The Little Black Book of Workout Motivation by Michael Matthews: Mastering Drive and Productivity, Both in the Gym and Outside It

“I want to work out, but I don’t have the time or the energy. I’m just. too. busy.”

As someone who has been immersed in the fitness space for years now, I’ve heard the same trite remark from friends, family members, and internet strangers. It’s a common fallback for the unmotivated–those who prefer to spend their nights on the couch than in the squat rack. “Motivation” is a difficult concept to define, but you know it when you see it. Motivated people have some intrinsic force that persuades them to act the way they do as opposed to giving into easier alternatives. Motivation is what one needs to transform his or her life and body, and motivating people is Mike Matthews’ forte.

Matthews has written several books, including Bigger, Leaner, Stronger: The Simple Science of Building the Ultimate Male Body, which has been a constant in the’s top 5 fitness books for a while now. This time, Mike ditches the exercise science and opts for a more psychological approach to fitness, one that focuses more on getting and keeping people in the gym rather than guiding them through what to do once they show up.

The result is The Little Black Book of Workout Motivation, and this glossy hardcover certainly lives up to its name. It’s small in stature and contains just over 200 pages of no-nonsense content, meaning it’s easily read in a couple of hours. However, as you’ll see, this isn’t the optimal approach to the book, as each chapter is packed with “Do This Nows” and additional reading supplements that give it value much beyond the $15 price.

The Little Black Book of Workout Motivation (heretofore: LBB) stands apart from other psychology-heavy texts, first and foremost, because it’s personable. It’s chock-full of anecdotes involving real people–the stories take page-time priority to the research studies in an effort to prove to readers that, they, too, can master the art of getting in shape. Of course, the book has plenty of studies to support (nearly 50 of them, in fact) and Matthews really knows how to extrapolate the findings and weave them into his narrative. You tend to believe what he says because of the experiences he shares, but you know you should believe it due to the evidence he provides.

The shining part of this book is two-fold:

  1. The Action Steps at the end of Each Chapter, entitled “Do This Now”
  2. The Recommended Readings found directly below them

It’s easy to read something, identify with it, and tell ourselves we are going to apply it to our lives in the future. Imagination takes no effort. Just like the person who dreams of getting in shape yet never darkens the doors of a gym, the person who reads constantly but never implements principles remains stagnant in his goals as well. LBB challenges that mindset with a “Do This Now” section at regular intervals throughout the text.

Sometimes, it’s simple things like writing down your goals, and other times it’s something as intricate as a 21-Day no-complaint challenge, but the result is the same, regardless of where you’re at. These action steps are designed to take readers to the next level, to go from thinking to doing, or, at the very least, shame them for not making any immediate moves. Each task is directly related to the chapter in which it appears, so it makes it easy to build off momentum and roll into the action. None of the challenges are too strenuous, and, if you’re like me, you’ll want to complete them. Even if they don’t get you in the gym, they’ll inch you toward productivity.

The Recommended Reading list stands out in tandem with the “Do This Now” sections because the books that comprise said list not only expand on the concepts Matthews touches on, but they further immerse you into the world of productivity science. You’ll learn more from these books about life, work, and efficiency than you will from watching any Ted Talk. Getting yourself in the right headspace to become a productive person is half the battle of finding the motivation to work out, and these books are a further stepping stone in that direction.

No book is without flaws, but the best books minimize them in the final product. The issues in LBB are slight, and might easily be dismissed based on what you’re looking to get out of the book. Sometimes, the salient studies are too glossed over; we are given quotes like “students…were 54 percent more likely…” but too little is said of the participants or study conditions to make the point hit home. This is the exception, rather than the norm, but it happens a bit too frequently for my liking.  Other times, the key takeaway from an anecdote is so tangential to the act of working out that you may need to glance at the cover to remind yourself “Workout” is in the title. Mostly though, the issues in the text are insignificant. Toward the end of LBB, readers may feel like Matthews is trying to cram in the names and stories of as many canonical historical figures as he can while simultaneously touting every book he references as “groundbreaking” or “landmark,” but the message of the text remains the same: eliminate your time-wasting vices, and apply yourself somewhere more useful.

Forget watching Eric Thomas speeches on YouTube–those don’t work. They’ll psych you up for a second, maybe even a workout, but eventually, you’ll find yourself desensitized to the gimmick and back to square one. The Little Black Book of Workout Motivation is a much better solution for those days you don’t want to go deadlift, because it’s evidence-based and preaches principles of success rather than shoddy shortcuts. The best “self-help” books don’t supply one-size-fits-all formulas as heavily as they stress behaviors adopted for sustainability. Whether you want to exercise three days a week or finally sink some hours into your dormant hobby, The Little Black Book of Workout Motivation can help you get there. Even if you pick and choose the chapters most relevant to your life, LBB is bound to affect you in some way. It’s cost and time effective, so start cutting the excuses now and check it out.


Up Next: The Book of Essie (pub. June 2018)

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