We've all had bad days. You know, those days when you have to force yourself to get off the couch and get to the gym. When you finally talk yourself into getting there, your workout is lax and you know you didn't make any progress toward your goals. Those days suck, but they're also bound to happen.
Nobody is born with never-ending energy and a bottomless spring of motivation. All of us will eventually struggle. It's what we do with those bad days and how we overcome them that make the real difference in our fitness endeavors.
So, how do we overcome those bouts of lacking motivation, fatigue, and stress? What can you do to maximize your intensity and make every rep count? Here are 23 great ideas!
Crank Up The Tunes
Numerous studies have shown that music has the power to elevate a downer mood. Take advantage and get yourself psyched up before you even start your workout.
On your way to the gym, listen to whatever gets you pumped and then keep that momentum and music going when you get to the gym!
Research confirms that lifting to your favorite tunes can help you push harder and get the most from every set.
Before you even leave the house, close your eyes for a few minutes and watch yourself go through your workout. Visualize putting that pin on the bottom of the stack and dominating that machine.
Watch yourself set a new PR on the bench or squat. Feel those muscles moving and flexing, and then go to the gym and make that vision a reality!
Warm Up Well
I've been training for 15 years and I still see people walk in the door and go directly to the bench press. Those muscles are cold! There's no way that you'll be able to have a good workout with the jump-start strategy.
Get yourself on a treadmill or use another warm-up technique so your blood will flow and your muscles will be primed for the carnage ahead.
A warm-up is also a great way to get mentally ready to go. You'll probably find your workout is much better from beginning to end if you spend 5-10 extra minutes preparing for it.
Take a Pre-workout
Need a hit of energy? There are some great supplements which can help you feel more pumped about your workout. There's a reason you see a lot of ads and promos for pre-workout supplements—they work.
If you've been using the same pre-workout product for a while, then cycle off for a few weeks or try a new product.
It's one thing to get amped for a workout, but you also need to be able to train with intensity from your first lift to your last rep. Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are essential building blocks of protein that will keep your muscles fueled in training and help you recover after.
Add some to your water bottle and you may feel as strong during the second half of the workout as you did when you started.
WBFF competitor, fitness model, and Neon athlete Ashley Sarina Hoffmann knows a thing or two about using free weights to increase the intensity of her workouts. "Although I use machines at times, I try to stay away from them and focus more on free weights. By using free weights, I engage my core more and don't restrict my range of motion. Lifting with dumbbells and barbells also helps balance, stability, and overall athletic performance."
Vary Your Workouts
Doing the same thing day-in and day-out is both boring and unproductive. Try something new! If you've been all about single sets, try some circuits. Or, if you've been giant or supersetting your lifts for the last few months, switch to heavy straight sets.
Not only will these changes help you feel more motivated, but they'll actually shock your muscles so they have no choice but to recover and grow.
"Explosive movements develop fast-twitch muscle fibers and use the maximum amount of force in the shortest amount of time," says Ashley Hoffmann.
By introducing explosive movements like box jumps or barbell squats into your fitness regimen, you increase the intensity of your workouts and make them more fun .
Straight sets are absolutely effective, but you can make workouts more challenging and interesting by using dropsets. To do them, grab a really heavy weight and lift it until failure. Once you hit failure, strip some weight and keep going.
When you hit failure again, take weight off and keep repping it out. Once you hit failure again, you can even go through the motions one more time. By the end, you'll have a bigger pump than ever!
I love supersets. Pick two exercises—either for one muscle group or for opposing muscle groups—and perform one immediately after the other without rest. You'll get two sets for the price of one and a shorter, more intense workout. Ashley Hoffmann utilizes supersets, too. "Supersets are a great way to maximize intensity!" she says.
This is a principle similar to supersets, but instead of two exercises, you can do four, five, or even more. Go though one set of every movement before you rest. Once you've gone through every exercise, rest 2-3 minutes, and then go through all the exercises again.
Repeat this cycle as much as you'd like. If you haven't done much circuit training before, I can promise you that by your last circuit, you'll be totally worn out. This is a great way to introduce some cardio into your resistance training.
Do Rest-Pause Reps
Have you ever tried to hit 10 reps and reached failure at seven? Don't sweat it. Next time this happens, re-rack the weight, count to five, and then pick up where you left off. You're still hitting the reps you want, but taking a little break so you can get there.
Rest-pause reps can help your body respond to the heavy weight so that the next time you try, you may be able to finish the set without taking a break.
To get a little more out of each set, try performing a few reps of the top half of the exercise when you hit failure with a full range of motion. These partial reps will extend the set and ensure that you break down every last muscle fiber you have.
Don't use this as an excuse to overlook form completely, but you can put a little body English into some of your lifts so you can use more weight.
Put a little swing into heavy barbell curls or kickstart those laterals when you get near the end of a set. It worked for the old-school guys, and it'll work for you!
Throw In Cardio Bursts
"Grab a jump rope, do some burpees, or even hit an ab exercise between sets for 20-30 seconds," says Ashley. "This way, you're not standing around between sets so you can keep your muscles working and fat burning. If you choose to incorporate cardio bursts into your routine, rest a little longer between sets so you can perform the next set with as much energy as you can."
If you have a spotter at the ready, then use her to your advantage. Once you get to the end of the set, lower the weight for five seconds. Have your partner help you to get the weight back to the top. Do this for five reps. I promise you'll be in pain.
When you perform your reps, don't lower the weight as soon as you lift it. Hold it at the peak of the contraction for a few seconds and squeeze the hell out of the muscle. Then slowly take the weight back to the starting position and try it again. Increasing the duration of your sets will put a new spin on your workouts and make them much more difficult.
Train To Failure
"You can incorporate training to failure in a couple of ways," says Ashley. "On the days I lift heavy, I hit failure when I hit max weight. On my max days, I always have a spotter for safety and ensure I have good form. On days I incorporate hypertrophy training, I hit failure on the last set by going until I possibly can't squeeze out another rep. Sometimes I hit failure at 15 reps, sometimes at 20 reps, and sometimes I don't even count and just lift until I'm tanked."
Take It To 100
Powerlifters do one rep for the max amount of weight. This technique is the other extreme. Grab a light weight and lift for 100 reps, or go a little heavier and rest for 15 seconds every time you hit failure; then pick up where you left off and add up until you hit the century mark.
Most of us start our workouts with a compound lift like the squat or bench press. To mix things up, choose an isolation exercise and do 3 sets of 10-12 reps with as much focus and effort as you would if you had started with a big lift.
After you complete three sets of the isolation lift, take on the lift you would normally start with. You probably won't be as strong, so you'll have to put more intensity and focus into the movement.
After you complete your warm-up, set your alarm for an hour. Once that alarm goes off, you're done—whether you completed your planned workout or not.
This extra pressure will help you stay on track and keep chitchat to a minimum.
To maximize her time in the gym, Ashley keeps her eye on the clock. "Sometimes we get too caught up talking to other gym members, searching for a song we like, or even checking social media sites in between sets. Before we know it, 5-10 minutes have gone by and our body has cooled down. On days that I don't lift really heavy, I keep my rest to 45-60 seconds so my body stays warm and my heart rate stays high," she says.
Whether you're in the car, locker room, or maybe in the middle of the set, tell yourself your plans for the weight, set, or rep. You might look like a crazy person, but who cares! You're in the gym to get shit done.
Hearing your own positivity could psych you up more than if you were just thinking it. Once you crush the weight, just tell yourself: "Good job. Now do it again."