Setting Strength Goals (A simple guide)

Not everyone has the same goals when it comes to exercising and training. Some people want to lose weight, while others may just want to gain strength.

There isn't a right or wrong goal to have, either. It's completely up to you!

This article will be dedicated to those of you who want to gain strength and find a solution to setting goals that is both realistic and achievable.

There are 5 main steps that you need to work through so that you can get motivated, stay motivated and ultimately, gain strength!

1. Ask yourself, "What is the goal I most want to accomplish?"

Is it a specific exercise? (Example: Push-ups)

Is it performing a certain exercise at a certain weight for a specific number of reps? (Eg: Body-weight back squat for 3 reps)

You need to be very SPECIFIC.

Saying I want to get "better" at push-ups is too broad and vague.

What EXACTLY do you want to improve?

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Nail one perfect push-up? As in;

  • Feet together
  • Bum squeezed
  • Abs on (NO lower back sagging)
  • Elbows slightly tucked
  • Chest touches the floor

THAT is being specific. It is also measurable, which is important to gauge progress from your starting point and throughout your journey.

My advice is to find something that is inspiring and drives you to want to accomplish it. Something meaningful.

I can't tell you what *you* want to improve upon.

It's something you'll have to sit down and think about.

Once you can identify and answer these questions, you have enough information to tackle step 2.

2. Identify your starting point

You now know what you specifically want to get better at. Awesome!

From here, you need to establish what your current ability level is at the given task you want to improve upon. 

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We'll continue to use push-ups as our example.

You know the exercise, now you need to find out where you stand and what you can currently do. There's no point using markers or numbers from the past, you need to know what you can do right now.

This can be achieved by a simple test. Aim to perform as many reps as possible of your push-up, using the standards set above.

Once you know this number, you can now establish the 'gap' between your end goal and your current starting position.

Next comes step three. 

3. Reverse Engineering

You are now armed with two important pieces of information.

  1. Where you want to go (Your end goal)
  2. What you are able to do right now (Starting point)

Now comes the point where you work backwards -- from your end goal, to your current starting point. This is known as 'reverse engineering'.

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You now need to establish what needs to happen in order for you to successfully reach your goal.

Improving and getting better at push-ups requires a few things;

  • Decreasing overall body-fat percentage  --> Less weight to move

  • Improving upper body 'pushing' strength --> Chest, shoulders and triceps

  • Increasing your relative strength --> Weight to strength ratio
  • Getting better at holding tension in a plank position --> No lower back arching/sagging

You are able to track each of these markers individually by recording your training stats. Such as;

  • Sets
  • Reps
  • Weight lifted
  • Rest periods
  • Exercises performed

The aim is to increase your maximal and relative strength levels over time.

This will enable you to push heavier loads, or move the same load more efficiently. This is crucial for improving push-ups!

Decreasing fat-mass is also vitally important, as you are performing a body-weight exercise.

One of the variables that can't be changed instantaneously -- like, changing weights on a machine -- is how much you weigh, right now.

The two main objectives are;

  1. To get stronger

  2. Make the exercise more efficient

Losing a few kilos of fat definitely makes performing push-ups easier, as you are moving less unnecessary weight.

4. Follow the plan and execute

Ok, so you've decided what your main goal is. You know your starting point and have a good framework for how to get there.

Now, what!?

Well, it's simple. Follow the plan.

That's it!

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You can ensure that you achieve the results you want by ticking one box off at a time.

Don't try to go from step 1 to step 3, or 'skip' a part of the program.

Just do what the program asks for, be disciplined to stay the course and do the work.

Simple. Not easy.

Now, your goal may take 2 weeks, 2 months or even 2 years.

But, if it's important to you it will get accomplished. One tiny step at a time.

If it's not important you'll make excuses and rationalise why it didn't happen.

Ultimately, it comes down to application and the effort that you put into it.

The last point that I'll make is that you need to BE PATIENT.

"Nothing worth having comes easy"

Show up, do the work and ensure it gets done on a regular basis.

5. Course correct and adjust based on outcomes, not emotion

Look at the situation objectively. Are you making positive strides forward, or are you spinning your wheels, staying in the same spot as you were 3 weeks ago?

How do you know? Do you have facts and data to back up your claims or thoughts?

Recording your training sessions, your body-weight/fat percentage and occasionally testing where you're at are a few ways to gauge whether the program is having the desired effect or not.

Find the bright spots, identify what IS working and continue to do that regularly.

on the other side, If you have a few areas that you're struggling with or have been ignoring, it's time to pay them some attention.

  • If you aren't training as frequently as you need to, you know that is an area you can directly improve upon.

  • If you aren't eating as well as you should be, then that's what you should be paying more attention to.

  • If you're constantly tired and lack energy, you know you can improve and dedicate more effort to the sleep aspect of your life.

Please let me state that these adjustments don't need to be huge! They just need to be big enough to see *some* positive change.

It isn't about creating a huge shift, or 'rocking the boat', it's about fine-tuning and tweaking the areas that are lagging behind.

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Turning a few cm's left or right may be all you need to see some new and sustainable improvements. Don't discount the contribution of the minor changes.

That is your 5-step guide to establish goals for your strength training and get you moving closer towards them. 

If you ever feel like you've hit a plateau and don't know where to go next, revisit the list and see what you're missing. It could be as simple as re-testing where you're at re-establishing new goals.

The biggest struggle that most people face is with motivation and having the goal be too big, or too far away. So, be realistic with your expectations in relation to your current ability level.

To your success,


I send out my weekly newsletter, 'Fitness Advice That Works In the Real World',  every Tuesday to help people like you, lose fat, build strength and create results that last.

Check it out here.