Updated: Apr 30
Haven’t got sweaty for some time? Can’t seem to keep up a consistent training regime? More often than not find yourself on the couch instead of the gym? Sounds like you’ve lost your fitness Mo-Vo. Don’t worry! Help is at hand, just read on . . .
In the first instalment of this two-part blog we’ll take a look at five ways that you can get more motivated to maintain a fitness regime. We’ll discuss and examine some tried and tested motivational methods that you can use to fire up your desire to go get physical again.
‘Strong motivation is an absolutely essential requirement . . .’
(Grout & Perrin 2004)
A shocking number of people struggle to maintain the motivation to keep up a fitness regime. They start off with the good intention of committing to a comprehensive exercise plan but all too soon excuses creep in. Then they begin skipping sessions; at first just the odd one here and there. But before long, both health and exercise are sacrificed for nights on the couch in the company of a family-sized packet of Doritos and that horrific time trap called TV.
Reasons abound for why people slip back into bad habits: ‘commitments’ – ‘the kids!’ – ‘damn temporary traffic lights’ – ‘cold and wet British weather’ – etc., etc. ad infinitum.
The most prolific and pernicious reason why those good intentions succumb to comforting temptations is because of peoples’ inability to maintain motivation. This humble polysyllabic is the driving force behind any and all success achieved in health and fitness. Without motivation we wouldn’t get much further than the fridge.
But why, I’ve very often wondered, with a generous pinch of perplexity, why are some people overflowing with the stuff whilst others are bereft of a single solitary drop? Is it down to genetics? Nature . . . or Nurture? Or did those motivated individuals procure a secret formula – an elixir of motivation – from the devil at the mere price of their eternal soul?
Personally, I doubt it’s much to do with any of these reasons – especially the first one.
It is my humble contention that motivated people have at their disposal a bag of psychological tricks. A bag of tricks from which, whenever the temptation to take the easy option grips, they pull out a tried and tested trick and magic some motivation into themselves. Just like that! Almost with the wave of a wand.
Here’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his The Encyclopaedia of Modern Bodybuilding, discussing his idiosyncratic style of self-motivation:
“When I began to train, I wrote everything down – training routines, sets and reps, diet, everything. And I kept this up right through my 1980 Mr. Olympia victory. I would come into the gym and draw out a line on the wall in chalk for every set I intended to do. I would always do five sets of each movement. So for example, the marks / / / / / on my chest day would stand for five sets of Bench Press and five sets of Dumbbell Flys. I would reach up and cross each line as I did the set. So when I finished Benches the marks would look like X X X X X, and I would never think to myself, Should I do three sets today, or four? I always knew it was five and just went ahead and did them. Watching those marks march across the wall as I did my workout gave me a tremendous sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. They were like an invading army crushing all opposition in its path. This visual feedback helped me to keep my training goals clearly in mind, and reinforced my determination to push myself to the limit every workout.”
Over the years I’ve developed my very own bag of tricks – many of which are, I cannot deny, woefully unscientific; but where they lack in empiricism they make up in practicality. The aim of this blog post, then, is to share these tricks with you so that you can start filling your own bag. And when that day comes when the overpowering urge to skip exercise takes hold, and you find yourself being lured into taking the lazy option, you can reach in to that bag of tricks and pull out a handful of motivation.
No more talk; here are the Five methods to help reclaim your Mo-Vo
1: Set long-term goals
How long term should our long term goals be? Honestly, I would say three months and beyond. And can I just add there is nothing at all wrong with having multiple long term health/fitness goals, of different durations, running simultaneously. We might be preparing diligently for, say, an Ironman, or marathon, which is due to take place a year hence, whilst also pursuing the perpetual goal of maintaining optimum health. My personal overarching goal is that of being healthy. As nebulous and generic a goal as that undeniably is it should be the one to which we all continuously direct our health and exercise energies. With one eye fixed firmly on this long term goal we will, theoretically, have water enough in the motivational well from which we can draw in times of drought.
So, make your long term goal that of augmented health and, whilst you’re on that journey, continue to set sub-long term goals that will help you on your way. However, we must remember, goals ‘need to be fired with passion’. A ‘goal that is just cerebral, without any energy or emotional empowerment, is usually not achieved’ (Grout & Perrin, 2004). You have to believe in the goals you set and be passionate towards achieving them.
2: Set short-term goals
Setting short term goals, typically between one to three months in duration, is an excellent way to keep the fires of motivation well stoked. Now a short term health/fitness related goal could be something as simple as striving to lose a couple of pounds or attempting a personal best in a specific exercise discipline. I tend to focus on a particular exercise and over the course of two months work towards achieving a set time. For example, just recently I wanted to run 5 miles (on an indoor treadmill) in under 30 minutes (a sub six minute mile pace). Before setting this goal I firstly tested my current 5 mile performance to see how far off that time I was – so that I could gauge whether or not my aspirations were realistic – then I set about training myself up for the final test day.
I find short-term goal setting to be a remarkably effective method of fuelling motivation. In the above example not only did I achieve my desired goal of 30 minutes but exceeded it by 2:27. However, it must be understood that we are not always going to be successful in achieving our goals and we shouldn’t let this dampen our spirits. After the run, following a similar training formula, I attempted a sub 6:30 2000 metre Ergo row but failed to achieve my desired time by a few seconds. That doesn’t really matter though because I know that it is the means and not the end that is most important.
3: Get Competitive
Regular competitions are a terrific way of spicing up our training sessions, which in turn motivates us to keep on keeping fit; especially if there is a pecuniary reward or, better still, a nasty punishment at stake. A good few years ago I used to train with a semi-professional triathlete. I would design a training session that incorporated elements of our strengths and weaknesses. Once we’d come to an agreement on the session, which always resulted in lots of arguing, a punishment would be promulgated along with a competition date. Come competition day we’d both arrive at the gym suited and booted for a gruelling session and, like two fighting cocks, desperately duke it out for a couple of weeks’ bragging rights. But, as low key and, well, petty as this all was, by god did it motivate me to keep fit.
Competitions come in many different shapes and sizes. So if you don’t have a worthy, like-minded training partner who is willing to engage in exercise fisticuffs, you can get competitive in other ways. Besides the obvious, such as entering an organised race, or trying to set a PB, you can compete on online league tables. For example, a colleague of mine cycles to work. The route he takes features on a mobile phone app called Strava, which tracks and records all the times that other cyclists have taken to cover the same distance. I remember him arriving at work one morning, red as a tomato, huffing and puffing, sweat pouring down his face, proudly proclaiming that he was now the new ‘champ’. Anyone would have thought that he’d just won a stage on the Tour de France. It amazed me to see how much motivation he drew from seeing his name at the top of that Strava league table. But that’s the power of competition.
4: Remind yourself of the benefits
What, I ask you, is the ultimate benefit of keeping fit? Well, according to hundreds of scientific research articles, the benefit of keeping fit is improved health and enhanced longevity. They are the ultimate benefits exercise bestows on those who make it a fundamental part of their lifestyle. As we’re probably all aware, there are many, many more benefits besides. When motivation starts to flag, when we’re struggling to motivate ourselves to hit the tarmac for an hour, or attend that circuits class, we would do well to remember that this training session will (statistically) reduce our chances of succumbing to many horrible diseases associated with a sedentary lifestyle, whilst enhancing our vitality and possibly extending our life. If any one of those three benefits alone is not enough to get you active then think of all three – they could be called the three line whip of motivation that you can lash yourself with whenever you want to quit.
5: Take measurements
If your exercise objective is to shed a few pounds and trim-up for beach season (or that dreaded social event that looms large on the temporal horizon), it might be a good idea to periodically hop on the scales or wrap a tape measure around your waist so as to monitor and track progress. But, before embarking on an exercise regime, it is wise to make measurements of your current physiological state so that you have a starting point. After all, as trite and cliché as the saying has now undeniably become, we don’t know how far we’ve travelled if we don’t know from where we started.
Of course, one’s gut is not the only part of the human anatomy subject to the tape measure. Your training aspiration may dwell in the desire to one day stand in front of that faded poster of Arnold Schwarzenegger (or female equivalent) as though it were a mirror, reflecting back your imagined awesomeness. Now before you begin pumping that iron or wearing out that cross-trainer take measurements of the girth of you biceps, chest, quads, calves and, most importantly, your ego.
Again, whatever measurements you make be sure to make them before undertaking that transformative training programme. Once you are on the road to achieving your idealised body composition, track and record progress by taking formative measurements. You can then use these measurements as motivational carrots that keep you chasing that slimmer/more muscular you. (One word of advice on this method: be careful not to become over obsessed with weight loss or gains; jumping on the scales after every training session or expecting an additional inch of bicep growth after every eccentric contraction of a barbell curl is a sure sign that you have spun-off you psychological centre. Remember: this method of motivation has an expiration date, and that date has arrived when you can no longer naturally lose any more weight or pack on any more mass – the tale of the tape (or scales) can only take us so far on the journey of health and fitness.)
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This concludes the first part of Lost your fitness Mo-Vo? Next month we’ll take a look at five more methods of how you can reclaim your motivation to maintain an exercise regime. But of course don’t wait around until then. Have a go today at implementing the ideas outlined above. If you find one that works that’s great, for not only will you not need to waste your time reading the second part of this blog, but you’ll be well on your way to improved health and fitness. However, if you just can’t seem to get on with the five methods covered then hopefully I’ll be seeing you next month.
Grout. J, Perrin. S (2004): Mind Games. West Sussex. Capstone.
Schwarzenegger. A (1985): The Encyclopaedia of Modern Bodybuilding. USA. Simon & Schuster.