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Sh*tty Training Days: Go Lighter Or Abandon Altogether?

I remember reading Paul Carter’s blog, LiftRunBang, many years ago where he coined the line:

‘80% of your workouts will be forgettable and run of the mill. 10% of your workouts will be garbage where you’re weak and everything sucks. And the last 10% will be where you’re a storm trooper and smashing things like a machine’.

It took me some time to truly grasp those sentiments but nowadays they’ve certainly become a mainstay in my beliefs towards training. The hardest thing to do past a certain level is detach emotionally from the outcomes of your efforts.

It can be so easy to feel a failure when you don’t keep hitting numbers on an upward curve. Add in being a coach yourself and seeing all your clientele smashing progress while you’re struggling, and this can become a real sucker punch. I always thrive when my own results are as good as they can be. When they’re not I always feel I’m not as good a coach as I can be.

But in a roundabout way, these lulls are a test of your own philosophies. I’ve had many people ask me why they’re not getting the results they want as fast as they want them, and I’ll tell them things aren’t linear and their body is a variable organism that’s always changing and adapting to the world around it. And I’ll tell them to think longer term as opposed to short term………..yet I struggle to do this myself.

This scenario is one I’ve battled for a long time (well, pretty much my entire training career really) and one I’m forever seeking more knowledge on. How to cope emotionally, immediate rescue strategies, what to do next session to account for the ‘bad’ one and anything I can do to reduce the likelihood of more sub-par sessions.

Lift lighter vs jack it in?

When the body will not do what the ego influenced program sheet says for the day, you have two options for the most part:

1. Reduce the intensity as much as you need to still get the moves done.

2. Call it a day and get the fuck out of there, cut your losses and re-attack on a better day.

The other school of thought is to cut the volume but still keep the intensity – usually you cut it anywhere from 40-60% – 50 being a nice mid ground!

While I like the half volume approach for planned deloading, it doesn’t help when you just can’t hit the numbers (intensity) you were supposed to that day anyway.

Which leads us to our next question………..

What’s your current training style? Strength, endurance, hypertrophy……..skills?

The more strength orientated your training is, the harder it will be to keep the intensity on an off colour day. The whole premise of a strength training program is to drive your raw power/force output up as much as possible. Therefore you need to be nailing the numbers on route as you ramp up.

Endurance, hypertrophy and other goals are a little easier as they’re not generally performed at such high intensities. So therefore cutting volume would work a treat and serve as a nice surprise mini-vacation.

Strength is very neural and depending on your level, can take more than a week to fully replenish your maximum output. The stronger/more powerful/more advanced you are, the more recovery time an all out effort will demand. If you read anything by the world renowned sprint coach Charlie Francis, you’ll know that he would say his athletes needed 10 days before they could hit their absolute maximums again.

Charlie Francis: Athletics coach notorious for his involvement in the Ben  Johnson doping scandal | The Independent
The late Charlie Francis, famous for being Ben Johnson’s (pictured) sprint coach.

But does this mean you can’t actually train again in that 10 day period? No, you can train below your threshold but you need to be very careful not to over-stress a system that’s already playing catch up. This law leads me to my newly found stance on whether light days or actually worth that much on a strength program………..

Lighter workouts can just further bleed a low fuel tank.

From experience, I’ve found it can be better to force yourself to be patient and actually do nothing on said day and wait 2 more days, giving your system a chance to be fresher and ready to go.

I think this becomes even more crucial if you’re further into a training cycle. I’m around 8 weeks in currently and fatigue is mounting. I’m finding I can no longer get away with such a fluent frequency and still push my weights up. What used to take 2 days to recover now takes 3 or 4 but that’s OK.

Some guidelines?

I’ve touched on deloads and handling crappy workouts in the past but me then versus me now are two different beasts altogether. My current stance on handling days where the body betrays you, and the numbers seem stupidly inflated are as follows:

  • If training at lower intensities (80% or below/6-8 reps or more) cutting volume in half can work really well
  • For skill work (handstands for example), taking the moves down one difficulty/progression level can do the trick well or cutting volume as well
  • For anything power/strength based (80%+/6 reps or lower) it can be best to just abandon for the day and come back 2 days later; leave the fuel tank in a replenish-able state instead of leaving it bone dry and your next session being even worse
  • If you’re earlier in a strength cycle you may be able to cut the volume and still hit the intensities the program calls for. Only after multiple weeks you’ll find it very hard to hit the heights you need when you’re not in sparkling form

Do you have any other approaches you use when your training suffers or on the days where things aren’t clicking? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear your coping strategies on this annoying but inevitable situation.

JR @ Straight-Talking-Fitness View All

The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.

3 thoughts on “Sh*tty Training Days: Go Lighter Or Abandon Altogether? Leave a comment

  1. If I’m really sore or feel worn out sometimes I’ll just go for a brisk walk that day. It won’t wear me out any further but it’ll get my muscles loosened and fresh blood pumping to them.

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