Powerlifter Ed Cowan: Motivation in the brain. Passion in the heart.
Ed Cowan 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 weightlifting records during his career. That kind of talent and success doesn’t come without a heavy dose of passion—which is why I was brought to this podcast this week to discuss how passion intersects with diet and training to elevate an athlete into an elite champion. In the generation of iron and barband The latest episode of The Mike O’Hearn Show, Ed Cowan warns athletes not to worry about motivation and find a real passion behind iron.
Motivation in bodybuilding, strength sports and fitness has become its own industry these days. Simply open your social media or YouTube to find dozens of channels and videos dedicated to motivating you to exercise or compete. Motivational fitness playlists flood Spotify and spread professionals’ words of wisdom on a daily basis.
But Ed Coan and Mike O’Hearn have a contradictory view of stimulating fitness – it’s all nonsense.
While this may seem shocking at first, it comes from a more thoughtful place than you might originally think. Motivation can come in handy when you’re having a tough day or when life is letting 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 avoid the gym or perhaps skip that healthy meal for a snack instead. It’s like an artist waiting for inspiration – what if it never comes? Won’t you make art again?
This is why Mike O’Hearn talks in depth with Ed Cowan about the difference between motivation and emotion. While motivation is not inherently bad – it will provide you with a small path to success. Motivation needs passion. Passion is the only thing that will hold you in the long run. This is what will allow you to dig deep into new places. It will also give you patience not to cut corners or rush towards success.
Let’s move on to summarizing Ed Coan’s explanation of motivation versus emotion – and how it plays a vital role in maintaining your training routine and diet.
“Motivation is absolutely zero. It means nothing. It is passion that is everything.”
– Mike O’Hearn
Motivation vs Emotion
Mike O’Hearn began his interview with Ed Coan by asking a simple question – how do you define motivation? How do you define emotion? Coan does not hint at words when he answers. Motivation in the brain. Passion in the heart.
What Ed Coan is essentially referring to – is that motivation is a psychological tool. It’s a way to trick your brain into wanting to do something. On the other hand, passion is vital to a person’s existence. If you are passionate – you will never need an outside drive to drive you again. why? Because there is nothing else you would prefer to do.
Of course, passion cannot be made. It is something that needs deep evaluation and determination. Maybe you’re not really excited about being a bodybuilder. Maybe you think it’s a fun hobby and decide you want to compete to try to make money. Mike O’Hearn argues (and has argued in previous episodes) that this is a recipe for failure. You’ll never be a high-earning champion without real passion – because there will always be someone else with that passion who ignores you.
“When you go slow, you move faster.”
– Ed Kwan
How passion plays into the law of diminishing returns in weightlifting
There is an old commercial that just jokes about bodybuilders to “lift things and put them aside”. While this is true at the most basic level – repetition of 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 the limits. This can become very difficult when you reach plateaus.
In moments like these, motivation is most important. But again, the extrinsic impulse is only temporary. It can fail when you hit a plateau that you don’t know exactly how to break. But if you are passionate – you will do whatever it takes no matter how long it takes.
Ed Cowan talks that being patient is the key to true athletic success. Ironically, moving slowly is the best way to succeed faster. Kwan points out that many pioneers change their mid-routine programme. why? Because they overestimate their strength and want to improve faster. This eventually leads to fatigue that can lead to a plateau.
Ed Coan stresses the importance of adapting and developing your software – but do it in stages. When you set a goal over the course of a 10-week program. Do not change the goal or program until those 10 weeks are over. After you’re done, you can reevaluate, change your goals, and improve. However, if you get impatient and change the middle of the program, you may already be denying yourself the real results. Sometimes these things take time.
Passion often allows us to have that patience. Instead of rushing for the trophy, trophies or money – you focus only on your love of the sport. One could argue that this problem has led to many troubling habits. This includes the increase in higher doses of PEDs and bodybuilders switching to steroids at a much younger age. It can also cause people to overtrain, burn out, or give up when they eventually could have succeeded.
“It’s like school. You can’t jump from first grade to tenth grade. Everything in moderation. All the building blocks are there to get to the bottom line.”
– Ed Kwan
The hardest part about passion is that it’s something you have to find. You cannot create it. It is the inner journey that all individuals must take when deciding what is their fulfillment in life. But hopefully, Mike O’Hearn and Ed Cowan’s words here provide the tools to better assess and determine what drives you.
You can see Ed Coan’s full comments on the final episode of The Mike O’Hearn Show above. Be sure to watch new episodes every Friday only on the Generation Iron Fitness Network or wherever the podcast is downloaded.