Powerlifter Ed Coan: Motivation Is In The Brain. Passion Is In The Heart.

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

Motivation in bodybuilding, strength sports, and fitness has become its own industry these days. Just open up social media or YouTube to find dozens of channels and videos dedicated to getting you pumped up for a workout or competition. Motivational fitness playlists flood Spotify and guru words of wisdom go viral on a daily basis.

But Ed Coan and Mike O’Hearn have a possibly contrarian take on fitness motivation – it’s all bullshit. 

While that might sound shocking at first, it comes from a much more thoughtful place than you might originally believe. Motivation can be helpful when you are having a hard day or when live brings you down. It can also be used as an excuse to avoid the hard work. If you don’t feel motivated – you have an excuse to avoid the gym or maybe skip out on 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?

This is why Mike O’Hearn talks in-depth with Ed Coan about the difference between motivation and passion. While motivation isn’t inherently bad – it will only get you a small way towards success. Motivation needs to lead to passion. Passion is the only thing that will carry you through the long haul. It’s what will allow you to dig deep down to new places. It also will give you the patience to not cut corners or rush towards success.

Let’s jump into a recap of Ed Coan’s explanation of motivation vs passion – and how it vitally plays into maintaining your training routine and diet.

“Motivation is absolutely zero. It means nothing. It’s passion that is everything.”

– Mike O’Hearn


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A post shared by Ed Coan (@eddycoan)

Motivation vs Passion

Mike O’Hearn starts off his interview with Ed Coan by asking a simple question – how do you define motivation? How do you define passion? Coan doesn’t mince words when he answers. Motivation is in the brain. 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 are passionate – you never need outside motivation to drive you again. Why? Because there’s nothing else you’d rather be doing.

Of course, passion cannot be manufactured. It’s something that needs to be evaluated and determined deep down. Perhaps you’re not really passionate about being a bodybuilder. Perhaps you just think it’s a fun hobby and decided you wanted to compete to try and earn money. Mike O’Hearn argues (and has argued in past episodes) that this is a recipe to failure. You will never become a high-grossing champion without true passion – because there will always be someone else with that passion who snubs you out.

“When you go slow, you move faster.”

– Ed Coan


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A post shared by Ed Coan (@eddycoan)

How Passion Plays Into The Law Of Diminishing Returns In Weightlifting

There’s the old commercial that jokes bodybuilders just “lift things up and put them down.” While on a basic level that is true – the 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 continue to push limits. This can become extremely challenging as you hit plateaus.

It’s at moments like these where motivation is paramount. But again, outside motivation is only temporary. It can fail you when you hit a plateau that you just don’t know exactly how to crack. But if you’re passionate – you’ll do whatever it takes however long it takes.

Ed Coan talks about how being patient is key towards true athletic success. Ironically, moving slow is the best way to succeed fastest. 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 hitting a plateau.

Ed Coan stresses the importance of adapting and evolving your program – but do it in chunks. When you set a goal over the course of, let’s say, a 10 week program. Don’t change the goal or the program until those 10 weeks are done. After it’s done, you can then re-evaluate, change your goals, and improve. However, if you get impatient and change mid-program, you might actually be denying yourself the real results. Sometimes these things take time.

Passion often allows us to have that patience. Instead of rushing towards the trophy, the accolades, or the money – you are only focused on your love of the sport. One could argue that this problem has led to many worrisome habits. This includes the rise in higher dose PEDs and bodybuilders turning to steroids at a much younger age. It can also lead to people overtraining, burning out, or giving up when they otherwise could have eventually succeeded.

“It’s like school. You can’t jump from first grade to 10th grade. Everything in between. All of the building blocks are there to get you to the end result.”

– Ed Coan

Wrap Up

The hardest part about passion is that it’s something you have to find. You can’t create it. It’s the inner journey all individuals must take as they determine what satisfies them in life. But hopefully Mike O’Hearn and Ed Coan’s words here provide the tools to better evaluate and determine what drives you.

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

Derek Dufour
Derek Dufour has been managing all digital operations on the Generation Iron Network for over six years. He currently manages a team of editors, writers, and designers to provide up-to-date content across the GI Network.