If you're reading this, you obviously have some sort of fitness objective. Whether your goal is to get as strong as possible, build an enviable physique, improve your running time, or become the greatest CrossFitter of all time, you're aiming for something.
These are all aspirations that can become a double-edged sword. The key to achieving these goals is discovering the motivation that will let you press onward. You have to enjoy the highs and weather the lows. Reinforce the day-to-day habit of training. Focusing solely on outcomes can gradually create a psychological poison that can sap this motivation.
You'll see results fast when you're new to training because noticeable changes can occur on a daily or weekly basis for beginners. The problem of waning motivation arises when the easy gains slow down. This is where people struggle to continue training for training's sake, rather than simply for the immediate results it brings. People talk about the physiological processes involved in getting bigger and stronger—programming, the science of hypertrophy, and so on—but not how to fall in love with the process. Loving your workout is the foundation of long-term progress.
Here are four ways to start loving your training lifestyle:
1. Plan The "SMART" Way
SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-focused, and Time-bound. Set goals that are SMART because, quite frankly, doing so could improve your results.
Setting some concrete training goals can take care of the Specific and Measurable parts of SMART. The next step is to set weight goals that are Attainable within realistic scenarios; focusing only on distant goals may actually be counterproductive. Take, for example, doing 1,000 kettlebell snatches. It's daunting, but in order to tackle this you could mentally break the task down into smaller chunks: 10 more until a break. 100 down, let's get to 200, and so on. When you set up your big-picture goal in this fashion, it becomes like a ladder. Each rung is a tangible achievement that leads toward the top: the long-term goal.
The Time-bound part of the acronym teaches you to set deadlines, but only for small, realistic goals. Ask yourself: What can you do today, a week from now, or one month from now? This criterion is designed to help you stay committed to taking one step at a time, then the next, and the next, even in the flux of day-to-day obligations and crises.
The Results-focused part of SMART should focus on results that are catered more specifically to you. It's easy to fall into strength and progression standards that have been arbitrarily set by various experts. For example, a general strength standard is to squat twice your body weight once you've been training for a couple of years. The problem is that these experts and their followers overlook many individual factors and, as a result, inadvertently put down those who cannot live up to their standards.
Now put each component of SMART together. Let's say that you are indeed training to someday squat twice your body weight. Rather than set a timeline, set measurable goals each training day—like a reasonable weight to achieve in that session so you walk out of the gym feeling good about it. Compound your daily training goal with a weekly target, then a monthly target, a three-month goal, and so on. Goals should be malleable and refined as you move along so that you can remain confident about the next set of goals.
2. Forget Big-Picture Timelines
Maybe you have a timeline in mind for when you want to achieve your goal of an ideal physique or a specific weight. Imaginary deadlines like these are what make you fall down a rabbit hole. Great physiques take years to achieve. They're not the product of 6-week "summer shreds" or 30-day challenges. Training progress ebbs and flows. This is true for elites as well as struggling amateurs. Forget timelines; you don't know how your body would even respond to a truncated program.
Start with changes you can sustain with some reasonable effort during normal life conditions, and have patience. You cannot simply force your body to do anything within a certain deadline. Fight the impulse to jump ship simply because you don't have a chiseled six-pack and hulking arms after only four weeks. There is no magic 6-, 8-, or 12-week program. This is a life-long journey.
3. Focus On The Right Standards
Many coaches and Internet articles may try to establish "objective" standards of strength and progress that everyone must meet. The logic is that your progress toward those standards is directly proportional to your personal effort, which could not be further from the truth.
Sure, there might be general strength standards in the context of being competitive in a sport or competition, but those standards are for very specific goals. They're not to be measured against the average Joe, who might lift weights to feel strong, to look good, or to flex in the mirror. These so-called "objective" standards can be disheartening for the large populations because they don't account for individual variation in results. Some studies have shown that when various people are put on the same workout plan, the resulting muscle mass increase can range from 60 percent to ... zilch. That's right, no muscle growth. Same training routine. Same effort. Hugely disparate results.
You can't control your genetic draw—you're stuck with Mom and Dad—but you can control how much knowledge you gain from education and experience. Someone who had to spend a decade clawing his way to a 400-pound squat would have a larger well of knowledge to draw from than the "genetic outlier" who squatted 500 after one year of training.
So really, forget what everyone else is doing and forget what the average person should be able to achieve. You are you. Focus on your own progress and improving yourself. Don't waste your time comparing yourself to others. What you should be comparing yourself to are the benchmarks you established from previous months, weeks, or workouts. Do you feel stronger and better? That's progress.
4. The Best Activity Is One You Keep Doing
Some people who get fired up about fitness tend to get hung up on the nuances, citing the "best" method or "best" exercise for a specific result. Forget about any sort of single exercise being the "best." The best exercise is one you keep doing! It's pointless to quibble about what specific niche of exercise is best suited for everyone, or try to bend everyone to a singular line of thinking.
The good thing is that the 80/20 rule applies to the benefits of exercise. That is, 80 percent of the benefits come from just getting off your butt frequently and moving! Mood, changes in body composition, muscle mass improvements, and increased overall quality of life can come with just about any form of exercise.
Start with activities you like: hiking, riding your bike, or even doing air squats. Lay down the foundation of an active lifestyle and stick with it. Once you've laid that foundation, you can expand your horizons and step outside your comfort zone. If you've always been a runner, try lifting weights. If you've always lifted heavy stuff, try going out for an enjoyable hike or bike ride.
Intending to become fit and getting motivated are all fine and dandy ... at first. As many people can attest to, these fired-up feelings are as fleeting as a shooting star. Fitness is a life-long journey that you need to fall in love with in order for it to be sustainable. Setting the right—and SMART—mindset, expectations, and goals for yourself, as well as taking what everyone else is doing or saying with a grain of salt, are important for your success.