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Rescue 911: How To Revive A Terrible Workout!

Damn it. Something's really wrong here. That last warm-up set felt like a working set, and now the weight that should allow an easy ten reps feels like a ton of bricks. Want to prevent a bad workout before it happens? Here's how!

By: Ron Harris

Article Summary:
  • Avoid poor workouts by ensuring quality sleep and recovery.
  • Sometimes you may be overtrained, and you need to just go home.
  • If you're not enjoying your exercise, ignore the routine. Change it up.
  • Damn it. Something's really wrong here. That last warm-up set felt like a working set, and now the weight that should allow an easy ten reps feels like a ton of bricks. You were lucky to eke out five reps! And what about a pump?

    It barely feels like there's any blood circulating in your muscles at all. What the hell's happening here? You're experiencing a crappy workout, that's what. It happens to all of us from time to time. These are the days when instead of wanting to tear up the gym and hoist every plate in the building, you'd rather go home and lie down.

    What's Happening? You're Experiencing A Crappy Workout, That's What.
    + Click To Enlarge.
    What's Happening? You're Experiencing
    A Crappy Workout, That's What.

    Maybe you could curl up with your favorite teddy bear or Teletubby doll, turn out the lights, and try to forget the whole bad workout experience. I can't let you off the hook that easy! Great workouts are the only way your physique can possibly improve. In this article, I want to give you two valuable tools; how to prevent a lackluster workout, and how to salvage one already in progress.


    Preventing A Bad Workout


    Get Plenty of Sleep

      In most cases of poor workouts, fatigue is either partially or totally responsible. Many people now work in excess of 50 hours per week these days, both to advance their careers and to be able to afford the latest sports cars, cellular phones, high-power laptop computers, and homes. For those with further responsibilities such as children or continuing education, the standard eight hours of sleep a night is nothing more than a distant memory. However, there is no way you will train at your peak levels if your body and mind are not allowed sufficient recuperation and regeneration. If you have the opportunity to take "power naps" of even 20-or-30 minutes per day, by all means do so.

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      Another way to catch up on your rest is on weekends. Sleeping twelve hours Saturday night can make a big difference in making up for a week of inadequate sleep. A final recommendation on this topic is to cut back on your television viewing at night. It might be "must-see" T.V. from the standpoint of the networks who want you to watch their advertiser's commercials, but you must get a good night's sleep.


    Train Only Every Other Day

      Much of the reason people experience bad workouts is simply because they are overtrained. If you keep careful track of your own performances and energy levels, you will often find that by the second or third day in a row of training, your energy and enthusiasm levels have plunged. This happens regardless of how you split up the parts being trained. The body as a whole needs time to recover, as the nervous system goes through a brutal attack each time you train.

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      Whenever you train two days or more in a row, you are compromising the quality of your workouts. Allow a complete day of rest between each training session, and you should return to the gym refreshed and ready to kick some ass every time.


    Eat Right and Take Your Supplements

      Another culprit in criminally crappy workouts is poor nutrition and lack of supplementation. Many people, especially women, will train after work despite not having eaten anything since lunch. What are they thinking? These same people would never dream of starting a long car trip on an empty tank, yet they think nothing of going through a heavy leg session while hungry. It's not hard: eat every two hours, and especially eat a good meal with protein and complex carbs ninety minutes to two hours before engaging in weight training.

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    Flip Through Magazines Before Training

      Humans are highly visual creatures, and as such we are very motivated by images. If you can take just a couple minutes before training to look at training photos of some of the world's elite physiques, you will have an imprint inside your mind that will serve to inspire you to greater performance. Seeing a 250-pound man in contest condition going through the same exercises you do is awe-inspiring. Some of the best hardcore gyms I have ever visited recognized this, and actually festooned their walls with training and posing photos of greats like Arnold, Tom Platz, Lee Haney, and Dorian Yates. You might not want to necessarily look like the pros, or have the genetics to do so, but we can all certainly derive tremendous inspiration from them.

    You May Not Want To Look Like The Pros, But You Can Derive Inspiration From Them.
    + Click To Enlarge.
    You May Not Want To Look Like The Pros,
    But You Can Derive Inspiration From Them.


    Write Down Your Goals and Review Them Often

      It's easy to have a bad workout when you're not even sure why it is that you're at the gym in the first place. People in this situation are easy to spot, as they have an annoying tendency to spend a great deal of time looking lost and confused, as if they're waiting for some sort of divine sign to tell them what to do next. The total opposite is the person who goes to the gym with a clear purpose. Taken one step farther, the most focused and intense people in the gym are those who are in the process of achieving well-defined goals which they have written down on paper, developed gameplans for, and review often.

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      Sit down right now and decide what it is you want to accomplish with your training in the next, say, three months. Write down a list. It may include things like adding an inch to your arms, squatting 20 more pounds, or losing five percent of your current body fat. Next, write down all the reasons you want to achieve each goal. Finally, develop a short-term strategy that will allow you to accomplish them. Read this list every day that you train, preferably right before you start warming up. With this kind of mental discipline, it's safe to bet that your workouts will always have a powerful sense of purpose and direction.

      Despite all your best efforts, you will still sometimes find yourself in the midst of a bad workout. Here are five solutions to this dilemma which plagues athletes the world over.


    Salvaging A Bad Workout


    Go Home

      Defeatist as this suggestion sounds, in many cases it is indeed the best option. This is especially true if you are overly tired, have been training several days in a row, or might possibly be coming down with a cold or flu. Our bodies are actually good at telling us when to stop; unfortunately many of us aren't so good at listening to the signals. Sometimes you will get past that "blah" feeling in your workouts once you are warmed up and into your first exercise. If you still feel tired and weak, it would not be in your best interest to finish the workout.

    Sometimes You Will Get Past That 'Blah' Feeling In Your Workouts Once You're Warmed Up.
    + Click To Enlarge.
    Sometimes You Will Get Past That 'Blah' Feeling
    In Your Workouts Once You're Warmed Up.

      Go home and rest, so that you can come back next time ready to rock and roll. Skipping a workout when exhausted has never destroyed a physique, but countless injuries have resulted when trainees doggedly persisted at finishing heavy workouts when all signs indicated they should have stopped.


    Make It An All-Machine Day

      When it becomes apparent that today won't be a day for setting new personal records, you can still get a good workout by switching to all machines for a day. Machines don't require the tremendous balance, focus, and coordination of free-weight training, so they will allow you to work the muscles without having to worry about form so much. It's often depressing when you can't use your heaviest dumbbells or amount of plates on a bar, but few of us are bothered so much by having to move the pin on a weight stack up a hole or two. Psychologically, this is important. Most of the damage from a bad workout is to our ego. By switching entirely to machines, your ego will be relatively safe from harm.

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    Make It A Pumping Day

      Another way to change your focus from negative to positive is to turn the workout into a pumping challenge. With no concern for the amount of weight you use, make it your singular goal to see how much of a pump you can get in whatever muscle group you happen to be training that day. Many of us never take recommended "light days" anyway. This might be a chance to see the impact of very high reps with light weights, used occasionally, can have on your physique.

      Soon, you might even find what you thought was going to be a wasted workout has suddenly transformed into one kick-ass day at the gym. I can't think of a happier ending to what was potentially going to be a sad chapter in your training memories.

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    Your One Favorite Exercise Or Bodypart

      Say it's leg day, and you've just squatted a crappy three reps with 315, a weight you should easily get for ten. Rather than pressing on with an exercise you have already experienced frustration and disappointment with that day, switch to your favorite exercise for quadriceps instead. This should be the one exercise that you could do in your sleep with impressive poundage, one that you have to be careful before you spend an hour on because you love the feel so much. It doesn't matter in this case if it's hack squats, leg presses or even leg extensions. If it's your favorite exercise, you can't fail.

    Squatted For 3 Reps What You Normally Can In Ten? Switch To A Different Exercise.
    + Click To Enlarge.
    Squatted For 3 Reps What You Normally
    Can In Ten? Switch To A Different Exercise.

      Go ahead and do 6-to-10 sets with just that one movement. I guarantee you'll get a great workout, despite the initial tragedy at the squat rack. Now, don't just use this suggestion as an excuse to "unintentionally" fail on the exercises you hate, merely as an excuse to perform only your favorite exercises. Most trainers hate squats, deadlifts, and chins, yet they are all excellent exercises for mass and power. Another idea is to simply train another body part altogether. Assuming you didn't just train it the day before and it isn't still sore from a previous training session, train something else.

      How many times have you been in the gym to train one muscle group, only to have a strong urge to train something else instead? Most of ignore this inclination, not trusting our own instincts. We've got it wired it into our brains that we always have to train our body parts in the same order, all the time. That's a great creed to follow most of the time, but I would wager that it has robbed all of us from what would have been potentially awesome, productive workouts. Usually we have to motivate ourselves to want to train a particular muscle group.

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      It's much more powerful when it comes naturally to you. If, on your next back day, you have a sudden burning desire to work your arms instead, do it! Burning desire is the most powerful weapon in your arsenal to build a superb physique. Never take it for granted and toss it aside when it beckons to you.


    Perform One Set Of Many Exercises

      A final method in salvaging a piss-poor workout is to do just one set of many exercises, rather than the standard 3-or-4 sets with 3-to-5 exercises. Once you recognize that you are having a terrible training day, you automatically start dreading all those repetitious sets. Forget them! Instead, pick five to seven exercises for that body part, and resolve to do just one set on them after properly warming up. This will spark your interest and enthusiasm a hundred fold over what you would have experienced doing your usual workout.

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    Conclusion

    As you can see, a poor workout should rarely happen. And should it happen, there is no reason (save going home to recuperate from fatigue or overtraining) why a poor workout can't be transformed into a great workout. Next time you find yourself in the position of having a bad training day, don't dial 911 for rescue - use the above techniques and turn it all around. Remember, a great physique is nothing more than the result of many great workouts.

    Reprinted with permission from eMuscleMag.

    Rescue 911: How To Revive A Terrible Workout!
    ron@gasparinutrition.com

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