Establishing Your Weight Training Goals
Defining and setting your personal weight training goals is an essential first step in the process of establishing a solid workout routine. When establishing your initial goals, I recommend focusing on the reason(s) you are engaging in this activity in the first place. Identify your expected benefits and create a “big picture” for yourself. Doing this will help you stay on course throughout your journey and keep you motivated as you experience setbacks along the way.
When you begin the process of planning, ask yourself: “What are my short- and long-term goals?” Get a pen and pad, think carefully and write down all the things you hope to achieve. Short-term goals (i.e. daily, weekly) will provide you with instant gratification while longer-term goals will keep you from becoming frustrated with short-term setbacks. In the short-term you may aim to take a weight training class in order to become familiarized with the equipment or increase the amount of weight you are currently lifting by 10 percent.
Your long-term goals, on the other hand, may be centered on getting stronger or managing your body weight. As you become accustomed to weight training, you may then establish more specific 'vanity-focused' long-term goals like getting rid of jiggly arm fat or toning up your saggy butt.
In addition to determining your specific short- and long-term weight training goals, ensure that they are both realistic and measurable. If you are 75 pounds overweight and have never lifted weights before, it is not very realistic to set a goal of having arms like Angela Bassett. A more realistic goal would be to simply start weight training twice a week. In the short-term you may aim to lose an inch or two off your arms in a month, a goal that is both realistic and measurable. Measuring your training progress is a great way to reinforce achievement of your goals. Here are some common methods for measuring your training progress:
The Scale. This is the most common method of measuring training progress but it can be the most useless when it comes to weight training. Scales measure total body weight but do not distinguish between fat, muscle, or water weight. Depending on your size, your body weight may slightly increase with weight training as it builds muscle and muscle is more dense than fat. As such, the more dense muscle will make it appear as if you are heavier on the scale when in actuality you are just leaner (see image below).
Photographs. Taking before and after photographs of yourself is a great way to measure your progress in real time. You can do this by simply snapping photographs of yourself while you’re standing in front of a white wall or door. It’s best to snap portrait-sized photographs at front, side, and back angles. In order to capture your body in its entirety, you should wear a bikini or a sports bra with short shorts.
Circumference Measurements. Using a tape measurer you can take measurements from some key parts of your body including your shoulders, arms, forearms, chest, hips, thighs, and calves (click here for guidelines on taking circumference measurements).
Body Composition Testing. Options for body composition testing include hydrostatic weighing, dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA), Bod Pod, calipers, and bioelectrical impedance devices. Some of these tests can be costly but the information obtained is worth it. Most universities and colleges offer these tests at low prices or free if you participate in research. The most accurate methods are debated but so long as you always carry out the same method under the same conditions (i.e. same time of day, wearing the same clothing, etc.) you will have a relative measurement that tells you if you have gained muscle (click here to learn more about body composition).
Training Log. This is a useful method of measuring training progress as you can consistently compare where you started to how far along you have come (click here to view a sample training log).
Once you have established specific, realistic, and measurable short- and long-term goals for weight training, you’re ready to put together your weight training schedule.
Establishing Your Weight Training Schedule
When it comes to developing your weight training plan you should first decide how many days a week you are able to commit. In general, weight training should be performed at least 2 to 3 days each week and can be done along with cardiovascular exercise(s) or separately. A typical weight training session can last anywhere between 20 minutes and 1 hour. There is a laundry list of weight lifting exercises that you can perform but, in general, you should select at least 1 to 2 exercises for each of your body’s major muscle groups to be performed on alternating days of the week. However, if you don't have much time to lift weights, you could easily dedicate just 10 minutes every day to working 1 major muscle group. It's all about establishing a routine that fits into your lifestyle. Once you have a set schedule, you’re ready to put together a weight training plan that works with this schedule. You can start by choosing your weight training exercises and equipment (click here to find out how).
Disclaimer: The information provided is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a physician for advice.
Before starting an exercise training program you should first make sure that exercise is safe for you. If you are under the age of 55 years and generally in good health, it is probably safe for you to exercise. However, if you are over 55 years of age and/or have any health problems, be sure to consult with your physician before starting an exercise training program.