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How to Move Past a Bad Workout Week

As a triathlete you are by nature an intense person, who is often critical of your own performance. If you’re a serious athlete, chances are you like to plan your workout week ahead of time (or have a coach do it) and day by day watch your boxes in the Training Peaks calendar turn from Red to Green. You most likely track your data carefully, such as average heart rate, pace, training stress score, watts, kcals, and more.

There are weeks in the calendar year where life just happens and you get totally thrown off you routine maybe from travel, illness, or fatigue. It happens. When you try to get back on your normal schedule, you end up having a terrible workout. In addition to that, the next day and the day after that are no better. You feel fatigued, unmotivated, disappointed, and even a little worried because you just can’t seem to get out of your funk. You are feeling as if you can’t snap out of it. Each workout may get completed, but not to the level that you are used to. You are hoping your coach isn’t as disappointed as you are.

So, what’s up? It could be a few different things. Fatigue would be my first guess, then over training. I’ve written a few other blog posts about over training and fatigue and how to recognize the signs. Sometimes your body is trying to tell you something.

Lack of sleep, poor diet, and over training can lead to feelings of burn out, fatigue, depression and anxiety. An athlete who is over training and fatigued will most likely have an elevated resting HR, recover less quickly than usual from harder efforts, and will perceive normally easy workouts as hard. They may appear to be less confident, have poor posture, and sunken eyes. If you have a few of these symptoms it’s time to take a good look at your training program and your overall emotional and physical health.

My prescription for fatigue due to over training is REST. At least a few days. Most athletes cringe when I suggest a few days off, but actually your fitness gains happen when you are resting, not pushing hard. A few days of rest in the grand scheme of things isn’t going to take anything away from your fitness level. In fact, it will most likely help you not hurt you.

So…with all of the above being said, here are my recommendations for getting past a really crappy week of workouts. There is a physical component to this as well as mental so I will include both.

1. Sleep like a baby. That’s right like 8 to 8.5 hours. Go to bed half an hour earlier at night. I highly recommend taking magnesium an hour before you go to bed. Turn off all electronics an hour before bed as well, and leave your phone in the kitchen. You will not have a good sleep if your phone is constantly lighting up and bothering you with notifications. Here is a product I highly recommend that will help you relax and de-stress called Calm. You can order it online or pick it up in the grocery store. Mix it with hot water an hour before you sleep. Get in the habit of this so your body becomes used to the routine.

2. Take a few days completely off. I know I know. You don’t want to do that because you are afraid to lose your fitness. Remember at the beginning of this article I said that fitness gains happen when you are resting? A couple of days off will not hurt you. If you don’t want to completely take off then go for a long walk, do some yoga, or stretch. Use your compression boots, percussion gun, or get a relaxing massage. Your body will thank you for being kind to it. Promise.

3. Stop obsessing on how badly the week went. Put it behind you and chalk it up to learning an important lesson about listening to your body. Think about how you will recognize fatigue or over training in the future. Take a few rest days and set some goals for the following weeks. You have a lot to look forward to.

4. Take a look at your nutrition and hydration as these can be a major factor in training. Are you eating a well-balanced diet with plenty of protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats? Are you staying hydrated throughout the week by drinking enough water and electrolyte-rich beverages?

5. How is your mental/emotional health? Are you feeling particularly stressed at work or with family obligations? My recommendation is to spend 15 minutes in the morning and evening spilling it all out on paper. Journaling is a game changer for relieving anxiety by dumping your deepest feelings, frustrations, and worries out on paper. It’s ok to write about things you would never say out loud. When you’re finished delete the document or crumple up the paper and throw it in the trash. Do this regularly and you’ll be amazed at your reduction in stress.

6. Lastly, start with a fresh perspective and realize that bad training weeks are few and far between. Life happens and things sometimes get in the way of a successful training week, but not that often. Move forward with your goals and remind yourself that if you made it this far you can march forward in full force.

I hope this article is helpful to those of you who have had some less than optimal workout weeks. I've been there too.

Have you thought about hiring a coach for your next iron distance event? Let’s chat about your goals! Click the button below and fill out your information and I will get back to you asap!

Mary Timoney

Ironman University Certified Coach

USA Cycling Coach

ACSM Trainer


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