4 Mind Tricks That Work When There’s No Motivation To Gym
Ever wanted to try new ways to get bigger muscles? Well now you can with these mind games for big gains.

February 27, 2018

brain lifting a heavy barbell illustration no motivation to gym

No motivation to gym? It’s all in your head: your brain is wired to conserve energy and keep your body at rest. Here are 4 ways to rewire it.

1. Speed Up Your Workouts

When you sprint all out towards a goal – as when our prehistoric ancestors chased down food – your brain’s reward is a blast of dopamine that imprints the memory of your success and how good it felt. “High-intensity interval training [HIIT] has a similar effect,” says Dr. Rodney Dishman, a professor of exercise science at the University of Georgia who’s been studying the role of motivation in physical activity for 30 years. “Unlike resistance training or even long-distance cardio, it significantly increases blood-flow in the frontal cortex.”

Your Move: Find a hill that takes about 20 to 30 seconds to sprint up, and after a brief warm-up (10 minutes of jogging will do the trick), race to the top as fast as you can. When you get there, do 40 mountain climbers followed by 10 push-ups; then walk down. Repeat the circuit (sprint, mountain climbers, push-ups, walk) as many times as you can in 20 minutes. “Hills do triple duty,” says Josh Stolz, a personal trainer at Equinox in New York City. “You have a goal you can see, you’re building power and reaching exhaustion faster than you would on flat ground, and the walk back down provides a natural recovery period so you’ll be able to push it during the next uphill interval. It’s a great cardio workout.”

Related: Learn The Psychology Behind The World’s Toughest Trainer

2. Lift To Death

The human brain is one of nature’s most advanced systems, but it nevertheless has a hard time distinguishing the difference between real and imagined threats. You can use that programming to your advantage by creating “life or death” scenarios in the weight room that trick your brain into releasing reward chemicals, helping you push yourself harder and longer, says Stolz.

Your Move: Grab a pair of 24kg kettlebells and have a buddy jump on a rowing machine. Rack the kettlebells – that is, hold them in front of your shoulders with your elbows tucked and your palms facing in – and have your buddy start rowing as fast as he can. If you lower the weights before he reaches 250 metres, he’s “dead”. Once he hits his mark, switch positions and repeat. That’s one round. Go for five. “It forces you to ‘save’ your friend,” says Stolz. “After one or two rounds, you’ll be holding on – and rowing – for what seems like dear life.”

Related: What We Learnt From This Lifeguard’s Instagram Takeover

3. Showcase Your Skills

Socialising, playing and cooperating with others – behaviours long known to be essential for human survival – can have a significant impact on workout performance, according to a Michigan State University study. The researchers found that people who worked out together as part of a team exercised harder and more than twice as long as those who sweated solo. Their motivation? Fear of being the weakest link. And anyone can enjoy the same performance boost by backing off the lone-wolf sweat sessions and participating in more group workouts, preferably with complete strangers, says Greg Robins, a coach at Cressey Performance in Massachusetts.

Your Move: Join an after-work touch rugby game, sign up for a fun team sport or just take a new group class. “If you’re playing or exercising with new people, you’ll hustle and work harder to elevate your game,” says Robins.

Related: Take On This Week’s Friday Fitness Test: The Vertical Jump

4. Taste Something Sweet

There’s a reason you have a sweet tooth: your brain rewards you for ingesting sugar, which is a major source of cellular energy once it’s converted to glucose. Energy drinks are meant to replenish those glucose stores, but you don’t need to actually drink them to enjoy a boost. In research from the UK, endurance cyclists who simply rinsed their mouths with glucose-infused water (a sports drink by any other name) pedalled faster, had more power and showed  increased activation in their brains’ reward centres, resulting in increased overall performance.

Your Move: When you feel yourself hitting a wall during a spin class or long run, swish a mouthful of your favourite sports drink and spit it out. You’ll get the neurochemical reward without the kJ price tag. Just don’t try to swap in a zero-kilojoule beverage. In the study, cyclists who were given an artificially sweetened drink failed to feel a lift.