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What To Do When Your Workout Doesn’t Work Out

By Marni Sumbal

One of the best parts about sharing an active lifestyle with someone else is seeing each other grow in a sport (or with fitness). We all have great workouts now and then, but they are not always shared with others.

mzThe other day, my husband Karel had an off day on the bike. We did a swim and bike workout and although he had an amazing workout in the pool, he just had no power in legs on the bike. Rather than try to push through it, I continued on with the workout as planned and Karel did his own thing which involved soft pedaling and a little drafting off my wheel.

We all have those days when we feel a little off but knowing how to handle those days may be different for all of us. Sometimes it can be easy to modify workouts on a whim, although making smart choices as athletes is not always easy (hence why it is important to have a coach—we all need someone to tell us when to "rest" and not push through).

So what should you do if your workout is just not working out? Here are a few of my tips as to how to bounce back from an off day. 

If you are having a nutrition-related off day, identify what went wrong. Generally, going long hours without eating, overeating a large portion (or late at night), eating a large amount of processed food or skimping on balanced meals can contribute to feeling off. Certainly, this is why it is so important to address the daily diet when it comes to performance/fitness as food is our fuel. 

Sport Nutrition
If you are having a sport-nutrition-related off day, address what foods/products are not working for you. Maybe it is the intensity/duration or workout or maybe a food isn't sitting right. Generally, it is recommended to reduce fat/fiber before a workout to help with digestion and be sure to drink water to promote digestion/absorption of nutrients before and during the workout. Many times, athletes under-fuel during workouts, so it is important to recognize the importance of sport nutrition before, during and after workouts when your body is under the most training stress.

If there is one area in your life to blame for feeling tired while working out, it is not getting enough restful sleep. Although exercise is important on a daily basis, one should never skimp on sleep just to work out early in the morning (or late at night). Try to create an exercise/training schedule that allows for a restful night of sleep most days a week. For many people, seven to eight hours is the magic number, which may mean going to bed a little earlier or cutting a workout short a little in order to get to work on time in the morning. 

Stretching/flexibility/strength training
Although stretching and strength training can certainly enhance workouts by encouraging strong muscles to move in their full range of motion, strength training should only enhance your cardio routine. Be sure to allow adequate rest after strength training so that you are not sabotaging good form while training during cardio. Also, make time for stretching post-workout and include a dynamic warm-up before working out. Many times, the body just needs to wake up and get the blood flowing so before counting yourself out of a workout, be sure to actively warm-up. 

Pump yourself up
A good song, a good quote, a call from a friend/family member—there are many ways to turn an off day into a great day. Try to see if you can bring yourself into a positive state of mind before working out as many times we can allow stress, emotions and thoughts to keep us from working out when we all know that we are always one workout away from a great mood. 

Modifying workouts
I have a suggestion to everyone in that all you have to do is think small when working out. Whether you are having a hard time getting motivation, nervous about your training workout or feeling tired, just tell yourself that all you have to do is workout/exercise for 10 minutes. If you can at least get yourself started, more often than not you will find yourself working out longer than planned. If you aren't feeling it by 20 minutes, just call it a day or if anything, just go for a walk. We all need to know how to make progress with fitness. Many times, saying "I can't" will keep you in the same place. To move yourself forward, consider modifying your workout. If you planned to run, just walk. If your workout called for intervals, reduce the intensity. Make progress, don't aim for perfection. 

Keep it fun
Don't forget your goals or reasons for working out. I love to train for triathlons but I really love to exercise. I just love using and moving my body so anytime I am not feeling it (which is not that often, thanks to a balanced training plan with quality workouts), I just feel grateful that I am moving my body. 

Forget the gadgets
Ever see a kid running with a clock running while playing tag? Sometimes you just have to have fun and that means going by perceived exertion. It may be helpful to have gadgets with you to reflect on the workout but don't worry about pace, time, HR, speed, etc. Just enjoy your time out with your body.

Rest and recovery
A massage can be a beautiful thing. It is very important to me that I keep my body as healthy as possible with recovery and sometimes I can't do that alone. We have amazing sport massage therapists in our life who are worth the money. Other methods of recovery include Trigger Point, foam rolling, compression, Epson salt, Compex, sport legs, arnica cream and simple rest and relaxation with a clear mind.

I hope you find these tips helpful. Don't let an off day ruin your week. Be appreciative of the progress you have made and keep your eyes on where you are heading. If you are having trouble getting the motivation you need to get started, send me an email. I have pre-built run/tri plans available if you need something to help you stay consistent or we can discuss your missing link in your diet/fitness routine.

Marni Sumbal, MS, RD, LD/N works as a Clinical Dietitian at Baptist Medical Center Beaches, and is the owner of Trimarni Coaching and Nutrition, LLC, providing one-on-one consulting in the Jacksonville, Fla., area. Marni is a Registered Dietitian, holding a Master of Science in Exercise Physiology, and is a Certified Sports Nutritionist (CISSN). As an elite endurance athlete, she is also a USA Triathlon Level I Coach and a 6x Ironman finisher. Marni is a 110% Play Harder, Brooks ID, Hammer Nutrition and Oakley Women brand ambassador. She enjoys public speaking and writing, and she has several published articles in Fitness Magazine, Bicycling Magazine, The Florida Times-Union Shorelines, Lava Magazine, Hammer Endurance News, CosmoGirl magazine and Triathlete Magazine, and contributes to and Ironman online in addition to USA Triathlon.

To contact Marni, email, visit her blog or her website