Bad workouts happen to everyone. No matter how dedicated you are, some days the stars just don’t align.
Sometimes you know from the start that you’re not ready for your usual sweaty feast.
Other times, you’re halfway through your workout and you’d swear someone turned up the gravity in the room.
The weights seem heavier. Your cardio is slow. Everything around you seems more interesting than your training.
Maybe you are too stressed to concentrate. Maybe your sleep or your diet have been shifted.
Maybe you’re still wrecked from your last workout.
Whatever the reason, don’t panic. Fitness is a journey of a lifetime, and everyone encounters speed bumps along the way.
Here’s how to be sure the peaks outnumber the valleys — and what to do when a lousy workout threatens to break your momentum.
1. Relax and reframe
First, give yourself a break. You’ve worked hard to get where you are, and the fact that you felt bad about a less than perfect workout is proof enough of your progress.
You might be tempted to attack your next session with crazy intensity, but resist the urge.
Exercise is a form of stressand a lower quality workout usually indicates that you don’t have the time or energy to fully recover from that stress right now.
The last thing you want to do is stress your system even more by pushing yourself too hard.
Instead, put the brakes on heavy workouts for a day or two — or more if needed — and reflect on how far you’ve come on your fitness journey so far.
Adjust your program if necessary. And then come back.
2. Adjust your fuel
“Energy and nutrition go hand in hand,” says Katie Mumford, an NASM-certified personal trainer. “If you feel exhausted during your workout, a good place to start is your nutrition.”
You can get away with doing relatively low-intensity activities — like going for a walk or a bike ride — with minimal fuel in your system.
But you shouldn’t try to lift weights, sprint or perform HIITcircuit training or other high intensity training if you are running empty.
These activities burn glycogen (stored carbohydrates), and exercising when your glycogen stores are low can lead to what athletes call “hit the wall(aka, “bonking”) – the feeling that you’ve run out of fuel and can’t go on.
If you plan to train more than three or four hours after a meal, have a small snack with carbohydrates and protein an hour or two before you start.
Some good options include:
- An apple and a glass of milk
- A banana and yogurt
- A small protein shake and some strawberries
Take a pre-workout supplement such as energize about 30 minutes before you start exercising can also help improve your performance.*
And remember, good nutrition is an all-day habit.
3. Prioritize Recovery
If you run out of gas during a workout, one of the possible culprits is your exercise frequency. Make sure you give your body plenty of time to recover between workouts.
“If you’re on a program, especially if it’s longer than two days a week, some days are lighter in intensity and load than others by design, to allow your body to recover,” says Mumford.
Stick to these parameters and don’t skip your recovery dayswhich should include some of the following activities:
If you’re looking to up the ante, here are some tweaks to your routine that can help you prioritize recovery:
- Allow at least one full day of rest between workouts that affect the same body part or muscle group. If you do an upper body workout one day, focus on your lower body the next.
- Try alternating between “push days” (chest, shoulders, triceps), “pull days” (biceps, forearms, back), and “leg days” (quads, hamstrings, glutes) .
- If you do a longer weight training session, save your cardio workout for the next day.
If you always feel exhausted, you may simply be overdoing your current stress and fitness levels.
Take a few days or even a week off, then resume your program, reducing the amount of weight you lift and the number of sets you perform until you feel your energy returning.
4. Get enough sleep
Shuteye is one of the least popular — but most essential — parts of recovery.
If you don’t get 7 to 9 hours per nightyou are unlikely to fully recover and make optimal progress after your workouts.
Sooner or later, chronic lack of sleep will affect exercise, and your progress will stop.
“Turn off the electronics early,” advises Mumford. “Or swap the late night show for a podcast or reading a book.”
Try turning off 30 minutes earlier than usual every night for a week.
If you’re feeling more energized and your workouts are improving, it might be worth changing your bedtime habits for good.
Sometimes life is just too full of activity and pressure to give your workouts the kind of meaningful attention conducive to great progress.
If you think stress may be affecting your workouts, try temporarily reducing the duration and frequency of your workouts to a maintenance level.
Then resume a more difficult program when your life has calmed down.
This can help reduce your risk of injury, avoid burnoutand minimize bad workouts in the future.