Bad workouts are a dime a dozen. Don’t let it trip you up, here is how to salvage even the worst workout.
How many times have you considered a workout to be a “bad” workout?
Couldn’t lift as much as before?
Having a hard time catching your breath between sets?
Do things just feel off?
These are all legit reasons to categorize a workout as “bad”. I’ve had more than my share of all these factors almost on a weekly basis.
How did this “bad” workout make you feel? Really aggravated? Like borderline Hulk angry?
Does it make you question what you are doing at the gym in the first place? Or do you get the feeling that you are doing everything wrong and you might as well quit because you’ll never get the body you envision? I mean the people on Instagram never have bad days, they are constantly killing it.
This self-hating talk is common in my head after “bad” workouts and whether they will admit it or not, the people on Instagram too.
The truth is you can’t kill it every day in the gym, some days are just going to suck.
Now let’s flip that coin over and talk about the good workouts; what do you consider a good workout?
Hitting a PR?
Lifting as much, if not more than last time?
If these were the only criteria for a good workout, I’d only have 1-2 good workouts out of the 24 workouts I do in a month. If this was the case, I guarantee I wouldn’t have been working out for 15+ years now.
A good workout and a bad workout, like everything else, are all based on perspective. I can honestly say, I haven’t had a bad workout in 2.5 years. I consider when I herniated my disc as my only bad workout ever. Severe injuries kinda put a damper on things.
Besides that one off, I’ve only had good workouts. I haven’t progressed in weight every week and I haven’t PR’d every day, but I choose to look at my workouts through this quote:
Pizza is a lot like sex. When it’s good, it’s really good. When it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.
It’s true, even the worst pizza has still been pretty good, just like my workouts.
HOW TO MAKE YOUR WORKOUT MORE LIKE PIZZA AND SEX
If workouts were like pizza and sex, everyone would be in shape. For most people these things are looked at in different lights and almost opposites.
Reason being, they are looking at working out wrong. If you look at your workouts right, then they all belong in the same category of awesomeness.
Let’s help you look at your workouts in the right way…
RESCOPE YOUR DEFINITION OF A GOOD WORKOUT
If setting PR’s and lifting more than last time are your only criteria for a good workout – I wish you the best. You are going to be one unhappy mofo.
Let’s take a step back and look at what the meta criteria for what makes a workout awesome. I’ll give you a hint – it’s progress. Instead of niching down progress to one, what I call Pillar of Progress, let’s expand your definition of progress.
The Pillars of Progress are:
Intensity– weight lifted
Volume – reps and sets
Mechanics – form
Frequency – times per week; exercises per workout
Did you show up?
If you can improve on one of these pillars that constitutes a good workout. Changes the game a little doesn’t it?
I like to judge my workouts in the order they appear above. Some days I feel weak, so I’ll drop the weight and add some volume. Usually I can stop there because while I’m weak in 1RM I usually have the endurance to add one more set than before.
If that doesn’t work, then I’ll focus on form. You can never go wrong when focusing on form. When I was recovering from back surgery this is the pillar I emphasized. I focused on form because I didn’t have the strength or the endurance to lift anything worth bragging about. I might not have gotten compliments with dumbbell bench pressing those mighty 25’s but you better believe my form got 10x better. That’s one of the things that kept me going.
Finally, frequency. Can you work your chest 2x a week? Does your workout have more and more exercises in it? Look back to what you were doing a year or even 6 months ago – could you work the same muscle group 2x a week or did your workout contain as many exercises as it does now? If not, guess what? You’re aboard the progress train. Toot that horn, brah!
Temper PR Expectations
Using intensity is the obvious go-to for progress checking. It’s easily comparable and you can track it a lot easier than how good your form is. But it’s also one of the hardest to achieve.
When people start working out you rack up PR’s like crazy. I mean it’s easy since your previous PR was what? 0? Don’t get me wrong it’s a good way to stay motivated in the beginning especially when you are trying to make exercise a habit, but people shouldn’t base the effectiveness of their workouts on it.
If you can hit a PR once every couple of weeks, then you are trending in the right direction. And that doesn’t have to be a 1 rep PR. That could be a 5 rep PR or a 10 rep PR.
LOOKING AT OUTSIDE FACTORS
Let’s say you had the workout from hell. You had the strength of a prepubescent boy and the endurance of this girl (Take sec to watch this video. You’ll thank me later).
What the hell do you do in this case?
Looking at the day/night before will give you everything you need to know why today’s workout sucked the big one.
Work stress piling up?
Were the kids a pain in the ass?
Did you eat crappy food?
Was it Wednesday?
All these factors can contribute to a bad workout. Expecting an awesome workout when you have a huge project due the next day and the kids are up all night sick is stupid. Sometimes you get lucky but most of the time you’re going to have to focus a few pillars down to get that sense of satisfaction. Sometimes you might be down on the Did You Show Up Pillar before you can determine a good workout.
For whatever reason, Wednesday’s suck for me. I’m just exhausted. So instead of constantly putting myself through the self-hate gambit, I scheduled my ab/stretch day for Wednesday. Comparatively this is a lighter day than the rest of the week and I can focus on stretching and foam rolling the soreness out.
It has done wonders for me physically and mentally. This has made Thursday and Friday workouts that much better by taking a “rest” day midweek.
What do you do when you have a bad workout?
What other things are in the pizza/sex category?
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