goal provides Motivation

In my opinion, this is the best benefit of a training goal. It allows us to replace boredom with a measurable challenge.

As we start working towards our goal, we can take small steps and see the results of our efforts. Fear and tension are replaced with confidence and focus. Soon we are looking forward to our next workout.

This motivation can help us go past life pitfalls, and make sure we train every week.

Take the example of the college guy who subscribes to the local gym. He did not read any books. He is a full-time student so does not have funds for a private coach. When going to the gym, he sees free weights, machines, different treadmills, and all sorts of devices. He decides to imitate a few bulky guys who look like they know what they are doing and do a dumbbell, bench press and indoor biking circuit. The college guy then follows the same routine for the next three months, then quits because summer is coming and it looks good enough. His training could have been much more efficient and motivated with a training goal!

A Training Goal Improves Performance

Goals have been found to increase levels of performance by an average of 16% (1)

It was also found that goal setting improved racing times in both practice and competition (2). The effects of self-set goals was also studied by Ward and Carnes (3). They discovered that those who set their own goals showed an immediate increase in their performance at practice. This translated into an enhanced performance during competitive games.

As we progress, training is easier. Lungs were burning before. Now instead of pain, endorphins make us appreciate training. And we are proud to showcase our improved performance to friends.

Setting a Goal

It is important to consider the different types of goal – either an outcome, performance or a process goal.

Criteria include current skill, time availability, and resources available. Personally, I find a training goal is a good one by pitching non-athletic friends. I see if (1) they understand it, and if (2) they find it inspiring. Those are very good signs you can commit.

Your next task is setting up a training plan aligned with the goal.

Communicating about your training goal is a good idea. If you tell your friends clearly that you want to be on the podium, they are less likely to drag you to a whisky bar and more likely to cheer you up!

If you know friends who are into exercise, do share this article! It can motivate and help them meet their health goals.


  1. Knowles, Z., Houghton, L., & Jackson, S. (2011). Run Liverpool Marathon Workshops; Goal Setting Presentation
  2. Wanlin, C. M., Hrycaiko, D. W., Martin, G. L., & Mahon, M. (1997). The effects of a goal-setting package on the performance of speed skaters. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 9, 212-228.
  3. Ward, P., & Carnes, M. (2002). Effects of posting self-set goals on collegiate football players’ skill execution during practice and games. Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, 35, 1-12.


2 thoughts on “Set a Goal before Any Training”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: