Goals are what drives each and every one of us to strive for our personal best. They are what allow us to wake at early hours to get on the trainer or to log late evening miles. They are what we dream of when we go to sleep, and push us when we are deep in the pain cave. Goals are vital to sport and can act as our guiding light. Without goals, we find it harder to get out of bed and onto the bike, harder to make healthier choices when it comes to nutrition, and harder to stay the course when the going gets tough or motivation wanes. Goals can become a reality when planning and execution are followed through propelling you to success. Simply hoping and wishing for a result is not enough, there are many hours ahead of you in order to reach your end result.
While setting big lofty goals is not a bad thing, it is important to remember to follow the SMART model. Using the SMART model can help you stay on track by creating smaller process goals along the way to achieve your larger goals. It is also important for goals to follow this model, as being realistic with what is achievable can help keep you motivated.
The SMART acronym stands for:
S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Attainable
R – Relevant
T – Timely
There are two types of goals when it comes to goal setting: process and outcome goals. Process goals require you to focus on the actions you must perform during training/racing to be able to execute the skill well. For example: when a cyclist enters a race they can create three process goals to focus on for the entirety of the event to ensure they set themselves up for the best possible outcome. These goals may include focusing on core engagement, body positioning, and smooth pedal stroke. With process goals, success is highly contingent on your personal effort.
Outcome goals are ones over which you have little control. Example: winning. Outcome goals will focus on the competitive result of the event such as your placing, ranking, finish time, etc. Achieving your desired outcome is contingent not only on your own effort but also on the efforts and abilities of the others participating in the event, environmental and course conditions, all of which are out of your control.
It is important that while your end “goal” may be a specific event or placing, you should find process goals along the way to lead you to your desired outcome. If sole focus is placed on the outcome alone, you can lose sight of the actions that will be required to get you to this end result. Having both process and outcome goals will only increase the chances of you attaining your goals.
Where to Start: Developing Your Why
The road to success will not be linear. It is true that the fastest way from point A to point B is a straight line, but athletics hardly work out that way. While in the beginning, your fire will burn bright, there will be many moments where your energy and desire towards a goal will ebb and flow. Do not be alarmed or worried, this is normal. These are the moments where it is important that you solidify your “why.” Understanding the reason why you are pursuing a goal can make your hard days a little bit easier, and help you to dig deep when you would rather go easy. A goal should be determined by yourself, and not formed from others’ thoughts or ideas of what you should do. If working with a coach, be sure that you, the athlete, are setting your goals and not the other way around. Developing your why can be for a multitude of factors: does this goal add value to your life, is this intrinsically or extrinsically motivated, or are you doing this for a larger purpose than yourself? The more specific you can become with your goal, the easier it can be for you to make smart and wise decisions that move you closer to your goal.
Creating a Plan
Once you have your goal in mind, it is time to begin your road map to success. What does this look like? Well, this map looks different for everyone, and always keep that in mind. Where one person starts is not the same as another. Always be sure you are focusing on your path and not the path of others. These types of distractions will only derail you from your current path.
Creating a training plan will begin by assessing where your current fitness levels are. Many coaches will use specific cycling tests to compare previous years/efforts and determine how the path ahead should look. While it is not always fun to perform testing and may be alarming to somewhere they are currently at, it is vitally important to find these current levels. Why? This is what creates your road map to success, and it will act as guide rails in order to ensure you are not overreaching during training. Going too hard too soon can set you off track and place you in a state of being overtrained.
While simultaneously testing current fitness levels, it is important to understand your own personal strengths and weaknesses and how they pertain to your goal. For example: if your goal is to hit a peak power of 1000 watts, and your weakness is time-trialing, then it is not always important to focus on developing every weakness if it is not vital to the goal. That being said, it is always good to train all areas to make you a well-rounded cyclist!
With your current training status taken into account and a clear idea of your goal, then it is time to plan your training schedule. Working backward from your event will give you an idea of how much time you have until the goal date, the ability to plan in recovery (very important!), and the ability to map out the key training sessions that hitting this goal will require. Always keep in mind that attaining your goal will not happen overnight. You need to prepare to be in this for the long haul. Be sure to remember that there is no single session or workout that will make or break your success. The key to attaining your goals is consistency over time.
The effort you place into your training to reach your goals will make reaching this summit all the more sweeter. You can look back on all you have overcome and accomplished when you set out to attain your goal. Always remember to remain focused on the target, and keep your “why” in the forefront of your mind.
Mac Cassin is the Chief Cycling Physiologist at Wahoo Sports Science. He holds a degree in Integrative Physiology from the University of Colorado-Boulder and has won multiple National Championships. The experience of juggling athletic goals with collegiate and career responsibilities has taught Mac that peak performance is achievable even for those who cannot focus exclusively on training. While concentrating on exercise physiology in an academic setting, Mac competed at the World Championships, Pan American Championships, and World Cups on both the road and track.