Death, taxes, and going to the gym: Some things just can't be avoided. Okay, 99 percent of the time, working out feels like manna from heaven, the greatest gift on earth. But then there are those days when you just can't do it.
"Hey, we're human," says RSP Nutrition athlete Hannah Eden. "Even the most dedicated athletes run short on motivation and lose track of why they do what they do."
If the forever-driven, rock-hard founder of PumpFit Club in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, can admit to these lapses, what chance do us mere mortals have?
Plenty, as it turns out. The following tips from Eden and her fellow RSP Nutrition athletes can help you regain your focus and get back to hitting your fitness targets with ruthless efficiency.
1. Know Your Goals
It sounds simple, but you'd be surprised by how many people can't quite articulate what it is they're working so hard for.
"I am a huge believer in setting specific, concrete goals," Eden says. "Your goals are what drive and inspire your workouts."
The trick, she says, is to aim high in the long term, but give yourself short-term, bite-sized goals, Too.
"Your goals should always be realistic and attainable. They're what get you out of bed and into the gym day after day. They're also what keeps you on your nutrition plan, even when it hurts."
Just be sure that your smaller daily goals relate to action, not achievement, warns RSP Nutrition athlete Kieon Dorsey.
"Instead of making your short-term goal about the pounds you want to lose, decide that you want to go to the gym 4-5 times a week," he says. "Once you conquer the mountain of showing up when you say you will, set another small goal—maybe doing 30 minutes of cardio and 30 minutes of weight training once you get there."
2. Map It Out
When taking a trip, you need a plan, a route. The same is true for achieving your fitness goals.
"Each Sunday, lay out a workout schedule and prepare your food for the week," suggests RSP athlete and Los Angeles-based personal trainer Qimmah Russo.
"With your workouts set and your meals ready, there will be fewer obstacles between you and the gym," says Russo. "You'll be less tempted to gobble up junk food, and you can enter the gym with a clear idea of what you want to accomplish."
Russo recommends giving your workouts the respect they deserve by putting them on your calendar along with all the other important things you do.
3. Do Something Different
"CrossFit may be controversial, but it does get one principle right: group workouts," says RSP athlete and founder of Police Fitness Curtis Bartlett. "Having others around you holds you accountable and helps you stay on track."
Bartlett also suggests trying to acquire a new skill or lift. Master the clean and jerk, learn how to use the TRX Suspension Trainer, get some lessons on using the heavy bag for conditioning—you name it.
"Boring routines can suck the energy out of workouts," Bartlett says. "Find something new to challenge you and bring the fun back into your workouts."
4. Find New Friends
"Surround yourself with like-minded individuals," Eden advises. "They'll push you to be better and help you stick to your training days and diet. They can encourage you when you're down, spur you on when you're dragging, and keep you focused—and you can do the same for them."
Having someone who relies on you for motivation can itself be a motivator.
"The people I train are always pressuring me, in a good way, to improve, work hard, and lead by example," says Bartlett.
If you don't have a friend who's into lifting, Bartlett recommends reaching out to a trainer or gym buddy—maybe even your spouse. "Find someone who'll wake you up before morning gym sessions, help you figure out your workouts, and yell at you to get those two extra reps."
5. Mentally Prepare Before Every Lift
A study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research revealed that "psyching up" might actually increase force production on the subsequent lift.
Researchers from New Zealand asked 12 men and 8 women (all with lifting experience) to perform five bench-press reps. For some sets, the researchers distracted the participants. For other sets, the researchers instructed them to use a technique of their choosing to psych themselves up. Participants who got psyched up increased their peak force output by 11.8 percent versus their distracted state.
So, the next time you trudge over to the bench, take time to stop, breathe deeply, visualize the upcoming set, and mentally prime yourself. It's enough to make lifting satisfying again.
6. Incentivize Your Efforts
Let's face it. Even the most successful program can sometimes feel like a relentless slog through the mud.
"Keep your motivation alive by rewarding yourself for your discipline and consistency," Dorsey says. "Sometimes, the key to success is doing something nice for yourself when you reach a difficult goal. And if you fail, get up and try it again."
That advice applies to your diet as well. "Write down everything you eat every day—what foods, how much, and when—and look at them alongside your goals," Dorsey says. When the two columns match, reward yourself. If your goal is to lose fat, maybe avoid that big slice of cheesecake and go for some new gym gear instead.
7. Photos, Please
"A lot of us get too caught up on how far we are from our goals and forget how far we've come," Eden says. "Take three pictures: front, side, and back. Put them away somewhere, then check back in three or four months. Compare the pictures side by side with new shots. If you've stuck with your training and nutrition plan, you'll see for yourself how far you've come, and that'll encourage you to go even further."
8. Remember The Bad Times
Sometimes, when Bartlett finds himself lacking the desire to keep pushing, he'll think back to when and why he first started on his fitness journey.
"For some people, it's as simple as wanting to be healthy," he says. "Others could be trying to get back on their feet at the end of a relationship. Personally, I look back at pictures of myself when I was 80 pounds overweight."
Bartlett promised himself years ago to never go back to the old Curtis. "Just remembering where I came from and how much work it took to get to this point is usually enough to jump-start my week and keep me focused and dedicated."