So you've decided to become a bodybuilder, you've joined a gym, you purchased some fancy workout clothes and are prepared to build up a few calluses on your hands...what next?
Well, the only person who can decide what's next for you...is you. You need to determine what you'd like to do, how you'd like to do it and for how long; but more so, you need to figure out what you want to get out of it. The best way to answer those questions is to do some goal setting. You're probably having flashbacks to your high school guidance counselor, harping on you about setting goals for the progression of your life, but don't worry, there's no pressure here. This is simply an exercise in focusing your intent to better allow you to predict and track your progress as a bodybuilder.
It's certainly possible to achieve results, gain muscle, lose weight, increase strength and get healthier without setting and writing out goals; after all, what is a goal? A goal is nothing more than an outlined and usually written idea of something you want, whether that be a gain, a loss, a strength achievement, or even just setting a record for the fewest missed workouts. So if that's all a goal is, why do you need to go through the effort to set them? Why can't you just jump in, head first and start grunting that weight up? Well, by all means, you can, but isn't it better to have a written statement of your intention, to be referred to in times of frustration; so that any time you ask yourself why you're doing all that strenuous work, you can read back on your goals and re-inspire yourself to achieve them?
This is the true reason for setting goals in any endeavor, and for a few minutes of effort, goals can be a powerful tool in maintaining steady progress and gains in your bodybuilding career.
Your goals of course, pertain only to you; they are a personal and intimate reflection of your ideals and ethics as they pertain to bodybuilding, and as such you are the only person who can set your goals. You can use the assistance of trained professionals either at your gym, through a nutrition clinic and even bodybuilding clubs to help you identify what you are capable of and what might be a reasonable goal for you as an individual, but ultimately, your goals are your creation and your responsibility.
Bodybuilding as a sport is quite different from most others; while you may choose to enlist a workout partner and you may seek advice and guidance from others within your gym community, being a bodybuilder means you are competing only with yourself. No one has exactly the same genetic make up as you, no one can build muscle at the same rate as you, or make strength gains at your pace, and therefore no one else will have exactly your goals.
The average person, of reasonable heath and motivation, can achieve a lean muscle mass gain of approximately 20lbs within six months. This takes for granted that the person eats properly, gets plenty of rest and has taken an intelligent approach to training. It would be easy enough to simply make that your primary goal and be done with it, but eventually you'd run into a problem. Six months later, you could assess your progress and find that your gains have been less than optimal; you failed to achieve your goal and can't figure out why, not to mention you have no direction and no idea where to go next. What you should have done is taken that one goal and added it to a list of short and long term goals, as steps to be taken over time, in order to achieve overall results. So that a time line or progression of where you want to be and when is already laid out in front of you.
Ok...point beaten to death; let's talk about what goals to set.
First of all, let's acknowledge that no one has ever become a successful bodybuilder by accident, no bodybuilder anywhere, has ever made muscle gains without a least some effort, and in most cases, it took a great deal of effort. This means that the process of building your body into a rippling and bulging mass of pecs and biceps is going to take some very deliberate and long term effort. It's going to take dedication, commitment and stamina, and halfway effort is only going to produce halfway results.
When you consider the long term nature of a bodybuilding career, it's important to set your goals to be sustainable lifestyle choices. Obviously the overall goal is to develop your body into your idea of the perfect physique, though you must know that this process has no real end, you will never achieve perfection and thus it is pointless to list that as your top goal. Instead you might consider breaking that idea down into term specific goals, such as five, three and one year goals, supported by six, three and one month intermediate goals, which are supported even further by weekly goals. The shorter the term of the goal, the more specific and measurable the content of the goal should be; the longer the term the more general, and more event specific the goal should be. For instance, once you've determined what is reasonable for your body, set your immediate goals in terms of strength gain over all of your various exercises for a short period of time (one week), next set your intermediate goals in terms of pounds of lean muscle mass gained within longer periods of time (one month); set your long terms goals according to your original idea of what that ideal physique might mean to you or what you'd like to do with it.
A sample list of immediate, intermediate and long term goals might look like the following:
-Weekly – Attend gym according to my training plan, don't miss any meals and increase my strength by 3-5lbs on all exercises
-1 Month – Expand my training plan to include more isometric movements, increase my strength by 15-20lbs on all exercises
-3 Months – Increase my weight by 10lbs, while maintaining my current body fat percentage
-6 Months – Achieve a lowered body fat percentage and increase my weight to 210lbs (beginning at 190lbs)
-1 Year – Attain a physique that is recognizable as an intermediate Bodybuilder, increasing my weight to 220lbs
-3 Years – Enter and participate in first Bodybuilding show
-5 Years – Enter and participate in a National Bodybuilding show You might notice that as the goals progress from short term to long term, and each preceding goal provides the means to reach the next. The short term goals are specific and detailed, providing measurable gains to be tracked and recorded, while the long term goals speak of almost peripheral events or achievements that are only quantifiable based on a one time participation that relies on the fulfillment of all of the short term goals leading up to it.
Notice of course that the short term goals are realistic and measurable with the use of a log book and daily recording of your reps, sets weights and even meals. The best place to record your goals would be in the front of that log book, allowing you to read them over daily or weekly, renewing your motivation each time. It remains important to maintain an understand of what you want and why you are doing this, and the best way to do that, is to read over your goals as often as possible.
Not everyone need go into such detail on their goals and there is some argument about setting long term goals more than one year in advance; at the same time, there may benefits for some people in going further in depth and even providing more of a step-by-step progression toward the longer term goals. Any way you do it, the most important thing to remember, is to be realistic. Understand why you are outlining your goals and use them as a reminder to keep you motivated and moving forward.