Latest News

The Power of Intrinsic Motivation in Fitness


Fitness and motivation go hand in hand when achieving your goals. But have you ever stopped to think about the basis behind your goals?

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for fitness are both part of the fitness process. However, it is important to stay alert and aware of where your motivation is coming from in order to achieve long-term results.

Click play to listen right on this page, no app is needed:

Or, listen on your favorite streaming platform: iTunes (Apple Podcasts) | Spotify | YouTube

Want a free week of strength workouts? Click here to get started

Watch the Episode on YouTube

Key Takeaways

If You Want to Become More Intrinsic In Your Motivation, You Can:

Consider your intrinsic motivations for your overall behaviors

See if there is room to shift your extrinsic motivators along the spectrum

Give yourself some choice when it comes to the things you are working on

Your Motivation Matters

We all have a wide range of motivational factors, whether we are just stepping foot in the gym or have been there for years. Regardless, the ‘why’ behind your motivation can play a key part in how you succeed in the long term. This is why it is important to understand the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation so that you can apply these concepts and better understand your own fitness goals. 

Challenging yourself to understand your goals and how those goals align with your values are key concepts in any athlete’s journey. While there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ motivation, finding a way to connect to something that is in line with your values and identity will only help you in reaching your full potential.

Understanding the Intrinsic/Extrinsic Grey Area

Extrinsic motivation as your starting point can help a person get started toward behavior change, but in the long term, developing a sense of intrinsic motivation is what will keep you going. Extrinsic motivators are not inherently bad. They are often present when someone starts a fitness or nutrition program, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, it is your intrinsic motivators that are going to keep you going, and for the right reasons.

Shifting to more intrinsically linked motivators will help you see your behaviors through for the long haul. And aren’t long-term results and consistency what we are really after?

Have you ever considered your intrinsic and extrinsic motivations? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below.

In This Episode

Understanding the main difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation (3:40)

Learn about the foundations of self-determination theory (6:47)

Common misconceptions around intrinsic and extrinsic motivations in fitness (8:04)

Examples of extrinsic motivators that often show up in fitness and nutrition (12:52)

What you can do to establish a larger sense of more intrinsic motivation (18:23)


“This is very common. It is nothing to feel bad over; it is nothing to feel guilty for; it is just worth noticing and building awareness of.” (3:12)

“When it comes to improving your fitness, whether it is adding strength, building muscle, improving your cardiovascular function, you’re just working on consistency with getting into the gym; mindset is a crucial component of this.”: (8:38)

“Flexibility in thinking, your mental skills, are incredibly important in this time. And I would venture to say, maybe more important at this time of life than any other time in your life.” (9:51)

“If all of it is to do an hour, nothing is to sit on the couch, what is something that you could do?” (13:28)

“With continual practice and awareness over time, you can really start to shift this way of thinking.” (13:49)

Featured on the Show

Apply for Strength Nutrition Unlocked Here

Desi & Ryan: Intrinsic Motivation and Self Determination in Human Behaviour – Book

Get 20% off Legion Supplements with code STEPH (20% off your first order, double points on follow-up orders)


Follow Steph on Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | Pinterest

I’d really love it if you would take 1 min and leave us a rating and review on iTunes!

Podcast production & marketing support by the team at Counterweight Creative

Rate and review on Apple Podcasts

Related Episodes

FYS 409: Overcoming All or Nothing Thinking In the Gym

FYS 408: Growth Mindset in Fitness

The Power of Intrinsic Motivation in Fitness Transcript

Fitness and motivation go together like peanut butter and jelly. If you have any sort of fitness goals, you know that fitness and motivation go hand in hand. Maybe you’ve felt motivated in the past and somehow lost touch with it. And you’re wondering where the hell did it go? Maybe you’re just trying to find that initial spark to get back to working out again. Or maybe you’ve been in a bit of a sweet spot with your motivation and wondering how are you able to keep this going. What’s the what’s the magic? What’s the secret sauce?

On today’s podcast, we’re diving into a really fascinating topic of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. Specifically when it comes to fitness. No matter what kind of athlete you are, whether it’s recreational through competitive understanding, these motivational factors can make a huge difference in your entire fitness journey, and your long-term results. If you’re an athletic 40, something woman who loves lifting weights, challenging yourself, and doing hardship, the Fuel Your Strength podcast is for you. You’ll learn how to eat, train and recover smarter, so you build strength and muscle, have more energy, and perform better in and out of the gym.

I’m strength nutrition strategist and weightlifting coach Steph Gaudreau. The fuel your strength podcast dives into evidence-based strategies for nutrition training and recovery, and why once you’re approaching your 40s and beyond, you need to do things a little differently than you did in your 20s. We’re here to challenge the limiting industry narratives about what women can and should do in training and beyond. If that sounds good, hit subscribe on your favorite podcast app. And let’s go!

Welcome back to the podcast. Thank you so much for being with me today. In this episode, we are diving into the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and specifically how you can apply these concepts to better understanding your own fitness goals. We know that at midlife, so if you’re 40. And over, there are some really interesting challenges that may come your way. But also some great opportunities for redefining your fitness goals. And looking at this in some new and interesting ways.

Now, if you haven’t heard the previous two episodes in this series, make sure you go back and do that. We have already talked about the importance of a growth mindset over a fixed mindset. And also looked at all-or-nothing thinking and how that can really get in your way as you’re moving forward with your fitness goals. So go check those out, as well.

And of course, as I said in previous episodes, I am a sports nutritionist and strength coach. I’m not a mental health professional. But I often do work with students and clients who are looking to form new outcomes from their strength training from their nutrition behaviors and mindset and evitable II comes up. So it is an important part of creating new outcomes in the here and now and in the future. Now, we also need to understand that today we’re just scratching the surface with this concept of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. There are people who study these concepts for their entire professional careers.

And so today, we’re just looking at the tip of the iceberg, if you will, an understanding that underneath these concepts, there are so many other things that we are not going to go into but really just giving you a bit of a taster. So let’s start with a question what is extrinsic and intrinsic motivation? And first and foremost, what is motivation in general, motivation is really the factor or factors that cause us to act to take action and to strive toward the goals that we have, including the goals that we have that are related to health and well-being.

And of course, our fitness behaviors, our nutrition behaviors, how we eat, and how we move our bodies, in a simple term are related to those ideas of health and well-being. So let’s now look at the idea of intrinsic and extrinsic. You may have heard these before but keep an open mind because we’re actually going to show you today how it’s not exactly a binary which is what a lot of people think it’s just one or the other, we’re going to get a little bit more nuanced.

So in a nutshell, what are extrinsic motivators, they are usually focused on and related to or concerned with others and or hitting some kind of social norms. They’re often driven by external factors like praise, rewards, recognition, or even social pressure. So very externally focused outside of yourself. So think extrinsic, external. On the other hand, we have intrinsic motivators. which are more inwardly focused, and relating to the things that you may find personally deeply valuable. You may find them fulfilling or inherently satisfying. So they are often driven by personal interest, curiosity, and a sense of accomplishment.

So when you think, intrinsic, think, in Turnell, before we go a little bit deeper into these two kinds of motivators, where did these ideas come from? So, again, I think, in terms of understanding mindset, we oftentimes think of like pop culture, what’s just out there in the world, we think about quizzes that we do on social media, and these sorts of things. But this concept of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators and all of the different shades in between, and we’ll talk about that spectrum here in a moment really comes from the work of Deci, and Ryan. So these are two psychologists.

And in 1985, they published a book together called intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. And really, what came from this is the idea of self-determination theory. So what they were looking at is, essentially, what are the best ways to motivate people to perform tasks? And in the past, before their work, the going idea, the most predominant idea is that the best way to get people to take action is to reward them. So you may have heard sort of that idea of reward versus punishment. And they came along in independently had been doing work without each other, and then came together and based on the work that they had been doing independently, came together and formed this idea of self-determination theory.

So self-determination theory is really founded on the idea of three things that humans have basic needs. And those basic needs in terms of change, and motivation are the following number one, autonomy and feeling like you have a choice or a stake or a say in what happens. Number two is competence, which is this idea that you are capable, and sometimes people may call that also self-efficacy. So the idea that you are capable of making a change. And thirdly, relatedness, which is really your connection to others, and belonging, right?

So if these three things are in place, their idea here with self-determination theory, is that it can help us thrive when it comes to goals and high-quality types of motivation. So that’s really the foundation of this idea of extrinsic and intrinsic motivators, and how you can leverage them in fitness. So let’s take a deeper look here now at some of the things that people think or perceive about extrinsic and intrinsic, and then some of the more nuanced ones that fall here. So what are some of the misunderstandings or ideas that people have about extrinsic and intrinsic motivation that may not be totally accurate?

So first and foremost, people think that extrinsic and intrinsic motivation occurs on a binary, it’s either one way or the other. And in reality, we have a spectrum here. So there are different shades, if you will, different progressions, of shifting from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation. So at one side of this spectrum, is actually motivation. Motivation is the lack of motivation. lacking motivation is motivation. So that we have extrinsic motivation, which is really, again, motivated by things that are external to ourselves, we also then have a few different shades of extrinsic motivation that get closer and closer to be more intrinsically shaded, if you will.

So we have extrinsic motivation that can also be tied to things like your identity and your personal values. Right? So we’re starting to shift a little bit more towards intrinsic and then finally, the idea of intrinsic motivation. So these two things are not exactly in a binary it’s more subtle than that. The other thing that people often think about these two types of motivation, extrinsic versus intrinsic, right, putting them in a binary, and this is why we talked about all-or-nothing thinking last week, putting them in a binary oftentimes leads to people thinking, extrinsic motivation is bad and intrinsic motivation is good.

The reality again, is that it’s more likely that if you come in with extrinsic motivation to participate in some kind of health-related goal, whether that’s fitness you’re trying to improve your nutrition, etc, that extrinsic motivators can really help a person get started toward behavior change. But this is but for the long term, it’s also important to develop a sense of intrinsic motivation, as well. So again, it’s not saying that you know, if you’re extrinsic ly motivated that this is a bad thing.

It’s just saying that for better long-term results, it’s important to shift and challenge yourself to also identify with intrinsic, inherent internal reasons why you enjoy, or you value, these things that you’re participating in. So, for example, many people start their fitness journeys with, again, extrinsic motivation, maybe it’s a desire to look good for a wedding that you’re going to or your reunion, this happens to a lot of people in their 40s and 50s, they’re like, Oh, I’m going to a class reunion, I want to look good to impress other people. And so that’s one example.

Another example is maybe you want to enter into a competition, or you want to do a race, or you’re going to challenge yourself in terms of your fitness. So these are usually externally related factors. And they can provide that sort of initial spark, oftentimes, of getting started off like, I’m so motivated to make this goal happen. But they may not be sustainable for the long term, you may end up finding that only having an extrinsic reason may start to ring kind of hollow after a while, because you’re really again, motivated by things that are outside of yourself.

Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is like that inner fire those embers of motivation that continue to burn right inside of us to propel us and push us forward, even when those external rewards fade away, and may not be present, or they are less exciting, right? So it’s about finding that joy, fulfillment, that satisfaction in the process of engaging in things like fitness, discovering things that truly you enjoy that resonate with you, and setting goals that are aligned to your identity to your values for the again, intrinsic pleasure of doing them.

So that’s a little bit about sort of the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic and some of the things that people oftentimes get a little bit incorrect. So now let’s look at some common examples of extrinsic motivators that often show up in fitness and nutrition. And I’m going to give you some examples of things that I commonly hear or have seen out in the world. And I want you as you’re listening to this list, to challenge yourself to also think about, hmm, where have I seen this? Where has this happened to me? Where have I maybe done this in the past?

What do I know about my own growth, and see what comes up? So here are some examples of more extrinsically Motivated things, some of these you could potentially argue could nudge toward those types of extrinsic motivation that lean more toward the intrinsic side. Again, those are the ones that tend to be related to things like your personal values, and your identity. And we’ve talked about identity before, by the way, on this podcast, and we’ve talked about an athlete’s identity, and why that can be really, really important in terms of sticking to your fitness habits, your training, your nutrition, and all those sorts of things. So some examples of these types of motivators.

Let’s say you start a nutrition plan to change your body because you want to please other people, whether it’s your peers, your family members, or others on social media so that it’s a little bit more appearance-based, which can be more extrinsic or external. Let’s say a friend talks you into doing a really hard fitness challenge. And you reluctantly agree because you don’t want to disappoint them. But you really don’t have a lot of interest in doing this for your own reasons. So again, it’s sort of like a little bit more outside yourself. Another example, very commonly, your doctor tells you to start exercising, this happens to a lot of people, right, you go to get a checkup, and your physician says, Okay, you need to include more exercise in your life.

So, maybe over time, you find ways to connect to that on a deeper level. But at first, it’s motivated because you were told that you have to do this. Let’s say your gym has a challenge for a month and the prize is free workout clothes for a year. You are very motivated to complete all the workouts and you show up to the gym five times a week. You’re like fuck yeah, I’m winning these free gym clothes for a year. But let’s say in the end, you’re not the winner. And once the challenge is over, you don’t feel really like getting to the gym like you were before. So that’s an example of being really motivated by a reward and in what case like it helps you in the short term to get in there and participate.

But there was kind of a missing opportunity to go a little bit deeper and identify with things that were more pleasing about that exercise plan or that challenge, then you can roll forward. This happens a lot, your company is hosting a corporate wellness competition, and whoever loses the most weight wins a cash prize. I’m not even going to get into the reasons why this is problematic. But I bring it up because this happens a lot to those of you out in the world who work in corporate settings, where there’s some kind of corporate wellness initiative and like, they set up a very extrinsically motivated type of prize or reward for being I don’t know, the winner who like loses the most inches logs, the most days loses the most weight.

Again, I’m not saying that I would support this. And this is a good idea. And in my opinion, has more downsides than it’s worth to frame a competition in that way. I’ve talked to many times over the past 10 years about why that’s not a great idea. But in any case, it does happen quite a bit. Let’s say you have a goal to get the number one strain score in your whoop group. And let’s say you have a whoop. And you’re in his whoop group, which there are whoop groups out there.

Whoop is a recovery checker by the way, but there are a lot of people who compete to get number one strain in their group. And again, that’s sort of like an extrinsic motivator, right to be the winner to get your name at the top of the whiteboard to like, be the top person in your fitness group. Like that’s a very common thing, right? Strava. I mean, if you’ve ever been on Strava, or Garmin, or some of these other fitness trackers, you can see that there are competitions within that. And again, not saying those are a bad thing.

Those can be fun, they can really get people going. But the key is, what do you identify with also, intrinsically, to keep you going in the long term? Another example and I’ve kind of mentioned this one earlier, you start a meal plan and home workouts because you want to impress your classmates when you go to your 25th high school reunion, right? So again, motivated more by liking your appearance to other people. So those are just a few examples of how extrinsic motivators can show up in fitness, nutrition, and health overall. So again, we just want to recap that extrinsic motivators aren’t inherently bad.

They’re often present when people start things like a fitness program or nutrition coaching. But, here, if you listen to nothing else, in this episode, I want you to hear this really clearly, shifting toward motivators that are more intrinsically linked, will help you see your behaviors through for the long haul. Very, very important for long-term adherence or long-term consistency, depending on what term you like better, very important that you connect to something deeper than only the extrinsic or external reasons.

Alright, so that was that part of the podcast. And then lastly, let’s go over some things that you can do. So some action steps, some tips, some takeaways, what are some things that you can do to establish a sense of more intrinsic motivation with regard to things like your training plans, your fueling strategies, and so on, and so forth. So number one, I know that sounds probably simple, but consider your intrinsic motivations for fitness for nutrition for health behaviors overall.

Sometimes, again, if you’re really extrinsic, ly driven, you may not have sat down and thought about this for a while, or maybe ever. And when students come into strength nutrition unlogged, in the mindset section, before you start any coursework, we have a whole orientation module. And within the orientation module, we have a couple of different mindset lessons to really get you started and get you thinking about things like this. And one of the things that we assess, is your motivations for being there, like, have you stopped to think about what really drives you?

And it’s to help you just sit down and ask those questions and get clearer. And to say also, like, where’s there an opportunity for growth here? And to really challenge that growth mindset? Maybe you’ve had a really extrinsically driven set of reasons and as somebody who loves the idea of competition, loves to push myself over time, right? If that’s not enough, it’s not enough to keep you going. Especially if you don’t come out on top. I’ve really had to over my athletic you know, pursuits to really think about what are the things that drive me what are the things I really love about fitness besides just winning, winning competitions, or winning the top in your workout or whatever it is like what else is there?

So again, it’s not to say that extrinsic things are bad. It’s just to say, where can I nudge myself to grow? Okay? Number two, see if there’s room to shift your extrinsic motivators to something further along that spectrum. So again, nobody’s saying you have to ditch the things that extrinsic ly drive you if you find that they are really, truly motivating, however, see if there is a way for you to connect to something that’s a bit more along the lines of your values, your identity, and an ECU toward an intrinsic reason. So you don’t have to switch everything overnight, but see if you can nudge it a little bit. And again, that’s kind of related to the idea of a growth mindset. And number three, give yourself some choice.

Give yourself some choice when it comes to your fitness, your nutrition, and the things that you’re working on. And if we go back to the beginning of the episode, we talked about things like where intrinsic and extrinsic motivation comes from. Self-determination theory, and the three pillars of self-determination theory, the first one being autonomy and the sense that you have some choice, right? The second one was competence. And the third one was relatedness. All right, let’s take a sec and recap this episode.

First, we defined what are intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and where these concepts come from in psychology. We also took a look at what are some of the misconceptions or misunderstandings that people often have about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. We followed it up with some examples of how extrinsic motivation shows up in fitness and nutrition. And lastly, we covered three tips for shifting from extrinsic motivation toward something more intrinsically motivated and why that’s important for long-term success and your goals.

All right, thank you so much for joining me in this episode, make sure you hit the subscribe button on your podcast app. And over on YouTube, hit subscribe, and also ring the bell for more notifications, especially if you liked this episode. And you want to see more content like this and my other fitness and nutrition content for folks over 40. So go check that out. And also if you’re ready to apply for Strength Nutrition Unlocked because you want expert help and guidance, you want a clear strategy and a roadmap to follow to improve your fitness, your strength, build muscle, and your performance inside and out of the gym. And go ahead and visit us over at to fill out your application and begin the process. All right, thank you so much for being with me today. I really appreciate it. And until next time, stay strong.

The Power of Intrinsic Motivation in Fitness | Steph Gaudreau.


Getting up before 6am makes you healthier and happier

Previous article

Overcoming All or Nothing Thinking in the Gym

Next article

You may also like


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More in Latest News