Bad Days: Making the Best of Poor Training Days
When was the last time you had a training session that sucked? It’s probably quite recent, since they get more common the better you get.
Learning to deal with a “bad” day is one of the most important and economical ways of improving your training. There are going to be more bad or “meh” days than there are phenomenal ones – and getting value from these will really add up.
Today we’re going to discuss bad days and how to make them less bad. We’re going to address why bad days happen, how you figure them out, how to save the day, and what you can do to maximise your training effect on those days where you feel/perform badly!
The Bad Day: What and Why
You can probably remember some of the worst days you’ve ever had. They’re noticeable for how bad they make you feel, but it can be hard to deal with them effectively.
There seem to be two types of bad days. Firstly, you have the days where you feel crap from the very moment that you touch a weight. The second kind are the ones where everything feels good on the way up to your working weights, where everything just feels heavy, slow, and maybe you even miss a weight.
This is where we’re setting off our chat about how to perfect the productive bad day. Whether you’re struggling from the start or dealing with a disappointing performance on the top set, it’s all about the response!
Did you Mess Up?
This is the first question you need to ask yourself when it comes to bad sessions. There’s a humility to saying, “I didn’t prepare properly, and this is the fruit of that poor preparation”.
This is a hard reality to face up to, but it is also the fastest way to fix the problem. If this is the result of poor sleep or nutrition, then the simple fix is sleeping and eating better in future. It’s hard t face this kind of personal failing, but it provides an easy solution to the problem.
Be honest with the things that could have led you to that failure. Sometimes that’s not possible – and it’s not useful to beat yourself up over small problems – but if it’s in your control then it’s possible to change it rapidly.
Making the Day Worthwhile
So, when things go wrong, what’s the play-by-play for better performance and productivity?
You’ve just bust your ass warming up and you’ve put 100% effort into your top set and it just doesn’t go your way. You didn’t hit your working weight for the reps or sets you wanted, and inevitably you’re going to have some disappointment and self-doubt.
The first step is to take the right mindset to it and address the problem in the right way.
Mindset: you’re here to train the movement
The first step is admitting that this is not a huge deal to miss a single set – or few sets – in the grand scheme of things. The overall point is to not treat the day like a lost cause – in the grand scheme of things a single top set won’t ruin everything you’re doing.
On top of this, it’s important to note that you’re here to train the movement – not the weight. The specific weight of the day doesn’t matter, it’s just a steppingstone and a lighter or adjusted set is likely to have the same benefits if you’re already tired.
This workout isn’t your competition or your final chance to prove something. It’s a day of getting better and working the muscles and movements.
The first possibility is simply adjusting the weight. This is a matter of reducing the amount of weight or reps you’re dealing with. This is a good way of getting through the intended purpose of the workout and still making progress from it.
Just because you don’t get 4 sets of 6, you can still improve muscular and movement quality. This could mean reducing weight by 5-10%, reducing to sets of 4-5, or switching to an easier variation.
The intention here is to get the benefit from the workout (whether that’s practice in a movement or adaptation in the muscles). These add value and keep you progressing even if you can’t perfectly hit the intended workout.
The point is to strengthen the muscles, and this doesn’t always take the exact weight on the program. If you’re not getting your prescribed weights and reps, get some effective training in to strengthen the muscles for future training.
Quarantine the struggle to the smallest part possible
The point is to keep your head about what a bad session means. If you’re having a really bad day, it’s totally normal to have a cascade of self-doubt: “maybe I’m doing something wrong/the wrong program”.
The point is to quarantine doubts and concerns to the smallest possible part. “I have tired hips” is a much better, more realistic and productive reflection than “this whole program sucks if it makes me feel like this”.
Keep the adjustments as small as possible and be patient. You’ll have some bad days but addressing small problems and making tweaks can help you improve without these huge mental blocks. If you’re hopping programs every bad session, you’ll never get anywhere!
Can you identify the problem and address it today?
This is perhaps the best use of your time. “I have tired hips” is a good first step towards addressing the issues and adjusting your session to get the most of it.
If you’re struggling with extensive fatigue somewhere, or poor activation, you can switch out to a workout that emphasises addressing this issue. If you’re not feeling your hips under yourself in the squat, for example, a pin squat could be the solution to the movement problem and allow you to perform effective back-off work.
Going straight to the problem or weakness that caused you some issues in the top set is hard but how you get better. The sooner you can address it, the more worthwhile that session will be and feel. It’s also the #1 way to avoid repeating the same problems next session.
Bad days come for us all. They affect training negatively if you let them, but you earn the good days by making the most of the bad ones. Training smart – and hard- when you’re struggling is the best way to get better!
If you can treat bad days as the opportunities that they are, you’ll be able to train more effectively and avoid the bad mood that comes from self-perceived failure. Treat it as a minor, short-term setback, and do what you can to fix it right now.
Dedication to getting the work in – in some form – even when things are bad is all it takes. Figure out where the problem came from, avoid it in future, and be sure to do what you can in the short-term to provide a better long-term training trajectory!
About The Author
Professional sport/fitness writer, Weightlifter, high-performance enthusiast. Liam wears many hats, but they’re unified by a love for competition, performance, and engaging writing. You can get in touch (or hurl abuse) over at ApexContent.Org.