Bad Workouts - Why? What To Do About Them?

I’ve been going to the gym for almost two years now, in a serious fashion.

I get that we all have ‘bad’ workouts, just like we have good ones - there are days where I do a spin class and crank that tension up to a bazillion and sweat and feel pretty amazing when I’m finished. These days don’t happen all the time, just occasionally and are a gift when they happen. Then there are days where I get in there, crank it up, sweat and just feel glad to be done when it’s over. These are more usual, happening most of the time. That’s not a bad feeling, just you know - I did what I came here to do. (And just using spin as an example, substitute weight lifting or elliptical or whatever.)


Occasionally, of course, everybody (I think?) has a bad workout day. Maybe you’re getting sick or getting over it, didn’t get enough sleep, blah, whatever. You try to go hard, but it’s like you’re caught in a giant tub of syrup and every move takes 10 times as much effort. You don’t really want to be there, you rocked up to do it anyway, and now it sucks and it hurts and it’s just hard to move at all, your attitude is bad and you feel awful and when you’re done (if you finish it all) you feel worse than when you started.

This last ‘bad’ workout used to be a once in a blue moon thing for me, maybe once a month or so (sometimes but not always coinciding with the other once a month thing I get :p). Lately, though, it’s more like once a week or once a fortnight and I just don’t know why.

So help me out here, why? Should I be eating something, or not eating something (happy to share my eating habits or whatever)? Am I doing something wrong? Is it mental? Physical? I really feel like I’m moving through syrup and everything is ten times as hard as it should be. I haven’t upped my weights more than normal. It seems to happen more in cardio than weightlifting, but I don’t think I’m pushing myself harder than usual - although usual is pretty hard, I’m not there to look pretty.

What’s going on here?

Basically, you’re not fully recovering from your workouts.

There’s a huge number of reasons, you need to look at all aspects of your life.
Work: Longer hours? New responsibilities? Extra stress?

Diet: Adequate carb and protein intake? Adequate calories overall?

Have your sleep patterns changed?

And so on. It may take some detective work.

If it’s the same routine you’ve been doing for two years you may also want to consider mixing it up and doing something different. Free weights instead of machines or elliptical instead of spinning. Or maybe even just sign up for a competitive sport and take a break from the gym for a month.
Some times your brain needs time to recover before getting excited about a routine again.

For me it’s usually sleep and/or work stress (though they tend to go hand in hand). It’s pretty common that my worst workout of the week will be on Thursday or Friday, just because of how my schedule goes: I tend to sleep a little less than I really want to on weeknights, especially if I’m working a lot, and “catch up” on the weekends if I need to. It happens enough that I plan this into my workout schedule, by making Friday usually a light cardio day followed by a nice relaxing steam. I burn a few fewer calories on Friday than I might like, but it also sets me up to have a great workout on Saturday - which is better, anyways, since I’m not nearly as time limited on the weekends and I can build in a greater variety and intensity of exercises.

I usually get those when I’m in the middle of a string of successive days of working out – day two or three, most often. I just have to grit my teeth, and plod on.

However, some of my best workouts have been when I’ve been coming down with a major illness. That’s happened so often that if I have a really jazzed-up swim in flu season, I turn all hypochondriac. I even had a great week of workouts… turn out I’d had walking pneumonia the whole week.

You could just be overtraining, kinda like what Runner Pat alluded to - not fully recovering from previous workouts. Try taking a few days off entirely, or a week off from the normal intensity and just do some light workouts.

One of the key symptoms over overtraining is feeling like you have the flu. Body aches and pains and being exhausted.

The saying “no pain, no gain” has some merit but after you’re done working out, within an hour, you should be fine

Once you overtrain, you need to recover in full or you won’t get back to normal. This is a mistake people make, they jump back in.

You should take 5 to 7 days off totally. Then return doing 25% of your routine for a week, then 50% of your routine for the next week then 75% of your routine.

Also don’t overlook you could actually be sick with some medical conditon. If you have a bad heart for instance, or a borderline diabetic condition this needs to be looked at.

So if you can’t rule that out, go to the doctor to make sure you have no underlying condition, then take time off.

What everyone else said.

Also … I’ve been having the same problem lately. I was diagnosed with a medical problem and given medication, which accounts for some of it. But also, the doctor told me to shorten my workouts to half an hour. (Not permanently, but for a few weeks.) See if that helps.

If you know it’s not overtraining, it could be your diet. For me, if I haven’t had a healthy meal with carbs within an hour or so of working out, I absolutely feel it. Too much sugar or processed grains will affect me, too.

Also, sleep patterns. This time of year, the light level in the mornings is getting greater, which tends to mess me up a bit. I need to move my bedtime a little earlier to compensate.

Hmm…lots of good suggestions here, I’m writing all of them down. Thanks so much, guys

I’m on sort of reduced gym time (3-4 per week) as I go to school and work full time, and I have exams upcoming - I might just cut down to 1-2 per week during the next couple of weeks of study, maybe and then pick it back up for my two months off to 5-6 times per week. I’m sort of afraid to take a week off - I’ve only done it when I’m injured or ill and when I go back it’s bad, I decondition quickly and it takes me two or three times as long to get back to where I was.

Sleep might be a factor, too - I haven’t been sleeping all that well.

In terms of rotating - I haven’t been doing this for two years straight, it’s taken me about a year to get through a full class at the gym. I rotate a spin type class with a body combat (light boxing, aerobics) class, pump class and regular weightlifting. I change that up with high resistance elliptical and rowing. I do spin most, because it’s frankly the most calories burned in the shortest amount of time. My knees had a little chat with me after C25K and informed me that my ass is still to heavy for me to run on them, so that’s out - not sure what else I can do?

I’m still at 185lbs, though this is significantly less than where I started. My intake is roughly 1444 cals per day, which will decline as I do. I do try for 30/30/40 split with carbs, fat and protien, but I don’t always get there. I don’t eat bread, rice, or processed foods with the exception of about half a pack of M & Ms every other day or so. I love my chocolate! :slight_smile:

fluiddruid a whole meal would have me throwing up like a mad thing! I wonder if something small might help? I don’t eat at all before morning workouts and after work ones it will have been a bit of fruit or something at afternoon tea, so maybe two - three hours before.

Do you do hard and easier workouts? Ie varying intensity across different sessions?

Going for broke every time will make recovery difficult as well.

I try to, yes.

Now (when I’m in school) a typical week is: Spin, Pump, Weightlifting and either another Spin or another aerobic thing (combat, boxing, ellpitcal, etc.) if I can get the fourth one in. On days I don’t go I try to get in a 3-5 mile walk with the dogs, but I don’t always, it depends on my school workload. I do get cranky if I can’t do anything, though, so I try to do something even if it’s just a fast walk with the dogs.

When I’m not in school, it’s spin, pump, weightlifting x2 and either another spin or combat, boxing, etc. In addition I walk the dogs almost every day (my husband walks them otherwise, or with me, depending.) I also throw in an additional gym session one or two mornings, and that will be either a balance or yoga type class or pilates. Just something to get me moving, but nothing full on.

I do tend to be kind of ‘go hard or go home’ in mentality, because otherwise I am just lazy.

Two things can mess up my cardio workouts - having eaten too recently, or having forgotten to take my vitamins and other supplements that morning. In the first case, my stomach will object and become queasy when I start to get sweaty. In the second case, I just have no energy.

I think it’s all been covered. Bad days happen. I’ve never met any regular exerciser who doesn’t have bad days. Forget them (the days) and move on. Sometimes it’s obvious why, sometimes not. We’re complex critters.

Don’t stress about it :slight_smile: (Stress can be a cause! Don’t get onto the spiral!)