What motivates me? What motivates you? As someone with sixteen years of continued progress I am asked this question with some regularity. I’ve managed to stay motivated through the emotional ups and downs of life, from high school through college, through imperfect relationships and into a successful career. This consistent motivation has played a key role in the general consistency with which I have approached the various facets of bodybuilding. In the context of this article when I speak of motivation, it is in reference comprehensively to the training, diet, and recovery aspects of bodybuilding, as well as that invaluable (and often undervalued) mental component.
The factors that keep me motivated are probably not all that different from what keeps other bodybuilders motivated. I’ll discuss some of the primary motivating factors, and comment on how each plays into my own motivation
The Quest to Continuously Improve
One of my strongest personal attributes is my continuous quest to improve. This attribute is present in all aspects of my life. I’m constantly working to improve our house. I always have other personal interest projects going on that require work, both physical and intellectual, and result in a feeling of accomplishment. I strive to improve, daily, weekly and yearly in my career as an educator. That role in particular brings me tremendous satisfaction and pride.
In the realm of bodybuilding there are two very obvious quantitative goals: to make the muscles grow larger, and to lift heavier weights. Fortunately, the two are closely related. After sixteen years of training I still strive to increase both the size of each of my muscles and the amount of weight that I can lift. Success in each of those areas means progress, although there are other means of measuring progress and improving the physique. Those other aspects of improving one’s physique are improving symmetry & proportion, improving the shape of the muscles (within what is genetically possible), improving body composition, and improving training form/technique. As the years have gone on and my gains have slowed, I’ve placed a higher premium on quality gains. I’ve also concentrated more on improving proportion, shape, and training technique. None of these factors are isolated, and all work synergistically, resulting in quantitative AND qualitative physique changes.
In sixteen years I have had only four training partners who really motivated me. My expectations are high, as are my demands. Those who have motivated me the most have been training partners with similar goals, who truly understood just how important bodybuilding was (and is) to me. In all but one of those four experiences, the training partner and I were of similar size and strength. This created a naturally competitive, very aggressive atmosphere. In each of those three examples the competitiveness resulted in incredible workouts, pushing each other to our limits and beyond, capitalizing on each others’ strengths and weaknesses. Also in those three examples, that same competitiveness resulted in a break of the relationships, as the intensity of egos and psyche could not continue indefinitely. In the fourth case, the training partner was at a different level of development with different specific goals, but a similar work ethic and a driving desire to improve.
For many, a training partner means a regular spotter, and someone expecting them to show up at the gym. A good training partner can be a valuable asset, and can help drive your progress to new heights.
Bodybuilding (training) as a Refuge
Although it might not as clearly be classified as a means of motivation, for many, bodybuilding offers a refuge from the world. From those in high profile, high stress careers, to those feeling the pressure of relationships, training is an escape that takes you away when you need it to. If you can truly leave your worries in your locker room, the weights are yours- your world for two hours a day, and nothing can touch you when you are there. You are in control, you are in touch with your physical self, and you feel your muscles at work- a most basic, rewarding feeling.
I have a career that tends to follow me home, but mental preparation for the workout on the drive to the gym (and a few minutes prior to beginning lifting) takes me to a place of basic objectives: push, pull, raise or lower. Some days I have good days at work and some days I have bad, but either can be the prelude to a productive, stress-releasing workout.
The Physiques of Others
Many of us began training with weights after seeing someone with a muscular build. We wanted to emulate them. We wanted to feel like they must feel. This physical admiration continues as we read muscle magazines and books, watch videos of professionals, and attend competitions to see others who do what we do, or do what we’d like to do. This type of motivation can be useful, so long as we realize that we are our only true opponents. Getting inspiration from seeing what others have done with their physiques is positive. Putting unreasonable expectations on ourselves by comparing our physiques to those of others may not be.
As a “natural” bodybuilder, some might expect that I am turned off by the (drug using) pros. That is not necessarily true. Seeing what the human body can potentially look like fascinates me. Seeing intense training photos and videos inspires me. I do not strive to be them. I do not strive to look like them. I strive to look like my own version of them.
Other Sources of Motivation
Music certainly motivates me, although not in the same long-term way that the other factors do. The ride to the gym always includes motivational music, usually loud and hard. The ride to the gym itself, music included, is a form of daily preparation and motivation. I rehearse the training session in my mind. As I drive, I consciously feel the blood circulating through my body and going to the muscles I will be training that day. By the time I reach the gym, I climb out of the car with my body and mind fully aware that something big is about to happen.
Competing in bodybuilding competitions is not a great source of motivation for me, but getting my physique in shape to compare it to that of an earlier time is. The trophies I’ve brought home mean much less to me than seeing an overall improvement in my physique. Although I haven’t competed in recent years, I still have pictures taken (in all of the compulsory poses) yearly and have documented continued progress over time.
If I had to summarize the absolute core of my long-lived motivation, I guess I would say: I’m just not finished yet.
I can truthfully say that I am proud of what I have accomplished thus far, I take great satisfaction in what I have accomplished thus far, but I still have progress to make.