9 tips to motivate yourself for the gym

A while back, I read an article about what to do when you don’t feel like working out. I didn’t agree with most of the author’s points and left a comment. But I felt that I didn’t sufficiently address this issue so here I go in more details, at the risk of repeating a few things.Arnold

All in the head

First understand that when you have a lack of energy and you don’t feel like working out, it’s all in your head and psychological. Unless you are physically exhausted, ill or literally have a lack of energy through not eating, there is no reason for you to feel weak. Your muscles are just as primed and in full working order as ever.

What really makes you feel pumped up and ready to take the world are hormones like testosterone, endorphine and adrenaline and they are all released by the brain. So this is what you must stimulate in order to feel full of energy and want to go to the gym to face a tough workout.

 #1 Morning or evening person?

Determine if you are a morning or evening person. This means whether you are at your most active and productive in the morning or in the evening. This will have far reaching consequences in your training and you will be struggling and fighting against yourself if you work against your natural rhythm.

#2 Let your imagination fire you up

Watch an action-packed movie. Rocky for example? Maybe one of the most effective ways of feeling as if you’re ready to destroy anything in your way but it will take you also a couple of hours to watch a movie.

#3 Let your emotions rip through

Listen to a stimulating song. Rocky’s soundtrack Eye of the Tiger? What is love? from Haddaway… If you don’t have time to watch a stimulating movie, this is the next thing you could try. Make sure you listen to the music before your workout and not just during.

#4 Have sex

Work out after sex. The body relaxes afterwards but also gets a surge of testosterone. If you ever needed an excuse to have sex, here’s one.

#5 Get more sun

When do you feel better? During a grey wet winter day or a warm summer day with shining sun and blue sky? While you can’t control the weather, you can make the most of it so if it’s sunny now and you know it might rain later, don’t wait; make hay while the sun shines!

#6 Get busy

Keep yourself physically busy prior to going. It’s difficult to jump from the sofa after napping or relaxing to running for 30 minutes. Clean the house, the garden but don’t exhaust yourself. Activity engenders more activity.

#7 Just do it

In the worst case, just do it. This builds from the above tip. So even if you don’t feel like training, just getting started, slowly and grdually, is the biggest hurdle and once overcome, you will find it easier to carry on. But if you do that too often, you run the risk of hating your workouts and losing all long-term motivation. (I borrowed this tip from Cubicle Warrior).

#8 Focus

Once you’ve started, focus intensely on your workout and leave your problems behind as otherwise they will only hamper you and drag you down. When you train, you train and nothing else matters.

#9 Aim at targets

To help you focus on your workout only, think about targets and achieving them. A ship with no rudder ends up going nowhere. You don’t want that with your training. You have a specific goal to achieve and you need to focus on that. This is why you are working out, why you are running for 30 min at 8 km/h or squatting 5 extra kilos or curling 2 more partial reps today.

 In top form for top results

Remember that physical training and especially lifting weight are all about making incremental progress. To achieve that, you need to be able to constantly push yourself beyond your existing limits. If you have a bad day, you will not be able to do that. If you have many bad days, then you might as well give up training.


A good analogy to having muscles and power but no energy is a sports car without fuel. It has a powerful engine that doesn’t work, not because it is broken but because there is no juice to power it up. Equally, your muscles are not weak. You may be feeling weak but you are not.

Another way to explain it is through the  fight or flight concept. If you are suddenly in danger, your body may instinctively decide to flee. You suddenly find the energy out of nowhere to literally run for your life. Your muscles did not suddenly become more powerful; it’s the adrenaline coursing through your vein.

Feeling down

You could also feel down mentally because of bad news or because you just had a bad day. It happens to everyone. But you are in control of your emotions. You just need the right stimulation and frame of mind for the task ahead. In movies before battle starts, why do generals address their soldiers in a motivating and arousing speech? Think Braveheart.

Energy drinks?

So how do you juice up your body? How do you add fuel to it? You might be thinking along the lines of energy drinks and performance-enhancing drugs, legal or illegal. They are appropriate for athletes trying to push the absolute limit, whether the fastest 100m or the heaviest bench press. Unless you are an athlete training, you are otherwise competing with yourself only when you go to the gym to train.

These drugs give you an artificial limit that your body cannot attain on its own and your performance is due to the drugs, not yourself. Caffeine, Red Bull and the like all artificially raise your limits and don’t make you any fitter and healthier. Instead, follow my above tips.

2 thoughts on “9 tips to motivate yourself for the gym”

  1. Thanks. I don’t actually come across that many useful articles on motivation, or lack thereof, and what to do about it. It’s interesting that you’ve added a photo of Arnold here too (looks like the 70s). In one of his books – I think it’s his encyclopedia of modern bodybuilding, Arnold actually does talk about the power of “visualization”. He mentioned that he would always visualize his muscles expanding as he focussed on a particular muscle group. Perhaps you could add this to the list?

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