What’s Your Motivation?

growing waistlineI’ve mentioned in past blog posts that I was originally motivated to go back to the gym by my son David becoming my gym partner. I was also motivated to at least get started exercising by my expanding waistline and my LSW (Long Suffering Wife) unfavorably comparing me to Santa Claus. But what kept me going back?

Actually, there are two aspects to motivation: the motivation to go to the gym in the first place, and the motivation to work and work hard once you’re there. I’m going to talk mostly about the second one today.

You’d think that once you made it to the gym, the battle would be over. All you have left to do is go through your workout.


Pushing the last few reps through on a lifting exercise or keeping yourself on a cardio machine for 20 to 30 minutes at a shot can be really difficult, especially if you haven’t yet disciplined yourself to put up with the “discomfort” involved in exercising. Yes, it should be fun, but hard work is, well…hard.

What can you do to keep motivated at the gym so that you’ll do your best and keep up the pace?


There’s probably a reason all those sports-themed films or action adventure films or superhero films have really dramatic and hard-pounding music during the action scenes. It accentuate’s the drama and power of what’s going on during the movie. That’s how you can think of music during a workout. Especially during a lifting exercise, when I’m getting close to failure and I want to make just one more rep, if the music is inspiring, it really helps me work up the drive to complete the lift.

I own an iPod Touch but haven’t gotten around to putting music on it yet. In the past, I’ve broken earphone wires while working out, so I’m not sure I want to trust myself again in a similar situation. However, you might be better with wires than I and having your own personally selected workout music, tunes you know will inspire you (maybe the theme to Rocky for example), will likely work better than depending on whatever random music offerings are being broadcast over the gym speakers.

Sometimes (this is a guilty pleasure admission) when I’m on the elliptical machine and I want to keep a good pace, I imagine the opening theme music to the old television show The Six Million Dollar Man, especially the part where he’s running and the music comes up. It’s kind of corny and it wasn’t very good television, at least by modern standards, but it does the job for me.

An Audience

Okay, maybe an audience of one is the best, at least for me. Having a workout partner not only can encourage you to get to the gym, but he or she can encourage you while you are at the gym. If you’re doing the same workout as your partner, and switching off at the weight machines, you can encourage each other to do just a little more weight, or to push through just one more rep than you thought you could.

Some amateur and professional body builders workout in small groups because having an audience, especially one that understands the dynamics of what weight training and bodybuilding is all about, can be really encouraging. If a little friendly competition is involved, that works sometimes as well. Also, a partner can offer helpful tips and can see when you need to improve  your form.

I haven’t talked about trainers before, but sometimes working with a small group led by a professional trainer who works at your gym can also be motivating. It takes the responsibility of having to develop and adjust your own workout routine away from you and lets someone else set the standard by which you are to achieve. Your partners in the training group and the trainer can be your “motivating audience”.

Photo credit: Livestrong.com

I see a lot of people sitting or standing side-by-side talking while on cardio machines. I very rarely do this, even when I know someone at the gym well enough to talk to, but the social aspect of the gym can be powerfully motivating. That said, the one thing that sometimes bugs me is people standing around for minutes at a time between weight training sets chatting it up. I couldn’t do this personally (although to be polite, I have done so occasionally), because it interrupts the flow of my workout, and I’ve only got an hour to get everything done. Also, if people are hogging a weight machine and talking, it’s keeping the next person who needs to use the machine from accessing it.

Don’t be that guy or gal.

I can be pretty much a “lone wolf” at the gym. I don’t use a trainer because I like to set my own standards for achieving goals, but that’s just because of my personality and my preferences. Do whatever works to motivate you. Own your entire gym experience including motivation.

Television and Reading

Most (but not all) of the cardio machines at my gym come equipped with television monitors and earphone jacks. In addition, there are a large number of ceiling and wall mounted televisions around the gym. This doesn’t work so well as a motivating factor during weight training since all of your focus must be on the lift (imagine performing a bench press and twisting your neck to the left to watch a TV show while pushing and holding a loaded barbell over your face), but during cardio, a lot of people get bored.

I admit to looking around the gym during cardio, catching the morning weather report, or seeing what the early morning commute looks like, but I need to pay attention to my speed and particularly to my heart rate, since the duration and level of intensity in a cardio workout has to, for me at least, be within a certain set of parameters. If I were to be caught up in some TV program, I’d probably lose my focus. On the other hand, the distraction is what takes a lot of the boredom or discomfort of the exercise away for some folks.

There are places on most cardio machines where you can prop up a magazine, book, or newspaper. I’ve seen people reading all sorts of things during a cardio workout, especially on the bicycle machines. Again, I couldn’t afford the distraction, but if it’s what helps some folks stay on that machine for 20, 25, 30 minutes or more, who am I to complain?

A Sense of Accomplishment

I’ve mentioned before that I take a small notebook and pen to the gym with me to record what exercises I’ve performed, how many sets and reps using how much weight I’ve lifted, how many reps and sets of core work, how many minutes and a what intensity I performed on the elliptical.

After my workout, I go home and enter all that in Google calendar and then compare my workout to what I did last week, last month, or four months ago. It’s one way to chart my progress and to see my level of (or sometimes lack thereof) improvement. It’s incredibly motivating to see that I can lift more, or lift the same weight more reps and more sets, than I could six weeks or six months ago.

Also, at the end of the last exercise for the day, when I’ve accomplished or even exceeded the goals I’ve set for that workout, walking out of the gym with my t-shirt soaked in sweat and knowing I did everything I set out to do gives me a sense of accomplishment and motivates me to work as hard or harder the next day.

External Evidence

On a few occasions at the gym or outside of it, people have mentioned that I workout hard or that I look more fit than I have previously. Once, I was performing high raises with a 50 pound dumbbell in each hand and a woman, the wife on one of the regulars in the free weight room, commented (favorably) that I was an animal. I was completely out of breath, and since it was near the end of my weight training circuit, feeling pretty tired, but the complement was terrifically motivating.

senior weight trainer
Photo credit: Getty Images

Once, when I was at my job, one of the consultants I work with told me he noticed I’d lost some weight and looked good. Again, this really motivating and proof positive that my workouts were paying off.

How your clothes fit, particularly if you’re getting into slimmer pants and are able to pull your belt a little tighter around your waist, is another piece of evidence that exercise and a proper diet really works. Sometimes the numbers on the scale may not tell the whole story, but how you look in clothes (or sometimes out of them) can show you that your body is changing for the better.


If you go to the gym and workout regularly for long enough, the gym becomes a habit, a good one. Yeah, people sometimes overdo it, go every day or several times in the same day, not letting their bodies get their much needed rest, but if you have the discipline to routinely workout at the gym, you have the discipline to do so in a moderate and responsible duration and frequency.

I can’t imagine not going to the gym each weekday morning at 5 a.m. Sure, there are mornings when I’d like to stay in bed for an extra hour, but I’d miss out on that sense of accomplishment if I did that. Also, I’m a creature of habit, I like to have a predictable sequence of events define each of my days (not that I always get what I want). The gym is important in that sequence and I’d miss it if I didn’t work out.


These are the motivating factors that keep me going to the gym and keep me going once I get there (or the factors I see other people using to keep them going). If you can think of any others that work for you that I haven’t mentioned, then please use whatever works for you. A good workout program and the results it yields are their own rewards. Keep going, keep working, keep achieving.

Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after the other.

Walter Elliot

Just for giggles, here’s a six-minute comedy video about gym stereotypes. The last 45 seconds is a product ad but up to that point, it’s pretty funny.


4 thoughts on “What’s Your Motivation?

  1. Thanks for the good advice! I’m gonna take your advice and start taking my phone to listen to music as I workout. Something that hasn’t really occurred to me until now.


      1. So one study found that listening to “oldies” music (music that incites nostalgia) is the best type of music to listen to when working out. Apparently it’s really effective when a person is exhausted or demotivated to workout. Just wanted to share it with you.


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