05/01/2017 09:25 GMT | Updated 06/01/2018 05:12 GMT

Yes, There Is Such A Thing As A Bad Workout

"Wow, I really regret that workout." Said no one ever. This is just one of many #mondaymotivation memes I am regularly confronted with. It is also a lie.

Sometimes you just have to admit your workout sucked.

Recently, despite every fibre of my being wanting to stay under my warm duvet with a very cuddly puppy, I dragged myself through the cold to the gym at 6.30am, as usual. After all, "80% of success is showing up," another chipper Instagram post told me.

Less than an hour later I was back in bed, wishing I'd never left it. My workout had been lethargic, personal bests were untroubled, and last sets and then whole exercises fell under the wheels of this slow-motion car crash.

There really is such a thing as a bad workout.

So, what can you do about it? The next time you leave the gym wondering why you wasted your energy fishing out those shorts from the laundry basket, assess what exactly went wrong - and how you can put it right.


Credit: Flickr

"I'm too knackered"

Lack of sleep makes people more likely to crash their car, have higher blood pressure, and cost the US economy $411 billion each year in poor performance at work. It's not surprising then that not getting enough kip has implications for your gym efforts too.

One study published in Sports Medicine concluded that sleep deprivation saw exhaustion set in sooner. A 2003 study found that a sample group of men who did not sleep before a workout had lower energy levels than those who had. Getting a good night's sleep can make a world of difference.

"I'm too knackered" (part II)

It may be that you slept like a baby, but still can't muster up your usual momentum. The reason could be because you haven't eaten properly.

Your body needs a certain amount of sugar for fuel when training. Without it, your body turns to muscle tissue, cannibalising your efforts. Without a decent fuel source, workouts will lack intensity and low blood sugar levels will leave you feel sluggish.

Unless you're doing fasted cardio, you should be consuming a pre- and post-workout meal. Protein shakes are a great option as they are easily digested by the body, ready to be turned into fuel.

"I didn't push myself"

If your workout isn't challenging you enough, your fitness levels will barely be maintained let alone ascend. Similarly, if your workout is too challenging, squeezing out one or two reps per set is going to reap diminishing rewards. That can leave you walking out of the gym feeling like you have achieved nothing.

It is not uncommon for me to see someone in the gym simply not pushing themselves hard enough. Bench-pressing single-digit dumbbells with helium-like qualities, or going through the motions on the lat pulldown machine, the weight stack practically floating as their mind wanders. It is not always about lifting heavy, but it is about challenging the body.

The only way to see an increase in results is to change the demand. Progressive overload is this gradual increase of stress upon the body during training. Progressive overload lays the foundation upon which training is built, whether that is resistance or cardiovascular. Without it, the body will stop adapting and your goals will either plateau or diminish.



"I don't know what I'm doing"

How can a workout be good if it has no purpose? Sure, you did some impressive deadlifts and then burned 600 calories on the cross trainer - but why? Only once you have a proper goal formalized in your mind can you start assessing whether you're getting closer to reaching it.

One way of doing this is by being accountable to someone and having to state out loud what it is you want to achieve. This might be a flatmate, a partner or it might be to a personal trainer. Many gyms offer free consultations or inexpensive starter packages to get you on your way and make sure the workouts you are doing are going to give you the results you are after.

"Sh*t happens"

Everyone has an off day. Even the most dedicated fitness professional doesn't smash their personal bests out of the park day in, day out. Progress is not a beautiful straight upwards trajectory but a series of peaks and troughs.

There are times when any combination of the previous points come into play. Perhaps it was a full moon. Perhaps Saturn occupied the sign of Sagittarius. Perhaps your headphones stopped working.

We all have bad workouts. The key is to identify why it wasn't as successful as you'd hoped, and to maintain consistency and to keep up your momentum. Make tweaks where you need to and then celebrate the next time your workout isn't just good, but great.