Have you ever walked into the gym and just felt off? You couldn’t work at your normal intensity? You didn’t even want to put in 100%? Your lifts felt uncomfortable and/or weak? You felt tight and nothing was working for you? Even worse- you started failing lifts you know you can make?
The good news is you’re not alone if you’ve ever felt this way.
Granted, feeling a little sore and at times run down has its place in fitness, but there is a point of intolerance. Should you just push through this feeling? Or will that do more damage?
As an athlete, this is frustrating. This makes you want to walk out of the gym, throw your belt, etc. I don’t want you to do that, I want you to maximize your training and mindset- not just throw in the towel and give up. As an athlete, this is an emotional issue- it’s passion and determination and a feeling of failure all rising to the surface at the same time.
As a coach, this is an issue to be solved with logic. As a coach, I see the bigger picture; I see solutions, and I’m ready to give them to you. But first, we have to address the probable causes leading to that.
MENTAL/ EMOTIONAL STATE
How is your overall stress level? Where is your mind? How are your emotions? When you’re training, are you focused… or are you distracted? Take a look into how you’re feeling overall before you try to train harder to compensate for this weak feeling.
If your mental state is suffering from pain, stress, anxiety- anything- it can manifest physically. If you compete or have goals, you don’t have time for your mind to be holding you back. So take a very thoughtful look into this and be honest with yourself.
This is a much bigger factor than you’d expect and often my first question to athletes when they present me with this issue.
Sometimes we just GO-GO-GO and put no thought into recovering as hard as we’re training. That catches up quick, though. If you’re putting in 110% every day, that’s awesome! That’s a very high level of commitment that not many achieve, but also be sure that you’re not killing yourself everyday. There needs to be some kind of balance.
You don’t need to leave the gym every single day feeling like you’re about to die to have a great workout, contrary to popular belief.
This one can be tricky and requires some trial-and-error, some thought, and possibly even a meeting with a registered dietician. What does your overall caloric intake look like? Are you eating enough to sustain your activity? Are you eating too much? Are you just eating too much of the wrong things? Or are you just not eating enough of what your body needs?
Some people may not even realize that the food they are consuming is causing inflammation in their body because it’s not glaringly obvious to them.
Nutrition is a big factor in overall health, anyway, so it’s worth evaluating.
Even if you are getting a solid 8 hours of sleep consistently, you can feel groggy or exhausted still when you wake up due to low sleep quality. Think about how often you wake up during the night or just how you feel when you wake up. The most obvious aspect, though, is to make sure you’re getting enough hours of sleep. Even a high quality sleep can be insufficient if it’s not enough hours.
I ask all these questions because as an athlete, it’s common to get tunnel vision and ignore the bigger picture, which leaves you wondering why you’re feeling run-down. That’s what coaches are here for, though.
Now, what you really want: how we fix this.
THE OBVIOUS: SLEEP AND EAT MORE
Do more of what is good for your body: sleep and food being a very obvious need for everyone.
Nutrition, like mentioned above, is a tricky one. If you’ve been feeling less than 100%, you may benefit from tracking your macros and noticing patterns. Notice how you feel day of, days after, and even up to a week after consuming certain foods. Their residual effects may linger longer than anticipated. Look carefully at your macros and the percentages and then reexamine how you felt on that day. Did you feel better or worse with higher carbs? When you missed your protein minimum intake, did you feel weaker?
Additionally, if you happen to suspect certain foods are the problem, such as causing inflammation or fatigue, follow an elimination diet for three weeks, then reintroduce them, being very mindful of how you feel after eating them. This should give you an idea about certain foods and their effect on your body specifically.
I want to touch on this one more time because it’s something I will harp on till the day I die- CARBS ARE NOT THE ENEMY. So, if you’re eliminating as many carbs as possible because someone told you that would be the fix, reintroduce them to your diet and that may make all the difference- ESPECIALLY IF YOU ARE LIFTING HEAVY. Just don’t be afraid of them.
Keep in mind, nutrition is unique to all and someone else’s macros may not be ideal for you. You may benefit from higher carbs whereas someone else may function better off of higher fats. This is where the trial-and-error aforementioned is important.
As for sleep, set a daily bedtime and an electronics-off time, as well (i.e. electronics off by 8 PM and bedtime by 9 PM). If you are struggling with sleep quality, taking a zinc and magnesium or even melatonin supplement may aid with this. Meditating, reading, and stretching are good ways to naturally aid with sleep quality, as well.
You have a couple options for this. You can either complete the reps for the day with a lower weight, break the reps up and keep the weight, a combination of the two, or scale it back to basics entirely. Eliminate the barbell and complete the movements with just bodyweight, if necessary.
Here is where you’ll need to evaluate your goals and what is most conducive to them. If you’re training for something specific, is the weight the most important part or is it the overall volume? Or is it more beneficial to reel back? Is your recovery level the most important thing?
This requires some maturity and some debate between “powering through” or “giving myself grace”.
If you’re training for fat loss, muscle gain, maintenance, etc. (i.e. not competing), you may just need to slow things down to avoid a plateau.
If you have a coach, they need to be well-versed with your goals as well as your unique training needs, so talk to them and get their opinion if you’re unsure how to proceed. No coach? Hi, my name’s Aly, let me help you out.
This is a godsend if you’re feeling off, trust me. I mentioned this in last week’s post. This is essentially getting stronger through recovery. There’s a couple different ways to deload properly and they are dependent upon several factors. Deloads are recommended every 4-6 weeks, as a general rule of thumb.
When an athlete consistently trains and trains hard, it’s natural for their muscles to knot up. This can distort movement and send signals to the brain that it’s time to SLOW DOWN. Sometimes it’s beneficial to nix the workout entirely and spend some time bringing muscles back to full range of motion; others you just need 20 minutes to get your mind and body right, then return to your workout.
Control your mind, control your life.
As I mentioned on Instagram yesterday, this is hard to do as an athlete. We set high standards for ourselves and beat ourselves up when we can’t quite meet them. Take a step back, reword your self-talk, and try again.
Self care is a very broad term, I’m aware. But this whole post is intended to get you thinking about your obstacles and how to fix them. I, as a coach, am giving you the tools to do the introspection and implement the solutions.
When I say ‘self care’, I mean take some time to do some things that make you feel good and that are conducive to your best interests. Get a massage, hit the sauna, go to the beach- whatever it is that helps you get refocused and feel better.
Overall, what I’m getting at is listen to your body. Feeling off like this is normal, but not should not be the norm. Some days you simply cannot train through, and that’s okay. Some days are just not our days. You can’t win them all. At the end of the day, sometimes all you can do is just accept that it isn’t working for you today and learn from it for tomorrow.