Do you sometimes catch yourself sitting really comfortably in the couch, thinking: "What if I would skip the gym today?" This is often followed by the conjuring of some lame excuse like, "Didn't my throat feel a little raw this morning?" or "My elbow joint felt a little funny last week...perhaps I better give it one more day of rest, to make sure I don't injure myself."
This is easy to slip in to, especially when it's cold outside and there's a good show on TV. I think everybody gets the impulse to be lazy from time to time. However, it's also a loser way of thinking that, if allowed to go unchecked, can quickly undermine your every goal!
Now, don't get me wrong, there ARE times when it's wise to back off. If you're feverish, have the beginning of an injury, or any other real medical reason, by all means, stay home! However, it's when you have to scramble for excuses that it's time to grab yourself by the ear and pull yourself to the gym.
Rule 1: Just Do It
Regardless of what you think at the time, just pack the bag and go to the gym. Just get there. Even if you're sure that you'll just sit there on a bench, sulking about missing your TV show, do it anyway. In 99 cases out of 100 something strange happens by the time you've changed and walk out into the gym: You're motivated!
I'm guessing that we all have different triggers—whether it's seeing your own beer-belly in the mirror, thinking about the hot babe or hunk who happens to be there at the same time, or simply good ol' masochism combined with the smell of iron (not uncommon in bodybuilding circuits), it really doesn't matter.
Even with the initial intent of doing a minimal workout, you almost always end up doing a pretty good job in exhausting yourself anyway. And hey, you'll feel much better afterward!
Rule 2: Just Eat It
There is an exception to the first rule, and that is if you croak after 15 minutes thanks to a sudden drop on energy levels, aka. "Hitting the Wall." This is de-motivating. The culprit here is often that you screwed up planning the meals prior to the workout.
If you've ever tried working out on an empty stomach in the morning, you know that it's not the time to set any new personal records. You've probably also noticed that the plates somehow got heavier since last time (I heard a guy claim it was because they absorbed moist from the air, like a sponge. He's not a physics major by the way). The weakness you experience here is simply because your energy reserves are low.
The pre-workout meals work the same way—if you haven't had anything to eat since lunch, don't count on being too successful in the gym at 6 p.m, especially if the lunch was a salad and a plain sandwich on white bread!
As a rule of thumb, try to load up on carbs (pasta, rice, oatmeal, potatoes, rough bread) the meals before the workout, and top it off by a small snack about an hour before the actual workout. This will ensure that you're loaded with all the energy you need throughout the workout.
(On a side note, this carb-loading is not recommended when you try to diet down, but if you're looking to add some serious mass—this is one of the best ways to make it happen!)
Rule 3: Challenge Thyself
One of the key elements of success is to set up measurable goals, and to keep raising the bar so that you are constantly challenged. This principle lends itself very well to bodybuilding.
Measure yourself, and set a goal that you will have increased the measurement by inch in a month from today. Or measure your waist and try to decrease it with an inch per week. Or challenge yourself to do to 10 reps with 20 pounds extra on the bar when doing squats next time. Your imagination is your limit.
If you have a training partner, make a bet. I suggest putting more honor than money at stake though, to ensure that things don't turn sour.
Keep in mind that you're probably not perfectly equal as far as strength and endurance goes, so reach an agreement on what's reasonable for both parties. What's the point of a fixed game? The last word is one of caution: While you should be focused on the challenge at hand, don't go crazy and sacrifice health or compromise your form just to reach the goal. What's the point of reaching the short-term goal in arm development, if it also meant that you injured a joint that will make you take two steps back for the one step you took forward?
Rule 4: Visualization
Since the '70s, the best pro bodybuilders have been talking about the importance of letting your mind into the action. Arnold Schwarzenegger used to visualize how his biceps grew as he trained them, focusing on the images of huge, peaked mountains.
Shawn Ray, one of the top pros of today, uses the same kind of visualization to get in shape for a competition. And why not?
Willpower can move mountains! Think about it—when you hit the gym without any real enthusiasm, perhaps with problems at work and your spouse in a bad mood, can you honestly say that you get the same kind of feeling in your muscles as when everything has been "right" the day before? I don't think so, for obvious reasons - in order to get 100% out of your training, you MUST remain focused and push yourself beyond the limits all the time. Having your mind elsewhere just won't do.
All right, so we can conclude that we must be focused. Then what? Studies show that positive thinking can make people heal faster after injuries. Positive thinking brought Arnold not only 7 Sandows but also a career that I believe we all agree can be classified as "successful."
And if Shaolin monks can use the power of their minds to smash slabs of concrete with their foreheads, would it be THAT much of a miracle if YOU could add an inch to your arms tapping a little of that power? C'mon, think about it!
Rule 4a: Visualization Tips
First of all, set a goal. A long-term goal, such as: "Washboard by June 1st!" with a number of partial goals, such as having lost X pounds by the first of every month until then. So far, so good.
Now, the trick is to look at yourself in the mirror. Scrutinize yourself honestly. Fully accept your current situation—with love handles and all. Close your eyes and focus on the very image that met you in the mirror seconds before, but now you see how your fat magically, slowly melts away. You can see how your abdominal muscles starts surfacing clearly, how your sides cease to bulge and turns nice and flat and how your arms get more vascular. As you look down you see how the separations of the legs gets clearer. When you flex your muscles you can see them move under the skin just draped over them.
Picture yourself walking down the beach with rippling abs, just as you want it to be by summer. Be detail-specific. Now you're in the Zone, motivation-wise. Repeat this visualization daily, and every time you feel temptation and food-cravings set in. Then just follow your step-by-step schedule as usual and check off your progress.