Strength Goals: How and why
What’s the point of all this strength training?
This is a question you might want to ask yourself, and it’s one of the key factors in the rise of concerns regarding strength standards. For many people, knowing that you’re getting better and achieving something notable is a key motivator.
Today we’re going to discuss strength goals – what they are, why they matter, and how they should be approached. We’re also going to look at what these can do for your training and how they relate to getting stronger in future!
Why are strength goals important?
The big, eternal question: “why should I care?”.
The reality is that you could quite easily ignore strength standards and comparisons. That’s totally fine – it’s not necessary for everyone. However, for most people, it’s good to monitor progress and there are some genuinely useful insights that you can take from how good you are now.
A proper appreciation for standards and comparisons are also key to goal-setting. This is the point of today’s discussion: your goals determine almost everything else about your training, so they need to be well-thought-out.
A 3-tier approach to goal-setting
One of the things I love to do for goal-setting is to approach it like a good, fancy cake. There should be 3 tiers: aspirational goals, mid-term goals, and short-term goals. This is pretty vague, so let’s make it real…
Aspirational goals: the life-long goals that get you out of bed in a morning and keep you turning up to the gym.
Mid-term goals: what do you want to achieve this month, or with this whole training cycle? These are mid-term goals that might be to balance out your big lift performance or fix big technical problems.
Short-term goals: what are you doing this week to get better? What about today? These are the goals that inform your daily practice.
If you can put together these goals and keep each of them in mind, they’ll keep you focused on your progress. The goals you have at each level will inform how you train, and all the performance psychology says that clear, actionable goals are key to staying well-oriented in your training.
What are the best strength goals for you?
When it comes to asking yourself about how to set strength goals, we start with the aspirational, lifeitime goals. The way you figure this out is actually a pretty simple hypothetical: when you’re 85 and you’ve given up intense weight training, looking back on your life, what’s the minimum you’d accept?
What is the very minimum you could look back on and say you were proud of – and satisfied by?
For some, this could be international competition, while for others it might just be a matter of hitting some numbers that made you truly strong.
This is an individual thing: it could be a 300kg squat or a 30kg squat. IT’s all about you and yours, and what you want from strength training. Nobody can tell you what the long-term goal should be.
Building Mid-term goals
A mid-term goal is something you’d put on a list of stepping stones to you long-term goal. This is likely to either be some specific performance, a certain weight you want to lift, or some big technical thing you need to get right.
Remember that you’re not training for that next kilo – you’re training to build a movement pattern and strength that will let you achieve your lifetime goal. It could be a milestone lift or taking a step towards this best-technique, but the mid-term goals are actionable.
They’re the kind of things you need to do before you can achieve aspirational goals. You need to figure these out by being honest with yourself: they start with fixing weaknesses. Go to where you’re worst and hammer that problem until it’s solved.
This is where a coach is usually a great shout, otherwise you’ll need a lot of self-awareness and a good idea of how you should be moving.
Once you’ve figured out the bigger, mid-term steppingstones, you can start kicking ass on a daily basis. You orient your daily and weekly performance with good programming, a good idea of what that week is for, and bringing that focus to each movement in training.
For example, if your mid-term goal is a 180kg squat and you’re at 160, the weekly goal could be to move with your training weights at a certain speed or RPE. It could also be to implement a fix to your technique (such as hinging from the hip on the way up), or just being more present in training.
Every exercise of every day should have a specific goal or focus. That’s how you produce 1% improvements everyday – an approach that produces amazing long-term change and improvement.
What does this matter?
So, when you’re setting your big goals – and the smaller ones along the way – you’re also defining the processes you need.
A good training approach starts with the goals and reverse-engineers the processes. Want to hit that 180kg squat? Well you’re going to need to work on leg strength, squatting technique, core strength, and a few other processes.
The structure of your training has to be determined by the goals you hold.
The urgency with which you train is also 100% dependent on your goals. If you’ve got a time-bound goal, like competitions, you need to have a certain urgency to your goals.
Training isn’t a timeless, eternal upward trend. There will come a day where you have to hang up the boots and stop forever – or more accurately a time when progress turns into regression. That’s the nature of aging.
If you’re a competitor or you’re starting later in life, you’re going to need to bring more urgency than if you’re a recreational trainee at 18 years old. There’s no excuse to be lazy about your training, but the degree to which you dial in is based on which goals you choose!
The amount of specificity in your training also depends on your goals. Want to get ridiculously good at deadlifting? You’re probably going to need to cut out any activities that are demanding on the lower back to make room for more deadlift practice/performance.
As your goals become more significant, more difficult, and more singular, the specificity in training goes up.
If you’ve got 10 different goals that are all in the “intermediate” range, you’ll not need much specificity. On the other hand, high-level competition in powerlifting only has 3 key factors, which you can get very specific with.
Your aspirational goals are going to determine how you should train and how much you should vary that process.
OOT factor strictness
This is perhaps the simplest factor that is going to matter for you. The size and difficulty of your goals determine just how strict you need to be with yourself outside of training.
Want to get jacked and shredded and look great? Well that’s fine, you can live a comfortable life around that goal if you’re willing to work hard in the gym and find balance in your diet.
Want to become an Olympic-level rower and set records? All of a sudden, your training isn’t a part of your life but perhaps the largest part.
The difference between these two lifestyles is that the lifetime goals are so different they produce totally different training and out-of-training habits. The commitment you have to make to your performance change with the goals you set yourself.
The smaller the goal, the more thinly-spread you become, the more you can take your training and lifestyle with a pinch of salt and leniency. The more specific, grandiose, and singular it becomes, the less liberties you can afford in/around training!
We can’t tell you what your strength goals are – or should be. What we can do is provide perspective on how you should set your goals and how that is going to affect your training.
There’s nothing wrong with any goal, it’s all about what you will be happy with, and these goals are likely to change over time. However, it’s important to work back from the lifetime goals you need to orient yourself on a day to day basis.
If you don’t have any goals, you can’t put together good processes and results will likely slip past you. Strength goals don’t need to be Olympic medals – but they should be big enough to get you out of bed, structured enough to guide you month by month, and specific enough that you can put in work today that takes you one small step closer to your aims!
Set your goals high, be honest with your weaknesses, and always work backwards from what you want to how you’re going to get it!
About The Author
Professional sport/fitness writer, Weightlifter, high-performance enthusiast. Liam wears many hats, but they’re unified by a love for competition, performance, and engaging writing. You can get in touch (or hurl abuse) over at ApexContent.Org.