Whether you’re a serious athlete or just starting out, you are probably no stranger to the idea of measuring your fitness in one way or another. Assessing our current status, comparing it to past levels, and setting goals for the future is a key motivational method for improvement in any area of life, but why is it so important in sports and fitness?
The sports psychology behind setting goals
Setting goals is an essential skill for athletes, but it’s not necessarily as straightforward as it sounds. Athletes are often focused on winning, and so their goals are too: however, this type of “outcome goal” is dependent on many factors, several of which are out of the control of the athlete. In comparison, “performance” and “process” goals are specific and measurable and much better for achieving optimal performance. They depend on the athlete and his or her commitment to training, and provide small steps to help achieve the “outcome” goals.
For example, setting goals to add a certain number of extra reps to your workout or to run an extra interval are good performance goals. This will make you stronger and faster, and therefore more able to take on the next level of goals – such as ‘be on your opponent within two seconds of them having the ball’, or ‘shave 10% time off each length in the pool’. These in turn will make you more prepared for achieving the ultimate (outcome) goal of winning the race, match, or set. This method can really help to provide guidance and maintain motivation towards your ultimate goals.
Being SMART about your goals
Using the “SMART” acronym can help when setting these goals. You might be familiar with it from business language, but it can help with targets in any aspect of life. It states that targets should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and within a defined Time frame. For a beginner runner, their outcome goal might be: ‘win a 5k race before my 30th birthday’. Making a SMART interim performance target might therefore be ‘run 5k in under 30 minutes in 3 months’ time’. Then set process goals which will help achieve this: three interval workouts a week of walking/jogging, with the time spent running increasing in defined steps each week to build stamina.
Tracking health and fitness
To set effective “performance goals”, we must have a relevant and reliable method of tracking progress. There are many different ways that this can be done, some more appropriate for certain sports and exercises than others.
- Repetitions or speed of an exercise: very simple and easy to calculate, measuring your reps or speed at a certain exercise is a good basic way to gauge your fitness and plan for improvement.
- Weight and BMI: BMI is a common body conditioning tool, and touted as a more effective method of body condition tracking than simply looking at weight: and this is true, as it takes your height and age into account as well. However, BMI is not without its criticisms. Your BMI says nothing about your level of fitness – you could be supermodel thin, but still struggle to walk up a flight of stairs without panting.
- Heart rate: measuring your heart rate is a great way to judge fitness. Your resting heart rate, and how quickly you return to it after exercise, indicates how fit your heart and lungs are.
Optimum tracking and goals for optimum performance
A more specific and personal way to track your fitness and health is to look at your Heart Rate Variability (HRV). Tracking HRV with ithlete will build data which is uniquely tailored to you and provides a personalised scale to perform against, rather than measuring your outcomes against an external standard. The effect of workouts, sleep, diet, and sickness can be picked up in the tiny variations in your readings, and help to inform your training and eating plans in a more complete, holistic way that other more basic methods cannot. This helps you truly understand how non-training factors impact your health and fitness. Using your HRV data to set achievable and relevant goals will help you to maximise your potential and avoid burnout.
Contextualising your performance and tracking your progress towards realistic and achievable goals means you can push to new heights more effectively, and enjoy a healthier, fitter body.