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How To Create Workout Goals That Inspire You

By Nick Holt / July 1, 2017

Do you want to get started on a fitness journey, but you’re not quite sure where to start? Or maybe you’re looking to get back on track after a number of years being sedentary, but you’re unsure of what to do?

In both cases, you want to get fitter and healthier but you’re uncertain about what workout goals make the most sense for you. Even if you have a general goal, like losing fat or building muscle, this might not be enough to get you started.

Well, you’re in the right place.

Social Media Can Be Distracting

First off, while we live in an incredible Digital Age of access to anything and everything, it can be very difficult to stay focused, and not get distracted by all the crafty marketing on the latest health and fitness gimmick.

You’re probably bombarded by social media telling you what your workout goals should be, and how you should exercise.

Between your favorite instagram star who swears by bodybuilding, and that ripped dude on YouTube who claims bodyweight exercises are all you need, it can be hard to know what’s right.

The question becomes, who should you listen to? And what specific goals should you focus on to achieve lasting results?

Constantly Changing Programs Can Decrease Results

If you don’t have a plan, chances are you’ll fall victim to your environment. You’ll copy that instagram star, or that YouTube channel. And then you’ll try that new workout in Men’s Health. You’ll hop from program-to-program without giving each one enough time to see results.

There’s an immutable law of training that goes like this: If you want to guarantee getting very little results, switch exercise programs every few weeks.

Create (& Follow) A Plan To Achieve Success

If you want to get real results, you’ll have to commit to a specific goal and determine what action steps are required to get there. Then, you have to stay the course, showing up every day and doing the work.

It couldn’t be simpler on paper, but life doesn’t exactly work that way.

My goal is to give you the best tools so that you can pick the right goals for yourself, and get the most out of your training program.

Here are the top strategies to create workout goals that inspire you, and 3 tips on how to set effective workout goals.

1. Discover YOUR Active Passion

Active passion, or any physical activity that brings you joy while moving your body, is a foundational component to living a fit & healthy lifestyle.

Finding your active passion switches the conversation from “I have to” or “I should” – for example, go to the gym, eat more veggies, watch less TV – into something much more inspirational.

You start making choices from a place of passion that wakes you up at 5am excited to go surfing, or head out for a trail run. If you don’t know what your active passion is yet, you can follow these simple steps to find what that is for you.

Goal-Setting Becomes Easy

With an active passion firmly in place, workout goals naturally flow out of a desire to get better at that activity.

Let me give you an example from my own life. My two active passions right now are surfing and tennis. The training program that I do and the workout goals that I set all come back to supporting my goal of getting better at these two activities.

Logically, I ask myself the following question when determining my goals – How can I best prepare myself for surfing? How I can get better at tennis?

Surfing well requires an extreme amount of lower body flexibility, something I don’t particularly have. I wasn’t gifted with the natural ability to touch my toes, and before 5 years ago, flexibility was never something that I paid any attention to.

I never stretched or worked on the quality of my joint health. As a result, my hips are tight, my shoulders are cranky, and my ankles don’t move that well.

My Personal Performance Goal

So because of all this, right now I have a goal to increase my ankle range of motion to over 4-inches within the next 3 months.

SIDE NOTE: If you want to check your ankle range of motion, a good test is to stand facing a wall in a staggered stance. With bare feet, place your big toe about 1-inch away from the wall. Now, bend your knee and try to touch your knee to the wall WITHOUT lifting your heel. This is an easy test for what’s called ankle dorsiflexion.

If you can touch your knee to the wall without lifting your heel, slide the foot another inch away from the wall. The goal should be at least 3-inches, and if you get to 5-inches, it’s safe to say that you have good ankle dorsiflexion.

I know that if I improve my ankle range of motion, I will surf better. It’s because of this vision – surfing better – that I dedicate time in the morning to soft tissue work for my calves and feet so I can gradually increase the range of motion in my ankles.

This is just one simple example, but the point is to use your active passion to fuel your goal creation.

2. Create Outcome Goals & Behavior Goals

First off, let’s define the difference between the two:

1. An outcome goal is a specific objective that you’re trying to accomplish. For example: losing 10 lbs. of fat in 2 months, squatting 1.5x your bodyweight, or running 5 miles.

2. A behavior goal is a set of actions that you perform on a daily and weekly basis to achieve your outcome goal.

Ideally, you’ll have both in place. You probably have an idea of your outcome goals, but you might not have behavior goals set to help you get there.

While outcome goals are great and 100% necessary, the main challenge with outcomes goals is that you can’t directly control your accomplishment of them. The scale is the scale, and it gives you a number that’s often completely out of your control.

How To Create Effective Behavior Goals

You achieve outcome goals by performing a set of ACTIONS consistently over time. These actions are behavior goals. In other words, behavior goals are the steps you take to achieve your desired outcome.

So, for example, if your outcome goal is to lose 10 lbs. in 2 months, the related behavior goals could be the following:

  • I will reduce my total calories by 500 per day for 2 months.
  • I will perform 3 strength workouts every week for the next 2 months.
  • I will only drink 4 alcoholic beverages per week for the next 2 months.
  • Again, the key difference is that behavior goals are specific actions that you have 100% control over. Anytime you set an outcome goal, you must have related behavior goals in place to increase your chances of success.

    Goal-Setting Assignment

    Set one outcome goal, and three behavior goals. Write them down and keep them somewhere you can see every day.

    A fitness coach or a health expert can play a huge role in helping you determine the best behavior goals to achieve your specific outcome goal. Find someone who has experience in accomplishing your desired outcome goal AND who has helped others do the same. and you’ll be in a good position to get the results you want.

    3. Fall in Love With the Process

    In Ryan Holiday’s book “The Obstacle is the Way”, he tells the story of Alabama Football coach Nick Saban’s obsession with “the process.” His coaches and players all live by it, and it’s been the key to one of the most dominant college football dynasties in recent years.

    As Saban states,

    Don’t think about winning the SEC Championship. Don’t think about the national championship. Think about what you needed to do in this drill, on this play, in this moment. That’s the process: Let’s think about what we can do today, the task at hand.”

    He knows that if his players and coaches simply do their jobs, the scoreboard will take care of itself. They will win. And boy have they been winning, to the tune of 4 National titles in the last 7 years!

    Focus On The Task-At-Hand

    Falling in love with the process is about finishing the task at hand. It’s about being present and doing what needs to be done right now. It’s not about getting distracted by anything else.

    If we apply this attitude to fitness goals, then nothing can get in your way of success. The reality is, even once you’ve lost 10 lbs., have defined arms, or achieved six-pack abs, you’re never really done.

    There is no finish line.

    Make Fitness Your Lifestyle

    It’s called a fitness journey for a reason. And the #1 way to stay in the game for the long haul is to fall in love with it. The good. The bad. The ugly. It’s all part of it!

    That’s why finding your active passion is so vital to long-term health and vitality.

    There’s no hating your way to health. There’s no beating yourself up and crushing yourself with tough workouts because you feel guilty. That might work in the short run, but trust me, in the long run that is no way to be healthy. Fall in love with the process, and you can be fit forever!

    Remember, it’s all about what you want. You get to choose. It’s not about what those TV ads tell you, or what you see on Facebook. It’s about you finding the activities you love, showing up every day, and focusing on the process.

    Hopefully now you have the tools to go out and achieve your own greatness, whatever that might be. Share what specific goal you’re working towards below, I’d love to know!


    • Darren McInnis says:

      Excellent article Nick - a great way to approach a fit lifestyle - no matter how old. Love the comment 'There is no finish line.' Find a balance, be consistent and enjoy the process! (My active passion is ice hockey and my training calendar revolves around it. This passion has kept me active for many years.)

      • Kristin Rooke, CPT says:

        That's awesome Darren! Finding an active passion is so essential to making fitness a lifestyle, and to giving meaning to your workouts. Glad you enjoyed the article!
        -Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor

    • Emily says:

      Wow, what a great inspirational and helpful article. The timing of reading this today is so what I have been needing. I recently made a couple of goals (awesome, yes!), but have been feeling kind of lost since then. I also became discouraged by the thought of the never ending finish line. I felt like I would never be good enough instead of focusing on the joy my workouts bring me.
      I am going to think about my next outcome goal AND set 3 behavior goals - I love this approach, so much more focused and positive than where I was coming from. Thank you for this article and for sending it out this week!

      • Kristin Rooke, CPT says:

        Hey Emily,

        So glad to hear that this article helped you create more structure around your workout goals! Having a plan and setting behavior goals is such an effective way to give your workouts more meaning, and to keep yourself motivated. Definitely keep us posted on your progress, and if you ever have questions or need advice, feel free to reach out to support@builtlean.com. We're more than happy to help you get more clear and structured about your goals.

        -Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor

    • Thunderchild says:

      This has to be one of the best articles I have read in a long time!! Thanks for this.

      • Kristin Rooke, CPT says:

        Really glad you enjoyed it!
        -Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor

    • Nick says:

      Hey Darren, thanks for the comment and glad this article resonated with you. Hockey is a great one man, enjoy and keep at it!

    • Tina says:

      Yes yes yes yes yes!!! Thank you so much Nick for posting up this article - this is what everyone really needs to hear and know right now! I find celebrity/YouTube fitness people motivating and inspiring, but you're right, it is way too confusing to know "what's right and what's not" - and it takes people away from the fact that there isn't a right or wrong way. I feel there is a unique right way for each person and they have to actively learn that and love the process - I've just started meal prepping and have fallen in love with that process as well!

      I have saved this article and shall be referring to it when writing up my goals.

    • Nick says:

      Hey Tina,
      Thanks for the awesome comment! Love the process and find what works for you, that's exactly right. Meal prepping is a great place to start. You probably already saw this meal prep post I wrote, but just in case you hadn't, see below. Keep us posted on your journey!

    • Justin Floyd says:

      Fantastic article. Falling in love with the process has been a very pleasant surprise for me. I love the food and how I'm building routines and structure. I love seeing my energy, confidence and appearance improve. And I love seeing my world of prospets grow as I do. The active passion bit is a great addition. Come spring, hiking will be my first active passion, followed by swimming once I am comfortable enough in my new body.

      At my heaviest I was 280. When I began purposefully getting in shape in Nov 2016, I was 255. As of today I'm 223 and nothing is slowing me down. Good or bad, I use every single thing in my life as fuel for this process. Articles like this are welcome additions to my journey. Kudos.

      • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

        Congrats, Justin on your results! That's awesome to hear. You clearly have the right mindset, cultivate it