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Goal setting

The best thing you're not doing

We are all looking for ways to get better results in the gym. It's probably why you’re reading this blog. While you may have chosen the best exercises, set your sets and reps just right, and optimized your protein intake, one essential ingredient might still be missing: goal setting. Unmissable if you want to get bigger, stronger and faster.

Goal setting is a subject that has been heavily researched. In fact, more than 500 studies have been performed on goal setting. 90% of these studies concluded the following: goal setting has a powerful positive effect on behaviour.

“90% of these studies concluded: goal setting has a powerful effect on behaviour.”

Hopefully this convinces you on the merit of goal setting. Let’s now look at some of the basic principles of setting goals:

1 - Set specific goals

Make sure your goals are measurable. For example “getting stronger” won’t cut it. Be specific: “In the next 8 weeks I want to increase my squat by 15kg”.

2 - Set moderately difficult but realistic goals

Setting goals too high may decrease motivation and interest. Make your goals challenging but attainable. Don’t be afraid to ask a trainer in your gym for help in assessing the achievability of your goals.

3 - Set long and short-term goals

Just setting a long-term goal does not necessarily improve performance. Instead set a long-term goal and determine the steps you have to take to reach that long-term goal. These will be your short-term goals. In the image you can find an example of how a long term goal might be divided into short-term goals.

4 - Set process and performance goals

Process goals are generally qualitative in nature, which means that they are subjective and hard to measure. They consist of the improvement of certain skills. These can be things like improving knee position in the deadlift, better the quality of your sleep, refining your cooking skills, etc. Performance goals are usually quantitative in nature. In other words: they are measurable. You can find examples of performance in the image concerning long -and short-term goals:

The use of short-term goals to achieve long-term ones

5 - Develop goal achievement strategies

This is one of the most important steps in using goal setting effectively. Once you’ve set your goals, how will you achieve them? These are your strategies. A key factor in developing strategies is that you’re specific. How much? How often? How many?

For example:

Goal: Increase your muscle mass by 5kg.


  1. Strength training 4 days a week
  2. Consuming X amount of protein a day (Click here for more on this topic)
  3. Sleeping an average of 8 hours per night
“Once you’ve set your goals, how will you achieve them?”

Now that you understand the principles behind goal setting, it's time to put it into practice. Write out your answers to the following questions:

  1. Where do you want to be?
  2. How long do you want to take to get there?
  3. What short term goals will be your stepping stones to reaching your long term goal?
  4. What skills and targets do you need to acquire to attain those short-term goals?
  5. Exactly what strategies will you use to get there?

What effects will you experience as a consequence of effective goal setting?

  • Goals direct attention to important elements of the skills or habits that you want to achieve. You’ll be forced to analyze the desired result and set concrete goals.
  • Goals mobilize efforts. By being able to envision the long term plan it may be easier to understand the importance of the smaller tasks at hand today and mobilize the effort to complete them.
  • Goals prolong persistence. By knowing the role of the small tasks today in the bigger scheme of things, you’ll be more consistent in completing those tasks on a daily basis.
  • Goals facilitate the development of new strategies. Setting goals makes you think about how to reach them and force you to create new strategies.

To close this post off I would like to end on a minor disclaimer, which is that there is a lot more in-depth to be said about goal setting. Like how you formulate goals, in what way to use rewards, when to adjust goals, and much more. However, the information in this article should give you the understanding and practical methods that you need in order to get started with this essential part of long term success in the gym. If you have questions or are looking to learn more, check out my instagram page!

Thijs Haasnoot

Personal trainer and powerlifting coach at Vondelgym

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