by Carl Raghavan, SSC | February 15, 2023

lifter locking out his press

Why are you here? What's your “why”? What's keeping you motivated to train? You're spending all this time in the weight room – for what? Is it to impress me, or Rip, because we told you to lift weights? That's not enough. Do you require a tiny flight attendant's help in putting your carry-on luggage in the overhead bins on a plane? If so, then yes, you definitely need to get stronger (maybe add a step ladder too).

The pursuit of strength needs to come from you. Let's be honest, me and Rip have already gotten strong. We know the benefits are life-changing and we want to pass it on. However, as Jay-Z says, “What you eat don’t make me shit.” You need a burning drive and a focus to develop yourself, which has to come from within you. I can lead you to water, but I can't force you to drink. You need to be motivated. I will mention a few things that should help you stay on track, but the true flame burns because you care.


You need to be fully bought-in to the process. If you don't believe in or agree with the method you're using, you may find yourself dragging your heels every time you train, or even worse, finding reasons to skip it altogether. At Starting Strength, our approach is very logical, systematic, and personalized based on your strength levels. Sure, young Timmy might start out with a 315 lb squat, but your grandma Agnes may just be using a 5 lb bar to a high box. The route by which we get to the promised land – which is to get both individuals stronger than they currently are – is the same. Both will use the same principles: basic, simple, and general programming, adding a little weight to each exercise every workout and using normal human movement patterns with a barbell, to accumulate strength for the whole body. Both Timmy and Agnes are on the same journey to their own personal Everests, except that one started in the car park (Agnes) and the other started at base camp (Timmy). You need to understand that the process is going to work, then head fearlessly up that frosty mountain.


If you have awesome technique, it's going to have a knock-on effect in terms of building up your motivation and confidence. A sense of pride in how you approach the lifts gives you a boost that someone flexing in the mirror probably does not understand. A personal side note: I used to get a lot of haters about my press, which incorporates a double layback when heavy. However, I've traveled to 6 countries in the past 4 months and been to many gyms. When people see me press 100 kg/225 lb for reps with ease, I've never had anyone come up to me and give me unsolicited advice about how this will hurt my back. When I mentioned this observation to Rip, his reply was, "Even dumb people know that 2 plates for reps is impressive."

As usual, Rip was right again. When people come up to you and say how strong you are or how great your technique is, or you watch your own footage from training and notice your skills, you will want to pop your collar and give yourself a pat on the back. The pursuit of good technique is a constant and never-ending quest, as you can always improve your form. Great technique will fill you with so much pride that it will motivate you to want to come back and repeat the session again in 2 days’ time.


Even the worst strength program, performed with consistency, can work. Skipping sessions, especially regularly, is the death of any strength program. Having a perfect attendance record and never missing a workout commands respect, and is a true cornerstone to success in the weight room. The daily habit of consistency bleeds into other aspects of success. Showing up three days a week for the next 24 weeks with no disruptions, for example. When this act of ownership and accountability is taken, you start to see the barbell get bigger and heavier in weight. You will also start to be more mindful about eating more protein, getting eight hours of sleep, and getting drunk "less often" – OK, it will of course still happen, but you will feel far more guilty than before.


A great coach can be a helpful source of knowledge and motivation – someone who's been there, done that, got the T-shirt, cut the sleeves off, and mowed the grass in it. A person who's taught the process to hundreds before you and someone who's made every mistake in the book already, so you don't have to. You can be a beacon of hope to a lot of people who have failed in previous attempts. People with injuries, those trudging through long plateaus, or worse, those who fell deep into volume cycles that created serious issues with overtraining. Often, they’re doing the program all wrong and are in dire need of a real, unbiased perspective about how to get back on track. An SSC, whether that's in person, at a seminar, an affiliate or franchise gym, or even online, would be the ideal choice, because we focus strictly on strength training and that's all we do. We are a premium product, which is reflected in our prices – but wait till you get the bill for hiring an amateur. Get a coach, an SSC. If you want to catch the big fish, you hire an pro angler. If you want to get strong, you hire a Starting Strength Coach.

Role models

For some people, their role models are their parents. For others (like me), it's movie stars, athletes, and strength mentors. When Eddie Hall deadlifted 462 kg in Australia, and the Austrian Oak – Arnie himself – was in his face, screaming "up-up-up" with a thumb in his face, do you think Eddie's childhood idol screaming at him helped his deadlift? You’re damn right it did! A similar experience happened to me at the Starting Strength Coaches’ Conference 2022. I decided to go for a heavy press – bear in mind, my training at the time was focusing on the bench. I didn’t think I'd make anything big. My warm-ups were moving well, but then I missed 315 lb on my first attempt. It's a 3.5 kg PR, and again, I hadn't trained for it.

Rip was on his phone, listening to his voicemail or something on my first attempt, but I sensed he was observing me from across the room. I was instantly disappointed and felt like I’d let myself – and worse, Rip – down. When watching the video, I could see that it stalled very high, and I thought I maybe wasn't fired up enough. I regrouped, and a magical thing happened. As I unracked the bar for my second attempt, out of the corner of my eye I could see Rip approaching my platform with an intent-looking stride. He simply yelled, "Come on, Carl!" My blood boiled, and my eyes narrowed in a laser focus. In that moment, I knew I was going to die trying to crank out this fucking press, and low and behold, I crushed it.

Just describing this moment, even now, still gets my heart rate up, gives me shortness of breath, the pit of my stomach gets cold, my body gets anxious, and tears are in my eyes. The emotional experience I had in that moment felt like an out-of-body experience. As I racked the bar, I screamed – obviously, since I’d just put three American wheels over my head – but my scream is what signaled my brain to bring me back to reality. I knew I’d made Rip proud. To make one of your role models proud, even just for a moment, was worth the last 10 years of kicking my ass in the gym. When Rip told me a 315 lb press at a 270 lb bodyweight is an impressive lift – even though I hate compliments – it was hard not to feel motivated.


One of the most ubiquitous sources of motivation in every gym has to be music. What's your gym playlist, bro? Picking one song or my favorite playlist for the gym is like asking me what my favorite food or movie is. It's so dependent on mood and that specific snapshot in time. If you forced me to pick my favorite genres of music, movies and food, it would be hip-hop, action, and curry. But that's not all I want: your question painted me into a corner. I've happily played Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata on repeat walking to the gym or in between heavy sets. I've occasionally cried (in private) during a rom-com, and I love a greasy kebab just as much as a 5-courser in a Michelin star restaurant. In other words, music is an ever-changing reflection of my daily mood.

Knowing all this still hasn't prevented me from trying to make a gym playlist. I have over 400 playlists to date. For me, music helps me mainly in taking that first step out of my front door. That's the hardest part of training in the weight room for me. You have so many daily tasks to keep you distracted from the gym. Just putting my foot down and saying, “Right, it's time to train” is my biggest barrier to entry. So listening to some beats while I get ready, pack my bag, and commute is the best time for me to utilize music. Once in the gym, I don't need motivation. It's a done deal. I’ve already written down what I need to do. There are no excuses or exit strategies. This is what has to be done. This is training, not exercising. We stick to the plan, no deviation from the map. You get there, clock in, train, and clock out.

To be honest, lifting while music is blasting in my ears is highly distracting and disorienting while I'm trying to nail a heavy lift. I may do some of my warm-ups with music on if the atmosphere at the gym is really dead. Or worse, if they’re playing Katy Perry or some other garbage pop song. Once the work set is on the bar, I need all my senses at full alert and my entire concentration. I can't be lip syncing to Eminem or 50 Cent while grinding out a heavy squat. Plus I’m usually filming my work sets, and my phone doesn’t allow music and filming at the same time – which is just as well.

Sure, music helps, but for me it helps transport me, not enhance my session. Unless it’s a PR attempt. Then I may want to hear ten to twenty seconds of a nasty beat, then the headphones come off and it’s game time. And I need to set my iPhone to record (cause if you didn’t film it – did it really happen?).


I have been fortunate enough to have trained in some special gyms. There are four that come to mind: Physical Culture in London, Sparta in Tallinn, Atletklubb SAK in Stockholm, and of course WFAC in Wichita Falls, Texas. If you're a true lifter, you will instantly know why I love all these places. They are very near and dear to my heart. It's a place where the misfits of the commercial gyms, aka the powerlifters, weightlifters, and strength enthusiasts, all have a place to hang their hat and call their own, a place where they become “the normals.”

You are no longer the weirdo in the corner hogging the squat rack for two hours. There's an instant camaraderie and respect that regular gym-goers just don't have for one another. Trusting someone to be your spotter or asking for advice is sacred. Everyone knows correct "gym etiquette" as standard. You're not an inconvenience, not being asked 28 times “How many sets you got left, bro?” You are welcome to spend three hours lifting, if you want to – the culture invites it. The best gyms all have these things in common, which create a great atmosphere and are highly motivational: top-level lifters, experienced coaches, a community vibe, history, reputation, and heritage, and, of course, excellent strength equipment. Great gyms exude this aura that just makes you want to get stronger. It's intoxicating.

Training Partners

Another great source of motivation is having a training partner or a team to train with. Not only have you made a commitment to yourself to train three days a week, but you have made a time commitment to someone else. You have to be there, rain or shine. Not only does it help with spotting, changing plates, extra coaching cues, and some cheerleading, but if you forget your kit, your buddy might be able to loan you something from his equally enormous Mary Poppins training bag. Having a support network to help you lift when your spirits are down and you're not in beast mode is key. Even training in a group strength class offers similar motivation. I'm jealous of everyone that has a training partner; it's basically like having a secret superpower. I'm often a lone wolf (not by choice) and have always trained best with a partner or team. I can't stress how valuable a team or group atmosphere is for strength training: it's the glue that builds a community under the bar.


There’s a reason we keep telling you to compete. Like Rip says, “Once you mail in your $20 to attend a meet, your training improves.” Rip is referencing this old archaic system we now call “snail mail.” It’s a boring process, so let me explain it in detail: you put a small piece of paper called a “check” into another folded piece of paper called an “envelope,” then you lick a small square called a “stamp,” put it on the top right-hand corner, then hand-write the address on the front of the envelope with a tool that dispenses ink (called a “pen”). Then you travel to a place called the “post office” and place your finished letter into a dark box. You usually have to wait 3-5 business days for it to be received by the person you sent it to – generally the meet director.

Nowadays, we can pay via Apple Pay on our 5G phones and receive a confirmation notification within seconds. Both yield the same results, although the modern approach is instantaneous: something clicks in your head when you sign up for a meet. It creates a filter: suddenly, you’re concerned only with what’s going to help you get the biggest total you can possibly achieve on meet day. Strengthlifting, powerlifting, weightlifting: all are great. I’ve done all three. I can’t sufficiently drum into your head how competing, even when you’re not strong, is a good idea. Even if you’re still a novice – although ideally early- to late-intermediate is a good time to start competing. It’s a great experience, and you should sign up for a local meet yesterday to see what I’m talking about.

All of the above are great motivations to train for strength, but as I've said in another article, “Nobody cares!” And the sooner you realize that, the quicker you will discover what your heart truly wants. For me, the reason I train for strength is simple. I used to get beaten up and bullied at school, and people used to pick fights with me for no reason. Now, at 270 lb and 5'5", with a 315 lb press, 375 lb bench, 560 lb squat, and 595 lb deadlift, that doesn't happen anymore. It's weird how that works. What I’ve learned from being bigger and stronger – and the journey it's taken me on for the past decade – has involved so much more than protecting myself from bullies and drunks. It's the kind of self-worth that only going from scrawny and weak to big and strong can teach you.

Strength is my best teacher, my true calling, my best friend, my sanctuary, my protector. It's what motivates me to wake up in the morning and be better (my Caroline is of course all these things too – wink-wink). So what motivates you?

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