I get a ton of questions about the best ways to pack on lean muscle and chisel down body fat. Everyone wants the secret sauce! But while it’s great to know how to build muscle, it’s also extremely important to know how to create the right muscle-building goals.
I like to think of goal-setting as outlining a plan. That way, it’s easier to stay focused—and to actually achieve what you set out to accomplish.
One planning tool I often utilize is SMART. Anyone can use SMART to create the right muscle-building goals for their body and lifestyle.
SMART Goal Setting
The SMART acronym is probably the most common template for setting goals. SMART stands for:
This concept probably isn’t new to many people. SMART goals are often used for things like personal finances, schoolwork, and team projects. However, you can also apply SMART goals to your fitness.
Creating SMART Muscle-Building Goals
Now, let’s break down each aspect of a SMART goal as it relates to building muscle.
I often hear gym bros say something along the lines of, “I want to get jacked and huge!” That’s great and all, but how jacked? And how huge? You need to define your muscle-building goals, otherwise you’re left wondering whether or not you’ve really reached them.
Read More: How To Strength Train For Your Fitness Goals
A specific muscle building goal would be something like, “I want to gain five pounds of muscle in the next three months.” Now you have a template with which you can create a plan. You outlined a specific amount of muscle (five pounds) and you also gave yourself a timetable (three months).
When it comes to building muscle, specific and measurable can feel like similar concepts. As long as you outline a specific goal, it’s probably going to be measurable, as well!
Whether your goal is weight gain, muscle gain, or strength gain, you can measure your progress with a scale, body composition tool, or even a one-rep max test in the weight room.
One thing I would recommend with your goal-measuring is that you use the same tool(s) throughout your tracking process. If you use the scale at your house to measure your weight change, always use that scale at the same time on the same day each week to get a more consistent measurement. If you’re always hopping around on scales, you could lose or gain a few extra pounds simply due to the variance from scale to scale.
Attainability is the most important component of goal-setting. You have to set muscle-building goals that are realistic in the time frame you’re giving yourself.
Recall the example goal I laid out previously: five pounds of muscle in three months. This is very realistic for most beginner or intermediate bodybuilders and even experienced bodybuilders who are consistent and focused on the process. If someone sets a goal of adding, say, 10 pounds of muscle mass in a single month, well, that’s not a very attainable goal. (Unless you’re a one-in-a-billion freak beast. And there’s not many of those!) Keeping your goals realistic ensures you don’t get discouraged and throw in the towel.
This one is a bit of a no-brainer. If you’re interested in getting jacked, keeping it relevant means not making SMART goals for how many pet rocks you plan on collecting throughout the year. That would just distract from your primary goals.
This is probably the second most important aspect of setting muscle-building goals. If you said you wanted to gain five pounds of muscle but didn’t give yourself a timeline, how could you adhere to a plan? You need to define the time limits on your goal. Not only does that keep you motivated for that period, but it also outlines time where you’re not focused on that goal.
If you give yourself three months to gain that five pounds of muscle, you know you can set a new goal when time runs out, whether you achieve your goal or not. This keeps your training interesting and is a great way to periodize (a.k.a. strategically mix up) your training, which is incredibly important for long-term gains.
Setting muscle-building goals through proper planning plays a huge role in the bodybuilding lifestyle. Think of this journey as a travel route: Your goals are the end destination and your plan is the GPS that takes you there. You have to know where you want to be before you decide how you’re going to get there!
All too often I hear gym bros spout muscle-building goals without specific, measurable data or a limited timeframe to achieve them. In fact, the most common line I hear is, “I want to step on the Mr. Olympia stage someday.” That’s a great goal to have, but you need several SMART goals before reaching that level.
Finally, the biggest thing to focus on when creating goals is the process, rather than the outcome. Once you define your goal, you need to create a plan that gets you there. That plan is the process!
If you’re constantly focused on where you want to be in six months, you’re constantly going to be disappointed by your day-to-day results. Instead, focus on the actual training, nutrition, hydration, rest, and stress maintenance.
Legendary powerlifter Dave Tate says it best: “Do what you need to do today to get where you want to be in five years.” Sometimes that means taking a rest day is the best thing you can in the moment to reach your ultimate goal. Let THAT sink in for a second.
Known as ‘The Muscle Ph.D.,’ Dr. Jacob Wilson has a knack for transforming challenging, complex concepts into understandable lessons that can support your body composition and health goals. A skeletal muscle physiologist and sports nutrition expert, Wilson is a leader in muscle sports nutrition. As the CEO of The Applied Science & Performance Institute and researches supplementation, nutrition, and their impact on muscle size, strength, and power.