We all have days when the weight refuses to move, the miles begin to drag and our body just goes “mmmmeeeeeeehhh not today”.
Last week’s warm ups feel like max attempts, and all speed and energy has left our body. All that’s left is the mind, looking around going “what the hell guys?!”.
Sometimes it’s fatigue, lack of rest, illness, disturbances in training, or nutrition. Sometimes it’s just because the gym gods are in a bad mood.
Whatever the reason, we can’t do much about it now. We’re here, and, barring a bad injury or illness, we’re going to get something done instead of wasting the day.
Time to dig into the “No Bad Workout” bag of tricks to walk out with a new Personal Best (in something).
There’s More Than Type of PB
Typically we’ve got a small goal in mind for the workout, maybe it’s to hit a certain weight, a certain number of reps/distance, or maybe a certain time. Body being sapped of go juice, there’s no way in hell we’re reaching it (whether we’ve already tried or the warm ups have been just awful).
All is not lost, how about we just change the goal.
Instead of hitting a max weight for 5 reps, maybe try a lighter weight and go all out - shooting for 10, 15, even 20? We’re still working the same movement, hitting the same muscles and getting more practice at the movement, just at a slightly different intensity.
Using the lighter weight we’re not putting ourselves in danger (having more control over a lighter weight than a heavier one) and we’ve probably not got a rep PB for it, so whatever we hit will be a new record - booyah!
If the exercise is an endurance one, maybe turn it into sections of sprints/Fartlek, or alternating sections of slow/recovery pace and moderate pace?
Just because we don’t hit one goal, doesn’t mean we can’t hit another one. Even if it wasn’t originally planned.
Objective Measures Aren’t The Only Measures
This one is more for gym workouts. While looking back on an exercise, we normally look at weight, reps, sets and rests. All objective measures, numbers noted down to be improved upon for next time.
When was the last time you took a note of something subjective? Things like: how did the exercise feel? Did you feel the form was more natural? How was the speed of the rep, was it quicker than it felt? How did the weight feel, did you feel like you had more control over it than before? How is your mind muscle connection, could you feel the work happening where it’s meant to?
While it won’t win us any trophies, subjective measures like these are actually pretty important for our progress and development. The form ones especially let you know you’re gaining competency with a movement, which means you body is better able to balance and coordinate to get better at the movement (even if it’s at a smaller scale than you realise).
How fast the weight moves is a sign of your rate of force development, something that comes into play in a big way for the heavy sets - getting some momentum behind the bar means you can get into a stronger position sooner, making it easier to finish the reps. We don’t necessarily need a heavy weight to work on speed, just whatever weight is a challenge and that we can move pretty damn fast.
Even the mind muscle connection - if we can feel the muscles working the way they should then we know we’re doing things right instead of just going through the motions and hoping for the best. By slowing down, even using a lighter weight, and focusing on feeling all the right muscles getting to work, then we can make all future exercises more effective.
There’s More than One Exercise to PB in
Squats are moving like trash, balance feels off and the bar is wrecking our back. Instead of bashing our head against the wall, we could try a totally different exercise. To keep it in line with the general theme of the workout, we’ll make sure to hit some of the same muscles but without worrying about using an exact exercise.
So instead of squats? How about leg press. Leg press getting you down? Let loose with some lunges. Bench press not going to plan? Bust out the cable flies.
As long as we’re hitting the same muscle groups, we’re able to work them to make them stronger or more effective. It won’t have the same carryover to the original movement, but something is better than nothing.
Even better, with a whole different exercise we can get a whole new PB. The reps, weight, and subjective PB change’s from above are all still valid, and using a new exercise we’re guaranteed to get one.
And if all else fails...
Get a Sick Pump
By getting a “pump” (the sensation of your muscles filling up with blood and nutrients after a rough set) you know you’ve worked the muscle hard. One workout won’t turn you into the next Schwarzenegger, but it still feels pretty damn good, and is a much better way to end the session than with “nothing went to plan, so just went home”.
Pick an exercise, and go ape for 3 sets. Reps of 8-20 all work here, the weight doesn’t matter too much - we’re just looking to feel the burn.
At the end of the day, working the muscles is working the muscles.
If your big goal is strength, then a bigger muscle has a greater strength potential. If your big goal is endurance, then flooding your muscles with acid will help it learn to deal with it, and make the joints stronger. If you’re looking to “tone” (toning is for printers, but I get what you mean), then a healthy muscle helps add to your silhouette and enhances your natural curves (no, you won’t look like a veiny bodybuilder).