Setting And Achieving Realistic Goals In The Gym And In Life

The Open is over and within the CrossFit world, a new year has begun. Those of us not moving on to the next level of competition have an opportunity to learn lessons from this year’s Open, to identify weaknesses and strengths, and to set some goals to go about becoming a better athlete for next year! There’s no better time than the present to get started on some goals to improve yourself.

One of the more useful books I’ve read about goal setting and would recommend to anyone looking for some guidance in achieving goals is Think And Grow Rich by Napolean Hill. It was published in 1937 and is obviously dated, but the ideas are still completely applicable. Think And Grow Rich has a big focus on money and wealth, so to apply it to the gym, I’ve just traded dollars for pounds or reps. (Because who cares about money when you’re making GAINZ). Tim Ferriss (a real wizard, if you haven’t already, check that dude out) suggests using 6 month and 12 month timelines for goals. I love this idea. I would also add that if you are starting out and haven’t practiced goal setting and achievement (which is a skill, I promise), to build confidence and get a feel for how goal achievement works, do something realistic within a month or 3 month time frame. Humans get very impatient and it takes a while to get used to looking at life in months and years instead of in days and weeks.

Realistic Goals

First off, set goals that are achievable and reasonable. If you squat 225 and you set a goal to squat 400 by next month, you better hope Thor himself swoops in to help you with that barbell because otherwise it just won’t happen. Goals in fitness cannot be short term if you want them to last. And you need to be humble, and realistic. If you squat 225 and you want to squat 400, I have no doubt in my mind that you are fully capable of doing so someday, but you better be ready to buckle down and squat for the long haul. Also, look at your capabilities. If you want to do a muscle up on the rings, you’re going to have to be able to do several consecutive strict pull ups and ring dips first.

Once you have your realistic goal in mind, write it down, and better yet, write it down and post it up somewhere that lots of people can see. Use the goal board at the front of our CrossFit 307 Box, post it on Instagram and Facebook, hang it up on your fridge. There are loads of books out there that will tell you the mental impact WRITING your goals down has, instead of just keeping them in your head. Writing down your goals gives them concrete, physical, tangible existence. You’ve taken a thought and given it life. A thought floating around in your head “I’m going to snatch 185” will more than likely bounce right out your ears at some point. Write your goals down and have someone to hold you accountable for them!

The next part is a defined, step by step plan that culminates in the success of your goal (which I would also suggest writing down somewhere). Give it a timeline. Pick a specific date (you can edit this if you start your steps and realize you’ll need more or less time) and then stick to that date.

Setting Goals and Steps to Achievement

Joe Schmoe comes into the gym and says “I want to do a ring muscle up”. Joe Schmoe is 25, 200 pounds, about 30% body fat, can’t do a pull up, and can barely squeak out a questionable ring dip.

Step 1. Joe Schmoe, lock down that diet. If Joe eats appropriately to burn body fat ( at his size and age he can healthily burn one to two pounds of body fat a week without suffering too much in the gym. To get him to a healthier 16-19% body fat, which is going to help his bodyweight movement tremendously, he’s looking at about 10 weeks of disciplined eating. Not killing himself, not starving or lacking, just sticking to his plan. 10 weeks.Joe, live that diet for 10 weeks. (Don’t stop there either, keep going Joe, you rock.)

Step 2. Joe, you better get to work on those pull ups. Work negatives. Go get on the lat pull down machine. Do ring rows. Don’t blow out on them every day, but make an effort to do at least something every time you are in the gym to develop that skill.

Step 3. Same thing for the ring dips Joe. Tricep presses, partial dips, assisted dips, holds in the rings… work something for your dips every day as well.

Step 4. Since it’s a ring muscle up, and requires some technical skill, Joe better work on his transitions and hip explosiveness. Joe doesn’t know anything about that, so he’s going to go to a coach and pick their brains for all the best ways to train for a muscle up.

If Joe Schmoe follows these 4 steps dutifully, I can almost guarantee that he will get a muscle up around the end of that ten week diet period. It might be a bit before, it might be 3 weeks after, but if he follows the defined steps and has the patience to see them through to the end, he’s going to get that muscle up. Go Joe!


I think the single most important lesson I have learned about goal setting is not to give up. To be completely honest, 9 times out of 10, I don’t hit my goal by my specified date. Some of this is due to me setting slightly high goals for myself (realistic, but high), which I think everyone should do, some of it is just life. When I was losing weight I would set goals every couple months of where I wanted to be. Never once did I make my mark, but a couple weeks after my set date I did. Last fall I set a goal to snatch 225 by December 31st, 2014. Initially, I just started working on adding weight. In October or so, I could really, really ugly power snatch 195, my squat snatch was probably a questionable 135, and I was constantly tweaking my shoulders. At this point, I had to regroup, and fix some fundamentals. I went to Oly class, I asked The Chief for every bit of snatch advice I could, I watched Olympic lifting videos, and went back to training the basics. I didn’t snatch over 155 for weeks and weeks. At the beginning of December, I squat snatched 205. December 31st rolled around, and I think I attempted 225 no less than 12 times, got it almost above my head each time, just about locked out, and could not finish the lift. So I quit CrossFit and gave up on everything. JUST KIDDING. I kept at it. 3 or 4 weeks later I hit 215, and 3 weeks after that, finally hit 225. Moral of the story, set that goal, pick a date, follow your steps, and don’t stop!

Use this to help you with your goals. Don’t wait for next week to start. I don’t care if it’s in regard to gym performance, body composition, financial needs, personal improvement, anything, you can use this to successfully set and complete goals. Set 5 or 10 goals (heck, set ONE if that many seems daunting, just set something!), give them timelines, give them steps, write them down and give them life, and then get after them!