The SMART Goal Process for Cyclists

If you want to improve your cycling performance, you need to develop some type of training program. Setting goals is your first step in this process. This is an important step because your goals embody what you most want to accomplish as a cyclist. For example, you may want to set a personal best in a particular race, complete your first century ride, or upgrade your racing category. Whatever your goals are, I suggest you use the SMART Goal process to improve your chances for success. SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound:

1. Specific. Your goals should be precise and stated in performance terms. For example, if you want to lose weight, your goal might be “to lose 10 lbs. in the next 8 weeks”. If you want to improve your race performance, your goal might be “to complete a 40K time trial in less than one hour by the end of the race season”.

2. Measurable. A goal is measurable when it is easy to determine if it has been achieved. The weight loss goal described above is easily measured. 8 weeks from now you will either weigh 10 lbs. less or you will not. Likewise, it is easy to determine if you have completed a 40K time trial in less than an hour by the end of the race season. Conversely, a goal to “greatly improve my race performance” is not easily measured.

3. Achievable. One of the biggest mistakes cyclists make in the goal setting process is to set unattainable goals. Your goals should be challenging, but they must also be realistic. For example, if you are a beginning cyclist, a goal to complete a 40K time trial in less than one hour is probably unrealistic. Set your goals high, but make sure they are attainable.

4. Relevant. This may be the most important element of the SMART Goal process. Your goals should be important to you as an individual. Don’t set a goal because your coach, teammate or cycling partner has that goal. Set goals that are significant for you. Our goals are what motivate us. You are much more likely to achieve goals that have personal and/or professional significance.

5. Time-Bound. Make sure each goal you set has a specific time frame for completion. This allows you to easily determine if it has been achieved. It also increases the likelihood that you will accomplish each goal since you know the clock is ticking!

A final consideration in the goal-setting process is the choice of process vs. outcome goals. Outcome goals are probably more common since they focus on bottom-line achievements. Objectives such as finishing in the top 10 of a key race, completing a 40K time trial in one hour, and earning enough race points to upgrade from Cat 4 to Cat 3 are examples of outcome goals. You will probably want to set one or more outcome goals at the beginning of each cycling season. However, you may want to incorporate process goals as well. Process goals focus on the implementation of your training regimen. For example, “riding 5,000 miles during the calendar year” is a process goal, as is “performing two interval workouts per week for 12 weeks during the Intensity phase of my annual training plan”.

Process goals have two advantages over outcome goals. First, if you fail to achieve an outcome goal, it can be a very demoralizing experience. You have more control over process goals because they focus on program implementation more than results. Second, for relative newcomers to cycling, it can be very difficult to set outcome goals. If an athlete has very little experience, it is hard to quantify expected performance in cycling events. In cases such as these, it will be more effective to use process goals.

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