No Gym Partner? No Problem! 5 Strategies To Keep Yourself Motivated
Finding a good training partner is like searching for a needle in a haystack. An ideal candidate is smart, strong, experienced and possesses a sickening work ethic. There isn’t a lifter or coach who will argue the importance of a solid training partner.
But what if your only option for a training partner is Johnny who has a bone deep conviction that pilates will make him stronger? And, he eats cheese and tomato sandwiches for dinner.
Don’t be a jerk. Allow Johnny to follow his bliss.
As for you, you’ve got to saddle up and tackle the iron alone. You don’t need a training partner to dominate the gym.
Unless you are in an environment that brings the best out of you, the typical training partner arrangement usually lends to something like this: talking about work problems, showing each other Instagram photos of the dude you want to look like, canceling on your partner because you don’t feel like going, to many trips to the water fountain, texting someone a novel when you should just call them later, taking alternate routes around the gym to catch the attention of that fox at the front desk. Running with these cats will sabotage your training and hold you back from making any type of serious gains.
In this case, you’re better off training alone.
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However, training along presents its own challenges. Make no mistake about it, grinding alone in the gym, in your basement or garage is tough. A lot of advice on achievement plays to the tune of “80% of success is showing up”, and while there some truth in that, I would say showing up is closer to 50% (maybe even less).
You can probably relate, too.
Have you ever seen someone at the gym just “show up.” It’s like they’re sleepwalking through every rep. No intensity. No focus. No mission to conquer. Perhaps this person has even been you at times.
You have no legitimate training partners to choose from and you’re sick of lackluster training sessions done on your own. So how do you stay motivated to keep training and pushing as hard as you possibly can, when there’s no external accountability keeping you in check?
Fortunately, research on behavior change shows us what compels us to repeatedly do something we don’t always want to do. Here are five strategies to stay motivated when you are training alone.
No Gym Partner? No Problem! 5 Strategies for Success
1. Give yourself to a reward that actually fires you up
There are a handful of freaks on the earth that will grind through a deadlift-based workout that don’t need a carrot in front of them in order to be motivated. On the other hand, there are a lot more people who battle the daily decision with either going to the gym or heading home for a #netflixandchill kind of evening.
If the activity itself doesn’t motivate you (like going to the gym), then you have to strategically make the benefits of going to the gym more tangible.
Charles Duhigg, a journalist and the author of The Power of Habit, has a three pronged approach that works well for people who don’t get jazzed up about lifting daddy weight at the gym. The first step is setting a “habit loop,” meaning, you have to set an obvious trigger to go to the gym.
For example, you set your gym bag by the door every night before bed. All the fixens are packed: Pre-Workout, Nike Flyknits, headphones, wrist straps, knee sleeves and a post-workout shake. When you head out the door for the day you’re triggered to make it to the gym because you’ve put the effort in to prepare your gym bag.
Next is the actual “routine,” in this case, it’s going to the gym. Rather than leaving the behavior as a vague task that can be completed at any time of the day, it’s wise to schedule it like an appointment. Look at your day and pencil in your gym time. Once it’s set, it’s a non-negotiable.
Lastly, the external reward is what will drive the first two behaviors. If you know that you can treat yourself to three uninterrupted episodes of House of Cards when you get back from the gym, the task itself (going to the gym) doesn’t seem as burdensome.
Also, by placing an extrinsic reward on your behavior your brain will then associate the task of going to they gym worthwhile. This increases your chances of making the trip to the gym a daily habit.
The key to the extrinsic reward is that if fires you up. It’s got to excite you. Maybe you’re not a TV show fan, but you love playing video games, set that as your reward.
Maybe you enjoy having a glass of wine in the hot tub with your spouse? Maybe you like to read novels? Maybe walking your dog is a time where you get to clear your head from a long day?
It’ll be different for everybody, but it’s important that you DON’T copy someone else’s reward because your brain can’t be tricked. It has to be something you personally enjoy.
This method works well for beginners or people who can’t seem to make training a routine. After a while the motivation will turn inward: The endorphins from exercise will start to kick in and you’ll realize how awesome it makes you feel. You’ll make strength gains and your body will start to change. For most people, this is the tipping point.
Once you crossover, you can pretty much say goodbye to that old life.
2. Put your money where your fitness is
The world of strength sports in the last five years have blown open the doors for the common person to compete. Bodybuilding, physique, powerlifting, Olympic lifting, CrossFit, and all of the obstacle courses are grounded in strength. Even endurance events can be considered a strength sport.
So pick your poison. When you think about entering an event, which medium gives you that butterfly feeling in your stomach?
You know what I’m talking about: That feeling you used to get when you ran out for the introductions of your Friday night high school basketball game. Whatever sport makes you feel that way, is the route you need to choose. Once you pick an event to participate in, here what you do next.
Write a check for $1,000 (or whatever amount feels dangerous) and give to somebody other than your mom (unless your mom doesn’t tolerate whining and excuses).
From here, the rules are simple:
If you don’t stick to your goal of participating in the event you chose, your friend gets to keep the $1,000 bucks. Completion is the goal. If you see the whole process through and step on stage, cross the finish line, or attempt your lifts on the platform you’ve completed the goal. In this case you get to keep your $1,000 bucks.
You’ve got skin in the game at this point and nobody hates burning $1,000 bucks just because they were lazy. Also, you’ve got a friend, co-worker or family member who is keeping you accountable.
3. Get paid to lift
The opposite end of the spectrum actually pays you to lift. So instead of fear driving your behavior of losing out on a $1,000 bucks, you can actually get paid to hit the iron. If you’ve tired everything in the book and still can’t make exercising a habit, it may be time to turn to cold hard cash to get your tail in the gym.
Gary Charness, PhD, a behavioral economist at the University of California Santa Barbara conducted a study on the impact of incentivizing people with cash to go the gym. He found that people who were paid $100 dollars to go to the gym, had an adherence rate that was double of the other test subjects who weren’t incentivized.
Ok, maybe you don’t have that uncle who can throw a couple stacks your way every month just you can go lift some weights. (If you do, that’s awesome. In fact, send me his info, I’d like to apply).
If this strategy peaks your interest, check out the app Pact. Here you’ll find a like-minded community of people with the same struggle who will pay you to stick to your training schedule.
If you fall off the wagon and miss a workout, the app automatically charges your card or paypal account.
However, if you reach your goal and show some discipline, you get paid by the community that’s funded by people who have broken their own pact. Just don’t miss, and you’ll be aite.
4. Join a virtual community
Personality types play a larger role in fitness then you might think. In fact, those who lean towards being extroverted are more likely to feel energized being part of a tribe, training in a group setting or being connected with a crowd with similar interest.
If that sounds like you, but you can’t find a person or a group that you can connect with in person, then joining a virtual community is your next best option.
Online communities, forums, and private Facebook groups are exploding these days. Why? Because people like being connected with other like-minded people who have the same struggles and share the same successes.
Related: Join the Tiger Fitness Forum Today
Whatever your sport of choice is: Bodybuilding, CrossFit, running, garage gym training, physique, bikini, Spartan races, powerlifting, triathlons, Olympic lifting, you can find an outlet to connect with a group. Hope onto the google and search your sport for an online group. You’ll find one.
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5. Throw in a ball busting challenge once a month
You need challenges in the gym to see what you’re really made of. This is especially true for the modern day keyboard warriors out there.
Getting caught up in the perfect periodizied program or following the rules to the tee gets boring. It’s like waiting at the DMV: Take a number, go through the motions, and check out.
It’s a beautiful thing to have access to the most complex training programs and diet strategies, but they are of little use if can’t test ourselves with basic challenges.
Throwing in a ball busting challenge into your workout routine will do two things:
- It breaks-up the mind-numbing pattern of following a routine
- It makes a lot of other things in the gym feel and seem easier
Let me explain. My buddy and I one day walked into the gym. We felt like brave that day for no particular reason. Almost rebel like. Therefore, we threw out the plan that was on paper. We decided to do something that would test our spirits.
This was in the first 2 years of training for both of us, and looking back the naiveté as probably an advantage.
We choose to do a workout called Manion. The workout was a tribute to a fallen shoulder. So, in addition to feeling like mavericks, we also felt noble. The workout consisted of only two movements: A run and a back squat at 135 pounds. The structure of the workout was design like so:
Complete seven rounds for time:
- 400m run
- Back squats at 135# for 29 reps.
The only other time I felt like giving up was when I ran my first full marathon without trying for it and in Hawaii when my high school basketball coach made us run sprints in the suffocating heat for five hours because we broke the curfew the previous night.
I will say this though: After that workout, my definition of hard, was changed forever. It reset my ability to handle tough workouts.
Sometimes all we need to saddle up and take a challenge on that is beyond our normal training routine. Shake things up. Rattle the cage. And see what you’re made of.
This method works well for the trainee who can’t remember the last time they missed a workout. But they also feel bored, stagnated and meek about their current training.
Throwing a challenge in once a month should wake up the beast that’s gone dormant.
Don’t let the excuse of not having a training partner hold you back. You’ve got options. Find what method works best for you and implement it into your life.
Give it a chance to work too. Just like giving your training program a chance to transpire into results, you also got to give your motivation strategies a chance to mature.
1) Duhigg, C. (2012). The power of habit: Why we do what we do in life and business. New York: Random House.
2) Incentives to Exercise by Gary Charness, Uri Gneezy :: SSRN. (n.d.).