Huffing and puffing through a workout is no fun, especially when it’s a workout you’ve glided through without a hitch hundreds of time before. Suddenly short of breath and mentally blocked, panic starts hitting all-time highs.
Why can’t I do this?
I ran further than this just last week!
I lift way more than this on a regular basis.
I spent last week on vacation in Mexico City, where I squeezed in a few workouts between visits to the beautiful sights.
After a few visits to the hotel gym, I was frustrated, stumped, and completely disillusioned with myself. Running felt impossible and weights felt heavier than ever. My progress was dead in the tracks, and my mind was whirling over what I had done wrong.
All until the night before returning home, when I voiced my frustration at my performance in the gym, a friend informed me that Mexico City is 2,000+ meters (or 7,000+ ft) higher than my hometown of Managua. “You obviously aren’t exercising at your full potential when your body is receiving thinner oxygen!”
Thank you, Captain Obvious. After that light bulb when off, my frustrations melted away and I was able to treat myself (and my progress) in a much more gentle way.
If only I had started the entire process that way…
Attacking the Real Culprit — Not Your Body
Most of the time, training and fitness progress isn’t a linear process. It can feel like taking a few steps forward and one step back — but that’s okay. Nothing in life is perfect, and neither is your fitness program.
While you may feel like you are taking the right steps toward improvements and results, your body may resist for reasons that are outside of your control — like altitude changes or the weather. Other factors fall under your jurisdiction — like stress levels and food intake. What’s most important is identifying the true culprit and taking steps to rectify what is necessary without blaming yourself too harshly.
Slow days are bound to happen, but they don’t have to mean a regression in your health and fitness plans. Here are a few factors to take into consideration before you start berating yourself on that rare slow day.
Going Easy On Yourself — Your Action Plan:
- Take a deep breath. There’s nothing like jumping to conclusions to start the mind whirling in crazy directions. Being hard on yourself isn’t going to lead to better results. I, for one, can’t berate myself into running an extra mile when my lungs just can’t do it. Instead, it’s easier to be patient, accept the day’s performance, and resolve to give it another go next time. The body performs the best it can given its circumstances — it knows when to rest and when to keep pushing.
- Observe your surroundings. There are times when lackluster results have nothing to do with you. Like my experience on vacation, situational factors like altitude could affect your performance. When you can’t control those factors, take a relaxed and patient approach with your training and fitness levels.
- Analyze your sleep schedule. Optimum performance usually results from having enough rest and sleep each night. If you’ve experienced a few bad nights or have gone to bed later than usual, it’s only natural that your body can’t exert itself as intensely as when it’s running on a full dosage of rest.
- Examine your food intake. Changing things up in the food department will undoubtedly lead to some changes in your exercise performance. Loading up on carbs helps athletes the night before a race, but prolonged heavy carb consumption might play tricks on your endurance — especially if you’re looking to bulk up. Likewise, if you aren’t loading up on protein, your strength training performance could suffer. Be mindful of your food intake before you judge your fitness abilities — it may not be your body’s fault!
- Scrutinize your stress levels. When things are going on in your life — like a new job, a difficult project, or a strained relationship — your performance working out can suffer significantly. The mind is a powerful force pushing you forward throughout a workout, so be lenient on your mind and body when other stuff in your life is going haywire. But don’t fret! Sorting out the other stuff will release more energy to put into your workouts.
- Try again. There’s nothing like giving yourself another shot next time. Schedule your next appointment in the gym, and let it go until then. The only requirement is don’t bring your disappointment with you. Let it go — and give it all you’ve got next time!
Not every workout is going to be optimal. You aren’t going to kill it every single time. And that is completely okay. The human body adapts to your current surroundings and situation better than you’d ever expect. When it needs a break, it’ll take that break — whether you want it to or not!
Respect your body, be gentle with yourself on slow days, and give it another go next time.