Habit, motivation and the squat rack blues


Some people believe that there is no such thing as a bad workout. But some days, workouts really suck arse.

You get up late, you’re tired, and you ate badly the night before. You have no time to warm up, and what you do attempt, is with minimum effort and attention. This was me today, before attacking the squat rack. Some days there is little in the way of motivation. Some days you just feel miserable about it all. So how do people keep making sure that they work out when they have left their motivation behind?

I keep reading about people who don’t feel motivated. That motivation is missing. They can’t find it. The thing is that we are always motivated. Otherwise we would stay still. It’s just that sometimes that we are motivated in a different direction. So last week, I wasn’t motivated to exercise one morning but I was motivated to stay in bed for an extra hour. Motivation is a fickle thing. It cannot be relied upon to turn up to every event or activity that you want it to. It is a very unreliable life partner and has its own preoccupations and ideas about what you should be involved in. After all my years of exercising, most of the days I have shown up without motivation. It is not required.


what we do


Motivation is what gets us started. When I rekindled my relationship with exercise many years ago, it was a desire to feel water on my body that got me going. I had forgotten how much I loved to be in the water and was keen to experience the joy. And then I just kept on. It wasn’t motivation that kept me going it was habit and commitment.





These days, I know that I do 3 weights sessions and 3 cardio sessions a week. I know this. I have committed to this and I do not waiver without a very good reason (sleep and injuries are good reasons). The beauty of habit and commitment is that feelings don’t have to come in to it. I don’t have to feel like a work out, I am very unlikely to feel like a workout at 5.15 in the morning when it’s dark and raining outside. When the cat has peed on my shoes again. When my gym pants feel a little more snug than last week. When my family are sleeping and the duvet is warm. Who in their right mind is motivated and raring to go at this time? But I go. Because I have a commitment to having strong bones and heart and to managing my mental health. And I have made it a habit in my life. It is important. Everybody that knows me knows that it is both important and non-negotiable. This is how I take care of myself. This is how I balance sitting on my arse for many hours a day. If my family want to keep me around for a long time, they know that this is what needs to happen.


It is worth mentioning though, that just because habit and commitment can get a person to the gym, they don’t guarantee a good workout. Today’s was terrible. Leg day. Two exercises only. Squats and leg press. Today was bad.


Squats have somehow become part of my identity. Or rather lifting has. The struggle to know who I am in the world is decades old but somehow my identity has grabbed hold of lifting as way to define itself. So when I can’t lift, it shakes me to my core and leaves me questioning my self-worth. This is what I’m good at and I can’t even do this well. To do a good squat, or a legal squat if you are in a competition, your hips need to go lower than your knees. On a good day I can just about clear this if I was to have a generous judge, on a bad day, nowhere near. There are reasons for this. The KB coach says it’s because “your ankle mobility is shit”.  The Physio might mention my weak arse, or femoral acetabular impingement, my PT might mention my confidence or attention, and I might say it’s due to the generous size of my hamstrings and calves and their inability to create space. Bret Contreras…strength guru would say it could be my anthropometry or at least the length of my femur. But when I am standing in the rack it just seems like I’m just not good enough to squat. And that means that I am average.



This blog was meant to be about embracing the average though so why does the squat cause me to come unstuck? I can love my body in a bikini, enjoy myself on a tramp, and crack myself up in a handstand attempt, but in a squat rack with the iron across my back, I somehow have to be better than most.  I was in a desperate state about this this morning, so I wrote it all down in my lifting book between sets. So in between sets, I wrote, worked on my ankles, wrote some more, lifted some more and by the end of set three of my working sets, I knew the answer. I just needed to keep lifting. Because my body doesn’t really know it’s having a bad work out. Only my head. My legs have the self-awareness of puppies. They were just happy to be moving. As I said earlier in the piece, feelings don’t need to come into this. Only habit and commitment. So as long as I make the plan and commit to it, who cares whether motivation or good feelings turn up? If I lift, I am a lifter. Better than some, worse than others. One person is best, another is worst and the rest of us fall somewhere in between.



Making fitness habits with ZenHabits

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