Strength train 3-4x week. Progressively increase the intensity or load from week to week. Hit a new personal best every session. Feel amazing before and during every session. Never miss a lift.
Yeah, maybe if we lived in some kind of magical fantasy land the above statements would hold true. But life isn’t fair and it’ll punch you square in the face from time to time. And it’s on those days where training can feel like a chore instead something you enjoy.
We get it, guys. You’ve got a full time job, spouse, kids, pets, hobbies, crazy commutes, social obligations, volunteer opportunities, and whatever else life throws at you. All of these things pile on stress to your body leaving you feeling fatigued and worn down.
But after all this, you’ve still gotta take care of yourself and workout. But what do you do on the days where you just feel like you’re dragging yourself through thick mud? Should you still be training hard?
Let’s go over some things you can do to make sure you stay ‘on’ even when you’re feeling ‘off’ during your workouts.
Create the right mindset.
Usually when you hear this, it’s geared towards psyching yourself up so you can kick some ass and take some names.
We’re actually gonna do the opposite.
While we’d love for every client of ours to set personal bests every time they train, it simply will not happen. On days where you feel like hot garbage, tell yourself that it’s OK to not have a great session. Realize and accept this session might feel unusually tough. Have a mindset to ‘punch the clock’ or just go through the motions.
Not only will this keep your expectations in check, but it will keep your spirits high without feeling like a failure afterwards. If you know you will not be setting any records prior to a session, you won’t feel like your entire workout was a waste because everything felt unusually difficult.
There is nothing wrong with just ‘punching the clock’ and going through the motions every once in a while. In fact, trying to push yourself hard when you know you’re feeling ‘off’ is a terrific way to add a lot of additional and unnecessary stress to your already very stressed out body.
Crush your warmup, and ONLY your warmup.
It’s not uncommon for the warmup get get skipped over because people are eager to get to the good stuff. But when you’re dragging ass, this might not be the case. In fact, you might be dreading the higher intensity work.
But the warmup provides an awesome opportunity to get in some quality mobility work, activate some key muscles, and perform low intensity strength movements in a variety of movement planes. All of these things are AWESOME for beat down and stressed out bodies as they can serve as a ‘tune up’ and actually help stimulate recovery. And since warmups are low intensity compared to your actual workout (at least they should be), going through a full and thorough warmup will not tax your body anymore than it already is.
If you’re lucky, diligently performing your warmup can actually make you feel better and cause a snowball effect into your workout. Keep your fingers crossed this happens!
Your rundown body is like a car that’s been sitting in frigid winter conditions overnight. If you start it and immediately floor it, chances are it might not run like you want it to. But give it a few minutes to warmup and that baby will purr like a kitty cat.
So don’t skip your warmup. Make it the focal point of your entire session. And if that’s all you do, so be it.
Hit your main lift. Then go home.
When you’re not feeling 100% going into a session, sometimes hitting one main lift instead of doing your entire session is your best bet.
Your main lifts are usually your bigger lifts like squats, deadlifts, bench presses, chin-ups, or any other multi-joint, compound movement. These movements are high bang for your buck movements, so even though you’re only performing one movement, it’s still a high return on investment so to speak.
And despite only performing a single exercise, you have to remember that something is always better than nothing. This method is a great way to talk yourself out of skipping a session completely… something that might become habit if done regularly.
So if you’re not feeling it today… just do your squats or deadlifts. Skip your accessory hamstring or hip work and live to train another day.
Sometimes the last thing you wanna do after a day from hell is exactly what you had planned to do during your workout.
“Heavy deadlifts after the crazy day I just had? Hell no, I don’t have it in me. I’m skipping this session.”
While that thought might run through your head, don’t do it! Just modify!
There’s nothing wrong with swapping heavy [insert exercise you had planned to do] with something similar but perhaps less taxing on your system. Here are a few examples.
Conventional deadlifts: swap for single arm single leg RDL’s
Barbell back squats: swap with double KB front squats or goblet squats
Bench press: swap with pushup variations
Chin-ups: swap with lat pulldowns or TRX rows
Remember, something is better than nothing. Your training is never set in concrete… modify if needed!
Decrease the volume, decrease the intensity.
This is pretty self explanatory, but perhaps the easiest thing to do when you’re feeling ‘off’ is to simply decrease the amount of work you do in a given session.
Got 5 sets of an exercise? Do 3-4 instead.
Planned on using 100lbs for a certain exercise? Use 75lbs instead.
The goal of any session should be to feel better than before you started it. So if you go into a session operating at 50%, pushing yourself to 100% will probably only beat you further into the ground, making recovery that much more difficult.
Be smart and listen to your body. If you’re not feeling it, perform less sets or decrease the weight used… or both!
Listen, we looooove us some strength training at Grit… but strength training is higher on the intensity scale. As beneficial as strength training is for you, sometimes high intensity methods of exercise are precisely what you don’t need.
The body responds to mental and physical stress in the same way. So if you’ve just had the day from hell at work, got into a fender bender on your commute home, found out your kid just got suspended, aaaand your dog puked on your brand new carpet at home, you are going to be majorly stressed out. Adding more stress to your body in the form of high intensity strength training might not be ideal.
So to combat this, you can swap your regularly scheduled session for a strength training circuit or complex.
Circuits or complexes offer a few key benefits on those days when you feel like crap.
First, you’ll still be performing strength training movements, taking your joints through various ranges of motion, and challenging the muscles… just at a lower intensity. This trumps jogging or the stationary bike because it avoids repetitive motions which can lead to overuse issues over time.
Secondly, circuits and complexes are low intensity. So while you won’t necessarily see strength gains by performing them (unless you’re a beginner), you will maintain your current strength quite nicely. Circuits and complexes will feel more like cardio then strength training, but this is exactly what you want.
Lower intensity circuits do a nice job of creating a shift in your autonomic nervous system which can help you recover quicker. Quick recovery is what your body NEEDS on days where you’re not feeling 100%. Make this simple switch, and we promise you’ll feel better in the long run.
A simple circuit could be as follows:
Goblet squat x10
Goblet reverse lunge x8/side
TRX row x10
Plank w/ alternating reach x5/side
Hip bridge x15
Repeat these exercises straight through, rest 1-2 minutes, and then repeat for sets or time. Make sure to pick a weight for each exercise that leaves you feeling moderately winded after completing all movements, not completely floored sucking for wind.
Trust us, there will be days where training is the last thing you want to do.
But as long as you apply some of these simple methods, you can still get a training effect without running yourself into the ground.