Most of us who are now middle-aged began training when we were kids, typically between ages 13 and 16. Think back to your workouts in those days. If you were like me, you were sorely lacking in knowledge. At that age my entire repertoire of exercises was limited to about six to eight movements, none of which happened to be for the legs or back, and I didn’t know nutrition from newts.
What I did have was boundless enthusiasm and a raging drive to get bigger and stronger. I could not wait until it was time to attack the iron because I saw it as a transformative salvation from my predestined genetic model of being scrawny and light.
Years went by, and with them came more responsibilities such as work, marriage and then fatherhood. Bodybuilding did enable me to become so much bigger and stronger than I had been as a teenager, but eventually all the heavy training with form that wasn’t always the greatest led to injuries and chronic conditions such as arthritis and persistent tendinitis. I am sure many of you in your 40s and 50s are a lot like me. You still love to train, but you find your motivation waning at times. You can’t imagine quitting, of course, but there are many days when the gym seems to be more of a necessary chore than the thrilling adventure you couldn’t wait for that it used to be.
So, how do you maintain focus and motivation in the long term, as in a lifetime? That all comes down to having clear goals with a timeline and deadline. Wanting to get as big as possible is a fine goal to have, but it’s too vague to hold any real power over you. How do you define getting bigger? You need to set a goal of reaching X bodyweight by a specific day or increasing some bodypart measurement like the arms or legs.
For example, I had the goal of exceeding my previous top bodyweight of 240 by the end of February and actually achieved it well in advance. With only a nebulous goal of “getting bigger,” however, I doubt I would have been as focused in my training and eating over the past three months.
The same goes for getting leaner. Unless I have a very clear reason to get leaner, I find it extremely difficult to eat clean and do more cardio. Goals motivate me, as they motivate all of us.
That said, motivation will still ebb away for any number of reasons. Often it’s the first symptom of being overtrained, and the only remedy needed is to take a few days off from the gym to rest and recover fully. Injuries can also be demoralizing and take a big bite out of your motivation. In cases of injury, it’s critical to focus on the positive. Work hard on the body-parts and exercises that you can train safely, while seeking treatment and therapy for the injury so it heals as quickly as possible.
Personal problems are a very common motivation and focus drainer. We all live in the real world and have our share of real problems at times. Maybe you’re in a very rough spot in your relationship with your spouse or significant other, and things aren’t looking good for your future together—or maybe you’re going through breakup or divorce. I know that when I’ve had marital problems, training and eating were hardly the first thing on my mind.
Money problems are often a big distraction, as are job-related issues and trouble involving school, family members (especially health problems) and any number of factors that we all have to deal with at times. You can do your best to avoid any and all problems, but sometimes things just happen. When they do, this passion of ours may have to take a backseat for a little while.
Generally speaking, though, unless you have a very clear goal and deadline—a competition is probably the most obvious example, as well as wanting to look great for a class reunion or vacation—maintaining motivation and focus won’t be easy all the time. For those of us who love bodybuilding but will never make a living from our physiques, the challenge to keep that fire burning strong at all times is significant.
Do your best. If you’re ever at a loss for how to get the fire back, often the easiest and most reliable solution is to take four to seven days off from the gym. If bodybuilding is what you truly love doing, by the end of that break you will be recharged and ready to rock. Keep in mind that as we get older, we are going to need more time to rest and recover than when we did as teenagers and 20-somethings.
So, listen to your body, and take breaks when you need them. In the long run they will be what helps you stay motivated and loving your workouts.