10 Powerful Gym Motivation Tips

body building pushups

Gym Motivation Tips

In the need for some gym motivation hacks? Do you struggle with starting a fitness program, only to fizzle out after few weeks? Are you hoping to break the pattern?

If the answer is yes, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s face it guys – there is a big difference between wanting to build a bigger body and actually doing it.

One of the main reasons men seek out the guidance of a counselor is to help create positive change. Part of this involves identifying those things that derail well-intentioned plans.

But I’m here to tell you that no counselor and no personal trainer can assist you unless one thing is in place:


Yep, that’s right – commitment. You see it doesn’t mean jack if you simply have “the will” to hit the gym. The same holds true for the word desire.

Gym Motivation and Commitment

Instead, it’s all about making a commitment to yourself to change behaviors that have messed you up the past.

Armed with this insight, you’ll then possess the power to move from dreaming about an amazing body to actually building it.

Just like you, I’m a guy. I understand the importance of personal appearance. As a tribe, we may not admit it but here’s the thing – we do care about the way we look.

In this article, you will learn:

  • Identifying historical barriers
  • Psychological tricks body builders use
  • Avoiding learned helplessness
  • The importance of mindfulness
  • Stopping the negative tape
  • Why you need short term goals
  • Stopping all or nothing thinking
  • The importance of variation

Before we get too far into this article, I need to state right here and now that this piece isn’t or the faint of heart. It will require an honest self-assessment of how you think.

But my sense is if you are reading this, you aren’t looking for some warm and fuzzy non-sense that does absolutely no good.

Am I right?

If so, here’s 10 gym motivation hacks that throw a monkey wrench into skipping workouts.

Let’s jump right in!

men and anxiety

1. Identify your pattern

Change cannot happen unless you explore the past. Specifically, I’m talking about identifying the things, choices, and decisions in your life that have acted as barriers to working out.

For this step, I encourage you to grab a pen and paper and jot down at least five items that have historically derailed you.


  • Work responsibilities
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Depressed mood
  • Body image issues
  • Relationship responsibilities

Your list may look different than what appears above. That’s ok.  The question is what are you going to do about them?

This point can’t be emphasized enough. Identification is easy. Creating a plan of working through is the difficult part.

Still got that pen? Time to record solutions.

For example: Can you change the time you hit the gym? Can you get to bed earlier? Could you talk to your doctor about depression? Is it possible to find a therapist to help you with your mood?

Just food for thought. Nothing else can happen unless you complete this step.

gym motivation
Gym motivation tips

2. Check your expectations

One of the primary reasons men miss workouts is because they have unrealistic goals. You may be wondering what I mean?

Well, having unrealistic goals means seeing a photograph of a body builder and thinking you can create his physique quickly.

If only that were true.

The reality is it takes several years to get big and requires a combination of consistent weight training and dieting.

Here are a few unrealistic goals you’ll want to toss.

  • Expecting huge guns after a month of concentration curls.
  • Thinking you’ll get a rounder butt by working legs once a week.
  • Believing you’ll drop 10-pounds of body fat by doing 3 days of cardio a week – and not changing your diet.
  • Assuming you can return to the same level of weight lifting after being away from the gym for months.

Once you check yourself for faulty expectations, you can then move about the business of living in the here and now.

By this I mean accepting where you are on the fitness spectrum at this moment in time and understanding that change is a process that occurs over the course of time.

Think of acceptance as a gift that empowers you to move to the next level.

3. Ditching learned helplessness

Another activity that acts as psychological quicksand is engaging in learned helplessness. That’s a ten-dollar term for believing you are incapable of creating change.

If left unchecked, learned helplessness begins to infect other life areas and can cause a person to sink into a crummy place.

Blanketed in blame, people who buy into this line of thinking point fingers at themselves and others, using blame as a permission slip for inaction.

Examples of learned helplessness include:

  • Negative self-dialogue that includes phrases like, “I’m never going to look muscular.”
  • Unhealthy beliefs like: “I’ve tried to lose weight before and it didn’t help.”
  • Self-comments like: “What’s the point – I’m still not attractive”.

I could go on forever and a day on the ways learned helplessness kills self-esteem. The trick is to identify the negative self-statements and reprogram your thinking.

In cognitive behavior therapy (CBT for short) this is called replacing irrational thoughts. And it’s done in a way that is reality based – meaning we skip the lofty talk and center on what is possible.

If you want to know more about a form of CBT you can use to move past learned helplessness, see this ACT-CBT post.

Body Building Muscle Mass Techniques4. Avoiding game of comparisons

Have you ever found yourself looking at another dude as he completes a rep and thinking, “That guy is huge -I wish I could get like that?”

I certainly have. Shoot, this is probably true for anyone reading this. In and of itself, there’s nothing wrong with admiring someone else’s build.

The problem happens when comparisons act as demotivators. In other words, allowing yourself to become derailed because you don’t look like that guy who is all swoll.

So, bottom line on this point. It’s OK to compare but at least be fair about it.

For example, if you are 5’8 and the bodybuilding you are comparing yourself to is 6’2 – you aren’t being unfair to yourself. Recognize that all of us have different body types.

An effective way to not play the game of comparisons is by telling yourself: I can only focus on me. I’m getting bigger each day.

5. Look at each gym visit as a gift

Gym motivation is predominantly a psychological affair. The way you view your visits is uniquely linked to your level of intensity and ability to consistently hit the weights.

If you hold the mindset that your visit to the gym is yet another thing to “check off” on your list, it won’t take long before you get bored – ant quit.

However, if you reframe your thoughts to something different, you’ll likely experience positive benefits. Here, I am talking about feeling motivated to work out and build muscle.

This is why it is important to view each gym visit as a gift. And when you reflect upon this, doesn’t this make sense?

I’m going to list out a few examples of self-statements that you can use to help get you started:

  • How can I improve upon my last workout?
  • How much more can I grow my biceps at the gym today?
  • What kind of progress can I make on my legs today?
  • Yesterday is gone – but I can use today to build myself.

I am the first to admit this hack takes time. You will literally need to rethink how you “think” about the gym.

But when you adopt this new line of thinking, it can go a long way with stopping the skip cycle.

6. Workout mindfully

Mindfulness and gym motivation go hand in hand. The problem is too many people think of mindfulness as new age babble without understanding its power.

At its core, mindfulness is focusing your attention on the here and now. In the context of exercise, it means allowing yourself to be present in the moment with the exercise you are doing in ways that are tactile.

Examples of mindfully working out include:

  • Allowing yourself to feel your bicep and tricep muscles when doing curls.
  • Tuning into your abs when working your core or doing crunches.
  • Feeling the squeeze when you do compound exercises.
  • Experiencing the rush of adrenalin after completing a set.

Mindfulness and motivation for the gym go together like peanut butter and jelly. They are natural fits. To learn more about this approach, it might help you to do a body scan.

free weights 7. Short, achievable goals

Goals (realistic ones) are uniquely tied to motivation. Let me explain why. Without them, you have no way of gauging your progress.

Does this compute?

The problem for a lot of guys is they start a program with general goals but fail to create small ones. As a result, workout derailment happens due to lack perceived benefits.

Here are a few examples of short-term goals:

  • After one month of exercise, being able to do 30 minutes of cardio on the treadmill.
  • After two weeks of doing 30-lb curls, being able to increase the weight to 35.
  • Losing one pound a week over four weeks.

The above examples are probably over simplistic. You’ll want to customize your goals in ways that are unique to you.

But remember, they need to be small and realistic.

8. Accept changes in intensity

Motivation for the gym can become sidetracked when we falsely believe every workout is going to be amazing. Here’s the real deal.

Sometimes, your workouts are going to suck.

Yep, I know that’s super direct but I’m just telling you like it is. Workout intensity is multi-factorial in nature. I wish that it could always be in the high zone but it’s just not that way.

Here are a few things that impact intensity:

  • Your mood
  • How much sleep you’ve had
  • The intensity of your last workout
  • Emotional stress
  • Personal problems

I am mentioning this because if you head towards the weight stack with the mindset of being Superman with each gym visit, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

Instead, learn to listen to your body and recognize there will be days where you just aren’t feeling it. And that’s OK.

But what you don’t want to do is use low intensity as a reason to skip. Once you get on that train, it can be hard to get off.

Make sense?

Some of the most successful bodybuilders I know schedule low intensity days as part of their weekly lifting routine. Using an exercise journal, they carve out certain times of the week for specific activities.

Doing so allows them to have some control over what’s happening in the power and strength department. If you have a chance, I highly encourage you to read this article that explores muscular strength in detail.

muscle building factors9. Realistic diet

This hack is obvious but worth mentioning all the same. If you have a crappy diet, the work you are doing at the gym won’t be worth a lick.

The mistake some guys make is going overboard with diet when they get back into a gym routine. They create an impossible situation that is a sure setup for failure.

Think about it. If you are working a full-time job, do you really have time to make all those fancy meals you see on some of the men’s health sites?

If you want to remain motivated to workout, your best bet is to dedicate yourself to healthier eating instead of “healthy eating”.

Example: At lunch, you have a choice of a tuna wrap or burger. Which is healthier? This is tricky because at first, the tuna may seem like the winner.

But is it really?

Not if it’s mixed in with 4 teaspoons of mayonnaise!

At any rate, there will be time enough to boil chicken, eggs, and other high protein meals. But at least for now, focus your awareness on healthier choices.

Eventually, your body and diet will work in tandem. But allow the process to unfold organically.

If you want to learn more about the realities of a body builder’s diet, check out this nutrition FAQ.

10.  Create variation

The final tip is also a common sense one. Still, it is worth reinforcing. Create variation in your workouts.

If you’ve been doing some same old leg press exercises forever and a day, why not try something new? Does the thought of doing another round of calf lifts on a donkey machine make you yawn? Why not switch things up?

Variation is your best friend at the gym. Doing new exercises helps to push-back against muscle memory and boredom. It can also help with working through plateaus.

One way to do this is through pyramiding. This is a dynamic whereby you start with a low weight and gradually work up. If you are already doing this, why not consider a reverse pyramid?

Learn more about these kinds of concepts in this strength vs. power post.

Wrap Up

At the beginning of this article, I talked about the importance of commitment. None of the hacks mentioned above will be worth a hill of beans unless this is in place.

And here’s what you can trade in commitment for … consistency.

More than anything else, consistency is the ingredient needed to build the body of your dreams.

If you want to learn more about psyching yourself up for workouts and staying focused, I highly recommend the book: Mind and Muscle by Whitmarsh (See Amazon).

I hope you found the ideas and suggestions shared here useful. See you at the gym!

About John D. Moore 391 Articles
Dr. John Moore is a licensed counselor and Editor-in-Chief of Guy Counseling. A journalist and blogger, he writes about a variety of topics related to wellness. His interests include technology, outdoor activities, science, and men's health. Check out his show --> The Men's Self Help Podcast