It’s Okay to Walk Out on a Workout (Sometimes)

I’ve been there before. You go to the gym expecting to have a good, sometimes okay, periodically awesome workout. It’s great to feel like you’re making consistent progress. You feel like you just might have this whole exercise thing figured out. Until you have a bad day… Sometimes you walk in the gym and even while you’re warming up, it just doesn’t feel right.

You Can Plan A Bad Day

Periodization is the art and science of organizing your workouts based on your goals. Overreaching can be a part of this process. Short term  you plan to do more than you can recover from. Once you recover, long term you increase to new higher levels of fitness. (there are entire text books on this if you’re interested).

Overreaching is not a part of every program, it’s just a part of some that choose to attempt this. Trial and error have led me to bomb out on a workout or two (or a month or two).

I’ve had days where I felt like crap coming in and hit awesome numbers on my most important lifts of the day. I’ve had days where I’ve come in feeling great and flat out crashed. I’d be lying if I didn’t say those bad moments haven’t ruined otherwise good days.

What to Do When You’re Burned Out

Bombing on a workout sucks, but sometimes the best thing you can do is walk out of there. I’ll give you a story to show you a less than favorable but great example of shutting it down. I played a little college football, I’ve had injuries of varying degrees. The ones that I still deal with in varying degrees (depending on the training cycle that I’m in):

  • My previous right knee injury (LCL)

  • Chronic hamstring tightness (perceived and otherwise)

  • Stress fractures in mainly my right hand but, also occasionally a lesser fracture in my left hand

  • Something random in my lower body.

Almost all my pain has been disappearing as I’ve grown in knowledge but one day the wheels will likely fall off.

Just the other day I was having what seemed like an awesome workout. I hit training PR’s (personal records)  in my current cycle lifts (rewarding since I’m losing weight). What wasn’t so awesome? Starting on my third leg exercise of the day, I got sharp pain in my good knee.

I’ve worked through quite a few injuries playing sports. In high school my hand broke wrestling. 4 days later, I got it checked out. As soon as I could, I taped my fingers together so I could compete. Ain’t nobody got time for that nonsense, I’m retired now.

The Greatest Lesson I Learned About Bad Workouts

Sometimes it’s better to call it a day. If something you’ve done many times over feel painful in a bad way, just go home and figure it out later.

Take for example after I finished college football. By no means was I strong in a professional sense, but for the average person I was proud of myself. Reminiscing, I was squatting near a projected 600lbs in training at 240 lbs. (Not exactly sure what the number was but it was projected in the 580-589 range from a 5 rep max). On a regular day I could walk into the gym and squat near 405lbs cold, that means without warm up sets. I got burned out after sports (in fact I actually still haven’t been to a Mizzou football game in 3 years). I took 4 months off of weightlifting and tv to hang out and spend some time with my then girlfriend, just chilling. When I finally got back in the weight room it was surreal.

My previous warm up weights felt heavy. In my first workout back I squatted 365 X 5 but, on my fifth rep I felt a twinge in my knee. I knew how serious it could be so I immediately shut my workout down to avoid further aggravating it. Luckily Mizzou has always had an awesome head trainer in Rex Sharpe who agreed to check me out. He determined it was just a slight tweak and commended me for shutting it down. He recommended that I take a couple weeks off to heal… I remember the months that it took to get back from knee surgery, including learning how to walk again. I did not want to go down that road.

The rehab process for college and professional sports is second to none. It would’ve been much harder to do this on my own now. No way I was taking my chances out here in these streets in a post Obamacare world.

If you’ve been pushing yourself really hard, and you’re doing everything right to recover-mainly sleep and nutrition (I’ll write on recovery methods in the near future)- You might still reach a breaking point. Hopefully you planned for this in your training. It may be a planned overreach or it may be unintentional. When your (insert body part here) and not your technique start to break down on you. It’s time to shut it down and live to die another day.

One time I just so happened to get and finish a full sized pack of Oreos after a bad day but, that’s another story...

By the way…

My bad. I took some time off to study and work on my personal life but, I’m back at it.

Email any questions to