By: Barbell Logic Team and the SSOC Staff Coaches

There are things you can do to help minimize the number of bad training days you have to suffer through—early and consistent work on your form, good recovery habits, sticking to your program—but sooner or later, everybody has bad training days. You may know this but dealing with them is something different altogether. When you do, we hope this advice will help.

How to Bounce Back from a Bad Workout?

One of the great privileges of being online coaches, with daily interaction with our lifters, is the chance to share our own experience. More than most, we’ve geeked out over barbell training, we’ve worked through training highs and lows, and we’ve learned a lot. We empathize with our clients because we’ve been there. And, while we’ve learned from our successes as lifters and coaches, we’ve probably learned more from our bad days.

We recently wrote about the problems of chronic underperformance and the need to gain an important perspective to avoid training burnout. But what about just the average bad day? Everything feels off; you don’t finish all your sets; you just can’t seem to find the groove; the weights threaten to pin you to the floor on every rep; you give up early and just call it a day. Sometimes bad days just happen, and how you deal with them can affect your training. You can put them behind you, or let them linger and nag, poking holes in your confidence and robbing you of the joy you should get from being able to train.

This is easier said than done. So, we asked some of the staff at SSOC to weigh in on bad training days. What do they tell themselves or their clients when the training blues threatens:

Coach Karl Schudt responded with his usual blend of pith and profundity.

KARL SCHUDT
Starting Strength Coach

“Bad training is like bad air. Still better than no air.”

“I’ve been thinking about this, as I get into my elder years. Is it maybe a mistake to emphasize the PR so much for a new lifter? I’m not anticipating lots of PRs. I may never get another one again. But I still need to train. What’s my motivation? Training is what Awesome People do.”

Other coaches tend to highlight the long-term perspective.

ADAM FANGMAN
Starting Strength Coach

“Ask them if they remember how well the same session went two weeks ago. They forgot, and will put [this one] behind them.”

 

ROBERT SANTANA
SSC, RD, Head Nutrition Coach

“I remind them that it’s a single data point in a pool of more to come. I tell them that they are going to be pissed off and that part is normal. The staying pissed off part is the part they need to learn how to effectively manage and that comes with experience and time under the bar. At that point, I share my own experiences so that they know that even we, as coaches, have been through that struggle.”

Our coaches also know the personal struggle with bad days and aren’t afraid to share their own experiences.

NESS OSZAST
Starting Strength Coach

“I think it’s important to empathize with and relate to the struggle. I think they assume training and diet come easy to us as coaches. And becoming a little more vulnerable towards them to show them we all struggle.”

 

ANNA MARIE OAKES-JOUDY
Starting Strength Coach

“I remind them that I have been there too and can relate to the feelings of frustration. BUT that I kept training, and now, the weights that used to bury me are routine for reps because I didn’t give up. They will get there too if they trust the process.”

Or, that training is about the process and not the outcomes.

 

JOEY GAONA
Starting Strength Coach

“You did everything right and the last rep wasn’t there. The important part is you went for it and did it with good form. Sometimes even when done right, things don’t work out. The point isn’t the result, it’s that you did it right because next time you face this, you’ll get and get it the right way.”

And of course, our very own VP of Coaching Excellence, Coach Andrew Jackson offers up an excellent overview of perspective and self-talk:

ANDREW JACKSON
SSC, VP of Coaching Excellence

“I think there are two components to this problem: 1) keeping the individual session in perspective within the context of the broader training context and 2) helping them perceive their critical thoughts in a different way.

 

“For part 2, I think it can be helpful to guide/coach the client to perceive the inner narrative just like any other ‘signal’ that our bodies give us. Many people perceive their inner dialogue as ‘me or I’ and assign special importance or value to the words they hear in their head. Instead, I offer the suggestion that we can listen to our ‘inner roommate’ just like we listen to pain or emotions that we feel and that it’s possible to observe our thoughts with curiosity and compassion. Rather than the voice being ‘me or I,’ the critical thoughts are a signal rather than the source. Behind the signal is something else that we may or may not want to pay attention to.

 

“From there, I think it’s useful to bring their attention to something that went well. This has sometimes backfired on me, but it’s still worthwhile to point out that often the workout that’s frustrating them today is one that they could have only dreamed of a short time ago. That, or there is something that they’re doing well, technically.

 

“If you have a good relationship, you can also suggest making fun of the inner dialogue. Not you as the coach, but suggest that they, as the client with the negative voice in their head, laugh at it, tell it to fuck off, or be melodramatic about it. Whatever it takes to, again, recognize that the thoughts aren’t anything more than just that. Especially as reason-based thinkers, I believe we sometimes tend to assign too much value to our thoughts.”

There are things you can do to help minimize the number of bad training days you have to suffer through—early and consistent work on your form, good recovery habits, sticking to your program—but sooner or later, everybody has bad training days. You may know this but dealing with them is something different altogether. When you do, we hope this advice will help.

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