Don't Make This Mistake at the Gym: Define Your Goal

As trainers, we see all types of mistakes made in the gym.  Some are obvious, some aren’t.  Most people can tell you that the obese guy trying a handstand push-up on the cement floor while holding a 40lb dumbbell is a recipe for disaster.  However, other mistakes may not be so clear.  Some people may look like they are doing everything right, but are making the biggest mistake you can make in exercise, they are training without a goal. 

Take “Joe” for example.  Joe is 35 years old, a father of two, and an owner of a massive beer gut.  Joe hasn’t been to the gym since his high school football days when he was doing bench press, bicep curls, and popping his zits.  Recently, Joe has grown unhappy with his dadbod and gets terribly winded walking up a couple flights of stairs.  Joe realizes he is “out of shape” and needs to “workout”.  Joe joins the Crossfit gym near his work and a running club on the weekends.  After six weeks, Joe’s back is killing him and he has unrelenting shin splints during his runs that linger well into the week.  Joe still looks the same and decides “working out” is bullshit and goes back to doing nothing. While extreme, I see this scenario play out time and time again.  Joe was motivated to begin and had every intention of succeeding with his training, the only things missing were the answers to two crucial questions:

1)     What specific outcome do I want from training?

2)     What is the best way to reach this outcome?


If question 1 seems simple, that’s because it is! Yet most don’t take 5 minutes to sit and think about it.  Most people put more thought into what Lulu outift they wear to the gym than they do about what they want from their training.  I’ll have someone that is willing to donate heaping amounts of time and money to personal training with me, sit across from me and say “I want to be in better shape” when I ask them their goals.  While this is a perfectly normal response to the question, it won’t help you find the most efficient path to reach the outcome.  When you go to the barber or hairstylist do you say “just do something to my hair, something is better than nothing”?

Be specific and clear when defining your goal.  This is a big decision, training takes a ton of time and effort, you want to be certain you know your WHY.  If you want to look better naked, be honest with yourself, don’t be embarrassed about it.  If you want to get strong enough to pick up your boss overhead and toss them down a flight of stairs, there is a way to train for that too.  There are a million different ways to train for a million different goals but defining the goal is the first step.  Here are some goals given to me over the years that fit the bill:

Lose body fat, look sexy, get a 6-pack

To look scary, bigger and more muscular

Increase arm/shoulder size

Get stronger on the 3 big lifts (squat, bench, deadlift)

Prepare for a marathon

Increase “core” strength to take pressure off my chronically sore lower back

To break down (during aging) at a slower rate (a personal favorite of mine)

Look hot in a strapless dress (picture of dress provided)

To do as little exercise as possible where I can eat anything I want, but not get fatter.

To dominate my husband during rough sex

Ok, so I made the last one up, but I’m sure someone out there is having that exact thought during a set of heavy hip thrusts. I think you get the point.  The more specific the goal, the easier it will be to determine the path necessary to accomplish that goal. 

Where it gets tricky is answering question 2.  What is the best way to reach the outcome desired?  This is where if you don’t have hours of time to research, a buddy who is an expert on fitness and nutrition, or your own personal trainer and chef team, you can run into problems.  Some decent programs can be found with a simple google search but beware of "instapros" with no education or experience, they suck and most likely you’ll wind up in the same boat as Joe.  Contact a personal trainer at your gym that you trust and make sure they have the credentials and experience to help.  Make sure they pass the t-shirt test, you should be able to tell that they lift when they are wearing a t-shirt.  If someone can’t keep themselves in good condition, what are they going to do for you?  Or you can just click here and know you are getting sound advice from an experienced, credentialed, trainer. (*cheesy self-promotion alert*, but it’s true and diapers get expensive!)

Avoid being one of the mindless zombies that stagger into the gym with no plan, no purpose or intensity in training.  Every exercise, set, and rep should be getting you closer to your goal.  If you can’t explain why you are performing an exercise or be confident that a given exercise is helping you accomplish a specific goal, it’s time to rethink why you’re doing it!



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