It’s time to get ramped up, jacked up and turned on. We ask 8 pros for their very best advice about training motivation. Their answers are surprising.
What’s your very best tip for increasing training motivation?
Sure, you can get momentarily amped up by watching inspirational videos, reading motivational quotes, or reminding yourself of your goal, but all that’s just a Band-Aid.
What works for real is loving your training. That way, you never have to get motivated or psych yourself up – you can’t wait to go train.
I’ve come to a conclusion from analyzing my progress over the years: if you train hard and eat well, you’ll end up with the same body regardless of how you trained (keep in mind that I’m talk about lifting). Oh there might be some slight differences, but not as much as you think. Of course, I’m talking about natural lifters here.
But honestly, if you train hard for 10-20 years, the end result will be the same from pretty much any type of training: you’ll reach your peak muscular development. Some muscles might be a bit bigger, others a bit smaller, but not enough to make a huge difference. So, just find the type of training that fits your neurological/psychological profile.
I love low reps, heavy weight, and explosive stuff. So I decided to keep doing that. In the past I “forced” myself to do bodybuilding work because I convinced myself that I needed it to get the body I wanted. Turns out, in the grand scheme of things it didn’t change anything. And for me, high-rep pump work, drop sets and the like, killed my motivation because it didn’t fit my neurological profile.
I also never did well on programmed plans – routines where the loads were calculated three months (or more) in advance and where each workout was planned months ahead. These completely kill my motivation. I can’t stick with them for more than two weeks. I was always my strongest when I changed my training every week or two. But that’s me. Others can be the opposite.
Stop worrying so much about doing a program because “it’s respected” or because it’s written by a coach you respect, or had rave reviews on the interwebz. Train the way you enjoy because you’ll train harder and be more motivated. Just make sure your training isn’t completely unbalanced (only chest and arms).
I don’t get the need for motivation when it comes to lifting. Do you need some sort of external motivation to take a shower or brush your gunky teeth? I wouldn’t think so because these are things you do routinely as a part of just plain living.
I’ve always thought it should be the same for lifters. If you need motivation to go to the gym, you’re not a lifter – you’re a hobbyist. In two, three, or five years, you’ll likely ditch lifting and find some other “hobby,” whether it be bird watching or collecting ceramic ducks, bottle caps, or panties that you filched from the public Laundromat, dividing them into subcategories of floral prints, pastels, and slut tones.
Maybe you need me to make you a poster that shows Mark Dugdale, Amit Sapir, or Phil Heath wearing whiskers and cute little kitty ears and hanging precariously from a windowsill with the words, “Hang in there!” printed at the bottom.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I like to think that for most of you, lifting is just part of your life. Yeah, like brushing your teeth. More than that, though, you probably lift weights because there are few things you’d rather be doing. You, in fact, love it.
You love how it makes you feel. You love how it makes you look. You love the sometimes solitary, sometimes social aspect of it. You love the feel of the cold metal against your calluses and the way it makes your heart pound and how the sweat forms a Rorschach test on the front of your T-shirt.
You love mastering new exercises and movements, and every week you love lifting more than you did the previous week. And maybe even more than loving lifting, you love the feeling of having lifted because no matter what happens afterwards, you’ve already had a productive day, a good day.
Motivation? Ask me if I need motivation to love my wife, my dogs, the occasional friend, the smell and taste of good food, glorious nature, great music, terrific books, or life itself. The answer is no, and the same goes for lifting.
Nothing motivates you more than to train around like-minded individuals who want to work hard, will push you, and play both encourager and caller-outer at the same time.
Back in 2005-2006, Eric Cressey and I drove an hour both ways to South Side Barbell in Stratford, CT, a few times per week to train. It was the best training year of my life.
I remember showing up the first night, a Friday, max effort bench night no less, and trying all I could not to destroy the back of my pants when I first walked in. Standing around were 8-10 ginormous human beings tossing around weights I’d only read about up until that point.
Here I was, some slap-dick 200 pound dude who thought he was strong 'cause he had deadlifted 500 a few weeks prior. Hahahaha, that’s cute. Vincent Dizenzo was over the corner raw benching 600. (Gulp.)
As intimidating as the environment was at first, it didn’t take long to understand the rules and to become a part of the group:
- Come to work hard.
- You’re not above helping others with spots and hand-offs.
- Put your shit away when you’re done.
It was such a treat to have access to those men for a year. The ball-busting, the training advice, and the camaraderie was unparalleled, and I was never stronger than I was that year. It’s hard to find this at your local big box commercial gym.
There are exceptions to the rule, but it’s hard to be motivated for a heavy squat day when One Direction is blaring over the stereo and you have fake CrossFit-hero guy working out next to you performing a circuit of kipping pull-ups, high-rep deadlifts that are more like bouncelifts, and bear crawls over a broken glass.
Even if it’s only one time per week, try to make an effort to find a gym where you can train amongst your people. It’s all the motivation you’ll need. Even if it’s a little out of your way, it’s more than worth it, trust me.
Here are three (of many) things to do when you’re just not motivated.
Motivation ebbs and flows with experienced lifters just as it does with inexperienced ones. The difference is, the experienced lifter allows herself to feel unmotivated and shows up at the gym anyway. So stop analyzing your feelings about working out and just go.
Don’t train because you’re motivated; train to become motivated. Unless you’re preparing for a competition, you probably won’t feel fired-up on a daily basis. So show up, put in the effort, and find your motivation in the middle of the set. It’ll be there waiting for you… unless you are completely physically burnt out. And that likely will only happen if you’re an advanced athlete who trains constantly or is ill.
Think about the physical feeling of training. Put your mind on the work. Remember what the bar feels like in your hands and what your body feels like moving it. Thinking about training will make you want to go back, and it doesn’t really matter what your main goal is.
Trying to get jacked? Think about what the mind-muscle connection feels like, and what you’d be doing to achieve it. Remember what it feels like to get that skin-bursting pump.
Trying to get stronger? Think about what it feels like to lock out during a heavy set. Picture that moment.
Trying to lose fat? Think about how it feels to push through a challenging interval, metcon session, or whatever else you’ve been using.
Trying to perfect your clean? Think about what it’s like to be in the correct positions from the floor to the extension to the catch.
Some people don’t even realize they do this. When I was a kid, my big brother would always walk through the living room and stop briefly to work on his forehand, or backhand, or serve. He was constantly honing his tennis skills and putting his mind on the court when his body wasn’t there.
People who love the work can’t stop thinking about it. They practice the movements when they think nobody’s watching. Their thoughts reinforce their behavior and their behavior reinforces their thoughts. My brother never needed other people to motivate him to go practice, and because of that, he was the best.
“I don’t feel like working out today, but I’ll regret it if I don’t.” Ever hear someone say this? I said it this morning. It got me in the weight room.
If you’re not stoked about lifting, remember that the blah feeling you have in the gym parking lot is short-lived. But if you blow off your workout, you’ll regret it the rest of the day, or later in the week when you need to make up for what you missed.
Even if you actually WOULDN’T regret missing it, convince yourself that you would so that you’re compelled enough to start. Sometimes starting a workout is the hardest part. So whenever you say you don’t feel like working out, follow it up with the reason why you will anyway.
Although motivation isn’t necessary to get stuff done, it’s nice to have. The good news is, getting yourself fired-up is a skill you can learn. Self-motivated people aren’t the ones who say they “don’t need motivation.” The self-motivated are the ones who find the silver lining and enjoyment in any behavior they’re wanting to adopt.
They can also find the drawbacks that come from NOT doing what they want to make habitual… that’s where this avoiding-regret trick comes in.
Now hopefully, everyone is motivated to go the gym because it’s a rewarding, life-extending, life-expanding experience that makes them as happy as a unicorn on a rainbow. But if we really look at the behaviors and habits of successful people, we often find something very different: they’re motivated because of some very negative thoughts.
What really drives people to succeed? Some of them may be trying to live up to the expectations of a domineering parent, even if that parent died years ago. Some may have been bullied in school, and their desire to succeed may be rooted in sticking it to those bastards from 8th grade. Others may be driven by a sense of guilt or even fear.
And when it comes to success in the gym? Well, maybe all those people with great bodies and impressive PRs are driven by negatives as well. That guy who hates the fact that he’s short may have decided that he’ll just be wider and stronger than every nutsack ever who teased him about his height.
That woman who thinks she’s unattractive? Well, she can’t change her face much but she can damn sure change her body. That drives her. And her ex can suck it.
That guy who never misses cardio? Maybe he loves it. Or maybe he hates it, but he watched a parent or sibling die too young of heart disease, and he doesn’t want his kids to experience that.
And for those who’ve been fat in the past, there’s no greater motivator than not wanting to get fat again. They’ve experienced the effects of being overweight: feeling bad, being socially invisible, being chosen last in sports, being humiliated taking off their shirts at the pool… And by God, they’re NOT going back there!
These unpleasant feelings motivate us. They drive us. And while there’s probably a better, more positive way to stay motivated, these negative motivators sure do work. They are the screeching internal alarm clocks that get us out of bed in the morning.
Ideally, these ugly motivators are transitional – you use them for a while until the positive stuff becomes the primary reinforcement, until the good habits solidify, until you do it for joy. Hopefully, getting your workout becomes an act of love, a reward rather the temporary tamping down of a fear.
But if not, screw it. If there are demons riding around on your back and whispering things in your ear, squat those mothers.
Several options exist to boost training motivation, from hiring a trainer to hooking up with a training partner. However, the single best option for increasing motivation is to enter a competition.
Paying the entry fee and marking a calendar for the date in which you’ll don your board shorts, posing suit, or bikini and step on stage – thus revealing your physique to hundreds of people including a panel of judges – motivates people like nothing else.
Why? Because any self-respecting person will train with diligent intentionality motivated by a fear of being exposed in limited clothing.
Most people hate the thought of coming in last or having people question if the extent of their diet included switching from Bud to Bud Light. That magical contest date ushers in those other motivational aids too – like hiring a trainer, nutritionist, prep coach, etc.
What I’ve also seen is that the person learns a great deal about his or her body and the end result, including the memory of how they looked on contest day, helps fuel the motivation to continue training hard long after the contest is over.
A lot of people are losers who have no motivation to NOT be losers. Why would you want to be like them? Understanding what happens when you become unmotivated should be enough for you to want to separate yourself from the losers.
Every person who trains has goals inside the gym. Each of them knows that reaching a goal is a process that requires constant hard work and discipline. Unfortunately, many are quick to forget that motivation is what drives this hard work and discipline. If you want to be successful in reaching any goal, you just can’t afford to become unmotivated.
Each choice you make is a move closer to, or further away from, your ambitions. For every choice you make, consider what happens if you make a motivated choice versus what happens if you make an unmotivated choice. Motivated choices keep you on track. Unmotivated choices are self-sabotaging, and as a consequence, you’ll never get the result you’re hoping for.
A football team steps onto the playing field with intentions to win the game. But if the team lacks the motivation to prepare for the opponent, they’re likely to get their asses kicked.
You want to get strong, but if you lack the motivation to train on a given day, you run the risk of missing the next day’s training as well. And maybe even the day after that.
You want to become lean, but if you lack the motivation to stay strict with your diet, you’re going to eat that slice of red velvet cake at 10:30 PM. Then you’ll grab some breakfast pizza the next morning, which will lead to a day void of productivity.
It’s just easier to make the right choices in the first place. Losers are stagnant with their progress and allow themselves to have frequent setbacks. Winners get better, even if it’s only a tiny bit each day. They continue to push forward, developing even more of the motivation that’ll lead them to where they want to go.
Don’t make the decisions of a loser. Every day, make remaining a winner a priority. This will force you to keep your motivational furnace burning hot.
If you can connect something you’re passionate about to your goals, the motivation will just be there. For me, my passion was to be the best in the world, and I made every set and every rep a step toward my passion. The motivation and drive was never hard to find because it was right there at my heels.
Now, I realize not everyone is on my path, and training can be different for different people. You need to find what YOU are passionate about and link this to your training, whatever it is. It could be something as simple as an “FU” to an ex who called you fat, increasing your confidence to approach the hot chick sitting next to you in biology class, taking nude pics for your husband for a gift, hitting that PR, getting on a bodybuilding stage, or impressing your cat.
Whatever makes you tick, link it to your training every single time you step into the gym and the motivation will follow by itself. Every time you’re training with something in your mind that matters in your life, the drive will take care of itself.