If you’re a working individual, then finding time to work out on a regular basis can often pose a challenge. With the amount of work and extracurricular commitments we tend to have on our plate, it is no wonder that so many of us find the most convenient excuses when it comes to exercise.
For the growing minority of health and body conscious individuals, going to the gym has become a set routine several days a week. While regular workouts are commendable, performing the same circuit of exercises repeatedly (whether it’s a weights or cardio based program) can often see you hit a plateau. The lack of further progress can get quite discouraging, and this represents the main reason why gym goers lose motivation, give up and quit altogether.
Whichever category you are in and whatever stage you’re at with your training, here are some tools that will see you thrive in the long haul, and keep you pressing on towards your weight loss, muscle gain or performance goals!
BE A PLANNER – IF YOU FAIL TO PLAN, YOU PLAN TO FAIL
The title says it all – planning is essential should you want to get clear vision of what you want for yourself.
Objective and Measurable Goals – The first rule for planning is to list down objective and measurable goals for yourself. This means rather than forming a subjective ideal (e.g. I want a body like Halle Berry or like that guy on the cover of Men’s Health magazine), list down something specific like clothing size or bicep circumference. If you are training for athletic performance, aim for measurable goals such as target lifts, sprint times or vertical leap height.
Objective goals are not only easier to monitor, but they also help prevent against subjective body image illusions. Some of us are overly harsh on ourselves and are never satisfied with great results because of our own self-perception. For example, a person suffering from ‘Biggerexia’ will always see himself as smaller and weaker compared to everyone, even though this may not be the case. As such, objective evidence of muscle growth and progress helps ease these subjective perceptions. On the flipside, some lazy underachievers may ‘feel’ like they’ve lost weight after one workout session and overly reward themselves. Objective evidence serves as a reality check and tells you exactly where you are at.
Realistic Timeframes – The second rule of planning is to set realistic timeframes for your objective goals. False expectations can often lead to being left disappointed and discouraged. Because every person differs physically with regard to training years, muscle composition, diet, etc., it’s important to understand that some workout programs may work more efficiently for others than for you. Consult with a health professional, strength coach or personal trainer to get a better idea of what timeframe is likely for a typical person of your health, age or gender.
Divide and Conquer – Rule number 3 is to divide and conquer. That is, breakdown your timeline and set goals (which may be a 6-month or year-long endeavour) into fortnightly targets which you can review as you go along. Short-term goals are essential to keeping motivational levels high and regular monitoring of progress will also give you a better idea of how well you are tracking. If you want extra motivation, take monthly pictures of yourself to track your progress. Seeing the visual evidence for yourself can be a strong source of motivation!
Reward Yourself – The fourth and final rule of planning is to reward yourself when you meet your short term goals! Rewards act as a form of positive reinforcement and can be a great motivational tool. Caution: Make sure the rewards are appropriate. Don’t go undoing all your hard work by over-indulging in a 2000 calorie meal if you’ve only lost a kilo!
THE ‘WHY’ QUESTION
Be honest with yourself. Why are you doing this? What exactly fuels your motivation to exercise? Whether it’s looking good, to excel in your sport or other health reasons, you need to know exactly what you stand to gain. List down all the things that motivate you – the aesthetics, the health benefits, getting into that wedding dress, making sure the abs appear before that euro trip in summer, etc. Having this written clearly and pasting it up so you can conveniently see it every day will act as an constant reminder – a great motivational tool. Try putting yours on your bathroom mirror!
ONE PROBLEM = MANY SOLUTIONS
Sometimes, things just don’t go to plan, or we slip up. But hey, that’s part of the journey and being down on yourself won’t improve the situation. Refocus and set your eyes on the prize. With any problem, there is always more than one way to overcome it.
For instance, I find that with many of my bodybuilders who have to be extremely strict when dieting for a show, the urge to binge on sweets can sometimes be overpowering. Those that give in tend to consume ridiculous amounts of sugary foods that can set their progress back by a few weeks, and beating themselves up for this setback will only lead to more binges and guilt trips throughout their competition preparation. Many individuals have and will give up because of this roller coaster ride of emotions.
My solution? An unorthodox approach adopted from regular visitor to us at ASPC in Melbourne, Coach Poliquin – give them some heavy cream and cinnamon powder whenever the sugar cravings hit. Delightful to the taste buds, this little maneuver satisfies sugar cravings and in fact reduces their further desire for sweets – all whilst maintaining a low sugar intake.
Visualisation is a technique used by many coaches to achieve success for their athletes. It follows the logic that you would be more motivated and thus likely to succeed once you can perceive what succeeding feels like. One of the ways I like to use this tool is by getting my athletes is to use all their five senses to embrace what it feels like to have already achieved their goal. These are some of the questions I commonly ask:
- What can you SEE during your moment of success? Is it the crowd screaming or are you looking at gold medal in your hands?
- How does it FEEL to have achieved it? Do you feel invincible, My break washing
- on top of the world, or speechless, emotional perhaps?
- Describe what you TASTE? Is it the celebratory champagne after the victory, or the sweat just after the winning try?
- What can you HEAR around you? A cheering crowd after you lifted your PB, or
fans screaming your name?
- Is there a familiar SMELL? The smell of rain on the tarmac after your winning sprint or the scent of chalk on your hands after a successful lift.
- Similarly, you can always embrace your personal success story by envisioning it. Make sure you embrace the sense of victory, the way your body feels and looks, the confidence levels and the satisfaction of success. By doing so, you lock a real experience of success within your sub-conscious. This establishes a pathway that will actively guide your conscious actions towards making your goal a reality.
ANTICIPATE YOUR PITFALLS
To make this a successful tool, ‘Anticipating your Pitfalls’ is best practiced as a 3-part process:
- Acknowledge your downfalls and make sure you write them down. This may be your love for beer or sweet desserts, or even a busy schedule which always serves as a valid excuse for skipping a workout session.
- Anticipate the situations that will put you face to face with these vices, and stay far away from them. If it’s there, you are more likely to give in to it.
- Replace that anticipated vice with a positive action. For example, when going out clubbing with mates on a Friday will lead to drinking, make the effort to go out and watch a movie instead. By taking the pitfall out of the picture, it does not become an option. Here’s another: If you know you tend to procrastinate and skip workouts, then find a gym partner to keep you accountable and set yourself a fixed time for each gym session. If you prioritise it just like you would a hot date, you’ll never miss it!
SUCCESS BREEDS SUCCESS
It is said that you are the product of the 5 people you hang around most with… so if you are constantly around people who encourage negative actions, or persuade you to lose sight of your goals, you are more likely to give into them than you are to push through and succeed.
Aim to surround yourself with people that will support you in your quest for your goals. Choose your gym partners wisely – aim to workout with people who are also dedicated to working hard, rather than chit-chatters who stand around talking for 5 minutes between each weights set.