What is the Eye of the Tiger?

By on January 28, 2016


On Tuesday my wife kindly let me choose the film we were going to watch, as it was our anniversary.

This is always a hard choice. I have five different Rocky films on DVD, so how am I supposed to pick one?

For this occasion, I chose Rocky III to continue her education and because I was in an 80s mood. Watching Rocky also handily served to get me more psyched for my upcoming trip to see Creed

Not that I could BE more psyched…

And as ever, I was moved to the core by Mickey’s death (spoilers) and on the edge of my seat during the battle with Thunderlips.

And as ever, I was pumped when Eye of the Tiger came on. Despite struggling with a cold, I was overcome by a sudden and real urge to hit the gym. HARD.

So I wondered: exactly what is the eye of the tiger?

The Thrill of the Fight

Of course “the eye of the tiger” is a useful plot device and a great song.

But it also eludes to something sort of real.

In Rocky III, Apollo tells Rocky that it’s the look that certain fighters have – the look of being ‘hungry’. That’s the look that great warriors have and that look can potentially determine the outcome of a fight.

Whether or not you can actually see a ‘look’ in people’s eyes in the gym is moot. Either way, there is definitely a very clear and visible difference between the people who want to be there and the people who don’t. You can be working hard on the face of it but still not have that look. Still not be quite 100% in the moment.

If you’re the sort of person who has tried to get into shape with 10 different training programs and never stuck at it, then this is what’s really missing. It’s not the training program, it’s not the diet – it’s just that you don’t really have your heart in it. You’re just going through the motions and waiting for the day you can pack it in.

You don’t have the eye of the tiger!

How to Get the Eye of the Tiger

A lot of articles and books that try and convince you to go to the gym will tell you to focus on your goals. To visualize yourself with your perfect body and with all the confidence that comes with that.

But I don’t think that’s really the right advice.

If you’re concentrating on getting your perfect body so you can ‘be confident’ then your heart isn’t really going to be in it when you’re pumping iron. Now you’re training as a means to an end, instead of training because you want to train.

If you want to get into awesome shape, then the single most important factor is that you go to the gym regularly and give it everything. Even if the training program you’re following isn’t great, as long as you’re doing some form of training on a regular basis you’ll see some improvement. And the only way to drag yourself out of bed to get in the gym when it’s wet and when it’s cold, is if training is ‘intrinsically’ rewarding.

I use to come home from a night out drunk and train in the living room at 3am. That wasn’t because I wanted to achieve anything. I just wanted to workout and I didn’t want to give up. The harder it is to train, the more rewarding it is when you pull it off! In real life I rarely have massive Russian opponents to fight – instead I have colds, stress and deadlines. Either way, I’m not backing down!

So don’t train because you want to pull ladies – train because you want to test your mettle and because you want to feel stronger. When you really push yourself to the very limit with a workout that leaves you in a heap – it’s actually an awesome fealing.

Train because you know that your body is constantly changing. And that means that you’re either getting stronger… or you’re getting weaker.

vegeta training

You have to love training. You have to love pushing yourself and you have to have a burning desire to get in the gym and to test yourself.

How do you learn to have inner drive to get to the gym and throw weights around? Sure, you could try CBT – but I’m not sure that would work.

You can try thinking of your training as a kind of metaphor – a way to test yourself for whatever it is you do care about.

But really I think it just has to come from you. You have to really want it and you have to refuse to even think about failing.

As Adrian puts it:

“You wanna tell me that those fights weren’t real, that you were carried? Well I don’t believe it! But it doesn’t matter what I believe because you’re the one that’s got to carry that fear around inside you, afraid that everybody’s going to take things away and afraid that you’re going to be remembered as a coward, that you’re not a man anymore. Well, none of it’s true! But it doesn’t matter if I tell you. It doesn’t matter, because you’re the one that’s gotta settle it. Get rid of it! Because when all the smoke has cleared and everyone’s through chanting your name, it’s just going to be us. And you can’t live like this. We can’t live like this. Cause it’s going to bother you for the rest of your life. Look what it’s doing to you now. Apollo thinks you can do it, so do I. But you gotta want to do it for the right reasons. Not for the guilt over Mickey, not for the people, not for the title, not for money or me, but for you. Just you. Just you alone.”

Stallone is an awesome writer…

The Eye of the Tiger Will Make You Stronger

And ‘the eye of the tiger’ isn’t just about getting yourself into the gym in the first place.

Having the eye of the tiger will actually make you stronger.

I’ve talked a lot about the ‘mind muscle’ connection in the past. I’ve also talked about how norepinephrine and other neurochemicals can help to increase strength. Studies show that amphetamines increase strength and give you a higher pain threshold (1). That’s because they mimic the stress response. If you think something really matters – if you give it ‘salience’ in your mind – then you create the exact same chemicals in your brain naturally.

(I wrote more about salience recently here).

Flow states are a result of you thinking that something really matters (normally in a ‘life threatening’ kind of way) and this can give you heightened reflexes and even more visual acuity. ‘Hysterical strength’ describes the phenomenon where mothers manage to lift vehicles off their children in a show of sudden and unexpected stress.

You’re unlikely to trigger that kind of untapped power – but if your body and mind are in complete sync in the gym you will gain more power. When you think something really matters and when you really want something – you become tougher and more unstoppable.

If you have the eye of the tiger when you work out, you will recruit more muscle fibers, you’ll push through pain barriers and you’ll be stronger. It’s not just a song, it’s actually science.

So learn to want it. Learn to love working out. And then tap into that so that every workout becomes an epic battle against yourself!

rocky punch

Next: What is ‘The Burning Heart’?


About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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