There are times in your fitness journey where you will experience setbacks. It’s an unfortunate reality that can deflate even the most mentally tough of athletes.
You know the kind of setback I’m talking about. It’s that workout or series of workouts you have where everything just feels incredibly harder than it should. And it’s not that the workout is any harder than what you have done before. In fact, this is the kind of workout that used to be a piece of cake for you. And yet, for some reason, on this day, it. Just. Plain. Sucks.
It’s almost as if all of your fitness has just gone straight out the window and you have forgotten how to do roughly everything. Your lungs and muscles have been rendered useless even though they have done this countless numbers of times. Seriously? What the hell lungs, we do this and so much more on a regular basis. What gives?!
I find I experience these moments often when I am running. I will have days where I do 8 miles plus and feel like a champ, and yet on that one particular day, the dreaded set back day, I will run 2 miles and feel like my lungs are lit-rally about to burst inside of me. These moments are some of the most frustrating moments of my life. They usually involve long bursts of cursing out my lungs interspersed with gasping for air. It’s quite a site to behold.
If you’ve been working on your fitness for any length of time, you have inevitably experienced one of these setbacks that I have described above. And if you are relatively new in your fitness journey and haven’t yet experienced this setback, just wait, you will. Ohhhhhhhh believe me, you will. They are an inevitable part of a fitness journey.
I tend to find that as much as the physical part of these workouts suck, that the mental part is far worse. It’s subtle but incredibly damaging to the psyche if you let it get to you. To make matters worse, because it’s so subtle, it can often go unnoticed, but it’s effects are long lasting. On the surface, they can leave you questioning your fitness level, but at a deeper level, they can leave you asking whether or not you really have what it takes to achieve success. Whether or not you realize it, this mentality affects your subsequent workouts leading to an overall decline in performance.
At this point, I am getting into a discussion more on mental toughness and how your mental state affects your physical ability. This is a great topic, but it is a post for another day. For now, I want to give you a few key pointers on how to deal with the setbacks you experience.
Accept that setbacks are a part of the journey. As much as we would like, journeys rarely lead us from point A to point B in a linear fashion. There are twists, turns, bumps, re-routing, delays, and sometimes we need to turn around and go back before we can go forward again. Believe me. I get it. It’s incredibly FRUSTRATING. Ugh, even typing that in all caps does not get at how aggravating these workouts are. But, if you can accept that these setbacks are a part of your journey, you open yourself up to an incredible learning experience that, if you let it, will lead to personal growth. Growth that will make you stronger and more prepared to face the next obstacle. The setbacks are going to come. Living in denial of them or stubbornly refusing to work through them will only place you further away from the goal. Believe me, I’ve been there.
Breathe and shake it off. When you do in fact experience a set back, whether it’s an isolated bad workout, a series of bad workouts, I think the most important thing you can do is to just breathe. Relax. Shake it off. It’s tempting to have a lot of negative thoughts when you have one of these experience. What starts off as one bad workout leads to thoughts of self doubt. Am I not as fit as I thought I was? Do I really have what it takes to do this? Friends, these thoughts are completely natural. But you do not have to let them become your reality. Brush them off. Shake loose and let it go [even though I know we are all so incredibly over this song now, insert someone’s rendition of the Frozen song here]. Sometimes, for no real rational or explainable reason, we have a bad workout. Sometimes we have several of them in a row. They happen to all of us. So just let them go and come back ready for the next one ready to work.
Analyze your behavior patterns of the past few days. if you are truly concerned about what led to having a bad workout, think back over your behavior in the days leading up to your workout. Have you been getting enough sleep? Staying hydrated enough? Are you fueling properly for your workouts? Are you overtraining? These are just a few of the many things that could impact the quality of your workout. If your workouts have felt consistently tougher than what you know is ‘normal’ for you, it’s worth analyzing your behavior patterns, there may be a few things you can adjust. Just bear in mind that sometimes, there just isn’t an explanation, and we have to just shake it off. Reread the second point accordingly.
Avoid Overcompensating. The temptation for many of us when we experience a set back is to come back at it harder than ever before. Because clearly, the reason why you had the setback in the first place is because you weren’t doing enough. So in an effort to ‘make up’ for the bad workout, you try to do even more. Ok, so I get the general thought process here, but I’ve got to tell you this is probably the WORST thing you can do at this point. This is how overtraining and injuries occur. This is what leads to multiple discouraging workouts in a row that can leave you feeling defeated.
Moreover, it suggests an underlying insecurity that you just don’t have what it takes. I read an article not all that long ago that led me to a ‘wow’ moment in my own training. The article was talking about how when we try to overload our workout schedule and go hard all the time instead of following the tried and true methods the fitness industry is built upon (i.e. gradual progressions of intensity and duration, regular rest periods etc.) we are saying that we don’t believe in ourselves. That we don’t believe we can follow the same type of schedule that has worked for everyone else and have it work for us. We don’t recover in the same way, we won’t build up in the same way etc etc. and so the thought process goes. So we have to do as much as possible all the time. The same philosophy applies here. Trust in yourself and in your body enough to believe that this one bad workout does NOT take away from all that you have accomplished thus far.
No one likes to experience setbacks, and in a perfect world, we’d be able to keep moving forward all the time. Just remember that life is far from perfect, and rarely do we ever always more forward. Life is lived in a state of flux and the same is true for your fitness. The key to overcoming the setback is to anticipate that they will occur and to be open to what you can learn from them once you experience it. If you have to face them, you might as well grow from them right?