Setting Goals Successfully as a Beginner

When you first get started in the gym, a lot of the time spent is pretty much just trying to get a feel for what is going on. After the initial shock passes and you get your bearings, you want to start articulating your goals in a more precise manner.

Picking Specific, Measurable Goals

Common goals I hear sound like:

“I want to lose weight and tone.”

“I want to gain muscle.”

“I want to get healthy.”

“I want to feel better.”

The problem with these goals is that none of them are quantifiable. All of them are general statements with nothing more substantial than “I just want to feel better.” You never know when you arrive at said goal (what is healthy? How much muscle would you be satisfied with? How much weight do you need to lose to tone?).

The first myth we’re going to get rid of is the concept of “toning”. Toning is just a matter of reducing body fat until muscle becomes noticeably visible. High reps do not tone, and low reps do not bulk. We can address the use of different rep ranges in another article, but for now, we’re going to focus on making correct goals.

Instead of “I want to lose weight,” a better goal would be “I want to lose 10 lbs of fat.” This doesn’t have to be a final goal! This can just be an initial goal that, when reached, can indicate it’s time to reevaluate and see what your next goal should be.

Instead of “I want to gain muscle,” a better goal would be “I want to gain 10 lbs of muscle.” Like above, this doesn’t have to be a final goal. This does give you an exact road map for what you’re trying to do. You’re not just going to the gym and hoping for the best. You specifically want to gain a certain amount of weight, which will take a certain amount of time, and require a certain amount of eating.

What type of goals can you expect as a beginner?

As a beginner, someone who has been resistance training with a systematic approach at the appropriate intensity for less than 6 months, you are in a unique category. You will be able to both lose fat and gain muscle at the same time, something that becomes increasingly difficult and unexpected as time goes on. Eventually, it’s fair to say that the two conditions become mutually exclusive.

So as a beginner, you get to choose more so what to emphasize first rather than having to pick between losing fat or building muscle. The way you emphasize one goal or another is by setting the appropriate calorie intake / energy balance (talked about here).

For Building Muscle:

  • Be in a Caloric Surplus (eating more calories than you burn). You only need an extra 250cal per day or so.
  • Eat enough protein (0.7-1.0g per lb of bodyweight)
  • Bias your macronutrients towards carbohydrates (this will help, but is non-essential)

For Losing Fat:

  • Be in a Caloric deficit (eating less calories than you burn). A 500cal deficit per day leads to roughly 1 lbs of fat loss per week (1 lbs of fat = 3500 calories, roughly).
  • Eat enough protein (0.7-1.0g per lb of bodyweight)
  • Get enough fat in your diet (0.3g/lbs is an absolute minimum), fill the rest with carbs.

For a Body Re-composition (doing both at once with no preference either way)

  • Eat at a caloric maintenance level (eating as much as you burn). There’s about a 100cal wiggle room either way here, so don’t be too worried.
  • Eat enough protein (0.7-1.0g per lb of bodyweight)
  • Get enough fat, fill the rest up with carbs.

Combine eating well, getting enough rest, and proper training (covered here), and you’ll be well on your way to achieving success with the goals you set!

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