For many people, staying motivated is the trickiest part of continuing a diet and fitness program. It can be easy enough to start exercising, but consistently crushing the gym instead of grandma's pound-cake can be a tough task. As weeks pass, you may go from moments of "I want to kick ass!" to wavering times when you can't even muster the energy to leave the couch, let alone hit the gym.
By employing a few strategic motivational tips, you can forge onward and make sure your current workout routine doesn't become yet another failed attempt to reach your fitness goals. They may not be the sexiest tips in fitness, but the tactics below are practical, easy to implement, and will help you exercise and train for the long haul.
Think Big Picture
Cravings are a dieter's worst enemy. Whether you lean toward the savory—juicy burgers, cheesy pizza, crispy fries—or sweet—creamy ice cream, spongy cake—hankerings are hard to turn down, especially when hunger's in full swing.
Sometimes, taking a step back and gaining some perspective is key to subduing—and eventually dismissing—that urge to head over to the pantry and eat every treat in sight. One technique that helps WBFF pro Ashley Hoffmann is remembering that food is just a temporary satisfaction. Through her intense diet prep, she often suffers from a huge sweet tooth. Her poison of choice: an entire pan of brownies. She stays on course by reminding herself that the feeling she'll get from delving into baked chocolate goodness is fleeting. The results she'll see if she doesn't give in are lasting.
Pro Tip: Most food cravings last only a few minutes. That cue from your brain's pleasure center, and the immediate release of dopamine that follows, might tell you that that cherry pie's truly irresistible. Stay level-headed and remember that true "feel good" sensations don't come until progress is made.
Focus On The Reward
It's an all-too-familiar situation. You've scheduled Monday as leg day. You've got everything ready: gym clothes packed, water bottle filled, and workout printed. But, when the time to crush your quads rolls around, your motivation is zapped. Your energy's at zero and the last thing you feel like doing is walking to the gym, never mind giving it your all in a set of heavy squats.
The solution? Rather than focusing on how much you don't want to squat, focus on how much you want to attain your goal and how not pushing some heavy iron could be a step in the wrong direction. Take it from a pro athlete: "I won't lie, there are days where I feel like sitting on the couch would be more satisfying than hitting the gym," Ashley confesses. "What I keep in mind is how I will feel if I don't work out. I don't want to regret not going."
Few people take the time to consider how their decision to skip a gym session will affect them down the line because they are too focused on how they feel at that moment. Before you're quick to quit, consider how you'll feel if you give up. Chances are you'll be in the gym shortly after. Then, even if your workout starts with low energy, it will probably pick up once you're in the groove.
Pro Tip: If you're tired or simply can't muster the energy to train your "assigned" body part, revamp your workout plan. Calves sore? Train shoulders instead. Hamstrings tight? Take time to roll out before hitting the leg press. Listen to your body and adjust your workout as needed. Remember, the only bad workout is the one you didn't do.
Keep a Journal
A day-in, day-out schedule of work-gym-sleep can leave you running ragged. Once frustration kicks in, it can become hard to remember why you put yourself through such a tough regimen. It's at time like this that a journal can be a source of inspiration. Tracking your workouts, nutrition, daily hurdles and—perhaps most importantly—your accomplishments will allow you to see how far you've come since starting and remind you that hard work pays off.
Pro Tip: Supplement your daily journal with an "inspiration journal." Fill it with anything that motivates you: photos of your favorite athlete throwing down, uplifting motivational quotes, or a checklist of goals for the month. When your motivation tank hits "E," flip through the pages to reawaken your drive to thrive.
Follow a Plan That Works For You
I can't say it enough: If you follow a plan that you enjoy and that fits your lifestyle, motivation will come organically. You'll naturally want to follow your fitness plan because you enjoy the activity it involves. Sticking with a stringent plan might work for the short term but, more often than not, plans that are too intense are dead ends when it comes to long-lasting progress.
It's important to tailor your plan to your lifestyle. "I'm a believer in flexible dieting," says Ashley. "It allows me to be able to go out with friends and family and eat things in moderation."
Pro Tip: While flexible dieting works for Ashley, it might not be the best approach for you. Do you prefer to eat three square meals per day? Do you swear by 5-6 small meals? Do you find that intermittent fasting gives you ample energy? Explore the alternatives and try things out to see what best fit your lifestyle.
Find a Gym Mentor
If you don't currently work out with anyone, you may want to consider getting a partner—especially one who's stronger and more advanced than you. A gym mentor can be an immense boost to your accountability, exercise knowledge, training intensity, and results.
If you have a friend who trains but has a different goal than you, don't let that stop you from hitting the gym together. You don't necessarily have to do your workouts together or target the same body part on the same day. Just knowing that someone's waiting for you in the morning or after work could be enough to turn your goal of showing up into a daily reality, and your partner can always take a second to check your form and offer coaching cues.
Pro Tip: Try to find a gym buddy one notch above you on the fitness ladder. Not only will the partner be able to correct your form and introduce you to new exercises, but can also give you that instant dose of motivation needed to push forward to the next level.
Have A Support Group
In addition to having a gym buddy, try to form as large of a support network as possible. Your group should consist of people who understand your goals, can relate to your struggle, and are willing to be a shoulder to lean on during hard times.
"I surround myself with positive people who want nothing but the best for me," says Ashley. "By doing so, I've found that I don't really have days where I feel discouraged. I can always turn to people who support me and they seem to push me forward in the positive direction."
Pro Tip: Don't underestimate the power of support. By nature, many gym-goers tend to be more independent individuals—which is probably what drew them to fitness rather than team sports. Independence can be great, but it doesn't mean you have to attack everything alone. Sign up for a free BodySpace account and harness the social accountability of the world's largest fitness network.
Give Your Workout A Make-Over
Nothing kills a workout buzz like a routine gone stale. You don't delve into week-old leftovers, so why would a tired, lukewarm, constantly repeated workout appeal to you? When movements become lame, just hit the refresh button. Every 2-3 weeks, change something about your workout routine. Add a few new exercises, reverse the order of exercises, use a different implement, or switch the grip. You don't need a new workout routine every week. Two to three exercise swaps should do the trick.
Pro Tip: It's a good idea to refresh your workout every 4-6 weeks and change your full program every 12-16 weeks. This will allow you to hit multiple training goals over the course of the year, keep your body from adapting to one program, and keep your fitness life interesting for the long haul!