Rising above the bad workout

Rising above the bad workout

Mastering the long view in your training.

You have a bad workout.  You know the one I’m talking about.  That workout where you were expecting to do X but instead got Y.  Immediately your brain goes into convulsions of craziness.  Because you’re human.

This is one of those misalignment moments in your life that cause mental distress.  You believed in X but you got Y.  Something doesn’t add up.  Your brain starts trying to close the gap.  What is wrong? it asks.  “Why did I fail this workout?”

Then it spins out of control.  Your brain embraces the negative bias we all have and begins to answer the questions.  You aren’t ready.  You aren’t committed enough.  You ate too many hamburgers.  You’ve got the wrong training plan.  Maybe you’re just not capable of this work.  Maybe you can’t achieve that race goal…

There is no good reason to go down these mental rat holes after one bad workout, but we do it anyhow.

The trick is to learn how to manage your brain when it comes to a bad workout.  Before, during and after.  In this way, you can learn from the bad workout and turn it into a positive influence for your training cycle and your endurance life.

Before: Embrace a positive mental state for the workout before you even start.

One of the reasons a bad workout stings so much is that we tie too much expectation and emotion to it.  It’s a tricky balance.  We need to go into the workout motivated to succeed, but we also need to be willing to fail and learn from the failure.  This is how we grow.

You need to cultivate that attitude.  You are going to give this workout everything you have.  There should be stakes.  But, it may not turn out as well as you hope.  You also need to be able to detach from the outcome and focus on executing as well as you can.  If things don’t work out as planned (pun intended), you can still benefit from it.

Give yourself that self-talk before you start.  Committed 100% but outcome detached. Commit to the workout.  Don’t hang your self-worth on the results of the workout.

It’s also helpful to understand the purpose of the workout.  Is it to build endurance?  Is it to build speed and strength?  Or is the purpose of this workout to find your edge or assess your current state?  Understanding the purpose of the workout going in will help you manage it when it goes a bit sideways in execution.

During: Adjusting during the workout.

At some point in the workout you’ll realize that you just aren’t going to be able to maintain the effort or pace.  What you do at this point will help you turn the challenge of the bad workout into something useful for your training.

When you feel that workout starting to slip away what do you do?

First, try to push through.  Our bodies sometimes send us false signals and we have momentary power losses.  Try holding the effort or pace long enough to be sure that the failure isn’t a temporary blip.  Focus on form.  Quiet your mind.  Hold the pace.  Hang in there.  Don’t give up on the workout right away.

Second, see if you can recover.  If you can’t hold the effort or pace you can back off or walk a bit and go back after it to see if, with a bit of rest, you can finish the workout.

Third think about the purpose of the workout.  Chances are if you are hitting the wall in a workout it is because this is a supposed to be a hard workout.  It is intended to stretch you.  Hitting 80% of it is just as good as 100% because that 80% of the workout goal is 100% of what you have today.  You are meeting the purpose of the workout.  You are stretching yourself to the limit.

Fourth, do a body scan and take notes.  What’s the constraint?  What is limiting your ability to perform?  Legs? Lungs? Heart? Energy?  This will give you clues as to where your current weaknesses are.  This will help you adjust your training plan going forward.

Correlate the data.  Do some root cause analysis.  Is there something out of whack in your body?  Maybe an injury is starting that you need to attend to.  Have you been feeling well?  Maybe you have a cold.  Have you been getting enough sleep?  Are you under stress?  Is your nutrition what it needs to be to support this workout?

Fifth, don’t give up, ease it down.  Just becase you can’t perform to the level of the prescribed workout doesn’t mean you have to completely give up.  Don’t just throw up your hands and walk off.  What can you do today?  How close can you get? Is there a compromise ‘soft landing’ that you can exercise to get some of the benefit of the workout?  What can you salvage?

After:  How do you recover from the bad workout?

There’s no reason to freak out or wallow in self pity after your bad workout.  Learn what you can from it, adjust your plan where appropriate and move on.

Immediately after the workout make sure you are doing what you need to do to recover. Get your nutrition right.  Make sure you rehydrate.  Stretch, rub down, take an ice bath or whatever else you need to do to care for your sad body parts.

Remind yourself that this bad workout is a good thing because it is a learning moment for you.  Your body is talking to you and you need to listen and understand what it is saying.

Typically, a bad workout is an anomaly.  It’s a blip.  Your next workout will be fine and you will soon forget about the bad workout.  It’s just another step in your training process.  Dno’t make abrupt or drastic changes to your training plan based on the results of one workout.  Stick to your plan.

Certainly, it is appropriate to watch for trends and if you string a number of bad workouts together then something needs to be adjusted.

One typical reason for a string of bad workout is that you are over-trained.  You’ve done too much volume or intensity too close together and your body has had enough.  Ironically many people will respond by increasing volume and intensity. That will make it worse.  Your best bet is to back off for a week and let your body recover.

Review your notes on the workout.  What could you have done differently to get better results?  Maybe start slower?  Maybe fuel better?  Myabe stretch something more?  Make those course adjustments where appropriate and work them into your plan going forward.  See what works.

An important thing to know is that this one bad workout will not have a negative impact on your race.  Your target race results will come from the totality of your training not one workout.  Counter to what you are feeling emotionally, if you learn from the bad workout it will have an outsized positive effect on your race performance.

Bottom line: You should not be upset or worried about a bad workout.  You should be happy that you have some data that you can learn from.  If you never fail in your workouts you are not training smart enough.

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