Coach Tip Tuesday: One Bad Workout is...One Bad Workout
We’ve all been there. We do a workout, and…it sucks. Like totally, completely, and utterly sucks. We feel terrible, the data looks awful, and/or we abort early. We can’t see anything good or redeeming about the workout; it just sucks and goes down in our memory as a no-good, very bad workout.
Terrible workouts have a way of worming their way into the minds of athletes and settling down for a long winter’s nap. Over the years, I’ve listened to countless athletes catastrophize a bad workout. Maybe one (or more!) of these thoughts has looped in your mind after a bad workout:
“If I can’t do this workout, how am I ever going to do my race?”
“I’m never going to get any faster.”
“Why do I even bother doing this?”
“Everyone else is better than me at this sport.”
“I didn’t save my Garmin file from this workout because it wasn’t worth saving.”
I’m here to tell you that one bad workout is…one bad workout. Most athletes seek for the “why” behind a bad workout, and often wonder (sometimes on repeat) what the bad workout “means”. It doesn't “mean” anything more than you’re a normal human. Normal humans have good days, and they also have bad days. In fact, most days in the life of a normal human are average. In the world of endurance sports, this means that some workouts will go great, some will feel “normal” or average, and unfortunately, others will be terrible.
Humans love to have answers to things. It’s extremely hard for us as a species to accept that some things just are. (Don’t believe me? Look no further than the next traffic jam you encounter, or when you’re delayed at the store. We are always looking for reasons and explanations for situations; that traffic jam is because other people are driving like goons and don’t know how to drive. We’re delayed at the store because that person in front of us in line is taking way too long to count out their coupons.) However, though it is hard for us as a species to accept, I’m here to encourage you to embrace the truth that some things just…are.
Some workouts are bad. Sometimes, we may be able to point to a single reason why. Other days, we may not be able to do that, either because there are so many factors contributing to it, or because there isn’t actually a reason to explain it other than good days and bad days are part of the natural order of things.
What I can tell you is that one bad workout doesn’t mean that you won’t be successful in your endeavors. It doesn’t mean that you are a terrible athlete. It doesn’t mean that you’re doomed never to make progress again. On days when you have a bad workout, acknowledge that it wasn’t a good workout. Then, work intentionally on letting it go.
If you find yourself ruminating on the one workout and/or catastrophizing it, look back over the entirety of the last several months of training. (This is yet another instance where taking notes consistently on each workout is super helpful.) Look for the patterns you see. More often than not, what you will observe is that this one workout is an outlier. As such, it’s (quite frankly) foolish to define all of your training by a single workout. Think about it. Can you (or would you) cherry pick a workout from last year and say that it represents all that you are as an athlete? (Spoiler: I know you wouldn’t do that.) So, it stands to reason that you shouldn’t do the same for a workout in the present. Instead, change that narrative in your mind to be about the totality of your training in the recent past. As you do this, you will see that the one workout starts to lose its grip on your mind.
One bad workout is just that…one bad workout. Don’t catastrophize based on one workout or give one workout that much power over your perception of who you are as an athlete. You are much more than a single workout. :)
Coach Laura Henry
Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.