Motivation is a funny thing. We use it to drag ourselves to the gym on days we’d rather stay on the couch, to push through the last few reps of a training session or to forgo the slice of chocolate cake.
People like structure. We have a goal. We work towards it. That’s the reason why online coaching and nutrition coaching exist. For a lot of athletes, being told what to do and how to do it can help remove the stress of getting strong or losing weight.
But what happens when we aren’t trying to drop 10 lb. or qualify for a certain competition? Do we lose our motivation? Our gains?
When people first get into fitness, competition sort of serves as an easy goal. But the reality is most people don’t really care to compete. The lifestyle that comes with high-level competition isn’t healthy. The schedule that comes with most competitor programs or two-a-day workouts isn’t sustainable.
If you were to look around most gyms and ask the members if they’d rather win a competition or look and feel really good, most would say the latter.
So, why are people being pressured into local throwdowns or to continually add weight and advance to the “next level” of scores? Why can’t it be enough to seek quality of life improvements? To have more energy at your job or to play with your kids?
“Most people have never been asked the question of, ‘What do you really want out of your fitness?,” said Functional Bodybuilding founder Marcus Filly. “What gets you excited to go to the gym? Why were you there in the first place? It’s been our focus to ask people that question.”
Filly, a former CrossFit Games competitor, knows what burnout feels like. HIs entire life, training had given him clarity. It had brought him joy. But, oddly enough, the more he pushed for elite fitness, the less fun it got. Training for competition wasn’t solace from life’s stressors. It was making his life stressful.
“I wasn’t feeling fulfilled, I was often times feeling really crappy,” said Filly, who had to take months off to repair his central nervous system, which eventually lead him to create Functional BodyBuilding. “That made me lose motivation more than anything else. A lot of people are scared of stepping away from a competitive-focused program about what life may look like without it. I want our company to be in a position to help people.”
Still unsure? Here are a few tips to get away from winning the whiteboard…
Set goals beyond scores
Competing is great, but it’s not the only barometer you can measure success. There is a whole other world out there where you can have fun and still be challenged by fitness. Make technique PR’s cool again. Focus on strict work. Learn to work isometrics and eccentrics. If you struggle to get out of that competitive mindset, switch up your training.
Does anyone know their max wall sit or top 5-second tempo squat? Pick movements that will force you to focus on things that aren’t all about how much or how heavy.
“When you remove the PR [aspect] it gets people out of that mental draining reoccurring through process of, ‘I have to get better, I’m not getting better, my clean hasn’t gone up in six months.’” Filly said. “For some people, it’s a huge mental battle.”
Bottom line: Put your ego aside and dig into technique. It’s never too late to start moving better. Don’t discount the importance of accessory or skill work, both of which have a heavy hand in preventing injury and making you look good.
Acknowledge the work you put in
No, a few days off isn’t going to suddenly sap your strength or make you “out of shape.” (If Colleen Fotsch can take a week off of training, you can too.) Movement is important, but there’s no need to train every day and nothing wrong with taking an extended break a few times a year. Mentally and physically, our body needs a reset.
You’d be surprised just how much of your skills you can retain —and improve on— with less volume. And if your main goal is to get stronger there’s a ton of research that backs ups the need to do less and prioritize recovery for maximal adaptation in strength training.
Bottom line: keep your NEAT high and chill out if you miss a few days at the gym. Scaling back doesn’t mean you’re going to become a worse athlete.
Remember why you started
Was it to win prizes or beat a certain person? Or was it to feel good about yourself and what you could do? Lifting big weights or being great at CrossFit is cool but 1.) It’s not going to pay the bills and 2.) Waking up in the morning without being in pain is also cool.
It’s so easy to get caught up in newbie gains and either fall into the trap of thinking more is better or become obsessed with winning the whiteboard.
“Then you ask yourself what the hell am I doing? Why am I training twice a day? I’ve got this job and this life,” Filly said. “There’s so many people out there in that 4-6 year window [of being in competitive fitness] where they’re like, ‘I don’t want to race against everybody every day. I can’t keep up with this’. Often times, they leave the gym. That person was good at CrossFit and just got pulled down the rabbit hole. They either got injured or can’t get the energy to throw down because they have a real life and it’s been building up for three years.”
Bottom line: Fitness should be something that enhances your life. If you have no energy at the gym, have hit a plateau or are struggling to stay motivated, think back to why you started. It’s OK for goals to shift. It’s not OK to run our bodies, hormones and lives into the ground. If if’s not fun and you’re not getting paid to do it, why are you doing it?