Should you train without a goal?

Goal setting is great for providing a training focus and motivation. Athletes use goal-setting to ensure they prioritise the right training programme and exercise prescription for improved sports performance. However, do non-athletes need goals? What if you just like training? Should you train without a goal? Before I answer that let’s first investigate why we train?

Why do we train?

I have been asking that question to my clients, students and fellow fitness enthusiasts for years and the responses I get are not that varied.

  • To look better
  • To be healthier
  • To perform better in my chosen sport
  • To improve my mental health

To me, these are all goals. They aren’t terribly specific but they are still goals. If you want to take things further then you might choose to measure the progress of your goal.

The ‘look better’ goal

 

If your goal is to look better then you need to have a clear idea of what that actually means to you. It will mean different things to different people. 

  • A bigger bum
  • A smaller bum
  • Bigger arms
  • Smaller arms

Photographs can be used to measure this but you must be careful as we are our own biggest critics. You must also control all the variables to truly measure a difference. Same camera, same lighting, same pose etc.

You may prefer to use more indirect measures such as using a tape measure to measure your waist or your arms or your hips. At least this way your eyes won’t be playing tricks on you. If you want a smaller waist and you have a smaller waist you have achieved your goal.

The ‘be healthier’ goal

 

Before you can track the achievement of this goal you will also need to establish what being healthier means to you. It could mean lower blood pressure, lower body weight, or even a lower resting heart rate. Or again you may like to choose a more indirect measure:

  • the number of minutes you are physically active each week
  • your average step count each day

The sports performance goal

 

The goal of improving sports performance is more in-depth and too detailed to cover in this article. However, we cover this in a lot of detail on our level 4 certificate in strength and conditioning course.

The general process is to determine what physical attributes an athlete needs to excel in their sport, determine which is their weakest with a suitable test battery then that becomes their goal.

The mental health goal

 

In recent years I have had more and more people telling me that they train to improve their mental health. They use exercise to boost their mood like an anti-depressant. A lot of people just know they are a better person when exercise is a regular part of their life, I know I am. One of my clients even goes so far as to say she is a better wife when she has personal training with me, seconded by her husband, who is really supportive of her passion.

When it comes to measuring your improvement in mental health we can look at this from a short term basis and a long term basis.

Short term measurement

This can be done using a simple rating scale of 1 to 10 (10= max happiness/ 1 = max sadness) at the beginning and end of each training session. I have done this several times with clients over the years to reinforce to them the powerful benefits that exercise has on their mood. I have not yet had a client that has not improved their mood from a training session.

Long term measurement

Alternatively, you can download this Mood questionnaire and complete it at the beginning of a 12-week training programme and at the end to measure the long term effects that exercise has had on your mood.

To Conclude

So back to the original question ‘Should you train without a goal?’

No, I don’t think you can! I think everyone trains with a goal in mind. Your goal might not be very specific and you may not be measuring the progress but we all train for some purpose, otherwise what’s the point.

Stay active folks 💪

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