I don’t remember who it was that first told me what I’m about to tell you, but I have heard it from numerous people since then so it must have some amount of validity. This unwritten gym wisdom that I’m referring to is this: over the course of five workouts, you will probably have one unbelievably awesome workout, three workouts where you just go through the motions, and one where you feel like you can barely even get through.
The unbelievably awesome workout that you had is where real progress is made. You feel so good that you increase the weights you planned to lift and feel like you could keep going forever. These workouts are the reason people love to go to the gym, that superhuman feeling that you can take on anything.
And then the all-powerful Gym Gods see your enthusiasm and decide to throw all sorts of obstacles in your way and make your next workout seem impossible. These are the days when you feel like nothing can go right and you need to recheck your weights multiple times because there is no way they should feel as heavy as they do today. We don’t make much progress on these days, but that is OK.
The next couple workouts will probably not seem as difficult as that last one, but the enthusiasm still isn’t there and you know you could do more than you did. We aren’t regressing at all on these days, and still can practice technique with different exercises, but you just wish you could have another one of those fantastic workout days. Don’t worry, better days are coming.
Eventually we have another great workout and feel amazing, and the cycle repeats itself. Bad workout (life is worthless), mediocre workout (meh), average workout (remember that time I hit 3 PR’s in one day? That was great), and then hopefully back to another one of our unstoppable days.
We go through this cycle week after week, month after month, year after year. But what if we could have more of those extraordinary workouts and less of the jump-off-a-bridge-afterwards workouts?
The good news is that you can! There are countless ways that you can attempt to take a bad workout (or bad day, bad conversation, bad etc…) and control what you can control to make it the best it can possibly be. There are still going to be times when it seems like the world is against you and you struggle through a gym session. I’m here to tell you that it is OK, we need to have those as a sort of humility lesson.
Let’s get back to some ways that we can do our best to turn our “OK’s” into some more “goods” and “greats”.
Day Improving Habit #1 – BREATHE!
People rarely take the time to consider their breathing patterns, but it can be a huge game changer. In most cases, people take short, shallow breaths, which can lead to tension, anxiety, stress, and make it difficult to focus. Obviously these things are no good when it comes to having a solid workout. This doesn’t even take into account that your muscles need adequate oxygen to function correctly and perform at the highest level possible.
So how can we fix it? Try this!
- Find someplace you can sit down comfortable with your legs straight in front of you and your back nice and tall.
- Forcefully blow all the air in your lungs out through your mouth.
- Take 6 to 8 seconds to inhale through your nose to fill your belly with as much air as possible.
- Hold that breath in for 3 seconds before exhaling through your mouth taking 6-8 seconds to fully empty your lungs.
- Repeat this process for at least 5 cycles; recognizing how it feels like the tension is leaving your body each time.
Day Improving Habit #2 – Have a Routine
Often times we are overwhelmed by all of the different responsibilities we have in our lives. Adding the need to get to the gym to that list can be too much to handle on some days. Taking the time to sit down and decide on a pre-gym routine can take some of the stress away because you just know that this is what you have to do, even if your reason for having a routine is “because Coach Joe said it was a good idea”.
Here is my pre-gym routine that you can use as a guide to create yours.
- Hydrate: I try to drink at least 32 oz. of water before I begin.
- Organize: I track all of my workouts in a notebook, so I write the plan for the day, helping me to stay on track.
- Lace up: I make sure to always tie my left shoe before my right. This may seem miniscule but knowing I do it this way every time can be reassuring. “Lacing Up” doesn’t need t
o be just your shoes. It can be something as simple as packing your gym bag the night before so everything is ready to go, having your workout clothes laid out and ready, or whatever you need to do to get in the right mindset before starting anything physically involved.
- Warm-up: Foam roll first, then mobility work, then stretch anything else necessary. I do this every time this way because I’ll forget something if its not in perfect order.
- Crush it: Have a fantastic workout (hopefully).
- Recover: I make sure to always have my post-workout meal planned and cooked ahead of time. There are way too many food choices that are not so healthy and appealing when we’re hungry. Pick something your body actually needs.
It may seem nitpicky but these are the things I try to do in order to have more great workouts and fewer not as great ones. Use this routine template for other things in your life as well.
Day Improving Habit #3 – Celebrate Your Victories!
OK so not every workout can be a new personal record for you, but that’s alright! Find something that you did do well and party it up like you just won the lottery. Get an aggravating knot out while foam rolling? Nice! Drink so much water that your pee is clearer than the Fiji bottle commercial? That’s awesome! Whatever you need to do to find something to be excited about, do that.
Small victories that we can celebrate:
- Your best gym friend got a PR today! Wooohoo!
- You got to see someone you haven’t seen in a long time, great!
- You put both shoes on the correct feet because you have a routine, yes!
- You got new workout clothes that you look fantastic in, BOOM!
Sometimes you just need to take the time to stop and look around for the things that are going well, and enjoy them for what they are. I promise you they are there, just waiting to be celebrated.
If you are lucky enough to be able to use your body to be in the gym and train then you are more fortunate than many people in the world. Having a bad day is OK, but put it in perspective, do what you can to better it, and just smile a little bit. The gym will still be there for you to have an unbelievable workout again tomorrow.