You’ve had a long day at work and your head is still stuck in endless rows and columns of a spreadsheet when you get to the gym. You have been sitting most of the day and you feel like your knees, hips, and shoulders have gone the way of the Tin Man’s. Or… it’s Friday morning and you have pushed hard all week. You were in the middle of a bizarre and baffling dream when your alarm for the gym went off, in fact you may have still been dreaming on your drive to the gym.
Whatever the scenario may be, your body and mind are just not into the workout today.
Here are a few ways to turn that mental ship around in order to get the most out of a workout that your body wanted to skip but your conscience just wouldn’t let you.
First, and most important, determine if your head is just not in the game yet or if you truly need a break. Pain outside of your typical muscle soreness, unusually nagging fatigue, or sickness where something is oozing or involves a fever are good indicators you should listen to your body and skip the gym.
So you are here at the gym and wish you could be sitting on a patio with a beer instead. Let’s start slow, this phase is to warm up and wake up your mind to the fact you are going to work out. Starting slow looks like one of these:
- Joint rollout: Start at your ankles work each joint up to your neck
- Pass Trough’s: Grab a PVC and do pass trough’s/dislocates and “around the worlds” with your shoulders
- Light Cardio: Jump rope, Row, Jog
If unusual pain pops up during any of these it’s a good indicator to give that area of the body a little extra warming up or give that area of the body a rest for the day.
You may still not be convinced you made the right choice showing up to the gym. Now it’s a mental game. This is the best time to turn your mind off for what is to come and become mindful of the movement in front of you right now. Choose one aspect you would like to focus on for your movements during the warm up, here are a few examples:
- Hollow position
- Range of motion
- Power in your hips
- Weight in heels
- Posterior Chain Tension
Post Warm Up Assessment & Loosening Up
If the warm up didn’t do the trick and you are still feeling stiff or cold choose one of two options:
- Give the stiff area a little extra attention (foam roll, lacrosse ball, dynamic stretching, mobility work, compression band)
- Opt for some quick cardio, whatever you know warm you up best, for me it is jogging.
Next you will be practicing the skill for the movements in the workout. Approach this piece with curiosity and cut out your expectations. This is a great time to focus on the integrity of the movement and playing with different approaches to the movement. For example if I am practicing snatch I might try a couple different techniques in my set up and see what creates most tension to prepare me for the rest of the lift. Be very present to cause and effect and don’t worry about anticipating what the rest of the workout will feel like at this point. There will be an appropriate time for that.
A few minutes before the workout is a good time to start anticipating and planning the rest of the workout. The purpose of planning the workout in your head right now ties in with what weights, distances, heights, or reps you will do to be feel successful in your workout. It is not to dredge up dread for how hard it is going to be. Here are some tips to help you to be present in your workout instead of fighting towards your expectations about how a workout “Should” be:
- Lift by Feel: instead of basing it off of last PR or what is on your neighbors’ bar. I like to just add weight without adding up how much I am actually lifting. Sometimes this requires some willful ignorance when loading your bar.
- Play: Choose one part you want to play with. For example, how powerful can I make my hip pop? How far can I pivot and drop under the bar? Can I maintain tension throughout my whole kettle bell swing?
- Blinders: Don’t focus on your neighbors workout set up, weights, or goals unless it is to give them a completely unattached high five and “Kick Butt!”
- Choose a Movement Goal: Keep moving, even if it is slower than you think it should be. Keep a 5,7, or 10 second countdown on each rest.
Congratulations! You made it through the workout! If it didn’t meet your usual fire breathing expectations give yourself a break and frame this workout as one that is part of the process of becoming a knowledgeable, self-aware, experienced athlete.