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Use micro-goals to make big improvements

Process goals can help you get the most out of your daily training

Mountain Bike cyclist riding single track at sunrise healthy lifestyle active athlete doing sport

When athletes look to their upcoming seasons, many will set big, results based goals. These athletes often forget to take the extra steps that make goal-setting such a valuable part of the training process. A results-based goal can be any outcome you want to achieve that – in your mind – will make your season a success. Setting the goal is the easy part, whether it’s a group ride to stick with, a time trial personal best and even the odd provincial championship to chase. Once you have your big goal, make sure you take a little extra time to determine your current abilities. A few planning steps at the start will help you improve your performance and chances of success.

“Small steps motivate you to make those lessdaunting efforts to move a little bit closer to the end result.”

Goal-setting, like orienteering, becomes easier once you know where you are. As a coach, I use intake forms, a conversation and/or some baseline testing to get an idea of who the athlete is and what the starting point is. Once I have the baseline info – past experience, type of work, family schedule, daily training hours, technical skill and any testing data – I have an idea of how challenging your outcome goal is. I can then forecast little steps that lead you toward that goal fitness. If you don’t have a coach, you can do some of this assessment on your own, or even set up a consultation with a coach to talk about your goals and make a rough plan.

Once you have an idea of your current fitness, it’s time to set process goals that not only help you make progress toward the outcome goal but also give you warnings if you’re not progressing as planned. For example, if a mountain biker knows she always gets dropped in a section of a race course with multiple logs, then she could set the goal of learning to hop a one-foot log at speed. If this same rider finished 10 per cent down from the winner and she hadn’t done much formal fitness training, she might set a goal to increase her power-to-weight ratio by 10 per cent by the big race. To hit that 10 per cent mark, she’d aim to gain a small chunk – say one to two per cent – in the next block. If this same athlete also lost time in big races due to cramping, she should look for ways to reduce or delay cramping. These three areas give our example athlete a couple areas to build weekly workouts around. She can also see if her training efforts are taking her toward the desired outcome goal.

mountainbiker in a downhill in the forest

These small steps are the key to good goal setting. They motivate you to make those less-daunting efforts to move a little bit closer to the end result. The steps are so small and achievable that you can form habits each day that support the process goals. I will often get athletes to reduce their daily training-time commitment below what they think they should be doing, so that it’s even more achievable. The belief that you can do the work to get faster, improve your skills or overcome an injury or limiter, such as cramping, helps improve the effects of any training plan because you do the work consistently.

To break our goals down to the “micro-cycle,” or weekly level, for our racer with a log-hop problem, the first process goal is to bunny-hop a one-foot log. Each week, she could commit to two rides on technical trails repeating a couple of the tougher logs several times. She could also meet with a coach once a week to develop this skill quickly. For cramps, she could book some blood tests and a movement screen with a local registered kinesiologist to look at strength training and mobility movements that might address cramping. In training, she might work on 10- to 20-minute intervals with a lower r.p.m. to help improve her threshold and also help her legs work under tension longer – and likely see lessening in cramping issues. During the course of a month, our rider should see great improvement in her performance, as measured by three critical determinants in her goal race. As she gains confidence and ability in these areas, she can reassess her biggest limitations and plan out her next block of training.

The goal-setting process doesn’t have to be an esoteric exercise. Incorporating regular feedback from testing, coaching and repeatable workouts will maximize your ability to keep making progress toward your big race goal. These small successes help you gain confidence in yourself and in your ability to improve. Addressing your limiters and building confidence will make the small amount of time it takes to set goals a worthy investment for your training this season.