If you look at why so many people are out of shape and unhealthy these days, it’s not because they don’t understand the importance of physical fitness. Of course they do, and of course they know that training would solve a lot of their problems. The problem is that they have no motivation to exercise.
The most important part of training isn’t the specific program you follow (or don’t follow). It’s not what leg exercises you do. It doesn’t matter whether you train with free weights, machines or your own body weight. It’s not a choice between cardio, weightlifting, cycling or running. It’s actually about going to the gym and doing the workout. The most important part of the training question is the motivation to actually train.
Because the best workout is the one you do consistently. You can have all the knowledge in the world, have access to the best equipment, take all the supplements and protein powders, but if you can’t really motivate yourself to exercise, it’s all for naught. If you’re struggling to motivate yourself to exercise, read on for some tips and tricks to get the motivation you need.
Make your training more playful and interesting.
The greatest kind of motivation is intrinsic motivation: the kind that comes from within. Dogs are intrinsically motivated to eat food because food tastes good and their craving for it runs deep. Children are motivated to explore the world around them because the world is new and infinitely interesting. The desire comes from within.
If extrinsic motivations like “lifting that much weight” or “losing that many pounds” aren’t helping you find the motivation to actually exercise, do something fun and/or as stimulating as exercise does . Maybe you want to play sports. Or surf. Or martial arts. Or mountain biking. My favorite “workout” for me is paddling, playing ultimate frisbee and riding my fat bike along the beach. All fun, all excellent ways to exercise. And the cool thing is, you quickly find that doing more formal workouts at the gym helps you get better at the fun workouts too. Nowadays I work out in the gym to improve my game.
Get a training partner.
Humans are social animals. We are not meant to go through life alone. We are not meant to accomplish difficult physical tasks alone. Hunters work together. Physical workers work together. Soldiers go to war with their comrades. Everything physical in life, with few exceptions, works better and is more fun with others involved.
One of the main reasons CrossFit is so successful is that it gives you a community to train with. You show up for the day’s workout knowing that some friends will suffer with you. This dilutes the suffering and amplifies the positive effects, keeping you going when the going gets tough.
Investing money in a trainer for a few months can make you exercise when you don’t want to. In fact, these are probably at least 50% of the reasons fitness trainers are so useful: The “sunk costs” of having paid for a trainer up front will force you to recoup your investment and actually train. People hate losing money. You paid for it – you will use it.
Join a gym.
The gym isn’t just about the equipment, although that helps. It’s also a place that’s explicitly geared towards training. It’s full of people who are there to train. The collective energy is directed towards the pursuit of physical excellence. Not everyone enjoys the gym, but those who need it need it. I’m a big “nature person” and like to spend as much time as possible outside on the beach, in the forest and in the mountains. But I still go to the gym a few times a week because the atmosphere is so good for working out.
Drink coffee 30 minutes before training.
Caffeine is a powerful stimulant of dopamine, the primary motivational neurotransmitter. When the body wants you to do something, it uses dopamine to motivate you. Caffeine can increase this motivation.
Caffeine doesn’t just make you want to work out before you work out. It also makes workouts more enjoyable by reducing fatigue and perceived difficulties. The workout becomes more rewarding so you’re more motivated to do it next time. Unless you train late into the night, 50-100mg of caffeine will help you hit the gym and have an effective workout.
Supplementation with L-Tyrosine.
When your body makes dopamine, it does so with the amino acid tyrosine. Tyrosine converts to L-DOPA, which converts to dopamine. Taking L-Tyrosine alone doesn’t necessarily increase overall motivation, but a lack of tyrosine definitely lowers dopamine levels. If you are tyrosine deficient, taking extra tyrosine should improve your motivation.
Find your place.
Some people drop thousands at a home gym only to find they can’t really work out at home. Some people join a gym only to find they prefer the solitude of working out at home. Some people find that they don’t like working out indoors at all, preferring the park, the hiking trail, the beach.
You have to find your perfect spot, that physical space that triggers something inside you and makes you move, lift, run and exercise. If you haven’t found it yet, start looking.
Just in the door.
The hardest part about motivating yourself to work out is going to the gym, dealing with the logistics of gym clothes, driving, making time and all that. But once you’re there, you’re in. You’re not going to drive to the gym, go to the weight room, and then turn around and go home. That’s not how it works. Get in the door and the rest will take care of itself.
Don’t think about all the lifting you have to do, all the warming up. Don’t think about the weights or the cardio. Just think about going to the gym. That’s it. this is your job And from there everything takes care of itself.
A big problem with most people trying to find motivation to exercise is that they need motivation in the first place. You keep thinking about training. They stress about it. They’re looking for excuses, they’re looking for a reason not to do it. Nine times out of ten, you won’t do what you’re thinking about doing all the time – you’re just left paralyzed.
Competition – friendly or not – eliminates second guesswork. When you turn your workout into a competition with a friend, when you compete to get the most steps, run the most miles, or do the most reps, it’s no longer about the workout and the effort it takes. It’s about hitting the other person. If you’re wired like me, competition is a great way to motivate you to hit the gym.
Consider the neurotransmitter theory of training styles.
One fitness trainer I know tailors their workout routines to the client’s dominant neurotransmitters. He performs a simple test that purports to uncover the client’s dominant neurotransmitter, then tailors an exercise regimen that complements his tendencies. The test is called the Braverman test.
Dopamine: Strength training, high-intensity movements, Olympic lifting, all-out training, dynamic movements, lots of variety, higher volume/frequency of training Acetylcholine: steady incremental progress, a routine that doesn’t change significantly, lots of rest Serotonin/ GABA: play , exercise, hiking, irregular weight lifting (rocks instead of weights; logs instead of machines), anything that keeps it interesting
If you take the test and tailor your training to your dominant neurotransmitter, you’ll likely be more motivated to do it.
look in the mirror
Most people who really want to exercise but have motivation issues need to exercise. To be honest, this usually shows in their fitness and body composition. So here’s what you should try:
Look at yourself naked in the mirror. Do this every morning and evening. Don’t suck in, don’t bend, don’t try to do your best. In fact, you look the worst. Let your gut feeling out and just take a look. Record everything until you feel like you really want to go to the gym and work on yourself. Sometimes you just have to feel the pain and shame of letting yourself go before you do something about it.
How do you motivate yourself to exercise? What tips and tricks would you add?
About the author
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather of the primal food and lifestyle movement, and New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, in which he explains how he combines the keto diet with a primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is also the author of numerous other books, including The Primal Blueprint, which in 2009 is credited with accelerating the growth of the Primal/Paleo movement and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark founded Primal Kitchen, a real food company that sells Primal/ Paleo, Keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen clips.
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