Goals: Exercise and Behavior Modification

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Define Goals

  • Attaining specific standard of proficiency on a task, usually with a specified time limit (Locke 1981)

Types of Goals and Examples

Goal Type Example A Example B
Objective Improve body image in 12 months Win powerlifting event
Outcome goal Decrease body fat to 18% and increase muscle mass by 3 kg Increase totals by 10%
Behavioral goal
(ie: strategy)
  • weight train: Mon, Wed, Fri (7 PM)
  • walk 20-45 minutes Tues, Thurs, Sat (6:30 AM)
  • implement specific dietary guidelines
  • monitor body composition monthly
  • follow new daily undulating periodized program
  • monitor signs of overtraining
  • meet with coach once per week
  • taper volume 1 week before event

Goal Setting Efficacy

  • A meta-analysis on 36 studies demonstrate goal setting in sports and exercise can improve performance (Kyllo & Landers 1995)
  • Females who set goals or who were assigned goals by their instructor made greater strength gains compared to a control group (Boyce 1994).
  • Setting all 3 types of goals improves performance (Filby 1999)
  • Behavioral goals improve performance quicker than outcome goals (Kingston & Hardy 1997)
    • Over-emphasis of outcome goals may create anxiety and reduce performance (Filby 1999)
      • outcome goals are less controllable than behavioral goals

Important Components to Goal Setting

  • Make goals specific and measurable
  • Setting short and long term goals
    • Daily training goals were one variable that distinguished successful Olympians from less successful ones (Orlick & Partington 1988)
  • Allowing individual to set their own goals
  • Make goals public
  • (Kyllo & Landers 1995)

Other Considerations

  • Make goals challenging but realistic
    • Moderately difficult goals can improve performance greater than goals that are too easy or difficult (Kyllo & Landers 1995).
  • Set positive goals
    • Negative goals may trigger negative self-talk which may decrease performance (Van Raalte 1994)
  • Set a date goal will be achieved
    • decreases procrastination
    • make realistic but achievable
  • Commit to goals
    • Vital factor for achieving goals (Theodorakis 1996)
    • Coach or trainer can facilitate commitment
      • Make goals attractive (Hollenbeck & Klein 1987)
      • Develop self-confidence (Hollenbeck & Klein 1987)
      • Encourage self-responsibility
  • Record goals and keep them where they will be seen regularly


  • Identify objective
    • what you want to accomplish
  • Identify best outcome goals necessary to reach objective
  • Identify behavior goals necessary to reach outcome goals
    • how to accomplish your outcome goals
    • "people don't plan to fail, they fail to plan"
  • Commit and implement plan
  • Regularly assess progress
    • Fitness tests, training journal, food diary, etc.
    • Modify goals if necessary
      • Lower goals that are found to be unrealistic
      • Recognize goals or objective change throughout time
    • Recommit to goals if necessary

Client Centered Goal Setting Example

  • Ask the client how confident they are in exercises, 4 days per week for 1 hour on a scale of 1 to 10.
    • Begin by proposing a reasonably high goal (See Anchoring)
  • If the client says anything less than 9
    • continue to decrease the goal until the client says 9 or 10
  • When the client rates a goal as 9 or 10
    • have the client commit to that goal for a set number of weeks or months
  • After that time
    • Celebrate achievements (recognition, congratulations, compliment, reward, etc.)
    • Set new goals in the same way, providing the client an opportunity to achieve greater goals.
  • This technique raises self-confidence and evokes a sense of self-importance
  • The trainer provides the options, but the client makes their own behavioral goal and builds upon past achievements.
  • See more about a Client Centered Approach.

SMART Criteria

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Timely

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