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woman training at the gym

Most people walk into a fitness facility with some idea of a goal they would like to achieve. That goal may be objective and measurable, such as losing 10 pounds. Alternatively, it may be more subjective, like feeling more energetic. As fitness professionals, we often ask new clients to set goals, because we know goals are important for exercise adherence and personal achievement. Researchers have found that the type of goals, the valuation of those goals and the plan for meeting these goals contributes to higher levels of motivation, commitment, and achievement.

Let’s look at 3 types of goals: performance goals, process goals, and outcome goals.

Performance Goals: Goals set using an objective or measurable standard, with a specific due date

Performance goals are the goals with which you may have the most familiarity. Performance goals are longer term.  While the research includes a wide range of time frames, long term is often used successfully for recreational exercisers to mean 6 to 12 weeks.

If a client identifies his or her own challenging performance goal, values the goal, and has a strategy for attaining the goal, he or she will be more likely to achieve it. An easy way to think about performance goals is that a performance goal is the destination you enter on the GPS- you enter a specific address and you have a specific time to get there.

Process Goals: Think of these as the “how” -  the strategy of how the performance goal will be achieved

Process goals are the directions on the GPS. These are step by step, short term, specific tasks meant to achieve an end. Once completed, they will put you on the doorstep of your performance goal. Process goals can be re-set session to session or week to week. As soon as each standard is met, a new process goal is formulated. The efficacy of process goals may be due to the more frequent positive reinforcement or may be due to the increased competence that comes with seeing progress.

Outcome Goals: Achievement is measured by comparison to other people

Individuals have the least amount of control in achieving these goals, because they rely on who else shows up and how these others perform. If the GPS metaphor is used here, outcome goals are highly affected by traffic, and most people find traffic frustrating rather than motivating.

Incorporating performance and process goals can support your client’s motivation and commitment. When he or she meets a hard-earned performance goal, you can say “You have arrived at your destination!” After some celebration, be ready with your next question: “Where do you want to go next?”

Susan Sotir, Ph.D., Education Specialist, Cybex Research Institute 

Cybex Workouts That WillHelp Clients Meet Their Goals

Cybex is a provider and manufacturer of premium commercial fitness equipment. Content featured in the Cybex Fitness Blog is meant to inspire healthy living and wellness and should not be taken as medical advice. For medical advice please consult a doctor.


Thank you for sharing this information. I like how you explained the differences between goals, this defiantly helps me to steer clients in a more results oriented manner.
Posted @ Sunday, January 26, 2014 8:04 AM by Amy Klein
I'm glad you found it helpful, Amy! One of the things I find most useful about process goals is that they are so adaptable. If a client will benefit most from a small step, that works. If a client can handle a bit of a bigger step, that works too. It's one more tool to promote individual progress!
Posted @ Monday, January 27, 2014 7:23 AM by Susan
What a great article! Thank you for sharing.I am a personal trainer and Crossfitter who constantly reminds, reinforces and refines my clients goals as well as my own. Although I have explored all types of goal setting, I often utilize process goals .
Posted @ Sunday, February 02, 2014 9:24 AM by Amy Klein
Love it, Amy! I was just thinking as I read your comments-- do you ever use the whiteboards in your facilities to post a process goal of the day, in addition to the workout? Maybe something like maintaining a strong external focus point during an exercise? I'd love to learn different ways people implement techniques in different settings!
Posted @ Monday, February 03, 2014 7:20 AM by Susan
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