Its easy to stay motivated when you are experiencing rapid strength increases as beginners often do but that “newbie-effect” doesn’t last long. The first important ingredient for staying motivated is having realistic expectations, many beginners have the distorted notion that muscles are going to see their muscles growing weekly right before their eyes – not gonna happen! How do you keep motivated when the rapid newbie gains are gone and progress is excruciatingly slow? How do you keep up motivation when you you cant get any stronger or any bigger? There is a limit to how strong and how muscular a human can get naturally, a lot of beginners do not realize this.
I have been working out over 30 years, 5 hours of lifting a week, 52 weeks a year. I work out harder and more than I did 15 years ago, except instead of getting bigger and stronger I am struggling to slow the muscle loss. The last 15 years I have spent 20 hours a month sweating in the weight room and have *nothing* to show for it. How do I stay motivated when I don’t have any gains to look forward to? Three ways!
- Now I admit that this first way is cheating. No matter how advanced you are, you can find SOME muscle that hasn’t been developed – even if its pinky. Seek out smaller muscles you have neglected and train those! There is no way on earth that I am going to be able to make my pecs bigger or bench press more. There is no way I am going to make my lats or arms bigger. I hit my genetic max on these muscles 15 years ago. Nine months ago I started focusing on traps which I had purposely neglected in the past. After 9 months of hitting them hard twice a week, I have the starts of visible success – some of you have noticed on my Facebook and Instagram photos. Its probably only 3 ounces of muscle I have gained but because its a small muscle, its actually noticeable. As you get older, you victories get smaller but sweeter! Focus on neglected bodyparts!
- OK, method #2 for staying motivated when gains aren’t happening – find new goals! Instead of mass and strength, work on balance, agility, skill or endurance. About a decade ago when I knew I wasn’t going to make any more mass gains I made endurance my goal and took up triathlon. Consider taking up free running, do gymnastics, rock climbing, or soccer.
- Method 3 for staying motivated is to focus on how lifting is a great stress reliever and makes you feel better, even if you don’t get gainz. Before I took up triathlon, I was happily lifting weights 5 hours a week even without gains. Why? Because it made me feel better!
There is a reason that gyms are packed in January and then completely empty by mid february, because newcomers have these completely unrealistic ideas of how fast they can gain muscle! After a month they flex in the mirror, don’t see any muscle gains, and give up. To get a sanity check on your muscle gain goals to see if they are realistic, please check out my muscle gain predictor. When it comes to weight loss, remember that it took you years to add on all that fat. You cant expect to remove it all in a few weeks, its not healthy nor is it possible without massive muscle loss. To see what rate of fat loss IS realistic, use my calorie calculator, enter your data, and then look at the weight loss prediction chart – THAT is realistic.
Most people fail at their fitness goals, not because they are lazy or have no willpower, its often the opposite. Most people fail because they are impatient for results and work at it TOO hard! Their unrealistic expectations sets them up for failure. They start a starvation diet instead of a sensible diet which soon leads to binging and failure. They are too aggressive with their workout program and end up injured or over trained so they don’t make any progress. Doing biceps curls every morning and every night is going to give you tendonitis, not massive biceps. Unless you are an advanced bodybuilder, do NOT make up your own workout routine! Choose an old, proven workout plan that is just right for you. No matter how much cardio you do, you wont be successful at weight loss unless you use good nutrition and portion control.
Good motivation, bad motivation
Its very important that you have the right kind of motivation. What do I mean by this? Internal motivation is good motivation, external motivation is bad motivation. For example, the following is external motivation and it will lead to failure:
“I wanna get big muscles because my hot girlfriend wants me to”
You are doing it for your girlfriend, not you. Why will it fail? Because maybe your muscles are not the real issue. How big do your muscles need to be for her to be happy? Your goal is not clear. Maybe you will get as big as Arnold and your hot girlfriend will still dump you because the real issues is that she doesn’t like the way you treat her. It will fail because she controls your success, not you.
In the last 10 years, I’ve made no progress – not a single ounce of muscle gained. All my progress was in my first 20 years of lifting. People always ask me how I stay motivated when I make NO progress whatsoever. Most people would have given up but I workout day after day, year after year – how do I do it? Its easy! I focus on how good the workouts make me feel. I am ADDICTED to exercise, it gives me energy and makes me feel good – see #3 above! Its easy to do something that makes you feel good. That is an example of internal motivation, I stay motivated because it makes me feel good.
Make a resolution
So how can YOU become addicted to exercise? Studies have shown that showed if you can stick with something 30 days it becomes a habit. Just promise yourself that you will give daily exercise and good nutrition a try for 30 days, that’s it. Anyone can handle working out and good nutrition for 30 days, do that, and you will be hooked on health for the rest of your life.
If on January 1 you wake up and say “I’m going to exercise for the next 365 days and eat flawless nutrition every day” You are doomed, that’s just too daunting and you will end up giving up. Even making that promise for 30 days is a bit daunting, here’s a trick, just take it one day at a time. Anyone can eat healthy and exercise for one day. Don’t think about tomorrow or yesterday, think about TODAY and how its going to make you feel good if you eat healthy and exercise today.
Don’t Break The Chain
If you have failed at every resolution you have made, maybe thats too much pressure. Here is another motivational technique you can use that is very effective for many people, its called Don’t Break The Chain and the famous comdeian Jerry Seinfeld is credited with its invention. All you need for this technique is an old fashioned paper wall calendar, a red felt pen, and a green felt pen. Days you accomplish your goal get a green check, days you fail get a red X. The more green checks you get, the harder it is to slack off and break your beautiful chain of green check marks with a big ugly red X. Please read more about Dont Break The Chain here.
If that isn’t sufficient motivation for you, try sheer terror! Nobody wants to be thought of as a quitter, a flake or a loser – its a core fear that you can exploit in yourself. Got a really tough fitness goal you want to achieve? Broadcast it to the world! Put in on your blog, tell your friends and co-workers, put it on Facebook. Make it impossible to back out! There is nothing that motivates like sheer terror. I’ve used this technique time and time again when faced with goals I fear I might back away from. In fact, I am using it right now! Check out my goals and training and you will see this:
Fitness Trifecta! Accomplish the following within a 4 month period to show that form does follow function and that you can look good by being an athlete instead of just seeking “aesthetics” and limiting your physical activity to dingy, fluorescent lit gyms.
– complete a half Ironman and better last years time by 10 minutes
– get top 3 in a men’s physique completion
– swim from San Francisco to Alcatraz
Terror X 10!
Get a good support network!
Support networks are also a very important factor in motivation and can often make the difference between success and failure. You need positive energy and reinforcement to keep you motivated, not negativity. Often friends and family are not as supportive of fitness goals as you might hope. If this is the case, use one of the many excellent online fitness communities like Sweat4health. You can get advice on dealing with unsupportive friends and family from people who have faced the same problems you do or just have them lend a sympathetic ear.
^ NOTE: All photos of me on this page are morphed except this one of my shoulder and traps