By Ron Harris
My daughter asked an interesting question the other day – do you ever have bad workouts? Since I started training in 1983 and thus have logged well over 10,000 workout sessions, there have certainly been more than a few that weren’t spectacular. In nearly all cases, the reasons came down to either not eating enough, not sleeping enough, being sick or injured, or being preoccupied with work, money, or relationship problems. That’s real life for all of us. But there have also been plenty of times when I ‘just wasn’t feeling it.’ I’d get in the gym and start the workout, but it never really felt like I was accomplishing anything. Those are the times when something needs to change fast to salvage the workout. Here are some ways that have helped me do that over the years.
GO FOR A PUMP
One of the most common motivation killers is when for whatever reason, your strength is down. Suppose you can normally squat 405 for 10 reps on your heaviest set, but today 315 feels like it’s crushing you. Talk about disheartening! Rather than bitch and moan about how you’ve suddenly turned into a weakling, strip the bar down to 225 and try to get 4-5 sets of 20 reps without resting more than 90 seconds between sets. Do a couple giant sets of leg extensions, leg press, and walking lunges for 20 reps each. Forget about how much weight you’re using and just pump the target muscle up like a balloon. I guarantee you won’t feel like a failure anymore, and you will probably get some fresh gains out of it.
FOCUS ON ONE EXERCISE
We all get tired of training to one extent or another at times. Say it’s back day, and the thought of slagging through 6-8 different exercises makes you want to lay down and take a nap. On a day like that, pick just one basic movement, like chins, barbell rows, or deadlifts, and hit it for 10-12 working sets. That’s it, after that you’re done! Focusing on just one movement for the whole workout will make it far more bearable, and you will still do justice to the muscle group in question.
USE ALL MACHINES
Many times, if you’re having a crappy workout with barbells and dumbbells, an easy fix is to make it a machine day. You won’t have to worry about balancing any weight, and you can simply focus on attacking a muscle group. Don’t make this a habit of course, as free weights are the best tools for both mass and strength gains. But on those rare days when your get-up and go has got up and gone, head for the machines.
SET A TIME LIMIT
How much can you get done for a muscle group in just 20 minutes? You’d be surprised! One way to trick yourself into having a good workout on an ‘off’ day is to set a time limit of 20 or 30 minutes for its end. If it’s 4 PM, you must leave the gym floor at 4:30! This will force you to hustle, but in a sense, it will also be a relief if you’re dreading your usual 60-90-minute session. You know it will all be over and you’ll be headed out the door soon.
TRAIN SOMETHING ELSE
This will seem the most radical solution for most of you, because the order of your training split is probably something you hold sacred. But if it’s chest day and you can tell by the end of your warm-ups that it’s just not happening, why not do shoulders or arms instead? As with the machine solution, this can’t become a habit or else some of you will end up skipping every leg or back day, but on rare occasions, break the rules and train something you have more enthusiasm for.
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