Set performance goals
LONG, medium and short term. Something you want to achieve a long way down the line, something that you need to achieve on the way there (this will change as you get closer to the end goal) and also something you want to achieve this workout. And have them relate to one another. For example:
“I want to get my first full push-up on the floor this year” is the long term goal. “I’m currently doing my push ups on a 24” box. I need to be able to do 15 good reps on this box before I move to the 18” box” is a medium term goal that has to happen before the long term goal is achieved. “Last workout I got 11 good reps on the 24” box so today I’m trying for 12 reps or more to move one small step closer to my goal” is the short term goal for today’s workout. This is how progress is made.
“And I know by the time I get that first push up my arms, shoulders and chest (the primary muscle used during push ups) will be stronger and more toned!”
It might help to think of these medium and short term goals as tests or benchmarks you need to pass/ prove before moving on to bigger and better things.
“Why can’t I jump to the bigger and better things now, surely that would get me there quicker?” Because you haven’t proven you’re ready and that would kind of be like skipping rungs while climbing a ladder. It might work but it could also result in you really hurting yourself. Better to make slower but consistent progress, safely.
How to make setting medium and short term performance goals easier
A medium term performance goal is just “the next major step”. In the case of the push up example above it’s moving to a lower box in order to increase load. For most weight lifting exercises it’s actually going to be adding load. If your long term goal is to lift *large weight* and you’re currently lifting *small weight* then the medium term goal is to lift *small weight plus 1kg*.
Short term goals are even easier! Look at your notes from your last workout and do one thing a tiny bit better. Here are some obvious and not so obvious possibilities:
Obvious options for short term goals
Try to get one or more additional reps using the same weight as your last workout while maintaining quality of movement (assuming you haven’t hit your upper rep limit).
Use a little bit more weight while maintaining quality of movement and getting at least your minimum rep limit.
Add an additional set or round if none of the above were possible/ achieved to increase the total reps performed over the previous workout (but remove that extra set and try one of the other two again next time, don’t just keep adding sets).
This concept can work for exercises that cover distance too, like running or cycling. Slightly more total distance. Slightly less time to cover the same distance. An additional round if workout is interval based.
The less obvious options
Use a slower pace. If you usually bounce up and down out of reps slowing them down to three seconds down and three seconds up (or adding a pause during the rep) using the same weight and the same number of reps. This extends time under tension and puts your ability to maintain your form under serious pressure.
Increase your range of motion. For example if you’re currently doing push ups without touching your chest to the ground, try it. It’s harder.
Take less rest between sets/rounds. If you can get the same workout done in less overall time, that’s progress.
If you’ve been doing the same exercise for a while and progress has slowed (or you just fancy a change) use a more complex/ challenging exercise variation for the same muscle groups.
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