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Motivation to train

Wat makes your gains tick?

Keeping a rigorous training habit going in times of quarantine is not easy. Not for me at least, and I am guessing that many of you share this sentiment. Especially now that gratifying external motivations like a cool gym or glances of admiration at the beach are out of the equation. So why do we do it? And, more importantly: how do we keep wanting to do it? I could quote a cliche about how the tough get going here, but that's just not what I believe in. Instead, I'll share a bit of how I am going through this process myself, and what I do in order to keep my own training spirit alive.

photo by Daniel Colpo

So far I've had to relocate my own training habit from the gym to calisthenics parks, then to playgrounds, then to the roof terrace, and eventually - now that it's rainy - into the house. A serious demotion. I've somehow managed to rarely miss a session, but I can feel the lack of atmosphere eating away at my enthusiasm. Normally I'd get in the mood for training by meeting up with my buddy at the gym, and slamming down a double espresso at the bar while pondering over what PR was about to be crushed. Barbells and plates clinking in the background. My heart rate would be up well before I even set foot onto the gym floor.

"Much of my training consistency does not stem from sheer grit, but from how I have shaped my environment"

Now training entails having to pause the Tiger King episode I was watching, scooping myself off the couch, and trying to get into a training mood right where I usually take a nap next to my cat. Needless to say, I usually feel like I'm dragging ass when starting the session. After grumbling through a soulless warmup and a few sets of the first exercise however, the tide turns and the exercise rush gains momentum. At that point I usually start singing along to the music that is playing. Welcome back.

Funny thing is, I used to think that I was a natural grinder who was by definition motivated to a fault. But the current situation largely disproves this idea. It only shows the more how much of my training consistency does not stem from sheer grit, but depends on how I have shaped my environment, and on the habits that I have taken on. In this, the driving force behind my willingness to train can be found.

It's in the training partner who goes through the same routine simultaneously. It's in the quality home training equipment I got. It's in the fixed day and time schedule that I keep for my training sessions. But it's also in my attitude towards training. I keep the sessions short if I don't feel like it, irrespective of what 'optimal parameters' dictate how long I should be at it. I've shifted goals of strength and muscularity towards something that is more rooted in a movement challenge, like improving my handstand pushup, which can be trained literally anywhere. Also, I train mostly on my roof terrace where I am not accustomed to playing videogames, taking naps, or whatever other polar opposite of intensity that you can think of.

"It shifts the focus towards intrinsic reward, enjoyment, and accessibility."

These are all gestures and situations that result from decisions that I didn't have to make in the heat of the moment, and that did not require any motivation to speak of. But they have done heaps for reshaping my environment and behavior in a way that makes day-to-day life training friendly. They have helped shift the focus towards intrinsic reward, enjoyment, and accessibility. Of course this will probably never live up to how much I like chalking up a barbell at my favorite gym, but right now good enough is plenty. It keeps me wanting to train, and is more than sufficient for keeping my strength and fitness up to par.

No one is limitlessly motivated and dedicated to their training, including those who make a living off of fitness. We all bitch and complain at times, and that is totally fine. But if you take the effort to make your training habit accessible, attractive and pleasurable in itself, I am sure that you'll manage to keep it going. And then, before you know it, you will be one of those who kept putting in the work when so many others didn't.

Good luck!

Bryan Wolters

MSc. Human Movement Sciences, former powerlifter, and current trainer at Vondelgym Amsterdam.

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