Goal Setting For Performance Gain

In training just as in life you need to give structure to your dreams in order for them to be achievable. Goals, which are dreams with a purpose, need to be above your current level of skill and ability in order for them to be worthwhile. Michael Phelps, for example, probably didn't dream of winning the 25 - 30 age division of the local masters 100 meters butterfly. He dreamed big, planned intelligently and trained as hard as he could to achieve the unimaginable. The same goes for us as everyman athletes. We need the proper structure to define and organise our dreams into manageable bites so we aren't defined by our limitations but rather how we exceed these limitations. It must be pointed out that goals are uniquely personal and as such your planning for these goals should be focused on you as an athlete and how you see yourself when you achieve these goals.

Personally, I am finishing the preparation of my training plan for Ultraman Australia in May, 2017. I look at the plan and see with excitement the next 18 weeks unfolding in front of me. In designing the program I have agonised over the engineering of every session with the long term goal of getting me to the best shape of my life and completing this monumental race. The planning has taken me hours of work on TrainingPeaks. Moving sessions around, tweaking intervals and changing swim sets to run sets and back again as I work to get recovery and key workouts in the correct sequence to maximise performance. But for every hour spent on the computer I have spent five times this amount scribbling down ideas and sets on pieces of paper which have been scattered around the house. Add to this the various times during the day and night when my mind drifts to dreaming about the race, training and ultimately whether I am planning too much training or not enough.

Goal setting and planning is a very cathartic process; a valuable chance for you the athlete to dream about the moment of achieving your dream and how you will get there. It is a process where you can synthesise your own thoughts, collate the scraps of paper from your life and organise your mind. This will give you a clearer picture of where you are heading and the path needed to achieve your personal success. Therefore, it is important to plan to make sure that your goal becomes reality and you give a voice to your dream. In the wise words of Harvey MacKay “A dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.” 

Like in all life planning, we need to start by determining what our target is - our goal. The stronger our desire to experience the goal the harder we work to get there. For us as everyman athletes, we need to listen and act on our dreams, but sometimes the end point may be too far off and this allows distractions which take your focus from your target. You may have set a target which your subconscious and the many doubters around you say is unobtainable for your current talents or skill level.

Let me give an example of my Ultraman goal, which is unobtainable on first impression. When you look at the program (which - shameless plug - can be purchased off this web site) the easiest week has 10.5 km of swimming, 210 km of cycling and 30 km of running. It works out to be around 360 hours of training over the 18 weeks, or 15 full days if I was to do it continuously. If I work on a training heart rate of 130 bpm I estimate that my heart will beat 2,808,000 times during this period and I will burn 252,000 calories in training alone. Using the Big Mac index I will need to eat 980 Big Macs to replace the calories burnt during training (2830 bananas for the vegans). In summary this program as a whole is all consuming and my subconscious is screaming at me to reconsider. But as the great proverb states 'How do you eat a whale? One bite at a time!'

My First Board.jpg

In order to reach your own goal, you need to take your big picture dream and break it down into smaller attainable stepping stones. A common method of doing this is to employ sub-goals by developing a plan of A, B and C goals. The A goal is long term, the B is medium term and the C is short term. As you can see from the simple diagram, you need to achieve the C level goals in order to reach the B goals and then once you have acquired enough B level goals you will find that you are capable of achieving your dream A goal. Each level builds upon the successes (or failures) that come before it. While this is a simple representation of goal setting and acquisition it gives you a clearer understanding of how a larger goal can be split into sub-goals. Not only will you learn valuable lessons from each, they will provide a measure of progress along the way and ultimately give you confidence in reaching your A goal.

While B goals are usually smaller race goals, C goals are not always race focused. The most basic example of a C goal would be getting up at the same time each morning to establish a pre-training routine. This goal is achievable and can be done with a small amount of discipline and a good alarm clock placed at the opposite end of your bedroom. Another C goal would be to complete 85% of all training sessions that week. The reason I say 85% is because all coaches will work in an unwritten ‘overbooking’ factor into all programs. It is unreasonable to expect an athlete to perform every workout at 100% day in day out. If they do they have a superstar in their stables, but even at 85% a superstar will still have a chance to perform come race day. C goals therefore need to be simple and achievable and not focused on the big picture, but building blocks for the big picture.

Ultimately your goals will be a unique marriage of your lifestyle, your personality and your dream. Although goal setting can be done by an external agent, if you wish to have meaningful success you will need to take ownership of your own path. A good coach will be there to help and guide you in developing a suitable goal management plan, but if you surrender the path to your success to someone else entirely, you are less likely to embrace the journey wholeheartedly.

Finally, when working on a program which is sub-goal oriented like the one explained above, I have some fairly simple Forrest Gump-esque logic. Glance up occasionally at the bigger picture but keep your eyes firmly fixed on the space in front of you - less chance of tripping.

Plan your goals intelligently, enjoy your journey and don’t worry too much about the final destination as it will be waiting patiently for you.

By Sean Riley