Exercise has been a part of my life since PE class in middle school. It hasn’t always been a top priority, but with mandated gym classes long past, the responsibility of staying fit is entirely my own. There’s not a lot that can imitate the relieving and satisfying feeling you get after finishing a hard-fought game of basketball, a cardio day, or a set of bench presses, but sometimes getting myself to the gym, or on the court, can be the biggest challenge.
In high school, my physical activity was based around basketball and weightlifting because those were the PE classes available. In my weightlifting class, I learned chest exercises. When I began working out on my own in college, my lifting workout evolved as I learned more to include compound lifts and 5x5 stronglifts workouts. Now, a day in the weightroom entails five reps in five sets of squats, bench presses, and barbell rows. A day of rest, and then back at it with five reps in five sets of squats and overhead press, and one set of deadlifts. Rest and repeat - to build strength, it’s all about consistency.
In order to be consistent, I need to make sure I’m motivated. By discussing what drives me to lift weights, I hope to embolden you, the reader, to find your inspiration to keep going no matter what form of exercise you do. Here are five ways I stay motivated to work out.
1. I Remind Myself Why I Started Lifting
My grandma was in and out of hospitals and nursing homes during the last few years of her life. After a fall, her strength quickly diminished, rendering her unable to walk, eat, or do anything else on her own. Seeing her in that state absolutely crushed me. The entire experience from when she first fell all the way to the funeral reminded me that this life I have will someday end. Though we can’t completely stop ourselves from aging, we can take ownership over how we live the life that we have. After this experience I started to take my health more seriously and subsequently began researching strength training programs.
While your motivation does not have to be as heavy-handed as mine, it’s important that it is compelling enough to keep you going. As you walk further into your fitness journey, it’s inevitable that you’ll occasionally forget why you started in the first place. Whenever this happens to me, I think about my progress and what I have now in terms of my gains. I comb through my fitness journey and try to recall everything from the struggles of each rep to the injuries I sustained from bad form, which makes me feel proud of how far I’ve come. However long you’ve been exercising, always take time to think about all the steps you’ve taken to get here. It actually amounts to a lot.
2. I Automate My Workout
The key to staying consistent with your workout is establishing a routine. One reason people drop out of their workout is because there are so many things to track. Automating is a proven method of staying motivated because it makes working out easier. You won’t have to think about what exercise to do, you won’t have to guess your resting period, and you won’t even have to remember what days to go to the gym.
Because I do the 5x5 strength training workout, I use the corresponding 5x5 Stronglifts app. This is really easy to use during my lifting sessions because it lays out the workout system for me; it tracks everything from amount of reps done, number of sets left, and resting periods. The only input on my part is tapping a circle to count my reps. Thanks to this app, the only thing I have to think about is lifting with proper form.
Although the Stronglifts app exclusively tracks the 5x5 workout, there are many other tools and apps that track lifting and cardio workouts. Find the one that fits your goals and create a routine. The sooner you do, the sooner your workout becomes habitual, automated, and harder to drop.
3. I Listen to Music
One of the more fun ways I keep myself in the game is listening to music. I find it to be one of the greatest joys we have on Earth and I appreciate the emotional effects it can have. When it comes to lifting, I listen to songs associated with certain people and feelings.
I have been a wrestling fan for over 10 years so my playlist is mostly comprised of wrestlers’ entrance themes, with a few exceptions. Each theme song that’s queued up reminds me of that wrestler, how I aspire to be in the shape they’re in, and amount of effort they put into their craft. So when I hear Triple H’s or AJ Styles’ theme song play, I feel inspired and energized as I go through the motions.
The mental benefit of listening to music goes further than just pure enjoyment. A study published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, as reported by the Huffington Post, examined the impact of channeling memories associated with music during exercise and discovered an ergogenic effect in people who came into workouts exhausted but enhanced their ability to finish their exercise by listening to music.
Find songs that you associate with a memory. No matter what the genre is, the songs should drive you and be something you enjoy.
4. I Discover New, Healthier Foods
Photo (and recipe!) by Sincerely Katerina
Working out and eating healthier go hand in hand. This often involves eliminating certain foods from your diet like pizza, burgers, and other fast food, much to many people's’ chagrin. But there is a wealth of healthier dishes that are just as delicious - you just have to look closer.
In researching adequate nutrition for strength training, I found overarching tips with some specific examples that work best for me, instead of just sticking to strict dieting rules. This allows me to be flexible with what I eat, and it feels far less restricting. I looked to magazines such as Muscle and Fitness for what I fundamentally need to consume in order to build strength; protein, carbohydrates, fats. Within those categories, I found some example foods to start with, and then branched off to find more creative recipes. I also use the r/fitness subreddit because it is a hub of information and resources, such as ways to make meal plans and defining weight lifting standards.
The discovery of healthier alternatives is just as fulfilling as eating them. For example, I learned of the health benefits of brown rice over white rice. When I first tried a bag of brown rice from Trader Joe’s, I found the whole grain option to be comparably tasty and even more satisfying to eat since it had more bite to it. It’s also led to other discoveries, like finding affordable restaurants where I can eat a healthy, well-rounded meals (yes, these places do exist - you just have to look for them)!
Finds like Panini Cafe, a SoCal chain where for twelve dollars I can order a juicy chicken plate with vegetables, reward my healthier eating habits. The gratification bolsters my commitment to lifting and I feel better for it in terms of strength. With food options like Panini Café and soft drinks such as Sparkling Ice, a no-sugar and no-calorie alternative to soda, I can have my cake and eat it too.
5. I Take Advantage of the Alone Time
While some people may find the act of working out to be lonesome, I revel in the time I get to spend focusing on myself. Having a workout buddy can also be a great motivator, but it really comes down to preference.
Because I automate my workout, I’m free to have thoughts I don’t have the opportunity to have during the day when there’s a million other things swirling through my mind. Taking on my lifting challenges solo allows me sort out issues in my life and discover things about myself that I didn’t realize before. For example, in between rest periods I sometimes think about how I take criticism from friends and my boss. I’m able to dive deeper into my innermost thoughts and feelings, and recognize areas where I need to improve my outlook.
I use this time to work out my aggression as well. Lifting provides the perfect medium to release anger and disdain because it’s productive. If I get emotionally charged thinking about all of the work tasks that occasionally pile up, I can use this negative energy to push myself to get stronger and quell my anger. A study conducted by stress physiologist Nathaniel Thom, as reported in the New York Times, found a prophylactic effect against anger build up. In a lab experiment, volunteers were found to be more aroused during a viewing of anger-inducing slides when they were sitting sedentary than when they viewed the images while exercising on a stationary bike.
This list of motivation methods is not meant to be an be-all, end-all to guarantee a full commitment to working out, but rather be a point of reference for you to use to discover what works best for you. Regardless of how you work out, know that motivation and consistency is key. You’ve got this!