Thursday, June 21, 2012

How to handle a bad exercise day: The Program Day

This post talks about handling those days when you just know you won't have the same energy as most other days.  Some people give up and some try to pound through and can't figure out why they get frustrated.  I have a third way. 
Some days start like this: You’ve slept clear through the night and wake up alert and refreshed. A quick but filling breakfast tastes great and you’re out the door and ready to go. The cool breeze feels great on the skin and you head to the gym ready to take on your tough workout. That’s how some days start. Then, there’s every other day.

Now, we all know that those perfect days don’t come very often. There’s always some reason that your workout won’t be perfect. The trick is to get the most you can out of every trip to the gym. But there are going to be days in particular where nothing quite goes as planned.. at all. It could be a nasty head cold that you are trying to fight off, you just couldn’t get a wink of sleep the night before, or you’re recovering from a particularly tough day at work. The question is how to handle that day.

Some people try to fight their way through it and try to do everything they would normally do. Some just give up and go home.  Neither are all that great.  I suggest trying a third approach. View that bad exercise day as a “program day.” You aren’t shooting for a personal best.  Heck, you aren’t pushing anywhere near as hard as you would on a normal day. Your main focus on that day is improving future workouts.  If you put yourself in a position to get a great workout the following day, you’ve succeeded.  Your workout today is secondary.  That’s how you can use an otherwise lost day to solidify and even build your long-term fitness program.  

Here are some examples:
  • Just getting into the gym (or on the bike trail, or out on the run) keeps that spot in your schedule reserved for fitness.
  • You can use the time that you would normally focus on your workout to think about ways that you can do things a little better.  When I have a client who is a little worn out, I'll use that day to try out a new location in the gym or a new machine for something they are already doing.
  • If you are really stressed or distracted, use your workout to help ease the stress or organize your thoughts.  If your focus is on using the workout as a tool to handle day-to-day problems, you are less likely to resort to unhealthy ways of coping - like overeating.  
  • Try something new!  Instead of going all-out on something you aren't familiar with, tell yourself you are just going to try it out with the intent of doing that new thing "for real" in the future.  This works wonders for a group fitness class or a new running/biking path.  
  • Try some new workout music.  Maybe you find something new that works wonders.  

Obviously, you won’t get anywhere if every day is a “program day,” but you can use that off-day to solidify and build your program.