Pre-workout supplements have become a favorite among fitness fans looking to get themselves mentally “into the zone” for a killer gym workout. But how effective would simple, chemical-free workout motivation strategies be by comparison?
I have personally never used pre-workouts, for two reasons. Firstly, because I worry about the side-effects of putting some of those dubious chemicals into my body. And secondly, because I’m a firm believer in the vast power of the mind over your body.
Pre-workouts only charge up your nervous system. Workout motivation techniques, on the other hand, charge up your mind, which has power over all of your body.
So my preference for switching on my beast mode and getting myself mentally prepared for a killer gym workout is definitely mental techniques. With or without pre-workouts however, your ability to control your emotional state will have a very big influence on the effectiveness of your workouts, so it’s an important area either way.
Here are 5 vital tips for mentally and emotionally preparing yourself for a super-effective gym workout:
1. Keep a motivational photo and video collection
The first hurdle to overcome for most people is getting the motivation to even show up at the gym for their workout. This is made even more difficult for them when they’ve had a long day at work, when it’s a particularly busy day, when it’s too cold to get out of bed in the morning, or because of a number of other excuses.
The trick here isn’t to try to convince yourself to go anyway because you have to, but rather to make yourself actually want to go, regardless of all the reasons not to.
One of the very best ways I’ve found to do this is to have a workout motivation session before you even think about the fact that you’re about to go to the gym. Once you start thinking about going, you give your brain an opportunity to start coming up with reasons not to.
Obviously, it’s best to avoid that. Motivate yourself first and then decide whether or not you want to go. So, what do you do for motivation?
I’ve found the best thing to have a collection of photos and videos on your computer or phone that really inspire and motivate you. They can be of someone with your desired physique, of your favorite fitness models working out, of your children and/or partner (if you’re doing it for them), or anything else that really gets you energized.
If you’re like me, your workout motivation collection will be constantly changing over time as you get tired of some and replace them with new role models that you discover.
Your motivation session doesn’t need to be too long – just 10 to 15 minutes is fine. You’ll find that it gets you pumped up and eager to destroy your workout – no excuses required.
2. Dress to kill
It may be hard to believe that what you’re wearing can have any bearing on how you perform during your workout, but it actually can make a contribution to your workout motivation.
It’s been shown, for example, that the brain often associates shades of colors with different feelings and moods. Bold colors heighten readiness and excitement, while black heightens aggressiveness and feelings of power. Conversely, dull, lighter colors tend to subdue your emotions and energy.
So while your choice of clothing may make some kind of statement about you to others, it more importantly very often also influences your state and how you feel about yourself. Imagine showing up to the gym for your workout wearing dreary, conservative, beige-colored clothes. Chances are, you’ll feel just as dreary and conservative and your workout will reflect that.
Because we’re all individuals, what makes you feel good won’t necessarily be the same for someone else. Perhaps loud, bright clothes are your thing, or maybe all black. Maybe you prefer clothing that makes a statement, not to others but to yourself, so you’ll like sporting your “Beast Mode On” shirt or your “Just Do It” shorts.
Even if you’re accustomed to just wearing old tattered clothes to the gym, maybe that’s what works for you. Perhaps the simple, underdog fighter vibe is what motivates you.
If you haven’t really given much importance to your gym wear so far it may be because you feel that doing so is just vain. Bear in mind however that choosing your gym attire isn’t in any way about showing off to others. What everyone else thinks about you really doesn’t matter. What does matter is how you feel about yourself. It’s not about fashion, it’s about your workout motivation, that’s all.
3. Energize with workout music
Something that most people find highly effective for getting them into an emotional state is music. And of course the kind of state you get yourself into depends on the type of music you select.
Listening to music while working out is a very popular strategy for many fitness enthusiasts, and one I strongly suggest you adopt if you haven’t done so already.
For a good, hard gym workout you want to find some workout music that appeals to you, but that’s also high in energy. And if it has an aggressive edge as well then all the better. For some types of cardio workouts, like those where speed is involved, you might also find some benefit to listening to music with a fairly rapid beat, as your brain has a natural tendency to try to keep up with the tempo.
As I mentioned, listening to music while working out is a pretty common workout motivation strategy. Plugging in to your iPod in the gym is a great way of blocking out the distractions and zoning in to your own little world.
But what not a lot of people do is actually get themselves into the zone before their workout as well. I highly recommend this. Don’t wait until you’re on the gym floor to plug into your iPod. Do it on the way to the gym, and get your brain into beast mode so that it’s ready for action when you walk through the front door.
4. Psych yourself up
If you’ve ever watched competitive weightlifting or powerlifting you will have seen the competitors all go through their own personal psych up routine prior to performing a lift. The reason they do this is to get themselves “into the zone” for their lift, and it makes a very big difference to their performance.
Without this process of channeling their inner beast mode, they simply wouldn’t be able to perform anywhere near their best level, plain and simple. That’s the power of the mind.
As someone training in the gym, you similarly couldn’t expect to perform at anywhere near your best level if you just casually strolled up to the bar and started going through your reps. You too need to psych up before every set, so make sure that mentally (and therefore physically) you’re going to give it your all.
How do you do that?
Start by taking a few long, deep breaths to charge your brain with oxygen. Clench your fists and your teeth, and focus on what you’re about to lift. Feel the energy and aggression build inside you and visualize yourself smashing the weight. Then discharge that pent up energy into your set.
This process doesn’t need to be lengthy, and there’s no need to draw attention to yourself by jumping up and down and yelling out loud. You can just keep it all inside you, scream on the inside and talk to yourself and the weight mentally, as you tell it you’re going to destroy it.
This workout motivation strategy will certainly make a difference to your strength. Think of it as being like pumping up a balloon with energized air, which you then explode into your workout set.
5. Channel power through anchoring
Anchoring is a technique used in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) that’s used to form a connection between an emotional state and a trigger. By setting off your trigger, you can then instantaneously put yourself into that state whenever you need to.
Just like the previous four points, this can be used as another very effective workout motivation strategy that works by creating a desired state for a better workout.
To anchor a powerful emotional state that you’d like to access during your workouts, you need to start by actually being in that state. The best way is to wait until you actually find yourself in that state, after achieving a PR for example. Alternatively, you can use visualization and mentally put yourself into that state by recalling the last time you felt that way.
Once you’re in that positive, powerful state you need to anchor it, or connect it to an anchor. Your anchor can be a physical action such as clenching one fist, punching into one of your palms, pressing the tips of your thumb and index finger together on a particular hand, or something like that.
You can also use a smell as anchor, for example, some liniment, an inhaler, or any scent. Smells generally make more powerful anchors but the problem is that you need to bring the source of the smell with you when you train, whereas a physical action needs nothing.
By anchoring your anchor (performing the physical action or smelling the smell) while in the positive mental state, you make a connection in your brain between the two. Do it several times to strengthen the connection. Also repeat it regularly over time to keep it strong.
When you’re in the gym you can simply fire your anchor (perform the physical action or smell the smell) when required and you’ll find yourself instantly in that same anchored positive state for a more effective workout. Instant beast mode!
It’s important that you don’t ignore the power of your emotional and mental state for improving the quality and effectiveness of your workouts. Professional athletes place a lot of emphasis on this because it’s a very important area and you should too.
By following these five tips you can be assured of taking your workouts to the next level and getting the very best out of yourself every single time.
Are you following any of these workout motivation strategies yourself already? Or maybe you have some of your own that you find work well for you? Please let me know by leaving a comment below, I’d be very interested to hear from you!