I live in Edmonton, Alberta Canada, which tends to get roughly 7 hours of sunlight a day during the dead of winter. Interesting fact: 40 below Celsius is also 40 below Fahrenheit. Know how I know? That’s a usual daytime high. Winter pretty much sucks when you’re trying to go to the gym. My saving grace is the fact that I work in a gym all day long, which means I should have copious amount of motivation to get my swole on, right?
As any seasoned trainer could tell you, sometimes after spending the better part of 10-14 hours trying to coax your clients to become savage half-human, half-animal, all amazing beasts of workout awesomeness, sometimes there’s little to no desire to put yourself through the ringer at the end of the day and get your own workouts in.
It would be nice if I was one of those internet warriors who could “hit the switch” and “engage beast mode” while “bringing 110% intensity” every single workout, the sad reality is that some days I just don’t feel like it. Sure, every third workout may be infused with beast mode, and I may occasionally hit the switch, but it’s probably 1 in 4 workouts where I’m feeling beat up, tired, and just not wanting to be there.
I’ll throw on a nice clean Dragon tee, take a swig of pre-workout mix, and get to work with a warmup that feels incredibly, annoyingly difficult, and then adjust everything I had planned so I can make it through without becoming a sniveling crying mess in the corner by the end of my third giant set.
There’s always something you can do at the gym to help boost some motivation on those days when you feel like just packing it in, whether it’s focusing on mobility, soft tissue work, reviving a long lost favorite workout, or being the only guy in a Zumba class. The best thing to hit any gym with is a plan, as well as a plan B, so understanding what you should do if what you want to do becomes the last thing you would want to do can make a workout less routine and help bust through any kind of low motivation you may have to work out today.
Some of the reasons motivation may decline for a workout are as follows:
- Stalled progress
- Lifestyle sapping your energy
- Disconnect between goal and training program
Each of these can be major deterrents to maintaining the status quo of getting jacked and tanned but can easily be overcome with the right strategies, and it may even spark a new desire in you to try something new.
Strategy One: Switch it up
Changing your workout entirely to something different can offer a number of benefits. Remember when you started lifting and you would essentially walk into the weight room and grow from the initial adaptations? You could potentially go through that all over again by trying something completely different. I’m not talking about going from power lifter to yoga enthusiast, although it’s not a bad way to pick up a date or six, and you know they can all get into some crazy positions, so yoga definitely would have it’s merits.
Maybe switch to something like a strongman style, use some Olympic lift variations, swing some kettlebells, or hit up some different types of metabolic conditioning like stairs, sprints, or even some slow sled work.
The goal is not to be perfectly technically proficient, but to do something different to stimulate muscles and neural pathways that would otherwise lie dormant. By switching it up completely, you can receive a different stimulus, which could actually allow for the motor patterns you’ve been working to recover and gain a cross training benefit that may actually lead to an increase in strength or size.
You could even attempt to train at a different facility altogether, geography depending. Give Crossfit a try and see what the fuss is all about. Hit up a powerlifting gym, or walk in with some imaginary lat syndrome to a hardcore bodybuilding gym and start asking what everyone benches. To impress everyone with your feats of strength, look at taking an adult gymnastics class to learn flips and handstands and stuff that will surely make everyone either want to be you or want to be with you.
Strategy Two: Go Full on Meathead
To paraphrase one of my favourite lines of dialogue from Tropic Thunder (brackets are my adjustments to the dialogue):
“Dustin Hoffman, ‘Rain Man,’ look (meathead), act (meathead), not (meathead). Counted toothpicks, cheated cards. (Paleo), sho’. Not (meathead). You know Tom Hanks, ‘Forrest Gump.’ Slow, yes. (meathead), maybe. Braces on his legs. But he charmed the pants off Nixon and won a ping-pong competition. That ain’t (meathead). Peter Sellers, “Being There.” Infantile, yes. (meathead), no. You went full (meathead), man. Never go full (meathead). You don’t buy that? Ask Sean Penn, 2001, “I Am Sam.” Remember? Went full (Crossfit), went home empty handed…”
I first got into weight lifting to help recover from an ankle injury from playing basketball (poorly) and quickly took an affinity to bodybuilding styles of training. I trained in the muscle isolationist programming developed many years ago by Joe Weider, and saw some good results over the span of a few years. The downside to this is that it can eventually become somewhat tedious and for those with little attention span it may need some spice.
I started to dabble in powerlifting to help recover from a back injury, and even started to work on “functional” programs, built to try to do everything at once.
But every now and then, it feels awesome to go back and do just a gun show workout or to simply work on chest for an hour.
Every now and then, dig out an old training log and have at ‘er. See if you’ve gotten stronger or can pump out any more reps at the same level of exertion compared to the good old days. Every once in a while, go full-on meathead.
If you’re already a bodybuilder, maybe you used to do something different way back in the day. Give that a shot and see what happens. Odds are you won’t lose any size or fitness by doing something different.
Strategy Three: Dedicated Active Recovery
For some reason whenever I go to a fancier hotel – meaning one that doesn’t charge by the hour- they tend to have a section cordoned off as a spa. The main reason I know this is because the gym is usually found in conjunction to it or in very close proximity, and I have to walk through their lobby full of hand cream salespeople and pushy massage therapists trying to get all up in my build. I just want to use your seated leg press and run/walk on your halting and squeaky treadmill for the 10 allotted minutes before Jerry from Milwaukee here for a business conference is tapping me on the shoulder saying my time is up!!
Apparently spas are big business because they help people feel rested and recovered, and give them a sense of wellbeing that they just don’t get elsewhere. This is important for the average reader, as it means you could benefit from some similar self-treatments without having to worry about cotton swabs holding your toes apart of having some stranger rub dead sea mud all over your traps to the tune of $200 an hour.
Spending a workout doing self myofascial release work (or foam rolling to the non-geektastic) and some low intensity mobility work on the areas commonly bunged up in the average lifting population – shoulders, t-spine, hips, and ankles- can have you leave the building feeling like a million bucks. Before taxes.
A sample workout would include foam rolling everything possible, then working on ankle mobility, hip mobility, thoracic mobility, and hitting on that pretty little triathlete getting her tempo run in on the treadmill.
Strategy Four: Delegate
Just as the painter’s house is the last to get painted, the trainer is the last one to want to design their own workout programs. As a result, I try to follow other programs to keep me on point, and even work with a couple other trainers who design my programs for me at various points.
It’s always easier to shut off the brain, look at the sheet, and just do what you’re told without worrying about what the adaptation, neural charge, or other fun facts I tend to think about during a session would be like, and it makes for a much more productive workout for me as well. Also, knowing I have a timeline to finish a workout program by helps keep me on point.
Some really great programs are already out there. One of the best all-around programs is Eric Cressey’s Show and Go Training. If you want to specialize and get some crazy deadlift numbers, check out Deadlift Dynamite by Pavel Tsatsouline and Andy Bolton. To get bigger arms, just in time for sleeveless season, check out 2 Tickets to the Gun Show by Dan Trink.
Strategy Five: Change your lifestyle
A lackluster motivation to workout could be a symptom of a lack of sleep, dehydration, catabolic diet (high in processed carbs and sugars), high stress levels, and too little time spent watching Roadhouse on re-run.
Some easy ways to counter-act these issues are to drink more water, go to bed before 10, eat more vegetables and lean meats, eat less processed carb foods, and watch Dalton tear up Wade Garrett while Doc looks on with a mix of longing and cross-eyedness.
Everyone has high points and low points when it comes to motivation and determination to get after it in the gym. When you don’t have it, you can still do a lot of stuff to keep active and working towards something, even if you don’t have your foot to the floor and accelerating hard towards Jacked-ville.