Antagonistic Motivation

Why do you train? Do you want to get stronger? Faster? Fit or healthy? Do you aim to compete in a particular sport like powerlifting, weightlifting, or catfish noodling? Wanting to get jehcked is good. Striving to get better in a sport is good. But, I ask you…what is best in life?

So true. Let me ask you another question. When you step into the gym each training session, are you seething? Are you rabid? Are you shaking with hatred, wanting to kick the SHIT out of somebody or some…thing? No, you will never tap into your full power, young padawan. To develop your full destructive capabilities, you must know hate.

If your mom told you that you weren’t supposed to hate, it shouldn’t be hard to remember that your mom doesn’t deadlift 500 pounds. Your preacher can’t press 225 and your grandma can’t squat herself off the toilet. This isn’t a game. This is competition.

My friend Brent has used this mentality ever since I’ve known him. His unassuming method is to observe all kinds of lifters, coaches, and trainees on the internet. Inevitably there will be a good chunk of them who act like dickheads. They may even be stronger than him. And if they are, then beware. Brent’s hatred runs deep, right into the marrow of his bones. Instead of aiming vitriol at his targets, he files it in his brain’s Hate File. The Hate File is a rolodex of names, faces, videos, and…targets. I’ve learned that Brent will sit seemingly calm waiting for his next rep in training. But what’s going on is a whirlwind of accusations and speculation that results in a furious attempt.

So-and-so doesn’t think I’m an athlete.
Fuck-face is squatting more than this right now.
Piece-of-shit is totalling 90% of me…I need to do much more…to EMBARRASS HIM.

Brent not only wants to be better than those he hates, he wants to annihilate them. But he’s not in a hurry. He knows that for some of his tangos, it will take time. And that’s why he places their file gently in his mind, thumbing it every so often to give himself a paper cut that reminds himself why he trains his dick off every day.

This. This is only one way to create Antagonistic Motivation. Strife, anger, and — god forbid — challenge are avoided in today’s society. What enemy can you find or create to challenge you to be better? When I was in high school, my early methods of spiking adrenaline consisted of imagining that a fullback was coming to block me in an iso. An “iso” is a football term for when the full back runs directly at the linebacker (me) to block him with the running back directly behind him. It’s a play dependent on the guts of the fullback and linebacker; who will deliver the bigger hit? Who will blow the other person up to make a play. I would think about this direct challenge to my honor right before squatting. I would routinely squat 425 to 445 for sets of five…beltless and in running shoes.

Is there a specific person or competitor that you will face in the future? Is there a hypothetical fiend on the enemy team who is aiming to make you fail? There is a quote that has percolated around the Special Operations community that reminds trainees of their true threat:

Somewhere a True Believer is training to kill you. He is training with minimal food or water, in austere conditions, training day and night. The only thing clean on him is his weapon and he made his web gear. He doesn’t worry about what workout to do – his ruck weighs what it weighs, his runs end when the enemy stops chasing him. This True Believer is not concerned about ‘how hard it is;’ he knows either he wins or dies. He doesn’t go home at 17:00, he is home.
He knows only The Cause.

Still want to quit?

If you can’t bring yourself to hate, then personify the reason you should be training. In this case, a failure to put full effort into training can result in death, dismemberment, or torture in not only one’s self, but friends. There is no higher antagonistic motivation than knowing that your success effects the lives of other people.

Observe these strategies of Antagonistic Motivation and force a bout of introspection to figure out what you can put yourself against. You’re a desk jockey with no real life threatening challenge? Put yourself in situations of challenge. Aim to medal in your weight class at your next meet. Every day when you walk in the gym, think about how the guys in your weight class are training just as hard, if not harder than you. While they may be at a higher or lower level than you, you ignore those excuses. Instead, focus on your opponent, your challenger…your enemy. Will you let him train harder than you today? Will you let him beat you? You better fucking not.

48 thoughts on “Antagonistic Motivation

  1. I’ve used this type of visualization in my training, it’s fine. It is a double-edged sword, particularly since I train at home, because a missed rep can lead to much yelling and slamming of barbells and gnashing of teeth.

    One particularly motivating sentiment for me, and I might not be putting this into words correctly, is that getting out and doing a hard thing just isn’t enough. I need to do that difficult thing correctly, ideally better than most people, for an extended period of time, and have the knowledge to accompany it so it’s forged into a skill, not just an ability: a skill that will ultimately make me a better, more worthy, more useful human being. A lot of Rippetoe’s stuff seems to be geared toward this type of sentiment IMO.

  2. Good write up. I have found anger to be a quite useful tool. Sometimes I think of it as the bar is trying to rape me, and impose it’s will on me, so I must fight to rape first! Like rape wars against the bar. I don’t know about you guys/gals, but the thought of something trying to rape me pisses me the fuck off.

  3. Fuck yes! I’m a desk jockey with no real threat to my existence, so I make a point to never wear headphones on the Metro. I’m already on my third Metro People rolodex. I also have a post it note stuck to my computer monitor with the lifts of the guy who beat me at a powerlifting meet last year. I think about his numbers all the time. But don’t fear him. Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Instead I think about making him decide to retire.

    Also–we have A NEW HOPE, Liam Hoekstra. I saw this kid on Discovery Health channel the other day. He is 3 years old and has a genetic condition that makes him have 40% more muscle than the average person. At age 3 he can already do a dead hang pull up and a single hand plank. With great power comes great responsibility.

    What Maslow does is representative of the guidance in this post; he uses his opponent as motivation. It probably helps him train harder. The level of obsession doesn’t have to be high, but the higher it is, the more powerful it can be when training (i.e. like Kai Green).


  4. yeah i also like

    “some fucking dude two weight classes below you is totaling more than you”

    “some fucking guy is training under the same or worse circumstances but trying harder”

    “this is 60% of the world record, brent, don’t be a fucking chump”

    i could go on

  5. This is why registering and paying for a competition is important. I have a good job, an awesome wife, and two healthy, happy kids. It’s tough for me to find something to get angry about. I’ve also lost that late teens/early 20’s hormonal angst. I’ve found once I have made a monetary commitment to compete my training takes on a higher level of focus.

  6. Whenever I need motivation, I ask myself, “Am I replaceable?” If I were to disappear, would there be someone capable of filling my shoes?

    I want to be irreplaceable.

  7. Great post, couldn’t agree more.

    I think some people get something out of this type of motivation, some people don’t, and some people like myself get something out of motivation that’s somewhere in between.
    I seem to channel an equal mix of competitive rage (“I know my opponent is training just as hard right now, so I have to be that much better.”) and internal perspective (“I’m missing time with my wife and son to be doing this, so I have to make every rep worthwhile and make all my training count.”)

    This is why I don’t have time to talk to you about supplements and preacher curls bro.

    And really boiled down, the adage of “You have to hate to lose more than you love to win.” always brings it home.

    I agree. The “Antagonistic Motivation” method isn’t a requirement, but the most succesful people in any realm are driven by an undying need to be the best they can be.
    They have some kind of specific motivation for doing so, and if someone’s training was so-so, this is a way to heighten their focus.


  8. ^ So do you think this kind of ‘next level’ motivation is something that can be taught, or is it something that you either have or don’t have?

    I tend to believe it’s the latter of the two.

    Great feedback on this post, I love reading about what motivates people deep down.

    I believe it’s innate in every person, but they need a reason to unleash it. Have you ever read Alas Babylon? If our country was attacked by nuclear weapons and we all had to depend on ourselves (or local population) to actually survive, then everyone would be motivated to do so. Circumstance will dictate the reason. In today’s society we are fortunate enough not to have to worry about survivability because of technological development. It’s possible to live life in a set career field and not do more than what is asked. Motivation is reduced when people get comfortable. The difference in truly successful people and comfortable people is that the successful are never comfortable, and to them, they equate surviving with success. Failing is dying. Sometimes this is literal (imagine oppressed third world populations) and other times it’s symbolic.

    Because of this inherent complacency, training can grow a bit stale. It doesn’t make us pathetic or lower quality humans, but we can amp up our training by creating a motivational stimulus. Today’s focus was creating an enemy. By forcing and developing an enemy, we can inject purpose into training and life. Undying craving for success in a sport will undoubtedly carry over and augment motivation in life. And even if it doesn’t, we are better people for having that drive, even in some small way.


  9. Getting motivated or angry for a heavy set is easy when you’re lifting for someone (i.e. significant other) who is depending on you.

    But one thing that never ceases to make me rage is the thought or image of something terrible happening to my girlfriend, like getting physically abused or even raped. Or the thought of her old college guy friends trying to steal her away from me or something.

    Another is reflecting on all my failures in life and what others think of me. When I approach the bar I’m ready to explode as if completing the set says, “you are NOT a failure.”

    I’ve cried a few times during/after some of the sets I have completed. It’s pretty intense BRO!

  10. Exactly. For some people, weightlifting is a way to get out of poverty. You don’t fuck with poverty.

    If this video doesn’t light a fire under your ass, then I’ve got nothing else to say.

    I’ve never seen that before, thanks for the link.


  11. I want to point something out. There’s a distinction in acute motivation for a set and the chronic motivation you have for training in general. Most of you are referring to the acute instance of getting excited for a set, and this post is about the mentality you have over time to have successful training (and subsequent performance). Don’t blur the two, because I think that the chronic training motivation is more important than the acute (and will enhance the acute).

  12. I am not pro strength villain at all. But MOA posted something I always keep in mind.

    this queer on the forum asked him…

    “What would the ideal soldier/SF operator be physically capable of doing. I’m looking for realistic numbers to shoot for obviously it would be nice to bench squat and dead 500/700/800 while running a 12 minute 3 mile at a lean 300 pounds, but thats not gonna happen.”

    and he answers with…

    “Here’s a serious fucking answer:

    If you’re asking this question, then you have so fucking far to go that any answer you get won’t be helpful at all to you. As a matter of fact, you may just want to quit now and save a lot of people a lot of trouble. Gym numbers don’t mean fuck all on a battlefield. How’s your multi-day hide site time? How many reps did you get on “drag/carry/move-any-way-you-fucking-can your wounded buddy to MEDEVAC” day? What’s your max number of patrols led with little food and less sleep? How many rounds can you get on target when your heart rate is at about 110% of your Training HR Zone and some asshole is working towards a new PR in your direction?

    Instead of worrying about being the “Ideal” Soldier or *gag* “Operator,” worry about being the strongest, fastest sonofabitch you can be, and let the other shit fall into place. That’s what Marauder was trying to tell you with the Conan quote; it wasn’t internet jackassery, it was a sagacious Yoda-esque advisory that you should, to use a Wendler quote, “Train to be a Motherfucker.”

    I don’t know who you are, or why you’re asking this loaded fucking question, but odds are you need to seriously reevaluate your reasons for doing so.

    Serious enough? – MOA”

    I dont know who MOA actually is, but that middle section gets me fucking JACKED THE FUCK UP when I read it.

    And honestly, that is perhaps the BEST thing posted on the entire strength villain board.

    Thanks for sharing. I like MOA a lot.


  13. I follow basketball a bit, as I used to play. The best players (Jordan, Kobe) are competitive to the level of psychosis and definitely use this method to motivate themselves. For example, Jordan held an enormous grudge against Detroit as they beat the crap out of his team for a few years. Even when the Detroit team was composed of entirely different players he still held that grudge. If he didn’t have a grudge against a particular player or team he would invent something. Jordan’s Hall of Fame speech was basically him going through his Rolodex of grudges starting with a high school coach who he was nice enough to invite to the ceremony so he could humiliate him (FFS!) I think you have to be somewhat insane to take antagonistic motivation to this level and success on the court came at the expense of other aspects of life. Jordan is not remembered as a nice guy to be around. It will be interesting to see what people say about Kobe after he’s retired.

    Your argument falls apart because they are the greatest that ever played the game. To Michael Jordan being happy meant being a champion. Who are you tell him otherwise? That a person should maintain effort to be happy is obvious, but don’t be so quick to deal out judgment.


  14. That was a bit rambling. Here’s the point:

    If you go around life holding random grudges you’re going to turn into a hate-filled sack. No doubt your training will improve but it will do so at the expense of happiness. You need to find a balance.

  15. usually i just look in the mirror and i say to myself, “you’re a fucking fat piece of shit, that bar is going to crush you. you might as well be using it as a dildo though i bet you wish it were a fucking honey-bun. Do yourself a favor and quit”

    of course, this doesn’t make me hate, it makes me cry.

    Then i turn on Every Time I Die on the iPod which makes me want to punt babies into nuclear warzones….and I crush reps.

  16. “Just open up your heart and let that hate out.” – Clayton Bigsby

    But seriously great post. I always look at other dudes in the gym and think, maybe they are or maybe I’m just imagining it, (more likely) that they are saying “this pussy isn’t going to hit this weight look at his size etc…” and this always stokes the fire.

  17. Happy people are content with who they are. They don’t need to call out minor players in their personal history from some 40 years ago. No way Jordan is a happy man. Successful at basketball, obviously, but at a price.

  18. Isn’t the whole point of being a professional that you sacrifice other stuff for best performance? Even if Jordan was messed up, he did it to become the greatest player in the game.

    Also, spot on post Justin. I think it’s easy to lose sight of long term motivation these days.

  19. All I have to do is watch all or part of any WSM competition and I feel small and weak. Deciding, and continually re-deciding, to change that is what it is all about.

    That MOA quote was truth.

  20. I disagree. Maybe all of you lift in the SPF (Sith Powerlifting Federation), but fear and hatred don’t need to be a motivator. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. That is the path to the dark side.

    I just visualize what I need to do – lift the bar. I focus on my breathing, tightening my belt, and/or wristwraps. I like to look at the bar and think about what I’m about to do. Think through what needs to be done and make that conscious decision to exert 100%.

    I strive to be like Jedi Master Pisarenko as referenced here –

  21. My motivator is that I just hate being shit

    So the work is there to be better
    I also hate losing so the work is there to be better than everyone else

  22. Awesome post. I take this approach toward everything that I care about, all the time. Lifting, work, whatever. I want to be excellent. Jordan doesn’t give a FUCK whether anyone thinks he’s an asshole, and he doesn’t have to, because he’s a fucking champion. I want to be a fucking champion.

    I’m not going to let THAT fuck head lift more than me, give a better presentation than me, publish in better journals, or get a better job. I also think about rejection. The school that didn’t hire me, the journal that rejected me, blah blah blah. Professional, personal, whatever. It makes for excellent training. And excellent therapy.

  23. There’s some Westside Barbell story where Chuck Vogelpohl is psyching his training partner up for a squat. He punches the poor guy in the head and knocks him out in one blow.

  24. I think hate and anger are particularly good motivators. If visualizing your competition getting crushed under a bus while his family watches makes you finish a rep, I say let er rip. Whatever motivates a person to improve or better themselves is good. Whether its in the gym, office, school etc…People in today’s society are content being ordinary, lazy, and needy. Don’t give that “hate leads to the dark side” bullshit. Being fat, weak and lazy leads to the dark side, and that darkness resides in the shadow of your ass. So get up, hit the weight pile like you’re laying waste to a city. If you think anger/hate filled motivation may make you mean and unhappy, then you should quit. Lose a hundred pounds, buy some skinny jeans, white sunglasses and change your name to Justin Beiber. I hear its all sunshine and lollipops where he lives.

  25. And here’s another point a lot of people are missing. Using an antagonist as a motivating factor doesn’t require hate, although hate will make it more powerful.

    If you aim to beat someone at a meet, including your friend, you probably don’t actually hate that person. Instead, you’ll use the idea that they could beat you as motivation.

    It’s all about forcing a challenge to increase the average of your performance in training.

    Example: NolanPower will be in a battle with Scott Yard in the 105kg class at the Raw meet at the Arnold. I’ll assume he doesn’t hate Yard, but they will compete directly against one another. I bet that NolanPower takes the fear/thought of losing into consideration every training session.

  26. I have found hate and even anger to be quite exhausting in the past when those emotions are carried for prolonged periods of time.

    Also, having been an amateur fighter for a number of years and a big fan of the fight game, I find it interesting that boxers/mma fighters/etc are some of the coolest people around. Some of them use hatred/anger, but many don’t, including some of the all time great fighters (eg. Joe Louis, Lennox Lewis, Pac Man, Anderson Silva, GSP – these guys are very laid back and generally peaceful, placid dudes). So if you don’t have to use hate and anger to beat someone to a pulp (or even kill a man in the ring, in Joe Louis’ case), I don’t see how it is vital to moving weight (and Justin certainly isn’t saying that it is!). If it works for you, great. But there are other methods that work at least as well, if not better.

  27. I think of beating AC and Chris because they’re famous. Then I think of how bad ass Dave Ricks is and I know I have a LONG road ahead, but I’ll be damned if I don’t try.

  28. I’ve gotta go with what chris2004 said. As a member of the 3/4 of an adult male club, I want people to see me hit weights that they wouldn’t otherwise think I’d be able to hit. Well, not you people, you guys are all serious lifters, and it’d take a lot more than a 205# power clean to register here. I guess I’m talking about the gordon fuck bros doing half squats on their toes. Then once I reach that goal, strive for more legitimate goals, the kind you fine people are always waxing on about.
    On a related note: Hit a power clean PR tonigh of 185#. It was actually too easy, so it has me questioning the indicated weights on the bumpers. It is also a shock as it is a 10# PR and I haven’t trained power cleans in months. Is it possible that my steady regimen of squats, deadlifits, presses, pullups, and dips have transferred this much into my power clean?
    Oh, and respectable shoes are on the way.

  29. I’ve not posted here in ever probably, but this seemed like as good a time as ever.

    My PRs always come on days when a fat guy I work with comes down to the office gym and P90XInsanities himself into a sweaty heap of fat rolls and balding patches.

    I hate watching a grown man do tricep extensions with a 10LB DB and my legs drive like a fine tuned engine on those days.

    When he lays on the ground and does leg kicks or standing in a lunge position does some weird stretch looking thing my arms and back and chest explode in hate for the stupidity of it all.

    Tony Horton and Shaun T make me a better stronger lifter.

  30. I really enjoy the psychology of lifting/training, and I like to see what kind of stimulus drives certain individuals. I remember in high school I always busted my ass to be better at football/lacrosse because I was pretty small (still am, really) and I wanted to impress people or change their opinions. It didn’t matter that the cards were stacked against me, I enjoyed the challenge. Its funny, I still get mad today when I think about all the bullshit I encountered when I went through recruitment after my junior year. At the time Texas, and especially Houston, was not a real hotbed for lacrosse talent, so I got a bunch of lame fucking excuses why I wouldn’t cut it in D1. I still use these emotions to drive my training. I have always trained with a focus of being stronger so that I would be a better lacrosse player and nothing has really changed. Some people might think its stupid to take men’s lacrosse as seriously as I do, but it’s a passion of mine that won’t soon go away.

    Now if I could just hone my focus so that I stop having so many stupid injuries…

  31. Can’t say I’m surprised at the number of “never hate, anger is bad” responses. This is not the 70’s anymore, it often seems more like a wannabe-return-trip to the 60’s.

    I don’t “hate” the bar, I only slightly fear it on occasion (pre-workout butterflies are a sign of a good program) but I WILL snap that bastard in two with my hands and smear the knurling smooth like it is made of playdough.

    And I tend to cuss at the bar more after a successful lift than a failed one.

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