Maximize your strength training routine by cutting out these time wasters.Read article
It’s not enough to merely psych yourself up. There are proven techniques for cranking your workout motivation up to 11. From months in advance to when you set the barbell down, we present the 30 best steps to boost your drive to grow stronger, bigger, and better.
1. SEE A SHOW
From a local NPC event to the Olympia, a bodybuilding contest is the best way to witness firsthand what’s possible. As a side benefit, you can interact with like-minded people, reinforcing your aspirations.
2. MEET A CHAMP
Olympia Week features “Meet the Olympians” on Thursday evening. Throughout the rest of the year, champion bodybuilders also appear at fitness expos and sometimes stores and gyms. Make the effort to shake your favorite champ’s hand and, perhaps, ask a question, closing the gap between two-dimensional photos and 3-D reality.
3. PICK THE RIGHT GYM
If you have options, choose the gym that best meets your workout goals, one that is uncrowded, well-equipped, and populated with members simpatico with your goals. Be aware that atmospherics—decor, music, temperature, the behavior of others, and much more—can affect your mindset in ways you may not even be conscious of, so trust your instincts during a tour or trial run. Even if the right gym is twice as far from home and $200 more annually than the wrong gym, it’s probably worth it.
4. KEEP RECORDS
To get to a destination, you need to first know where you are. And so it is with bodybuilding. You can record sets, reps, and weights in a journal; you can snap progress photos; and you can note your body weight and body-part measurements at regular intervals. All such accounting will help you better plot a path forward, and, when short-term gains inevitably slow, having a record of long-term progress can reinforce your belief that you’re on the right path.
5. SET A LONG-TERM GOAL
Find a purpose for the next six to 18 months, and set a date for fulfilling that purpose. Maybe it’s an addition of 10 good pounds or a subtraction of 15 bad ones, or maybe it’s earning a trophy in a men’s physique contest. Whatever it is, write down specific marks to hit along the way to arrive on time at the final destination.
6. WATCH VIDEOS
YouTube has more training and posing videos than you could probably watch in a lifetime. Some of them are specifically edited— replete with fist-pumping soundtracks—to motivate. In addition, there are innumerable videos that have nothing to do with flexing muscles that are nonetheless uplifting.
7. READ ARTICLES
The words and photos in FLEX are perpetually inspiring—but you already knew that, obviously.
8. TAKE A BREAK
Sometimes when your motivation is waning, the best thing to do is nothing— literally. Stay home. Don’t go to the gym. Don’t even think about dumbbells for at least a week but no longer than two. Afterward, you should be physically and emotionally recharged and raring to duck under a squat bar again. People often have their best workouts just after a layoff.
9. LEAVE YOUR COMFORT ZONE
From asking out strangers to skydiving, do what makes you uncomfortable. What does this have to do with barbell rows and walking lunges? Stretching your personal limits builds confidence by proving to yourself that you can do things you couldn’t or wouldn’t have even attempted before. In turn, that lesson can, consciously and subliminally, fuel tougher workouts.
10. OVERCOMING OBSTACLES
In her book, Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation, psychology professor Gabriele Oettingen, Ph.D., explains that it’s not enough to visualize success. You also have to identify and remove obstacles. These might appear elsewhere on this list but in a negative sense—the wrong workout partner, a stale routine, lax focus, etc. They could also be stress triggers that are harder to pinpoint. Truthfully evaluate your relationships, lifestyle, and frame of mind for anything that might be holding you back. Then make the necessary changes to eliminate any hindrance.
11. DIRECT YOUR SLEEP
Lying in bed before falling asleep, focus on the next day’s workout. Visualize as many details as possible—the gym, your clothes, your friends, etc.—but also try to smell, hear, and feel it. If there’s a big lift you want to get, imagine it happening so vividly it seems real. You want to focus your dreams so that your subliminal brain can assist you in turning those dreams into reality.
12. FIXATE ON WORKOUT GOALS
Concentrate repeatedly on what you want to accomplish in your workout. This may be a rep target with a big weight or the dropsets you want to grind out or the pump you want to achieve (or all of the above). If you have a very specific mark, such as 275 for 10 in the bench press, write a note, and post it where you can focus on it again and again.
13. BE INSPIRED
Maybe it’s watching a war movie or an MMA video clip. Maybe it’s reading a comic book or inspirational quotes. Maybe it’s listening to a sermon, shouting along to a favorite rap song, or staying perfectly still and silent while meditating. Do whatever best gets you mentally prepared for the task ahead.
14. TEAM UP
Why depend entirely on self-motivation when others can help you drive through your hardest sets? Whether pairing with a training partner, hiring a trainer, joining a group exercise class, or just enlisting a spotter on occasion, knowing someone is watching should galvanize you, and the right encouragement can switch you into a gear you can’t get to on your own.
A pre-workout powder or caffeine pill can elevate your energy and focus so you stay motivated until your last rep or final step.
16. TRACK YOURSELF
By strapping on a wearable fitness tracker, you can easily monitor your cardio. This, in turn, can provoke you to match or beat your previous marks.
17. PICTURE IT
During his six-year reign as Mr. Olympia, Dorian Yates would picture every set he was going to perform hours before the workout. Visualization is one of your most powerful tools. See it and feel it again and again until actually doing it becomes merely a formality and failing to do it is unimaginable.
18. MAKE SMALL CHANGES
We don’t always thrive on routines. Sometimes, to achieve different results, you need to do something different—if only to remind yourself things won’t be the same. When the Chicago Bulls won six world titles, the team changed their shoes from white to black for their playoff runs. It was a visual reminder: Things are different now. It might be new clothes or a day pass to another gym or hitting the weights two hours earlier than usual. Sometimes a little change can create a big difference in attitude.
19. DO THE HARDEST THING FIRST
If there’s a body part (say, calves) that’s lagging or an exercise you’re struggling with (say, front squats), do it first when your strength, enthusiasm, and energy are greatest. Make it the most important component of your routine. Conversely, save the easiest or most pleasurable things (say, curls) for last, as a reward to drive you through the workout.
If you’re training with a well-matched partner, you can attempt to top each other’s sets. Usually, though, you’re competing against your old self—if only the person you were last workout. Continuously set up mini-trials—whether a personal best or a new exercise or a reduced rest period—to make every workout a series of competitions.
21. BREAK THE ROUTINE
Boredom kills motivation. Do something (or everything) differently to recharge your workout enthusiasm. Change exercises, mix up the order of things, or alter your rep schemes.
22. MAKE IT POSITIVE
We’re more motivated to do things we like, so take steps to make your training more pleasurable. Here’s a few ideas. Make friends in the gym. Wear your favorite shoes only on heavy squat days. And listen to the latest episode of that podcast you love only during HIIT cardio.
23. LISTEN TO MUSIC
Studies have proven that music can increase workout success. Wear earbuds or headphones, and begin your favorite psych-up song just before your toughest set.
24. GET ANGRY
Raging against the machine (or barbell) isn’t for everyone, but activating the fight-or-flight instinct is a proven way to boost strength. This is why some powerlifters take a slap before storming to the bar, where, just before the lift, they may roar. A similar strategy of focusing on something sure to raise your blood pressure may help you eke out reps that the comfortable, contented you could never get.
25. LOOK AT YOUR PHONE
We’d rather not encourage you to stare at your screen between sets, but, since you’re probably doing it anyway, never let it distract you from your goals. Instead, via photos, inspirational lines, or a goal checklist, it should help laser your focus onto that set.
26. GET EXTERIOR ENCOURAGEMENT
If you’re training with someone else, now is the time for them to tell you, “You got this.”
27. GIVE INTERIOR ENCOURAGEMENT
Do whatever it takes to motivate yourself. Maybe it’s a verse. Maybe it’s an image. Maybe it’s a reminder, again and again, of your rep target. Maybe it’s a positive affirmation of your strength and indomitable will to succeed.
28. REWARD YOURSELF
Like dogs, we form good habits because of positive reinforcement. Charles Duhigg’s best-selling book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, prescribes creating a neurological habit loop wherein we reward ourselves for achieving goals. Like a canine treat, a reward can be small—a favorite food post-workout after hitting all your rep targets or a Net ix show you watch only on days you do cardio or even just a beloved song you play only after a new personal best. Your brain associates the small pleasure that the “treat” generates with success, and a habit loop forms, perpetuating more success.
29. BE ACCOUNTABLE
If you keep a training journal or post photos, video, and/or statistics to the internet, you’re generating a record. This, in turn, sets up a standard that you need to meet or beat while moving forward. Additionally, positive reinforcement from, say, likes on an Instagram account can fuel greater motivation.
Did you meet your goals? Did you do all you could to initiate the growth of muscle or the loss of body fat? If not, strategize changes for your next workout, from as small as a change of clothes to as big as doing all diFFerent exercises. Both failure and success are motivators. How do you avoid the former and perpetuate the latter? Every workout should prompt what you do in your next workout.