The Ultimate Guide To Setting Fitness Goals

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We live in a paradox these days.

Being lean, healthy and strong has never been so desirable. Only a few short decades ago, possessing a muscular physique was frowned upon. Now, it is the pursuit. Few forge the habits and adopt the appropriate strategies to achieve this aim.

Related: Body Composition and Setting Proper Goals

However, we also have a large group of people who are unhappy with their physiques. The general population admires the model in the glossy magazine and double-taps the rock hard physiques on their mini-computers. But when they look in the mirror, a different emotion is spurred.

Frustration. Confusion. Maybe even hopelessness.

The desire is alive – people want to be in great shape. But reality proves that in general, we are painfully far from it. You know the stats – obesity, type 2 diabetes, brain fog, chronic fatigue and all that jazz.

You don’t have to look very far to see it. Maybe the furthest you have to look is in the mirror.

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With rising health care costs, it’s no wonder more and more people are turning to weight training, good nutrition and supplementation to improve the way they look and feel.

On paper this makes sense. Workout, eat well, recover smart and viola, the new life drops into your lap. Unfortunately, it’s rare for a newbie in the gym to follow the pragmatic approach.

Why?

Information overload. Far too many inputs retard the beginners approach and often leads them down a path of bad habits that they’ll soon have to reverse to get back on track.

This eats away at a non-renewable asset – time.

So, you can mess around for a few years that you’ll never get back and get ho-hum results. Or, you can jump start your progress in the gym with a set of timeless strategies that will change the trajectory of your lifting experience.

Most newbies in the gym will piece together what they saw in a magazine, advice from a friend who has no businesses advising them and throw in a little status-quo recommendations (the marathon pumping workouts, reducing salt from their diets etc) and arrive at a pile of less than blockbuster results.

They wake up months, often years later realizing they’ve clocked of hundreds of hours in the gym and in the kitchen only to be humbled by reality – the fact that they don’t look that much better then when they started.

Worst yet, the training approach that the typical newbie focuses is on are all the beach muscles – bi’s, tri’s, chest).

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To be fair, it makes sense to a degree. Their eyeballs get assaulted with the miracle programs and shortcut tips that make them believe they can look like Mr. Everything in seven weeks.

But training in such a way with no lifting background is asking for some hiccups at best, injury and imbalances at worst.

The less problematic, but equally damaging to the spirit is that by training beach muscles exclusively will turn you into someone who sticks out like a sore-thumb – everything from the front looks good but everything disappears when you walk away. Also, it’ll look like your walking on stilts. Not the best look.

Is that what you’re after?

Probably not.

If you’re ready to get after it in the gym, but you’re new to the whole #gymlife thing, you’ve come to the right place. You’ll walk away with a handful of timeless tools that will guide you to the results you really want – a lean, strong, healthy, physique.

Ultimately you’ll have less frustration and more results.

Pick a program that is in line with your goal

This is fascinatingly overlooked. But please pick a training program that matches your desired training adaptation.

Sounds painfully obvious, right?

But this is where many people, maybe even you, have gotten frustrated, and consequentially quit after a few short weeks.

Here is a short guide on how navigate your decision:

Do you want to get as strong as possible?

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Focus on strength training with the compound movements as the foundation. Powerlifting and strongman training programs are right up your ally. You’ll hang out in the 1-5 rep range most of the time augmenting higher rep ranges for assistance work and muscle endurance.

Do you want to get shredded?

Focus on strength training. Even during a fat loss phase, strength training is still number one. However, you’ll bump up density and volume. The German volume training program or the 8×8 training program popularized are popular strength training programs for fat loss.

Depending on your personal situation and body-fat levels, conditioning work can certainly be added to your approach. A combination of LISS and HIIT is a good baseline to start with. As you get to understand how your body responds, you can adjust appropriately.

Do you just want to be healthy?

Focus on strength training. Even though functional training has been around forever, cross training has carved out an industry of its own in the last five years.

The typical approach is a combination of barbell movements, body weight movements, kettlebell movements and endurance modalities that make up a cross training program.

This style of training fits very well into the busy lifestyle of someone who doesn’t have the time or desire to devote more than five hours a week to exercise.

The connective tissue in any case is strength training. The beauty of strength training is that its very malleable to fit the desired adaptation. Eliminate the decision fatigue of figuring what to do for exercise – strength training is your answer.

The choice lies in the desired adaptation not the vehicle.

Be an optimistic realist with your goals

There’s nothing wrong with having some role models in your life. Heck, I’ve done the same thing. I’ll scroll through the gram or gaze over the glossies and admire the physiques I witness.

But I learned the hard way that expecting to look like a cover model or a class champion on the physique stage in eight weeks is absurd.

Fantasizing in such a way sets you up for an expectation hangover.

You’re fired up for a few weeks and then when you realize it’s going to take far more effort and time then you had hoped, the reality suddenly feels heavy – like murder on a guilty soul.

Instead of coming out of the gates like a sophomore, approach your transformation like a geisha pouring tea – calm, poised, focused.

By setting your goals and pursuing them with this posture, it’ll allow you to sustain the effort needed to present your best physique.

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Make the gym a habit

In the great book “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business,” the author, Charles Duhigg writes extensively on what he call the habit loop.

Meaning, a bulletproof way to create a habit is by triggering the behavior you desire (going to the gym) with a cue.

A basic example would be someone who wants to go to the gym four days per week, but has struggled with consistency in the past. The simple cue would be to pack a gym bag packed with your workout gear, headphones, shoes, and supplements the night before the following day. Then, place this bag by your door where you can’t miss it. This is one cue and works particularly well if this person prefers train in the morning.

For the person who’d rather train at night after work, having this gym bag in the front seat of the car would be a cue right when they jump in the car after their shift.

The theory is grounded in the idea that if something external cues you to do something (in this case, go to the gym), you won’t have to consciously remember to do the behavior you want to execute – it’ll eventually become a routine.

Learn how to lift

Just because you have a knife, it doesn’t mean you know how to cook.

The same can be said for gym memberships – just because you have one, doesn’t mean you know how to lift. However, this truth is neglected by many.

You don’t have to look far to prove it. Your local commercial gym will showcase the lack of efficacy when it comes to strength training.

As a newbie to the iron game, learning how to lift properly will be a skill you can leverage for the rest of your life. But if you skip this season of learning, at some point, you’ll have to pay up. Injuries, imbalances, lack of gains, frustration are more probable in comparison to learning the right way.

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There are hundreds of movements you could learn. But, there are a handful of movements you must learn when you are just staring out. Here is a good place to start:

  • Squat
  • Bench
  • Deadlift
  • Press
  • Push Press
  • Barbell Glute Bridge
  • Lunges
  • Barbell Row
  • Pull Up
  • Dip

As you progress, variations of these movements will come into play. However, mastering the basics first, simplifies your learning experience down the road.

Get good at these movements first, then worry about more advanced movements.

Be consistent

Being inconsistent not only keeps you from losing fat and building muscle, but it also plays a trick on your mind – it makes you believe that the program you’re on doesn’t work.

Here’s the reality: Training and diet methodologies haven’t changed much over the years. Sure, there are advancements in supplementation, but the foundation of a beautiful physique is grounded in consistent strength training and a good diet.

Sounds stupidly simple, I know. But, just because it isn’t complex doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile.

I believe the lack of consistency is due to the fact that we as humans get bored very easily these days. Impatience takes a foothold and we jump ship too soon.

When you’re new in the gym and your aim is to transform your body, what you do everyday is more important then what you do once in a while.

Be consistent with your program. Results will vary, but on average it’s around six to eight weeks when things start to get fun (assuming you’ve been consistent).

But six weeks feels like a long time when you expect earth-shattering results in 10 days.

Give your training and diet a chance to work before you kick it to the curb.

Habits first, specificity later

It’s not uncommon for a newbie to come out of the gates with guns blazing. A complete overhaul is usually the protocol.

While the enthusiasm is respectable, it misses the point of transformation. The word transformation implies that the end product is something new. Transformed.

However, when a newbie jumps on an advanced carb cycling diet plan with specific macronutrients to follow, the structure provides direction.

But, the trainee will by-pass the season of developing solid nutrition habits they can use for the rest of their life – well beyond the transformation period.

In addition, thrusting oneself into an intense diet can be overwhelming. For people new to the fitness lifestyle, this is akin to learning a new language.

So starting slow with a handful of keystone nutrition habits will set the stage for more advanced methods down the road for the trainee. Here is an example of some basic nutrition habits:

Habit #1

Learn how to source quality protein and add 4-6 oz at each meal.

Habit #2

Learn how to source high quality, fiber rich carbohydrates. Include vegetables in at least two meals per day.

Habit #3

Drink half of body-weight in ounces of water each day. Reduce or eliminate sugary drinks and replace with coffee, or unsweetened tea.

Habit #4

Learn where healthy fats can be sourced from. Cook with coconut oil. If protein at meal isn’t rich in fat, add in healthy sources of fat (i.e, nuts, avocado, olive oil a salad dressing).

Wrapping Up

Take your enthusiasm and back it up with a pragmatic approach setting goals that are challenging, but realistic too.

By doing it this way you can prevent the circle-jerk of starting over again and again because your goal setting methods have allowed for progress and sustained consistency.

You have the tools. Now, go execute.

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Name: Brian McFadden

Bio: Brian teaches motivated but overwhelmed active individuals the importance of adopting an integrative approach to their health and fitness, so they can finally make the gains they want in the gym, but also live a healthy life outside of it.