Possible Causes of A Lackluster Training Session

We all have those days at the gym where the weights feel heavier, our joints ache, our motivation is low and no matter what we do, we’re not going to get a pump. If you’ve been training for a considerable amount of time, these days are often just part of the process. You go in, go through the motions, and check the block.

While down days may be inevitable, there are several effective strategies you can implement to minimize the frequency with which they occur. There are, without question, certain variables that are within your control in regards to optimizing your day to day performance. 

Conversely, there are other variables that may not be in your control, but how you deal with them can ultimately be the difference maker in whether your training session is productive or just a waste of time (or worse, a way to become overtrained or injured!)

Here are some things to consider if you’re looking to avoid lackluster days of training:

Your Nutrition is off (nearly always in your control)

In order to train hard, you need to eat in a way that’s conducive to intensity. Unless you’re specifically in a cut and trying to get as lean as possible, ensuring you’re fueling properly for your training sessions can make a massive difference. If you’re in a severe calorie deficit, not only is motivation to train going to be lower, but you’re also going to have less energy and focus to put into your training. It’s also quite difficult to get a pump when you’re underfed. 

To fix this, make sure you’re eating adequate calories and the right macronutrients, not just around your training, but all the time. Adequate carbohydrates (different from person to person) will ensure your glycogen stores are topped off, and  have proven to be the most optimal energy source for intense weight training and conditioning. Being in a slight calorie surplus is a surefire way to have consistently awesome training sessions.

Yesterday’s Training is Bleeding Into Today (usually in your control)

Sometimes what you did the day(s) before your training session can have a significant effect on your performance. This is especially true if you’ve done a neurologically demanding (heavy, low rep compound lifts at a high % of your 1 rep max) session the day prior. Even if you’re doing an upper body workout and yesterday’s session was a lower body workout, the systemic fatigue can linger for a day or two (or more if you’re very strong). 

If you’re having trouble getting fired up, feeling a bit weaker than normal, or unable to get a good pump, consider the fact that you may have overdone it yesterday. To mitigate this, either take a rest day following a hard session (especially if you did heavy deadlifts, squats, or lot’s of leg volume) or just lower the intensity/volume the day prior. 

You Need a Deload (nearly always in your control)

People who train very consistently are the only ones who need deloads. A deload is a week (+ or -) either completely away from the gym, or with reduced volume and/or intensity. If you’ve been training hard for several weeks and you don’t have scheduled deloads in your program, you may need a deload if you have two or more of the following signs and symptoms:

-Reduced motivation to train (for more than just one day)

-Achy joints

-More soreness than normal (or sore for longer)

-You’re experiencing sleep disturbances or lower than normal sleep quality

-Increased life stress outside the gym (more on this later)

-You stop making progress or even start to backslide (more than just one workout)

-Unexplained appetite changes (usually lowered appetite)

The way you deload is up to you (or your coach). I personally like to take 3-5 days completely off from the gym. I stay active with walking, light cardio and mobility but I don’t do any strength training. This is often the best way to mentally reset (if you’re suffering from lack of motivation). Another option is to still go to the gym, but train with significantly less volume and/or use less load. This will ensure you maintain the skill component of weight training but still give you a much needed break. It’s crucial to not ignore these signs and power through them. Doing so can lead to overtraining and often requires prolonged (several weeks or even months) deloads or breaks from training.

Life Stress (usually not in your control)

Training is stressful. When applied in the right dose, it’s usually a good stress, and your body can adapt to it and become stronger. But if you’re more stressed than usual about other things happening in your life and you try to add the stress of training to it, sometimes it becomes too much. If you’ve had a recent increase in life stress (family, marriage, profession, finances etc.) and your training is suffering, this could be a time to relax a bit and do more restorative work like walking, mobility, and light pump work. Once the stress subsides, you’ll be ready to crush your training again.

Sleep (situation dependent whether in your control or not)

One night of sub-optimal sleep is nothing to worry about. It may not be the best idea to try for a new PR following a night of bad sleep, but you should still be able to get a good training stimulus. However, if your sleep has been consistently less optimal than usual, it can have significant effects on your training (and stress, and nutrition). You’ll be less motivated to train, less focused during training, and certainly more likely to get injured. I recommend figuring out your sleep before continuing with your hard training. Without good sleep, going hard in the gym is essentially a waste of time, and the risks tend to outweigh the benefits.

Hydration (always in your control)

Many people live their lives in a constantly dehydrated state. Being only slightly dehydrated can have a significant effect on strength training. The absolute best way to get a pump is to ensure you’ve had enough water, electrolytes and carbohydrates. These three variables play a far more significant role in getting a pump than any pump supplement on the market. Being hydrated also ensures your muscles and soft tissues have the required lubricant to move under load. Not only will dehydration make your performance take a hit, but it can also increase your risk of injury.

Overstimulation (always in your control)

While caffeine can be a performance enhancer, it’s certainly not an “if some is good, more is better” type of substance. If you have a high caffeine tolerance and you rely on high-stim pre workouts or energy drinks to get yourself to the gym, it can actually hinder your performance. Too much caffeine can raise your blood pressure, heart rate, anxiety levels, and reduce your cardiovascular capacity. If you notice you’re significantly more out of breath than usual (especially if you’re just doing a strength training workout), consider how much caffeine you’ve consumed prior to training. Sometimes a short break from stimulants can counterintuitively improve your training sessions. Once you’ve taken this break, you’ll have re-sensitized yourself to caffeine, and smaller amounts will give you your desired performance effect.

Thank you for reading! What variables have you found to have a negative (or positive) effect on your training. Leave a comment Below!

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