Powerlifting legend Ed Coan explains why fitness motivation is bullshit |  The Mike O'Hearn Show

Powerlifting legend Ed Coan explains why fitness motivation is bullshit | The Mike O’Hearn Show

Powerlifter Ed Coan: Motivation is in the brain. The passion is in the heart.

Ed Coan is an American weightlifter who is widely regarded as one of the greatest weightlifters of all time. His lifts are legendary and have allowed him to set more than 71 world records in powerlifting throughout his career. That kind of talent and success doesn’t come without a big dose of passion – which is why he was brought on the podcast this week to discuss how passion intersects with diet and training to raise a athlete into elite champion. On the latest episode of The Mike O’Hearn Show by Generation Iron and Barbend, Ed Coan warns athletes to worry less about motivation and find real passion behind the iron.

Motivation in bodybuilding, strength sports and fitness has become its own industry these days. Just open social media or YouTube to find dozens of channels and videos dedicated to motivating you for training or competition. Inspirational fitness playlists flood Spotify and the gurus’ words of wisdom go viral daily.

But Ed Coan and Mike O’Hearn have a possibly contrary approach to fitness motivation – that’s just bullshit.

While this may seem shocking at first, it comes from a much more thoughtful place than you might originally think. Motivation can come in handy when you’re having a hard day or when life gets you down. It can also be used as an excuse to avoid hard work. If you’re not feeling motivated, you have an excuse to skip the gym or maybe skip that healthy meal for a cheat snack instead. It’s like an artist waiting for inspiration – what if it never comes? Will you never make art again?

That’s why Mike O’Hearn discusses in depth with Ed Coan the difference between motivation and passion. Although motivation is not bad in itself, it will only get you a small way to success. Motivation must lead to passion. Passion is the only thing that will carry you in the long run. This is what will allow you to dig deep to new places. It will also give you the patience not to cut corners or rush to success.

Let’s dive into a recap of Ed Coan’s explanation of motivation vs. passion – and how it plays a vital role in maintaining your workout routine and diet.

“The motivation is absolutely zero. It means nothing. Passion is everything.

-Mike O’Hearn

Motivation vs Passion

Mike O’Hearn begins his interview with Ed Coan by asking a simple question: how do you define motivation? How to define passion? Coan doesn’t mince words when he responds. Motivation is in the brain. The passion is in the heart.

What Ed Coan is essentially pointing out is that motivation is a psychological tool. It’s a way of tricking your brain into wanting to do something. Passion, on the other hand, is something vital to a person’s existence. If you’re passionate, you’ll never need outside motivation to drive you again. Why? Because there’s nothing else you’d rather do.

Of course, passion cannot be manufactured. It is something that needs to be thoroughly assessed and determined. Maybe you’re not really passionate about being a bodybuilder. Maybe you just think it’s a fun hobby and have decided you want to compete to try and make some money. Mike O’Hearn argues (and has argued in previous episodes) that this is a recipe for failure. You will never become a high-yielding champion without genuine passion – because there will always be someone else with that passion who will snub you.

“When you go slow, you go faster.”

-Ed Coan

How passion plays into the law of diminishing returns in weightlifting

There’s the old ad that jokes about bodybuilders, “lift things up and put them down.” Although at a basic level this is true – repetition in weightlifting will eventually lead to diminishing returns. As your body adapts and grows, you need to find ways to adjust your goals and keep pushing your limits. It can become extremely difficult when you reach plateaus.

It’s times like these that motivation is key. But again, the external motivation is only temporary. It can fail you when you reach a plateau that you don’t know exactly how to break. But if you’re passionate, you’ll do whatever it takes, no matter how long it takes.

Ed Coan explains how patience is the key to true sporting success. Ironically, moving slowly is the fastest way to success. Coan points out that too many lifters change their routine mid-program. Why? Because they overestimate their strength and want to improve faster. This ultimately leads to burnout which can lead to reaching a plateau.

Ed Coan stresses the importance of adapting and evolving your program, but do it in stages. When you set a goal over, say, a 10-week program. Do not change the goal or program until these 10 weeks are over. Once that’s done, you can then reassess, modify your goals, and improve. However, if you get impatient and change mid-program, you may actually be missing out on real results. Sometimes these things take time.

Passion often allows us to have this patience. Instead of rushing for the trophy, awards or money, you just focus on your love of the sport. You could say that this problem has led to many disturbing habits. This includes the rise of higher dose PEDs and bodybuilders turning to steroids at a much younger age. It can also cause people to overtrain, burn out, or quit when they might otherwise have been successful.

“It’s like school. You cannot go from first to 10th grade. Everything in between. All the basics are there to get you to the end result.

-Ed Coan


The hardest part of passion is that it’s something you have to find. You cannot create it. It is the inner journey that all individuals must undertake as they determine what satisfies them in life. But hopefully the words of Mike O’Hearn and Ed Coan here will provide the tools to better assess and determine what motivates you.

You can watch Ed Coan’s full comments on our latest episode of The Mike O’Hearn Show above. Be sure to catch new episodes every Friday only on the Generation Iron Fitness Network or wherever podcasts are uploaded.

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