The Best Way to Bounce Back From a Terrible Workout

Man struggling through the muck

Man struggling through the muck during what’s clearly a terrible workout |

Some days, things just don’t fall into place. Perhaps you woke up late, or missed breakfast — for whatever reason, you’re a little off. And it follows you around all day, right into the gym. On those days, you have a short, seemingly worthless workout. It happens to everybody from time to time. We try to exercise when we probably would have been better served by just taking a rest day.

That’s not really a big deal. But for some people, one bad workout can lead to a slippery slope and cause a series of skipped workouts or a complete loss of momentum. This is dangerous, particularly if you’re struggling with exercise to begin with. And one bad workout can throw everything into flux.

Knowing you’re destined to have a terrible workout at some point, the real question is this: How can you bounce back? What can you do to make sure a small hiccup doesn’t completely derail you from reaching your goals?

There’s really only one way to look at it: It’s all mental. And the only way to really bounce back from a bad day is approach the next with the right mindset. When you hear that old phrase that “attitude is everything,” this is exactly the sort of thing that’s being referenced. It truly is a mental battle — and against the same foe you previously dispatched when you first started going to the gym.

Exhausted man lying on the ground after a brutal CrossFit workout

Sometimes your workout just doesn’t go well |

Author Steven Pressfield calls it “resistance” and has written many books about standing steadfastly against it. It’s a mental game, and your ability to overcome resistance, or a stark loss in momentum, goes back to something we’ve covered before: discipline.

If you’re disciplined, you’ll shrug off a bad workout with ease and be back the next day going harder than ever. You’ve trained yourself to overcome the biggest obstacle standing in your way — which is more than likely yourself. Most people don’t want to go to the gym to begin with, and any excuse (say, a bad day at the gym) to give themselves a break is enough to throw them off track.

So, if your ability to bounce back from a bad workout is rooted in discipline, how do you become disciplined? Again, this is something we’ve discussed before. It’s complicated, yet simple. You just do it. You break down the task at hand into smaller, bite-size obstacles and take them on one at a time.

By using this strategy, you actually start to regain momentum. You’re stringing together a series of small victories and start making progress. You can do this at the gym, with household chores, or with whatever you have going on at work. It’s a productivity hack and a mental tool that can get you back on track.

woman exercising

Getting back on track is all about your attitude |

But when it comes to recovering from a bad workout specifically, there are two things to take into account. First, you can take solace in the fact that you actually went to the gym and made the effort to get a workout in. That, by itself, is more than most people do. And the fact that you didn’t lift the weight you wanted or had to skirt off the treadmill early because it just wasn’t happening? It’s really no big deal.

That brings us to the second important element: following up. You need to get back to the gym the next day and finish your bad workout with a strong one. If you can put aside the negativity surrounding yesterday and just get yourself back to the gym, you can put yourself right back on the rails as if nothing ever happened.

To reiterate once more, you’re going to have bad days and bad workouts. There’s really no avoiding it. It’s all about how you react to it.

By working on self-discipline, you’re really planning on how to handle situations like we’ve discussed. On good days, you’re probably excited to go to the gym and get in a good workout. It’s the other days where you depend on discipline to get you to hit the gym — a force of habit that will get you back on the horse without losing progress.

If you truly want to bounce back from a bad workout, remember that it’ll come down to your attitude, discipline, and frame of mind. The most important thing you can do is put it behind you and make sure you’re back and ready to go the next day.

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