Anyway, my friend got in touch with me because though he had been really killing it at the gym for a long time he had somehow misplaced his motivation and felt like he couldn't find it again. No matter how he tried he just didn't feel like going to the gym or eating clean. It was too much work and not enough reward anymore.
Anymore. That's key. Remember that.
Now there's certainly a line of response that goes something like this: "SUCK IT UP FATTY! WORKING OUT IS CALLED WORKING OUT BECAUSE IT'S WORK! FITNESS ISN'T SUPPOSED TO BE FUN! NOTHING WORTH HAVING IS EASILY ATTAINED!" While I agree with the central sentiment of a lot of those, that kind of response is also pretty much the worst possible way of dealing with his issue.
On some level we all already know that stuff is true. That's part of why he's frustrated and why we all get frustrated. We know it's work and that it's hard but we'd found a way to get past that. We'd found a program or a diet that, though it was work, it worked for us. To me, that is both the problem and the solution.
Fitness is easiest when it's a routine. It's a universal truth that if you have to completely alter everything about your life to include your workouts you're not going to keep up with them. Yea, yea fitness is a journey and it's about changing your life but that's not what I'm talking about. It's simply much more realistic to throw in a workout at a gym that's on your way home a few days a week than it is to sign up for some crazy bikram/ashtanga yoga fusion class at a studio that's at least half an hour from any of your stomping grounds.
When people work hard enough and successfully make the changes that my friend did it is typically because they found a routine that worked for them and they were able to stick to it. The really unfortunate problem with this is simple: boredom.
It's like when you first get a new job that you're really excited about. Maybe the pay's great or its a shift into a better industry or something more in line with your eventual goals. For whatever reason, you got a job you're really excited about and for the first year or two you work as hard as you can and you get consistent returns: raises, promotions, a bigger office, managerial duties; whatever it may be. You love your job which gets you to work hard and you get consistent returns which motivate you to work harder.
Then, like in many organizations, eventually you top out. You hit the ceiling of the upward mobility available to you in that position. Work simply becomes a grind. You're going in and putting in the same effort and getting less and less in return. Eventually you're just showing up to keep collecting a paycheck. When this happens you have three options: keep grinding, quit, or start looking for a new job.
This is almost exactly what happens with your body and a new workout routine. Your body becomes acclimated to any stress placed on it, this is what gives rise to the plateau effect: given the same exact program with the same parameters and loading schemes your gains will begin to decrease even when load and intensity increase. This is one of the main reasons athletes periodize their workouts: to avoid stagnation.
When your results stagnate your motivation follows soon after. Who wants to keep cranking away in the gym when you're not getting anything out of it? Unfortunately when this happens a lot of people's instinct is to do just that. They keep trying to do their old routine, keep trying to get BACK to the thing that USED to work.
Unfortunately that's the trap that too many of us fall into. We want to go back in time to when that routine worked for us but you can't and even beyond that you shouldn't want to. So what do you do instead? Try this:
Tips To Reclaim Your Motivation:
1. Stop kicking yourself. It happens to all of us at one time or another. Read this.
2. Do what you did before, but in a different way. What worked initially? You CHANGED your habits. You started something NEW. Do something new, again.
3. Acknowledge your progress. When you first started you were having trouble with the basics but now you're running and lifting with the best of them --> it's become boring. Try something different - take up kettlebells, powerlifting or oly lifting.
4. Stay within your relative comfort zone --> If you initially had success with lifting you don't have to give it up and become a cross country runner. There's many different types of lifting. Maybe just try one you're not familiar with. Same thing with bootcamps and the like. If you're bored of your bootcamp find a different one you like or sign up for CrossFit (it's what most bootcamps wish they were anyway).
5. Conversely, don't be afraid to try something completely new --> Maybe you weren't in good enough shape to take an honest crack at kickboxing or hot yoga before. Maybe you didn't feel comfortable signing up for your first spartan race....but now you might. Just don't get too upset if you find it isn't for you. You'll never know until you try.
6.Keep moving forward. Fitness is a journey and while some journeys involve retracing your steps, they are always moving decidedly in one direction. So your routine worked for 3 years but doesn't work anymore. So what? Don't get caught up wondering why it doesn't work because it's usually not just one thing. Keep your eyes out for the next thing. That's what matters.
I've been doing this for a long time...coming up on about fifteen years. Thats fewer than many but still more than most. I've done martial arts, gymnastics, bodyweight fitness, SPARQ, CrossFit, P90x, Bootcamps, bodybuilding and all sorts of weight lifting. I've spent more time on a bosu than anyone should and attempted a couple of very cute exercises on very pink physio balls. My point is that to stay interested you have to keep it interesting. You guys know how I feel about bullsh*t "functional" training, but that's not what I mean. You don't have to wrap yourself in rubber bands and try to do walking handstands while doing leg extensions with a kettlebell hanging off your foot. There are literally hundreds of different entirely legitimate approaches to exercise. You found one that worked for you before. I'm willing to be you can do it again. Here's a few ideas to get you started.
Just remember you didn't fail and you're not done. You hit a speed bump. I've been there and you aren't alone. It's just one more obstacle to overcome and you overcame the f*ck out of it last time. You're going to do it again.
Besides, everyone loves a good comeback.
Good luck and good lifting.