We’ve all experienced it at one time or another– a precipitous lack of motivation to work out. In this quick guide 15 top trainers, strength coaches and fitness superhumans stop by to share their best strategies for staying motivated to exercise.
Whatever your goals are in the gym you full well know the struggle: it’s minutes to go until you are supposed to hit the gym, and you feel any and all workout motivation plunging through the floor.
While every person’s level of ambition in what we want to achieve in the gym varies, we all experience the same difficulty in getting things going so that we get through the doors of the gym. We look at our fit friends on social media and their incessant #fitlife hash-tagging and gym selfies and wanna punch em, if only because they are at the gym and here we are, sitting on the couch wondering if crushing two bags of Doritos in one day is next level shame.
Luckily, today we got some serious back-up for you. 15 of the top trainers, strength coaches and fitness professionals stopped by to share their favorite tips and strategies for unleashing a bottomless pit of motivation to crush your workout routine.
Let’s do the dang thing!
1. DO IT YOUR WAY.
Social media can be a real son of a bee sting. Sure, it helps us stay in touch with friends and family, but it also shows us the endless trove of workout pictures from our gym addict friends, which tend to make us feel even worse about ourselves. And so we try to do what they do.
First mistake, bucko. Odds are you already know what works best for you.
“I think the most important part about motivating clients is to let them lead the conversation,” says Kelly Gibson, CPT, of Kelly Athletics.
“They know what works best for them, they just need someone to hear that they understand and support their beliefs. Once there is a mutual understanding, it is a good time to introduce clients to ideas of what foods and exercises might help them on their path.”
Remember: we all respond differently according to interests, exercise history, and everything else that goes into making us a special little snowflake. Embrace your individuality and stick with what you know that works instead of trying to emulate what someone else is doing.
2. WHAT YOU WANT VS. WHAT YOU WILL LOSE.
Much of the time we are motivated by fear. We don’t want to lose our health, our youth, our strength. And so we become very loss-averse instead of focusing on trying to achieve things.
Scott Abel, physique transformation specialist and weight-loss expert who has four decades of experience working with bodybuilders, pro athletes and figure competitors, emphasizes encouraging clients and athletes to pursue goals instead of trying to avoid the things they don’t want to have happen.
“The rationale is simple,” says Scott. “What you focus on, expands. So if you are always focusing on what you don’t want, you just manifest more of it that very thing.”
Instead of getting stressed out over negative goals, set yourself some positive targets and goals to dish out punishment on when you step into the gym and drop the hammer on your workout routine.
3. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PEOPLE DOING THE STUFF YOU WANNA DO.
Like it or not, we are products of our environment. The friends we surround ourselves with end up influencing our actions and behaviors often far more than we are willing to give them credit for. This can be an awesome thing, or you know, be the other way around.
Dr. Joel Seedman, CSCS, ACSM, FMS, of Advanced Human Performance echoes this sentiment when it comes to choosing your coach or trainer.
“There’s nothing that stifles motivation more than a trainer who doesn’t care and lacks passion as this has a tendency to rub off on the client as well,” says Dr. Seedman.
“In contrast enthusiasm from the trainer and coach is very contagious and does wonders for sparking motivation from the client.”
We all have those friends who will tug at your sleeve and whisper, “It’s just one workout, what’s the big deal?” They might be fun to hang out with, but if you are looking to dial up your workouts it might be time to dial down the time you are spending with ‘em.
4. BUILD AN AWESOME SUPPORT CIRCLE PART 2.
Seriously, it’s crazy how much certain people in our lives can push in a certain direction.
Build an inner circle that is all positive, all caring, and all awesome. We are products of our environment.
“No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care,” says Mike Boyle, who for the past 30 years has worked with Olympians and pro athletes including players from the Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins. “(As a trainer) if you want motivated athletes, care about them as people. Know their story, their why.”
Sounds good to me, Mike.
5. MOTIVATION COMES FROM OVERCOMING ADVERSITY.
If you are training on your own, make sure that you are constantly setting the bar just a little bit higher. Otherwise, you are inviting burnout and boredom.
Motivation, the white-hot, scorching type, comes from seeing your work pay off. From improvement. From overcoming challenges and limits.
Steve Whiteside, BA Kin, B. Ed, CSCS, NSCA-CPT, knows that the key to keeping his clients pumped up and interested over the long haul “involves an aspect of struggle.”
“It may be as simple as increasing the number of push-ups that can be accomplished in a set, going up in weight on a certain exercise or completing a tough metabolic challenge such as sprints,” says Steve.
“When the client completes the challenge, it becomes a high point in the workout and leaves them feeling hugely successful,” he adds.
“If they don’t, they’ve probably come close enough to keep them motivated to conquer it during the next workout. This ensures that each workout is a memorable and worthwhile experience, and that they are continually striving towards improvement.”
6. PLAY THE LONG GAME.
Instant results. We all want it, we know it doesn’t happen, and yet, we still get all shocked and chagrined when we don’t tack on 50lbs to our 1MR bench after three workouts.
It’s like we are just looking for a way out of the commitment we made to our goals, and insufficient results in a ridiculous time frame is a prime get-out-of-jail excuse many of us fall prey to.
To really see the results you want, and to maintain motivation over the long term, you gotta exercise some patience.
“Time, energy and consistency,” notes strength coach and hard knocks graduate and author of The Strength Solution Method, Shawn Charlebois.
“These are some of the most difficult things to acquire and up hold. A large factor in my patience is positive self talk and coaching. All good things take time.”
7. KEEP YOUR SELF-TALK POSITIVE.
If we were able to sit down and write out a full list of all the self-talk we’d unleashed on ourselves at the end of the day we’d probably be fairly a) choked and b) more choked. Just today I called myself a “dumb mud-butt” after I miscounted a 5-rep set. (Seriously.)
Minding your inner monologue is important, as research has shown that positive self talk can significantly reduce rate of perceived exertion and enhances endurance and performance.
When working with his own clients Wayne Geber, a personal trainer based out of Sydney, Australia, focuses on helping his clients stay positive and pushing for positive self-talk.
“I am constantly encouraging my clients. I always focus on all the positive things my they are doing,” says Wayne.
“I also keep at them to keep their own internal dialogue positive at all times.”
8. TRACK YOUR PROGRESS.
Back to that whole progression thing. Crushing bests and exceeding past workouts is what causes you to walk out of the gym feeling like you are one fire.
Step one in getting that feeling more often, and the accompanying motivation that occurs naturally as a byproduct of progression, is logging your workouts in the gym.
“I keep accurate documentation regarding my clients’ progress,” said Tom Strafaci, CSCS when I asked him how he keeps his athletes and clients motivated. “Continued recognition of their accomplishments are an excellent motivational tool.
Write out our workouts. It will give you something to exceed every time you walk in the gym, on top of a myriad of other benefits.
How to Master Your Training Log
9. BE THE EXAMPLE.
I know this is going to sound crazy, but there are people out in the world who look at you and wish they were you are right now. Really. Use this odd little idiosyncrasy to keep yourself motivated by always leading by example.
David Kim, CSCS, understands that one of the best ways to keep his clients motivated is to be the example.
“This is done by being open about my own training progress and goals,” says David.
“The passion, dedication, and progress I show in my own training gives them energy as well as something to relate to, reminding them of how much they want to achieve their goals.
10. FORGET YOUR GOALS AND FOCUS ON YOUR “HOW.”
When we have big goals in the gym it’s hard not to get bent out of shape about the fact that we aren’t making progress fast enough. Or that we experience a setback. Or that things aren’t as easy as we thought they oughta be.
The reality is that the motivation to keep working out comes from focusing on the process, from drilling your energy and thoughts into the day-to-day.
The reason that so many people burn out after a couple weeks of working out is that they spend all their time thinking about the outcome and forget about crushing the routine.
“Make training about how rather than what,” says John Mata, CSCS, USAPL, USAW. “Care about how you approach each training session, especially deep into a program when the dark days seem much more numerous.”
Mata’s advice is killer when you think about it: by focusing on today you are freed from the anxiety and stress that comes with thinking about what may or may not happen weeks or months in the future.
“Don’t worry about what you will do down the road; how you attack each rep, set, and session during the hard days will take care of the outcome.”
11. SET MEANINGFUL GOALS.
One of the most painful things I have to hear from athletes and friends when asked about their goals is a vague and utterly subjective goal that lacks any real meaning.
Your goals should be wildly and passionately important to you. Not because someone else thinks it’s what ya oughta to, not because your idol did it. Your goal under the bar should be yours and yours alone.
For example, if you’re an athlete your goals in the gym should relate to your goals on the field.
Will Ruth, CSCS and rowing strength coach, understands that big numbers in the gym don’t mean squat (haha lifting pun!) if it’s not relevant to an athlete’s goals.
“Many athletes don’t care about their squat or push jerk max and they may even think of lifting as a chore,” says Will.
“The way to reach athletes is by focusing on performance improvement in their sport, not just the weight-room, and you can’t do that without knowing what counts as meaningful improvement to them in the first place.
12. CRUSH THE OBSTACLES.
Anytime I talk to an athlete about their goals obstacles will always come up. Rarely right away, usually it’s a couple weeks after the initial goals are set and that first big wave of enthusiasm and motivation has begun to roll out like the tide.
We discussed having a strong support network earlier; go further by eliminating the goofy, border-line asinine sources of friction that keep you from doing the things you need to do in the gym.
“I check in with my clients regularly and ask what’s stopping them from executing the goals we plan,” says Monika Arenas, RD/N, CPT. These could be things like meal prepping, scheduling your workouts, or even laying out your gym gear the night before your morning workouts.
Whatever it takes to make things as easy as possible on yourself. Monika’s approach is pure divide and conquer:
“We attack those barriers and find solutions to work around them. Of course, a little encouragement and positive talk goes a long way as well!”
13. CELEBRATE PROGRESS.
You don’t need to wait until you hit that magic number, crush that PR, or accomplish your goal of performing a twenty-minute handstand to celebrate your hard work. Marking the small victories is essential in fueling the motivational machine between your ears.
Laura Scanlon, a former track runner turned online personal trainer, notes that it is crucial to take a moment to recognize the little wins.
“When it comes to keeping my clients motivated I like to remind them in a positive way how well they are improving,” says Laura.
“It’s so important to give credit when credit is due and remind a client how far they have come. It’s the small comments that stick in a person’s mind and that will motivate them to come back and keep getting better and better.”
Consistent small wins = IV drip of motivation.
14. FOCUS ON THE PROCESS.
Your long term goals in the gym are critical. They are wildly, passionately important to you. But something painfully bizarre happens when we think only about the big goal:
We get discouraged about where we are at today to the point that we don’t act. In spite that it will make our eventual goal much harder to reach. (Our brains can truly be the worst at times.)
Melissa Reh, PT, MSPT, CSCS, FAFS, is cognizant (somebody got a thesaurus today!) of this very problem with both people working towards their goals in the gym and coming back from injury at her practice:
“Always remember your long term goal, but don’t measure yourself against it every day– it’s too frustrating,” says Melissa. “Instead, focus on taking action on the things you need to do to reach your goal.”
15. WIELD EXERCISE LIKE A SKILL.
A powerful way to rethink exercise is to consider it like a skill. Something that you are always working on improving, refining, a means to understand yourself a little better.
“I coach my clients to think of exercise and nutrition as a skill versus a means to end (i.e. a number on the scale),” says personal trainer and nutrition and wellness specialist Angela deJong of Acacia Fitness.
“You can’t pick up a guitar and play it right away,” she notes. “Fitness and nutrition are the same. It takes practice, on a continual basis to get more proficient at your skill. Your goals eventually take care of themselves.”
Getting motivated to workout isn’t really space science. Motivation doesn’t need to be this mythical, hard-to-control thing that you are victim to.
When treated like something you can wield, you realize that it’s all about sticking to your strengths, focusing on the process, keeping a check on your self-talk, and monitoring and celebrating your progress in the gym.