A trainee came in, stressed about her daughter, tired from lack of sleep, and feeling mentally exhausted.
She didn’t feel particularly strong and didn’t really lift any heavier than the prior week.
“Did I just waste the workout?” she asked.
“Not at all”, I replied.
Online writers and trainers often talk about not wasting workouts. The contexts can vary, but one variation of the idea is that you need to constantly try to beat what you have done previously. Anything less could be considered a waste of your time.
While probably not meant to be taken so literally by the trainers, people often do take these statements quite seriously and end up down on themselves when they aren’t making some type of measurable progress.
While the ability to increase volume, through the weights being lifted and the number of reps being performed, are the two factors most responsible for muscle growth, it’s not usually going to happen in a linear fashion.
A beginner will be able to do those things pretty easily and linearly, but more advanced lifters, who may have lives outside the gym, will not.
Jobs, kids, stress, sickness, lack of motivation, fatigue; all these things can interfere with training.
You have to be flexible in your approach to training. Sometimes we set impossible standards for what equals success, and then if those expectations aren’t reached, we feel disappointed. Or we read some other person’s standards, these days an Instagram fitness “authority” making a certain (often dubious) claim about fitness or nutrition, and we take it as gospel.
The truth is, even if you don’t have a great workout, or couldn’t find the motivation to go hard, or even medium hard, it’s still not a waste.
How do you find solace in a less than optimal trip (or trips) to the gym? Small victories, the ones we often ignore, add up.
1. You showed up instead of sitting home and watching reality TV. Victory.
2. You gave your body a stimulus that it wouldn’t have had otherwise. Victory.
3. You get more in touch with how your body and mind are feeling. You don’t want to be like Mr. Duffy, of whom James Joyce wrote “lived a short distance from his body”. Victory.
4. Going easy on an already stressed out body is often the correct action to take to prevent a downward spiral. Victory.
Once you know what you are doing, training isn’t the hard part. The mental aspect is much harder.
Training, and life in general, are often 10% action, and 90% what you think of those actions.
If you dwell on the negative, just flip the script.
If your nutrition is consistent:
1. correct amount of calories
2. adequate protein
3. veggies and fruit
4. some other carb sources and some healthy fats
and utilizing progressive strength training a few times per week, chances are you will be in pretty good shape.
Granted, “pretty good shape” is a pretty subjective term. But, as long as you don’t set unrealistic expectations, this formula has to work. Point #1 ensures it.
What’s the correct amount of calories? Very simply put, if you are carrying extra body fat, you are taking in too many calories. The proof is in the pudding, so to speak.
Try A Re-Frame
If you get overly concerned about wasting workouts, perhaps try to re-frame the concept. Instead of obsessing over each individual workout, realize that it’s the accumulation of workouts over months and years that produce results. If you aren’t training for some type of competition, all you have to do is follow the trend.
Are you adding volume over time?
Are you following the simple eating guidelines?
If you are, then good things will be happening.
Judging certain workouts “good” and others “bad” engages a human mind that, often erroneously, makes sense of things through comparison. Yet life occurs neutrally. It just “is”. It is our own mind that applies labels to all events.
You could easily argue that some of the events that we label as “bad” turn out to be the proverbial blessing in disguise. The same can be said of workouts. It just depends on how you look at it.
Getting caught up in workout by workout comparisons just makes you crazy in an already stressed out and hectic world.