One of our annual Montana Moves challenges asks you to create your goals for the year. These goals could be personal, professional, or wellness related. (If you haven’t done so yet, this challenge runs until March 4th.) Every January, I must admit I get the most excited to write down my athletic goals for the year. Writing down my big goals gives me a framework, strategy, and plan for the year. For me, I know that in the absence of concrete goals, my exercise is less focused, less consistent, and less effective. As I went through my yearly practice of goal setting and planning this year, I was thinking about the process, and I wanted to share some of that process, because I believe it can be a tool for bridging the gap between having a goal and making it a reality. This is a process that coaches use to build programs for athletes, teams, or clients, but I think many of the concepts translate to goal-setting and planning regardless of the type of goal.  In other words, this process can be used to set personal, professional, or financial goals as well as physical.

Step 1: Begin with the End in mind

This is where your initial goal-setting will come in. I won’t spend much time talking about goal setting here—if you need a refresher, check out this post. The main thing is to begin with the end in mind.  What’s at the end of the journey? What are you trying to accomplish? Is it a big event? Is it something on your bucket list? Is it a personal best? Is it just to look smokin’ hot before your June vacation to some place warm? Be specific, write it out, and put these events on your calendar.

Once I have dates on my calendar, I like to figure out how much time I have to prepare for each event. I even have an app on my phone called “Days Until”. It’s a free, simple app that let’s me know exactly how many days I have until certain events. I even know how many days until my hundredth birthday (20,589 days, so there’s plenty of shopping days left for you to get me something nice). I also like to count how many weeks until these events, because a week is a nice, neat unit of training measurement that many coaches use, and is often referred to as a microcycle.

Steps 2 and 3: What’s the Big Picture? How does today’s workout fit into that?

Once I know how many weeks I have to train, I start thinking about the big picture. What are the general concepts I’ll need to work on over large chunks of time in order to reach my goal? One thing that I’ve done the past couple of years that’s worked for me is to divide my year out by the month–once again, a nifty, pre-made training unit. For me, I often use a month as a macrocycle. Anything from 4 to 8 weeks is common for a macrocycle.  It’s long enough to see a training effect before changing the emphasis of a program. This consistent varying of a training program allows for specific results, and is the best way to avoid the dreaded “training plateau”.

A couple of years ago, I made a marcrocycle spreadsheet that keeps me dialed into my training goals, and focused on upcoming events. Here’s what it looks like: 2018 Macrocycle (Neal) If you like it, feel free to copy it, modify it, and use it for yourself.

Let’s break down a few month-macrocycles from this spreadsheet as examples. Right now, my training focus is to build my aerobic base through cardiovascular training and cardio-strength training. My next event on the calendar that I’d like to be ready for is Run to the Pub, on St. Patrick’s Day here in Bozeman. So my microcycle (week) is structured to includ two running days, 2-3 resistance training days, plus cross-training days with things like skiing and swimming. Next month, I’ll bump the running up a little. In the meantime, each cardiovascular training session is designed to build up an aerobic base (nothing fancy, just building up volume) and each trip to the gym should focus on driving my work capacity (the ability to do high quality work while warding off fatigue). In this case, what I’m doing for resistance training is a complement to what I’m doing with my cardio exercise.

If you’re wondering, “Ok, Neal, you’re training for a road race, but you’re only running twice a week? Shouldn’t you be running more?” Perhaps. But alas, I’m not 23 anymore. I know my body, and these days I have to build the road miles slowly. Also, I like to ski, and XC skiing is great cardio. And finally, I’m not trying to hit my peak fitness until this summer, so I build up slowly to that, which helps me stay healthy. Showing up to a starting line healthy is always my first goal when designing a training program.  If you’re injured, you can’t train, and you can’t race–at least not well anyway–and the quickest way to get injured is to do too much too soon.

There are two events highlighted on my calendar this year. Those are the events I want to peak for and perform my best: the Bozeman Triathlon in June and the Montana Cup XC race in late October. My training goals and focus are designed to get me to those events fit and healthy. If I feel like doing something different, or I’m having a low motivation day, a quick look at my macrocycle calendar helps me re-focus. It’s on the wall behind my desk, along with my written out goals.

Now let’s look at October and compare it to February.  October is a peak month. My aerobic base will have hopefully been built.  So I’ll be free to do more intervals, tempo runs, and speedwork in preparation for the Montana Cup XC race. To me, this is the fun stuff, but it has to be earned. I can’t start with it. My microcycles (weeks) in October call for four runs per week, plus a bike and endurance lift for cross training.  That leaves a rest/recreation day for other fun. Perhaps some fall hikes.

After the Montana Cup, my racing is done for the year, and I switch gears to off-season strength, hitting the gym three times a week and lifting pretty heavy stuff (for me). This change is good for my body and my mind.

In summary

Start with your SMART goal, write it down, and get it on the calendar. Begin with the end in mind. Then, if it’s helpful, write out some training focuses–perhaps chunking them into macrocycles. Finally, write down your plan for the week (microcycle), making sure it fits into the big picture of what you’re trying to accomplish. On low motivation days, look at your goals. Ask yourself why you are going to exercise today.

Finally, always be able to answer these two questions:

“What is my goal for today’s workout?” (Now)

“What am I working toward?” (Big picture-future)

Happy training!

Neal

P.S. For more on training goals and how to manipulate exercise variables to reach goals faster, check out today’s webinar Sets, Reps, and Such.

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