Roll with the tide
A question I often ask myself is: When is it ok to miss a training session?
No matter how much you like to do something, we’re all only human. There will be days when you just don’t feel like it.
Maybe you didn’t get much sleep the night before, or you’ve been particularly busy at work and the lure of the TV and a pizza are too strong.
Is it ok to give training a miss if you don’t feel like it?
If you asked me that question a few years ago, I would probably have said: never.
In fact when I used to work in construction I used to be grateful for the 24 hour gym near me: it meant even during the frantic 80-hour weeks before project handover I could still get a workout done at 1 am after being at work from 7am through to midnight.
Was that a bit over the top? At the time, I just thought that, at worst, it was good for my mental strength: that’s why I was so militant about never missing a scheduled session, no matter how tired or busy I was.
On one hand, it is important to cultivate that sort of mentality.
If you give-up too easily or give yourself a free pass too often, it is a slippery slope; before long you’ve got no discipline because not following through on your plans and intentions becomes an unwelcome bad habit.
As human beings, I think it is a default option to take the path of least resistance, especially when it comes to training.
It’s because from a survival standpoint unnecessary physical exertion is harmful. Our ancestors didn’t know when or where they would get their next meal, so it could actually be dangerous to expend more energy than required when you didn’t need to.
If you look at animals a lot of time is spent on energy preservation: think about how much lying around lions do during the day.
In a way, being able to choose to train hard is a luxury, because it means you have both the time and resources to improve yourself, rather than just staying alive.
Choosing to fight your instincts and improve yourself is therefore a character quality, and some people feel it more than others.
So you should never miss a session right?
I’m not about to say mental weakness is ok. But it comes back to the concept of training smart as well as hard.
In an increasingly frantic, non-stop world, consumption is king. We are constantly bombarded with messages to do, spend, watch, take. If you’re tired the first port of call is not to try to have better and more sleep, it’s more coffee or stronger energy drinks.
Training is also encouraged this way: train till you feel dizzy, be ‘nervous’ before your workouts. Be ‘on’ at all times, week in, week out.
Pro sports love this idea of having a machine-like quality of perpetual and insatiable improvement. A couple of adverts spring to mind: Tiger Woods, at his pomp, declaring that for him, ‘there are no rainy days’ when he’s not outside practising.
Or Lance Armstrong, before he came clean, aggressively challenging his doping critics in an advert by asking:
“Everyone wants to know what I’m on. What am I on? I’m on my bike, busting my ass six hours a day. What are you on?” Lance Armstrong
If you’re interested, here are the two ads in question.
Tiger Woods -“there are no rainy days”
And Lance- “I’m on my bike, busting my ass six times a day”
Pretty powerful stuff.
In reality, they both certainly do and did have ‘downtime’, or scheduled periods of hard effort followed by rest and recuperation, just like every sportsperson.
Related article: Is overtraining real?
If you look at the length of a year, there are peaks and troughs in everything: periods of high workload and quiet slower weeks. Stock market fluctuations. The traditional seasonal periods of sowing, growing, reaping and harvesting.
It is the same with training. There are highs and lows. It’s interesting that it is when you feel the strongest that you know weakness is coming round the corner: once you peak, you can’t keep going up before coming down a bit first.
You can only exert yourself to the max every now and again, before recuperating,re-building and growing once again.
This is why training cycles are so important, increasingly so the more advanced you get.
Even for beginners it is important to accept that you can’t go at it hammer and tongs every session. You have to plan, build and peak, before easing off the gas and starting again. As you get more advanced the intensity, weight, distance, speed goes up meaning these cycles will become shorter and more dramatic. But it is the same concept.
If you’re not aware of this you might mistake over-training for mere tiredness. If you don’t understand the nature of peaks and troughs you might keep hammering yourself for months on end, wondering why your performance has dropped off and getting frustrated by not getting better results.
Try and view your progression like the rising tide. You push forward, then roll back and re-gather. You push forward again, a little further, then pull back. The next wave you reach a bit higher, and so on.
Eventually you get to where you want to be.
Once you understand this you can plan your training, and you can be smarter about whether you’re overdoing it.
Let’s face it, I’m not sure my 1am training sessions really helped me, either physically or mentally. I was that tired I couldn’t push myself that hard. It made me mentally more tired for the coming day, and maybe even the next session.
What I should have recognised is that there are times where it is smarter to pull back and allow myself to recover. And while you should do everything possible to prevent missing scheduled training days, it is also important to recognise that there are times when it isn’t the best time to push yourself: if you really need a break, take it.
As I said, I’m not promoting being weak and taking the easy option. 99% of the time, if you have scheduled a session, you should stick to it.
Sound hard? This is actually not that difficult if you embrace the need to plan your training to include the week where you ‘deload’ and either have a week off or train easy.
If you have scheduled a session, don’t miss it. But you can schedule yourself so that you don’t miss- you recover.
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