It seems the words "motivation" and "inspiration" come up quite often when it comes to training. These can be good things, and they definitely have their place, but too often they are given too much importance or are received from the wrong sources. This makes them a bad thing. So why is it so many people continue to search for motivation and inspiration? Why do people think they are so important?

I have never actually paid to see a motivational speaker in person. I have read some books and seen some videos of various people in this industry. To be honest it has always fascinated me, and still to this day I think I could enjoy doing some motivational speaking. The thing that has always amazed and frustrated me, though, is how few people actually change anything compared to how many people go right back to the way they were. Everyone walks away with all this energy and excitement, but that quickly fades once people are left to themselves. Basically, they spent money for a quick high, not unlike drugs or alcohol. I ran into this same type of effect when I worked in physical therapy. So many patients were great the three hours a week they worked with me, but right after they left they would do nothing until their next visit. This type of patient was only motivated when I was right there telling them to do their exercises. They knew they needed to do more work and rehab on their own but wouldn’t.

The fitness, strength, bodybuilding, and weight training industries definitely try to put out the image that athletes are always happy and excited about their training. So much of it is bullshit. Yes, most people in this industry do love it, but it is not always like that. They put forward the image that they love eating clean and training all the time.

WATCH: Q&A with Coach Kav — The Reason for Motivational Quotes and Slogans

I am here to tell you that even the best of the best have bad times. They have times they don’t want to train or times that they don’t want to eat clean. They have times dealing with injuries or life issues that interrupt training. It is not always happy times in the gym. They are not always making progress and there are lots of plateaus. I don’t care if you’re trying to get stronger, leaner, lose weight, increase endurance, put on size, etc. — you are going to have ups and downs. Every top athlete I know has ups and downs. They have times that only their discipline and drive keep them going. They have times that are not happy and fun but based solely on the fact that they want to achieve the goal they set for themselves. Do not believe the hype that these top athletes in the magazines got there because they just loved every minute of their training.

knee wrap motivation

My own story is proof that the top athletes are not always motivated in the way so many people think. My journey in strength training is like a roller coaster, from great highs to really bad lows. I would not have reached the level I did if I had let those lows stop me from training like they could have. Yes, I love strength training, and when I am feeling good lifting is easy for me. I have lots of times where I can’t wait to get to the gym — days where I wake up chomping at the bit to get through the workday so I can go lift.

On the flip side, I have hit serious plateaus where the frustration level is through the roof just trying to figure out how to make the smallest gains. I have had times dealing with nagging injuries that just seem to take forever to heal. I have had times of acute injuries where I know that when I get to the gym, I am going to have to go annoyingly light. This is all not to mention my struggles with depression and my sleep issues. I have been through times when it is hard to do anything, let alone get to the gym and try to get a good training session in. During these times, I did not look for motivation to get me to the gym. I just knew if I wanted to reach my goals then I was going to have to train, so I did. Training is what I had to do in order to perform like I wanted to on the platform, and it really is that simple.

Maybe the problem is the definition of motivation, or what people think motivation means. From what I can tell, the majority of the time when people ask about staying motivated, they seem to feel they need to be excited and pumped up about training all the time. If this is motivation than it is simply based on emotions. Well, we are human and our emotions are generally all over the place, so how can anyone expect to keep it high all the time?

When I think of motivation, I think about the reason for someone’s actions. In terms of training, that means the motivation is the goal. What is your motivation to work so hard and put in so much time? I do it to reach my goal of an x-pound bench press. Motivation is not some pretty shiny magical thing that makes you want to train. Motivation on its own is also not going to get the job done. Motivation is just the reason for wanting to train, but it will not always make you want to train. This is where discipline comes into play. It will keep you going to the gym and following your plan even when you do not feel like it. Motivation helps you set your goals and discipline helps you achieve your goals. So motivation without discipline is no good and discipline without motivation is no good.

Listen, it is very rare that things in life are easy. And the things that are easy are not worth having anyway. All the really good stuff takes hard work and that makes them worth it. Anything in the field of fitness, strength, lifting, bodybuilding, etc., takes time and work. If you expect to always be “motivated” to do what it takes, you are already setting yourself up for failure. There are going to be times when eating another clean meal wants to make you puke. There are going to be times when eating another huge-ass meal makes you want to puke. There are going to be times you're going to have to drag yourself to the gym. There are going to be times that doing your rehab seems like the most tedious thing ever. This is just the way it is. If it were easy, everyone in the world would be strong and fit.

Another factor of motivation is its source, whether internal or external. External motivation almost never sticks. For example, when people set a goal based on someone else, they rarely achieve it, such as someone who decides to lose weight based on other people's opinions. The motivational speaker is another good example. People go to them to be motivated, but once it is done they have nothing inside to keep it going.

gear motivation

Now, I believe the people that do learn from motivational speakers are the ones that have that internal motivation but need to learn the process of how to change. Motivation needs to be internal in order to really work. If the motivation is true and is powered from within then it will last through the hard work and the time it takes to achieve a goal. It will hold you up through the rough times and recharge itself through the good times.

I am not saying external motivation is entirely bad. I decided to get into powerlifting after watching some great lifters and wanting to have the strength they did. That external motivation just sparked up my internal motivation. I think it's okay to keep up with the sport and use that to help motivate some training sessions, nutrition practices, etc. It's just not good enough all the time and is only good as long as there is still strong internal motivation. I always thought of watching videos, reading, and talking about the sport more as education than motivation. Yes, I would get seriously pumped sometimes, but it was more about learning new things to help keep me progressing. Like all things in life, there is a balance.

Inspiration is another topic that comes up along the same lines. This is another funny word to me that can mean different things to different people. I could say those great lifters I first saw inspired me to get into powerlifting. They inspired me to want to gain strength to reach a level they had achieved.

Again, though, it seems there is an internal and external side of this. If you base it all on an external source, it will not always be with you. If you base it on an internal source, it will always be with you. If someone inspires me, why couldn’t or shouldn’t I inspire myself? Then again, it also seems inspiration is based on emotion, so it will never be consistent. I admit I have been honored when people have told me I inspire them, but at the same time, I wonder if I inspire them enough to really make changes in their lives. I hope so, but too many times it fades because it is an emotion. I hope to inspire people to find something inside to make the changes they want.

MORE: What Can Powerlifting Learn from the Olympic Games?

It seems to me that too much emphasis is placed on things like motivation and inspiration. These are the things that feed the creation of dreams and goals, which is awesome, but once they are created their roles decrease. "Watching so-and-so motivated me to try to get stronger" is amazing, but too often it stops there or only goes a little down the road before it stops. I think more focus needs to be placed on what happens after being motivated and inspired because neither of these two by themselves achieves anything.

Goals and processes need to be set up. Sure, you’re inspired and motivated, but to do what exactly? If there is no clear goal, how do you know where to go? Once the goal is set, how will you get there without a plan or process? Once all that is done then the real important thing is how you will stay true to that process or plan. This is where the discipline comes in. Discipline keeps you staying the course and continuing to work to reach that goal. People talk about inspiration and motivation like it is so important. It is just a part of a bigger process, with all the parts playing their role. If I were to say which part is most important, I would lean toward discipline. But then again, without a goal what good is it? Without the motivation, you would have never even made a goal that requires the discipline.

It is nice to think we should always be “motivated” and “inspired” to achieve our dreams or goals. Shit, I wish it were like that. The truth is that that we all have ups and downs. We are human. We all have bad days and times. We all struggle sometimes to keep pushing forward. Training is no different than anything else in life. Once you have your dreams and goals, you need to figure out how you will achieve them. Put in place the plan or program to get there. Then it boils down to discipline and focus to keep on that path. It is a journey, so enjoy the times it is easy and fight through the times that are tough. But have the discipline to stay the course. Don’t believe the false prophecy of the media but instead believe in yourself!