Emotions That Strengthen You - Fitness Motivators


Advanced Mental Health & Exercise Science

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Suppose you did a hard set to failure and just when you were about to put the weight down, someone offered you a million dollars if you would do only one more rep, or held a gun to your head and threatened to blow your brains all over the leg-press machine unless you did another rep. Your brain would decide then and there that you must do another one and in a split second would cause more adrenalin to be secreted into your bloodstream to enable you to achieve that rep. This phenomenon is medically known as the "fight or flight response' which the human race has retained throughout its evolutionary path. Any animal will elicit this response when faced with imminent danger and a threat to its life from a hungry predator. The extra energy that adrenalin provides allows the frightened animal to either fight off the attack or flee and escape the threat of ending up n the predator's stomach.


Likewise, humans will elicit the fight or flight response when sensing the utmost feat, as in the case above of a bodybuilder given the ominous choice between doing one extra rep or suffering an untimely demise. Obviously arousing this emotion in such a manner is not the ideal way to stimulate your mind to intensify your training. You would be asked to kindly relinquish your membership at the gym if your training partner carried a sawed-off shotgun with him from exercise to exercise and encouragingly threatened to blow you away at each set.


When we were young, we heard stories about a hysterical woman who actually lifted a car to rescue her child that was trapped underneath it didn't believe that story then, but I do now One of the greatest workouts I've ever had in my life took place circa 1991 in the morning of the day! was to check into NYU Medical Center Hospital in New York for a major brain surgery. It would be the most difficult of the numerous procedures I would go on to have, and there was a good chance I would not survive the operation or could have been permanently chiseled as a result. But I wasn't going to sulk away at borne. That's not how I wanted to face what was ahead of me. I wasn't due at the hospital until the midafternoon, so headed for the gym, knowing that the workout could well be the very last of my life. I wanted to make it a great one. That extreme sense of desperation made me unstoppable in the gym. Chest and back were on the agenda, and after a proper warm-up I did just two exercises. I started with 6 reps on the behind-neck chins with 90 pounds hanging from my waist immediately followed by several more reps with just my bodyweight. Then I did a max single with the entire stack of 400 pounds on the Body Masters incline-press machine plus several more reps with 300 and then more with 200. My previous best had been 70 pounds for 5 and 320 for one, respectively, on the two exercises. I weighed only about 175 at the time bull fell as if I was on steroids. I have never been able to subsequently duplicate the performance on those two exercises. Frankly, I would rather not experience ever again the dire emotion which enabled me to train with such extraordinary intensity that morning. Still, I will forever be amazed at the enormous potential of the human body when the mind is using more of its capacity.


Fortunately for humans fear or desperation s not the only emotion that can bring about the fight or fight response. Intense desire, such as the bodybuilder's reaction to a sudden offer of a million dollars and a chance to open his own gym, can have the same effect, provided the desire is strong enough. Most successful athletes have the ability to find the desire and motivation within themselves to give that extra effort without any unnecessary external intervention because they place such a high value on their success. Winning a gold medal or breaking a world record means more to high-caliber athletes than being handed stacks of cash. What is having a stronger and more muscular body worth to you? "Well ... it would he nice if I could get it, hut I don't have to have it." "1 just want to get in shape, that's all." If that's all, I'm afraid there's never going to be any fight or flight response from your body in the gym. If improving your physique is exceedingly important to you and consequently your desire to attain it is very strong, your willingness to pay the price for it in the form of hard training will he that much greater. Before every set you do, remind yourself how badly you want to get bigger and stronger, and then attack the weight. Just when you're about to fail a rep, remind yourself again. If your desire is strong enough, your body should have the same reaction as that of the bodybuilder being offered a million dollars.


Can you recall a time when you were getting ready to do a set in the gym and just then your favorite song came over the stereo system? You were suddenly inspired and ended tip doing a great set. This strong emotional reaction accompanied by a sense of thrill or exhilaration can have positive physiological effects in other ways as well. Test subjects in a medical research experiment were asked to listen to very inspiring, stirring music, the type that gives you goose flesh and sends chills up and down the spine as if a current of electricity were running through your body. Subsequent blood tests revealed that the secretion of endorphin. a hormone that acts as a powerful analgesic, was increased and immune functions were enhanced after the subjects experienced such a response.' Certainly a type of strength enhancing hormone e.g. adrenalin - may also be released.

Taste in music is a purely individual matter. Some like hard, driving rock, whereas others might prefer movie themes like those from Rocky or Chariots of Fire. Still others might react positively to upbeat dance tunes from the '70s and '6Os. If certain songs particularly move you, put together a collection on tape and listen to it on your way to the gym in the car, or even on a Walkman during your workout. I have obsened that the effects of inspiration from music tend to be maximized if the stimulating piece comes on unexpectedly rather than preplanned and if the song has not been heard in a long while.

With practice, however, you can evoke the thrill response at will by thinking your own positive, inspiring, affirming thoughts just before attempting a Herculean set. You can also derive inspiration from watching videos or reading books of other successful athletes. David C. McClelland showed in his research that watching an inspiring film brings on physiological changes similar to those elicited in response to music. As long as the mind remains charged up, even a few hours later, the emotion will bring about the desired positive physiological effect. Few bodybuilders ever fail to have a great workout after watching the classic bodybuilding film Pumping Iron. And oh, how inspired I was after seeing the former LA Dodger Brett Butler come up to the plate and stroke a base hit in his first game back after recovering from throat cancer. I was grateful that he made his comeback on my training night and spurred me on to have a great workout. The greatest inspiration of all should come from looking at your own body's reflection in the mirror getting bigger, better and stronger with each workout you conquer and each meal you savor.

Are you ready to hit the gym now?

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