Today was a bad training day for me. Maybe you have had one too and wondered ‘Is the whole training thing even worth it? Will I ever get any better? Why do I suck?’. Maybe it has reduced your self-confidence, maybe it has reduced your motivation to continue training. But I am here to tell you it is normal and it is okay. I am not talking about being a little wonky or a having some isolated muscle soreness on one of your exercises here, but when the entire session is just all bad.
Bad training days happen. For my own training, they are maybe a weekly occurrence on average, as a guess. That doesn’t mean I always have one bad day a week, sometimes I have a run of great days. Sometimes though, I have a run of bad days. Sometimes a bad week. The session or a few sessions just suck. Maybe I will be slow, tight, unable to demonstrate the technique I am capable off, miss lifts at easy or light weights, I will feel flat, fatigued, or maybe I will just feel banged up after the session. Bad days are normal and something that comes with the territory of training.
I know a few people that get into training, whatever the type of training is, because they have an idea in their head that it is going to be a wonderful and enjoyable experience. Maybe they do one session and get a sudden rush of endorphins, expecting this feeling to continue every time they train. Maybe they have a New Year’s Resolution and find themselves full of enthusiasm to make some real positive change in their life. Fast forward to 6 weeks later and they have given up because this sudden change or great feeling just didn’t happen like they expected. Some of the training was hard. Some days they didn’t have the motivation to stick to the program.
Just look to social media to see some Instagram model eating some random “health” food or doing some random exercise and telling you how great they feel because of it. They are energised, happy, or some other positive feeling. And for some amount of money you pay them, you can feel that way too by buying their supplement, program, or whatever crap they are peddling. Maybe you buy into it and don’t feel the same way every day. Maybe you think it’s you, that you it’s your fault, or some other negative feeling. I actually love social media, but it is full of a lot bullshit too.
So, back to bad training days. These happen. They are part of the process, and to make any real progress you will need to accept them as a typical occurrence. Now some days I feel great, and everything is just on fire. But I have an equal amount of days that are the total opposite. Why? It comes back to stress in its various forms. Training itself is a systematic application of stress to cause a physiological adaptation to this stress. You want to bench press more weight? Well you are going to have to bench press more. That bench press training is applying stress to your muscles, bones, nervous system, and connective tissue that results in your body responding by improving its ability to deal with future bouts of bench pressing. To do this, you are causing an amount of fatigue to your body. This fatigue drives an adaptation. Getting the dose of this stress right is the hard part. As your body adapts to this stress, you need to apply more stress to get an ever-decreasing amount of improvement. Adaptations also come at a cost. It takes energy and nutrients to build more muscle, bone, and connective tissue. And if your body makes an investment to improve your physical traits, there has to be a demand to actually use it. If there isn’t, it will stop maintaining the tissue needed for these improvements as it is costly and inefficient.
Through training you are accumulating the necessary physical stress needed to adapt, resulting in fatigue. And sometimes the amount of stress applied to a particular group of muscles will exceed your tolerance for it. Sometimes it takes longer to recover because the weight on the bar is getting heavier or the total volume of training is higher. Sometimes you do a lift slightly wrong that results in different muscles taken up the slack instead of the normal muscles that do the work. Maybe you over-strain some connective tissue. Your body’s different tissues respond to and dissipate fatigue differently and at different rates. Some types of training will deliberately over-stress you as well like high volume blocks, work capacity training, and testing protocols. Then throw in external sources of stress: sleep, diet, relationships, and work. These get added to the pool of stress you have from training and reduce your ability to demonstrate peak performance. You are also trying to accumulate stress and fatigue to drive the requisite adaptation. And collectively that means every session isn’t going to be wonderful.
Other forms of stress from life like poor diet, a poor night’s sleep, work stress, and relationship stress can impact as well. You might find they reduce your motivation. They impact on your nervous system as well as other body tissue. Stress is stress, and you only have a finite capacity for it. Stress isn’t necessarily negative, but there is an ideal amount you need to cause an adaptation. And as you improve, that amount will increase, resulting in lowered performance levels for much of your training.
Bad training days highlight two personal qualities needed to be successful in your training: discipline and consistency. Having a bad training day isn’t the end of the world. Programming 2 sessions a day for 6-7 days a week as a beginner and forcing yourself to stick to it isn’t a good example of discipline and consistency though. Ensure the training you do is appropriate for your current ability, not your aspirations. Have the discipline to stick to a simple program for 3 days a week for a consistent period of time before you even consider increasing your training frequency. Learn to move more efficiently. Rest and recover properly. Try to get quality sleep. Make small sustainable changes to your diet to nourish your body. Adhere to a simple program for at least 3 months before adding any further complexity. And when a bad training day happens, learn to tolerate it as a normal occurrence.
Too many bad days can be a problem. If you find yourself crushed after every single session or constantly fatigued, chances are something might be wrong. The most obvious problem is having too much training load or simply to much effort and volume in your training. Does your current program exceed your capacity to deal with it? Are you accumulating too much stress and too much fatigue? Are you resting and recovering enough? More often than not, people are simply doing too much too soon. Maybe your motivation is leading to your aspirations exceeding your actual abilities. More isn’t better. The right amount for right now though is what is best. Discipline and consistency trump motivation. Don’t rely on a sensation or expectation of a sensation from training to get you through. See training for what it really is: a systematic application of stress to drive an adaptation. Once you accept this and cherish small improvements you will be on your way to making lifelong improvements. But be smart and apply the amount of stress from training you can actually tolerate and recover from.
How do you deal with a bad day when it inevitably happens? There are three real options:
1) Force your way through the session.
2) Reduce training load of the session.
3) Skip the session (either altogether or reschedule).
The first option of just pushing through is the highest risk and it needs a genuine reason to do it. If you are a competitive athlete and in your final preparation stage for a meet or competition, then this is maybe an option. But there needs to be a really good reason to push through it without modification, noting the risk of injury will be higher. The second option of reducing training load can be done a number of ways: removing lower priority exercises, reducing sets and/or reps, reducing the intensity of major exercises, and increasing rest. Skipping the session altogether is best reserved for those days when you know is going to be a bad training session before you even start – or if you start the session and everything is just shithouse. It takes discipline and experience to know you should just miss the session and reschedule if for the future, or just take some time off.
So today was a bad training day for me. Why? Well there were two contributing factors. The first factor was that last week was test week for me and I spent the whole week doing heavy lifting that resulted in new PRs for my lifts. Last week was the time to test improvements in my performance, which I did, and I am still fatigued from it. The other factor was sleep: I had a terrible night’s sleep last night. Basically, I have accumulated too much stress to demonstrate high performance levels. What did I do during my session? I simply reduced the overall training load of my session. I expect tomorrow will be a bit better, and the next day even better again. It is all part of the process.
~ Coach Pete
Had a bad training day that set you back and want some help to get past it? Get in touch with me here.