8 Ways To Find The Will To Train

Sometimes, it's not as simple as sucking it up. Learn the motivation secrets one of the world's great coaches uses to get athletes to push through the doldrums!

Every athlete, no matter their level or style, has one of "those days." Intense training is right there on your agenda, but you just don't feel like going anywhere near it. In fact, on such days, peeling the insides of your nostrils with a potato peeler dipped in gasoline may even sound more appealing than fighting through your workout!

Don't think this is just a case of not being tough or strong enough. Trainees across all disciplines encounter days from time to time where nothing feels right, and they find themselves asking "Am I being lazy, or do I need an extra day of rest?"

Before you pull the covers back over your head, try these eight strategies I've used with myself and countless athletes over the years to beat the lazy days once and for all!

Strategy 1 Plan properly

You've heard people say over and over again that failing to plan is planning to fail. That is especially true when you talk about strength training. Following a periodized approach where loading parameters are properly cycled is still the number one strategy.

Why? It answers everyone's biggest question: "What should I do?" In fact, it takes it out of your hands entirely. All that's left to decide at that point is whether you're going to do what you're supposed to, or not?

Strategy 2 Meditate

This may sound a bit esoteric. It's not. As I mention in this video, I'm a fan of two-a-days for both meditation and training. In a perfect world, you would meditate, train, and then train again later in the day, followed by a second meditation.

Charles Poliquin How I Integrate Meditation and Workouts
Watch the video - 2:14

Don't take this to mean that you have to meditate at a certain time of day in order for it to be effective. Whenever you feel like your day is not going right, 20 minutes of meditation will clear the monkey mind. It will also boost your willpower, which can help you go into the gym with purpose and clarity.

Strategy 3 Train with an imaginary partner

The other day I "trained with" Leroy Colbert. This legendary bodybuilder had passed away the day before, and to honor how he inspired me as a kid, I believed he was my training partner that I wanted to impress for that day.

If you need an introduction to this all-time great bodybuilder, luckily for you he was posting home videos from the 1950s and '60s right up until the end of his life.

Leroy Colbert's Bodybuilding Videos from 1958 #3
Watch the video - 0:30

I know it may look and sound a bit odd to train with someone who's not there. However, in my experience, training in your mind with your hero can only make you stronger. You have no clue how many times I have trained with Conan. In fact, I built my arms to their current size with Conan as my training partner!

Strategy 4 Realize it could be worse

Sometimes all you need to flip the motivation switch is a change in perspective. Recently, I saw a Gulf War vet pull up in the parking lot at the gym. He needed a pulley just to get him out of his truck and into his wheelchair. But once he was in his wheelchair, you'd better believe he directed it right to the weight room.

The guy was a demon in there, encouraging and inspiring everybody. When I don't feel like training, I think of him. Dedicate your next workouts to those who lost limbs defending your life. Be grateful that you can squat and deadlift at all, and take full advantage of that luxury.

Strategy 5 Get hyped by watching fight scenes

This may not sound as noble as meditation or thinking of veterans, but when nobility fails, it might be time for violence. Watching a really gripping fight scene gives you a rush of certain hormones and neurotransmitters, both of which will up your training drive.

Doubt me? Watch my favorites and see what they do for you. Personally, I like the one where Russell Crowe doesn't want to fight in "Gladiator," but he still goes out, pissed off, and [massacres a bunch of gladiators in record time]. A close second is when Jet Li, in "Kiss of the Dragon," beats the crap of about 50 French police black belts who are in the middle of a training class.

Strategy 6 Do something different, but do something!

This strategy is for when you know you can't meet the standards your program expects of you. For example, let's say you come to the gym, and your back has not recovered from the PR you set in the power clean during your last workout. The paper calls for more power cleans, but you know the bar will be moving so slowly that you could time it with a calendar.

Maybe today is the day to do an hour of forearms. In my experience as an Olympic strength coach, this approach is a great stopgap solution. The athlete does not experience guilt or shame, feels better (right up until those forearms start burning, of course), and is ready again for the next workout.

Doubt me again? Try it out!

The "Do Something" Forearms Workout

Thor's Hammer pronation (rotating palm down)

4 sets of 8-12 reps, 3020 tempo, rest 60 sec.
Dumbbell Lying Pronation Dumbbell Lying Pronation


Thor's Hammer supination (rotating palm up)

4 sets of 8-12 reps, 3020 tempo, rest 60 sec.
Dumbbell Lying Supination Dumbbell Lying Supination
Note: Watson Gym Equipment makes a thick-handled specialty bar for this exercise. In a pinch, you can use an adjustable dumbbell, a barbell with only one side loaded, or a heavy hammer. To perform the exercise, stand with the weight in one hand, your arm at a 90-degree angle, and rotate your forearm.


Single-arm Poliquin kettlebell supinated (palm up) wrist curl (shown w/ dumbbell)

3 sets of 15-20 reps, 20x0 tempo, rest 60 sec.
Seated One-Arm Dumbbell Palms-Up Wrist Curl Seated One-Arm Dumbbell Palms-Up Wrist Curl


Single-arm Poliquin kettlebell pronated (palm up) wrist curl (shown w/ dumbbell)

3 sets of 15-20 reps, 20x0 tempo, rest 60 sec.
Seated Dumbbell Palms-Down Wrist Curl Seated Dumbbell Palms-Down Wrist Curl
Note: My version of a kettlebell is a plate-loaded bar with a revolving thick handle. If you don't have access to one, use dumbbells with thick handles or Fat Gripz.


Hub isometric holds

5 sets of 1 rep on a 1018 tempo, rest 60 sec.
Hub isometric holds Hub isometric holds
Note: The Iron Mind hub is a pinch-grip training device complete with a loadable pin. The closest alternative you can probably muster in a commercial gym is a hex dumbbell hold, where you grip one end of a heavy dumbbell.


Block grip isometric holds

5 sets of 1 rep, 1018 tempo, rest 60 sec.
Plate Pinch Plate Pinch
Note: Like the Hub, the Iron Mind Blockbuster pinch grip block is a plate-loadable grip-training tool. The closest approximation in a commercial gym is probably a plate pinch. Just watch your toes!

Shop Bar Grips in Our Store!

Strategy 7 Use essential oils

Essential oils have been a secret weapon of athletes for a long time, and there are a number of them that that can help you train harder. For example, Russian powerlifter Kirill Sarychev, who recently set a world record with a raw 735-pound bench press, likes to use black pepper oil to get amped up before a maximal lift.

This strategy is not new. Gladiators and other ancient athletes used aromatherapy to get fired up and boost recovery thousands of year ago. More recently, research has shown a wide range of performance improvements from athletes taking just a few drops of peppermint oil prior to training.1 To see if it works for you, just put a few drops in a glass of water and drink it prior to training.

Strategy 8 View training as your reward

I got this strategy from powerlifter extraordinaire Ed Coan, my cohost for the upcoming seminar "Mastering the Art and Science of Powerlifting for Sport" in Honolulu.

When you've trained as hard as Coan has over a decades-long career, it's probably easy to slip into a mindset where training becomes punishment. But when you view your training as a reward, your mindset is entirely different. This is probably one of the best pieces of advice I have come across in the last 38 years.

  1. Meamarbashi, A. (2014). Instant effects of peppermint essential oil on the physiological parameters and exercise performance. Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine, 4(1), 72�78.