I’ve been in quarantine for nearly 13 weeks. I haven’t left the house in that time. That’s almost three months spent within the same four walls, with the same mat and the same limited equipment, and a low-calorie diet. The motivation to train left me after month two.
I had been diligently pushing myself day after day, making progress nearly every session. I went from barely managing to swing myself into my first ever cheap muscle-up, into doing five strict muscle-ups. I’ve beaten old pull-up records by nearly ten reps. I’m back to a casual 50 pushups. I can do pistol squats. I did my first set of wall handstand pushups and worked up to a set of twelve. I went down to under 10 percent body fat. I held a human flag for three seconds.
And yet, one day into month three, I woke up without even the slightest motivation to train. Every few days, I’d force myself into a set or two of push-ups and pull-ups. Every now and again, I’d stretch my back, after spending hours hunched over a desk working. The urge to train had completely left me.
I’ve pondered on it and thought about why that is. Part of me thinks I just miss the weight. A larger part of me feels I’m lazy. Some part of me suspects I might be in a low mood, and this is just part of it. While I’ve never quite felt this unmotivated and tired when I was lifting weights, I also understand that, when life gives you certain unavoidable circumstances, all you can do is be determined to make the best of them. So how do you reignite that spark? Here’s what I’ve decided to do.
Take a Break
Whether it’s one week, two weeks, or three weeks – it doesn’t matter. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is to take a break.
However, you have to be careful about how you spend that break. If the reason your motivation is shot to pieces ultimately comes from stress and isolation, then giving up a recuperative activity like working out can actually be hugely detrimental.
Consider, instead, taking a break from your usual program and dialing down a bit. Set a reasonable and unavoidable daily workout goal.
For example, force yourself into a simple little three-set program of until-failure pushups or split squats. Do it after work, in the evening, before your last shower – or just after you wake up, before your first shower. Pick something you can bang out in under five minutes, get it done, and get on with your life.
It won’t seem like much, but it’ll be enough. This isn’t to maintain muscle. It’s to maintain sanity.
In time, you’ll add to those five minutes and you’ll be back on the horse.
Try Something New
Otherwise, just take a break from a specific activity and try something completely new. If your motivation to train normally is shot, just do something completely different. Chances are you’re still limited in what and how you can train, especially if you’re like me and have access to little else than a mat and a pull-up bar. So, try something completely unconventional. Break your own time record for an active hang. Hold a freestyle handstand. Try a planche. Pick up basic yoga.
Whenever my motivation to train is destroyed by stress, I tend to fall straight into a deep hole of just not doing anything. But if you do just a little bit, you’ll start to see the light at the end of the tunnel much sooner.
Don’t Worry About Carryover
I’m fairly practically minded, which means nearly everything I do in the gym needs to have some sort of purpose. I’m also incredibly precise, and I tend to sit down and think through every rep and set. I analyze my training footage and take notes. I ask for criticism and advice anywhere I can get it. I’m dedicated towards a single-minded obsession for strength, and in that pursuit, I’ll often try many things – as long as I know or think it will have some sort of meaningful carryover.
That mindset is part of why it was so hard for me to make a switch towards more whimsical training “programs”. My mind knows that there’s very little I can do with what I have available to hold myself fit for three months.
You can easily maintain your strength for several weeks simply by doing calisthenics with an increasing degree of difficulty. But after a certain point, the carryover will disappear without weight, or some means of increasing the resistance within a useful range of motion, similar to what you’d do in the gym.
And as soon as I began to hit that point, I knew deep inside that I wasn’t really doing anything productive for powerlifting anymore. And I knew I’d have many more weeks ahead of me where that wouldn’t change. I contributed to the total lack of motivation to train.
You need to turn that around by adjusting your goals and expectations. Know that it’s okay to go in a different direction, especially when life forces you that way. If you remain stubborn in the face of something as inevitable and unyielding as life itself, you break. Learn to bend.
There Will Be A Time After All of This
For other readers still stuck in quarantine, remember that this isn’t going to last forever. The gyms will reopen, and we will lift again. This temporary pause sucks and will mean that we’ll have to retread some old ground when it comes to our lifting progress, but even if you’re out of practice for several months, it’ll take a fraction of that time to bounce back into a comfortable state where you can start to make progress again.
These past few weeks have been especially hard in terms of sanity and motivation. The will to train when the goal is unattainable quickly evaporates. Without a barbell, and without a timeline for the next time I get to train with one, it feels like every session is spent working in vain. Nothing feels fun.
It’s to that end that you need to redefine the goal. Only when I began dedicating myself to something completely out of left field did I find the motivation to do something again. Only when I started to put forth goals related to what I have around me and what I can do with my surroundings, did I feel like there was a reason to train at all.
And when you simply can’t find it in you to make that shift, maybe all you need is a week or two spent completely away from any form of training. Try not to live between the couch and the bed – get moving, at least a little bit – but don’t train. Don’t check the scale. Stop checking the mirror. Don’t browse YouTube and Instagram for PRs and posts of people lifting. Get away from it all, mentally and physically, and feel your mind and body yearning to move again – to strain, to push, to pull, to grit your teeth, and feel yourself ache.
This post isn’t here to excuse laziness. But most of the time, what we consider laziness is simply a depressive lack of motivation. And we can’t get ourselves out of that rut if we don’t acknowledge why it’s occurring in the first place and give ourselves the time to deal with it.