The Importance of Goal Setting, From the Fittest Men in the World
Do you have fitness role models? Perhaps you think Chris Evans’ physique is the ultimate goal. Maybe you want to break a personal lifting record and find yourself inspired by influencers who deadlift 500 pounds and make it look easy. Or maybe endurance events are more your jam. Whatever the case, you too can set goals like the fittest men in the world — and reap the benefits of their approach.
“Whether they’re athletes or trainers or regular guys, the fittest people get (and stay) fit because of their goals. If you don’t have fitness goals, you can sweat and rep in the gym, but you won’t make the steady progress you really want,” says certified trainer Ebenezer Samuel, who helps NFL and track athletes stay fit in person and through live virtual 1-on-1 personal training on fitness app FlexIt.
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“The fittest people get where they are because they made steady, consistent progress and focused their workouts on chasing their goals. That’s part of why, whenever I get a workout or workout program started with a FlexIt Virtual Personal Training client, we always open by discussing our goals.”
Samuel shared his insights on how the fittest men set health and fitness goals to inspire your journey this year. Because why set goals like an average gym-goer when you can learn from the best and set your targets accordingly?
Having a Fitness ‘North Star’
First things first, the fittest men in the world have singular focus and eliminate anything that doesn’t serve their ultimate goal. “There are no frivolous workouts, no sessions that don’t mean something. When I work out guys like Terrell Owens and Bart Scott on FlexIt, I ask them what their current goal is. I know they’ll only want to do exercises that will drive them toward that goal. No pointless burpees here,” says Samuel.
“I remember watching Olympic 100-meter runner Justin Gatlin train back in 2008, when he was just returning to competition. He wasn’t going hard in Atlanta, because he was just getting back into it,” he adds.
“But after he was done with his sprints on the track, when we went into the gym, he didn’t even think about doing a bicep curl. He did two exercises, box jumps and squats, and nothing else. He wasn’t in the gym for vanity. He was there to do exercises that would make him faster.”
So whether your goal is to get stronger, faster or leaner, or push yourself in a specific sport, think of your intention whenever you’re evaluating anything involving a workout. “If something’s not going to propel you closer to that goal, is it really worth doing? The fittest people out there don’t just work out to work out, because they have bigger goals. So they don’t go to a Barry’s for the heck of it, because that very well might leave them tired for tomorrow’s big deadlift day,” according to Samuel. “Reiterating your major goal helps you avoid getting sidetracked by your friend who wants to try a yoga class.”
Remember that your body can only do so much training before you see diminishing returns. Stop trying to improve all aspects of fitness at the same time and choose your focus. Then stick to it.
He recommends thinking about it like your “fitness North Star:”
“You need a dominant, long-term goal. This should be your biggest fitness dream, and it will guide everything. Having a major goal like this sets the tone for all your workouts, and for all your gym planning.”
Breaking Down Your Goals Into Smaller Ones
You’ll also want to break your major goals into smaller ones. “I once worked with an NFL receiver whose game was built around speed and agility, and speed was his main goal. The offseason he approached me, he wanted to work particularly on big toe strength. This was a micro-goal that would help him with his main goal, because big toe strength is an underrated key to speed,” says Samuel.
While toe flexing might not be necessary for your pursuits, identifying your micro-goals is key to success. “Adding in micro-goals will keep your mental approach to fitness fresh, while still helping you chase your main goal. For example, if you want a big chest, you might look to add 20 pounds to your barbell bench press, and once you’ve attained that, you might work on perfecting your dumbbell fly technique.”
Showing Up With a Plan
If you want to train like the best of them, you need a solid plan. You can’t just show up at the gym and do upper body one day, legs the next, and throw in a cardio and core session mid-week.
“The fittest people have their training planned out for weeks and months, and each session builds on the last. Building this long-term plan gives you something to stay accountable to, and that will keep you working. Even if you don’t want to workout today, because there’s a routine in place and a workout to be done, you’ll show up and handle your business,” says Samuel.
Choosing your goal is the first step. But then, it’s about executing. And you need to stay focused on, well, staying focused. According to Samuel, avoiding distractions is paramount: “Getting sidetracked is what’s most likely to kill your gains, because again, you only have so much time to train — and train effectively.”
“When the fittest people aren’t training, they’re focusing on recovering from that training so they can have another productive session the next day.”
Small Reminders and Deadlines
Finally, there are always small reminders and extra accountability checkpoints that you can throw into your routine to emulate the fittest men in the world. For example, Samuel learned a tip from a pro NFL player. He writes a message on his phone’s lock screen that reminds him of his goal. It can be a simple one-word comment like “speed,” or “strength” or “10 pounds of muscle.”
“I have to look at that every day, so it keeps me focused on chasing that goal and keeps me from getting off-track,” he says.
He’s also seen athletes put deadlines on their goals, like bench-pressing 275 pounds by a specific date. This instantly ramps up the stakes and they have to put in extra work and stay consistent to meet the deadline. “It’s hard, but that little dose of pressure pushes them farther.”
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