“Why do you train?”
Upon hearing this question, many of us might get stumped. The most intuitive answer is one shaped by a positive outlook, such as “I enjoy the challenge of competing with my friends” or “I aim to go professional”.
However, according to retired professional strongman Mike Gill, the harsh truth is that the notion of an athlete functioning purely on passion alone is simply unrealistic. While the reasons mentioned above may ring true to a certain extent, it is usually something deeper and more subconscious that pushes us to achieve our fitness goals. In order to train in a way that is both purposeful and fulfilling, it is important to constantly question yourself and dig deep to find the real reason for your ambition to perform.
This is especially true for strength athletes. In events like weightlifting, powerlifting, strongman and Highland games, performance is determined solely by the measure of your strength in numbers. Staying competitive means sustaining a training career that is built towards beating those numbers. While some might call this approach narrow-minded, it is this kind of laser-like focus that is required for excellence within the sport. It is all too easy to become jaded when almost every major aspect of your life is geared towards those making those few minutes on the platform count. Keeping your eyes on the prize is one thing, but remembering why you wanted it in the first place is another.
Some useful questions to ask yourself, or any athlete, include:
- “Why do you really want to win?”
- “What do you not like about losing?”
- “If you don’t win how does that make you feel about yourself?”
- “What do you think about during your most painful training sessions?”
According to Gill, some answers which contain a depth of candour include:
- “I was always trying to please a parent and I couldn’t. If I win I will show them that I am good enough. Then, I will get their attention.”
- “I was horrible in gym as a kid and they made fun of me. Now I am a champion. I deserve respect.”
- “I had an eating disorder and starved myself to get attention. The athletic lifestyle helps me control this. If I keep competing it helps me stay on weight.”
- “My PTSD (anxiety, depression, OCD) can only be relieved in this environment. I need this.”
There is no right answer to the question of your training. What matters is that you’re honest with yourself. It takes a supreme act of mental gymnastics to be able to thoroughly lie to oneself, yet many of us are content to hide from the answers that define us.
So why is excavating the truth behind an athlete’s true motivations so important? Well, athletes often face the challenge of pushing themselves to their limits on a daily basis despite little financial gains, and this can take a toll on not just the physical body, but also the spirit. This means that understanding the real reason that drives you to push on during training can help you keep your sanity while keeping the burning motivation well and alive.
Most athletes don’t usually mention the emotional side of strength, but it is imperative to be mindful that our fears and worries are just as big a part of getting strong as physical training. You don’t have to like them; you just have to accept them.