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What To Do When Your Workout Just Isn't Happening
Greg Everett

You have the perfect training program. And then one day you just can't do what you're supposed to do. You're exhausted, your body hurts, you can't seem to get warm, you're distracted, you're an emotional wreck - the universe hates your guts and won't let you train. It's just not going to happen. So what do you do?

First of all, do everything you can to avoid getting into this situation: It should go without saying that you should be sure your training program truly is good for you - if this is an occasional thing, no problem. If it happens all the time, you need to re-evaluate your training and lifestyle because it's not an isolated incident, but an issue with your training volume, average intensity, frequency, sleep, stress, etc.

So what do you do when you find yourself unable to do a single workout? You have a few options:
  • Reduce the weights
  • Modify the workout more extensively
  • Stop entirely
The first step is to reduce the weights - keep the workout the same in terms of exercises, reps and sets, but use weights light enough that you feel like you'll survive. Find weights that make the workout feel like it's actually helping you instead of tearing your soul out of your ass. You'll often find when you do this that each subsequent exercise will feel a little better and on average the workout turns out to be a lot better than you expected.

If you're feeling worse than this, you can cut way back - clip out some of the exercises and just stick to the couple most important ones. You may still need to reduce the weights or spend a bit longer warming up. You can reduce the number of sets, and even reduce the reps if necessary. But in this way you preserve the essence of the workout while giving yourself a significant break.

Finally, there are some days when your best choice is to simply take your shoes off and leave. This can be a very tough thing to do - weightlifters tend to be stubborn and hard-working, and skipping a workout feels like quitting. In these situations, the key is reminding yourself of the long term perspective. This is one workout in a series that covers years - this single workout will not make or break you. More importantly, if you're in such a state, forcing yourself through the workout will actually be counterproductive - you're actually doing more harm than good.

This can be a very tough thing to do - weightlifters tend to be stubborn and hard-working, and skipping a workout feels like quitting.

Go home and relax and do something that has nothing to do with weightlifting. Stay off the damn internet for a couple hours for once in your life. Watch a movie, read a book, listen to music, sit out in your backyard, take a nap... anything that relaxes you and doesn't remind you of training. Don't get on your phone and torture yourself with videos of other lifters, because at these times you're particularly stupid and you'll believe these other lifters have never had a bad day of training and you're just a weak-willed quitter.

Go right into your next training day as written. If there was an incredibly important exercise on the day you missed, you can add it in the next day or at some other point in the week. But only do this if it's truly necessary - in most cases, it only seems like it is. On this day, you can also take a look at your program and see if there's something that actually needs to be changed - if yesterday was just a fluke, then leave it alone.

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Greg Everett is the owner of Catalyst Athletics, coach of the USA Weightlifting National Champion team Catalyst Athletics, author of the books Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes & Coaches and Olympic Weightlifting for Sports, director/writer/producer/editor/everything of the documentary American Weightlifting, co-host of the Weightlifting Life Podcast, and publisher of The Performance Menu journal. He is an Olympic Trials coach, coach of over 30 senior national level or higher lifters, including national medalists, national champion and national record holder; as an athlete, he is a fifth-place finisher at the USAW National Championships, masters national champion, masters American Open champion, and masters American record holder in the clean & jerk. Follow him on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, and sign up for his free newsletter here.

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