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The Real Secret to Motivation

7204-nat1Q: These days I find myself to be completely unmotivated in the gym. How can I keep myself motivated and be consistent? I work really hard at the gym—it’s balls-to-the-wall training—but lately it’s just not there. Also, I’m currently following a three-days-on/one-day-off split: chest and arms, legs, back and delts, day off and then repeat. How many exercises should I be doing for the major bodyparts? And, if I start off with flat-bench dumbbell presses on a chest day, at the next workout should I still start off flat or do a different exercise?

A: Staying motivated to work out hard is a challenge that we all face, from the most experienced bodybuilders to rank beginners. Our moods change from time to time, so it takes effort to keep up our motivation.

I’ve found that you have to set goals in order to stay motivated. You must have had a reason when you decided to start training. You might have wanted to improve your appearance, become healthier or maybe even enter a competition. The more specific and clear your goal, the more motivated you will be to train hard. If your reason for starting a workout program is vague, you may soon find yourself unmotivated to go to the gym.

When I started working out, I wanted to build bigger muscles and look like a bodybuilder; however, when I saw a picture of Kal Szkalak winning the ’77 Mr. Universe contest, I knew then and there that I wanted to win the Mr. Universe contest one day. Seeing the pictures of Kal standing on the platform crystallized my goal and gave me a clear plan for what I wanted to achieve.

I read that Kal was 24 years old when he won the title, so I made that my goal too. I was 14 years old when I started training, which gave me a 10-year time limit to build up my body and win the Mr. Universe contest just as he did.

I was so motivated that I started working out twice a day, early in the morning at 5:30 before school and then again later in the day when I got home. I was so psyched up to achieve my goal, there is no limit to what I would have done in order to be successful.

If you find your motivation lacking, ask yourself what you want to achieve with your workouts. Do you want to compete? Are you trying to shape up for a specific event? The clearer your vision is on what you want to achieve, the more motivation you will have to make your goal a reality.

Think about what you want and when you want to make it happen. If you set a date for achieving your goal, it will give you a greater sense of urgency and really psych you up.

Your other question was about how many sets to do for the muscle groups. I do more exercises and more sets for the bigger muscle groups and fewer for the smaller muscles. Obviously, you will need to do more for a larger muscle group like the back than for a smaller muscle group like the biceps.

You want to make sure that you train all the areas of a muscle for complete development. For example, if you’re training back, you need to do an exercise for the upper lats for width, an exercise for the lower lats, an exercise to build the thickness of the lats and another movement to train the lower-back muscles. If you did three or four sets of four exercises, you would be doing at least 12 to 16 sets for your back.

The biceps, on the other hand, are much smaller. I can get a good biceps workout with just two exercises for that reason and because I’m already training them indirectly with many of the exercises I do for my back.

Here are my set totals for each muscle group:


Chest: 9-12 sets

Back: 15 sets

Legs (quads and hams): 16 sets

Shoulders and traps: 12 sets

Triceps: 9 sets

Biceps: 6-8 sets

Calves: 6-7 sets

Abs: 6 sets


Editor’s note: John Hansen has won the Mr. Natural Olympia and is a three-time Natural Mr. Universe winner. Check out his Web site at for more information about how you can be a part of his exciting, new Natural Olympia Fitness getaway. Send questions or comments to John@NaturalOlympia
.com. Look for John’s DVD, “Natural Bodybuilding Seminar and Competitions,” along with his book, Natural Bodybuilding, and his training DVD, “Real Muscle,” at his Web site or at Home Gym Warehouse,  IM



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