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motivation for endurance sports: what motivates high achieving people?

-By: Tomas Swift-Metcalfe

Last modified: June 6, 2014

What motivates you?

I’m very interested about getting people out and doing sport. I’ve been struggling with this problem and given it a fair amount of thought. Not personally in my own training, but motivating other people. I want people to discover the awesomeness of being fit. There’s a lot of ‘theory’ about motivation and I have some understanding of the theory.

things that can help motivate people

Social inertia seems to work well, clubs and training groups as well social training apps such as Strava seem to be one of the best ways to motivate people. Social inertia can very negative and lead to negative motivation, think kids deciding to take up smoking…

Competition. I think a lot of people are ‘competition averse’, probably due to bad introductions to sport at school in childhood. Competitive minded people however need to just schedule a competition and everything else falls into place.

Goal setting (completing a course, self-improvement) seems to work to a limited extent -till the point gains can’t be made. At some time we all slow down due to age and this can have a big negative impact on motivation.

Intrinsic motivation. Ironically, I’ve seen this most commonly in elite athletes or former elites, whom are supposedly competitive, extrinsically motivated people (money, fame). Training becomes a compulsion and a need, independent of goals, state, anything. Although it’s often called ‘exercise dependence’ or ‘addiction’ this is by far the strongest motivation. I think this has to do with knowing what they feel when they’re fit and healthy and feeling better in that state.

Having a plan. Someone has taken the trouble to figure out the best way to train, the least you can do is follow through with the training. I personally struggle to ‘train’ myself as it’s hard to be 100% objective and committed to training myself, hence I’ll do too much, or too little, or throw in an extra rest day without reason…

Set your objectives far into the future. one, two years into the future, picture it and work towards it. This gives enough time for behaviour patterns to imprint and become default behaviour.

Choosing objective wiselyWhat I’ve found absolutely massacres motivation is when expectation isn’t met. So clearing all preconceptions about what you want to achieve and setting sensible goals is important. Having high objectives is important in my experience.

Financial commitment seems to work to some extent: I.e. buying the bike, joining the gym. Although this seems only to work on very short time scales.

Positive effects of exercise Although exercise has been show to improve physical performance hugely it’s also correlated with improvements in depression and cognitive benefits These factors don’t appear to be enough to motivate people…

It’s all well and good knowing the theory, actually motivating people is a whole other kettle of fish… I’m not the best at it.

A highly motivated individual

I’ve seen someone improve nearly 100% in two and a half months. Till now I had trained mainly elite athletes. With elite athletes every single percent is significant. So to see someone nearly double their power output was really cool. Imagine tuning your car to kick out twice the horse power. Granted this person just switched sports and was fatigued when they started, but still.

This person had extensive experience in sport, excellent knowledge of strength and conditioning, but a poor understanding of endurance sports. Things got of to a slow start, but after a period of adaptation, a series of very short training cycles a rest period his form went up incredibly. It’s been great to see.

It isn’t easy

Structured training for endurance sport is not easy, it’s a hard regimen designed to elicit the greatest training effect. This fact negatively affects the motivation of many people, especially if the process is new to them and isn’t well explained.

The pattern

There is a pattern though. People who take well to structured training are people with a history in other sports and are generally high achievers in other areas of life. These people aren’t motivated by sport, they are motivated full stop.

Without strong intrinsic motivation, it’s hard to keep to a rigorous schedule that will allow the very biggest improvements to be made.

motivation for endurance sports
what motivates you?

How to develop motivation for momentum sports?

  • Test yourself, train, then test again. Self improvement can be a huge motivational factor.
  • Get to know people within the sport, so that your training become social. Training with other people, at least occasionally is great motivation.
  • Get the gear, getting the equipment will motivate you, at least short term. (not the best motivation, but good to get started).
  • Get a health check up; weight, body fat, blood lipid profile; again, see the improvement. I’ve got an article on doing sport healthily.
  • Don’t over do it. One sure way to loose motivation is to get too obsessive, to involved with your training.
  • Follow a plan. Knowing what you’ve got to do helps, also depending on your objectives coaching can improve motivation.
  • Book yourself in for an event, having goals in your sport is essential.
  • Learn about your sport. Learning about your sport in a friendly environment will help you develop a great interest in the sport.

And a few more thoughts on motivation…

Some half baked untested theory by yours truly.

I think the reason more people don’t take to sports is that there is an overstimulation during excerise which people aren’t used to. Think of the degrees of freedom involved in a sport like cycling: The brain is flooded with information from the eyes, proprioceptors, skin, ears, balance… It’s unbelievable the amount of information the brain has to process real time during a dynamic activity.

Once people used to it i.e. copying strategies and the pertinent neural pathways written, then exercise rather than being unpleasant, is pleasurable.

Basically, reducing the ‘degrees of freedom’ (i.e. the aspects of exercise someone has to deal with) can be the best way to get started: Be it using a static trainer, using music, etc. Also, self selected exercise intensity is important at the early stages, to limit the over stimulation that occurs at high levels of exercise intensity.

It’s probably the same reason why elite athletes tend use association during exercise, while amateur use disassociation as a coping technique. Because elite athletes ‘listen’ to the information feedback looking where they can squeeze out more performance, while amateur try blur it out, counting, singing, listening to music, etc…

While exercise is without a doubt good, resistance to it probably develops because no direct sense of reward is achieved. One thinks when a ‘wild human’ would have exercised and that when they needed to escape something, or catch something to eat: In both cases there is a reward. Where reward doesn’t exist it’s probably doesn’t make much ‘evolutionary’ sense to run around the place burning energy unnecessarily.

what gets people doing sport? Leave your comments bellow

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