How to Bounce Back From a Bad Day at the Gym

Don't let a bad day in the gym derail your training. Check out these precepts from STACK Expert Joe Giandonato.

Journeys marked with PRs that give rise to the achievement of fitness goals are inevitably interspersed with pedestrian and, at times, disappointing workouts.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons


Journeys marked with PRs that give rise to the achievement of fitness goals are inevitably interspersed with pedestrian and, at times, disappointing workouts.

Learn from MJ

Michael Jordan

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball players ever, boasted a 30.1 points-per-game scoring average, but he fell short of double-digits a few times during his career. (We're not referring to his tenure as part player/part owner of the Washington Wizards immediately preceding his final retirement.) Yet his "Airness" continued to attack with unbridled fervor and unrelenting intensity despite his occasional unremarkable performance.

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None of us is like Mike. But fortunately we don't need to possess transcendent skills or divine abilities in order to bounce back from a bad game or workout. Workouts need to be viewed as part of a much larger process, not as a microcosm of success. Instead of Monday-morning-quarterbacking the X's and O's of where your workout failed and what went wrong, give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done, knowing that long-term behavior drives success.

Two things that Jordan and other great athletes have in common are resilience and a short memory—attributes that keep them them on track and enable them to establish and sustain behaviors and processes that drive success.

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If you've suffered a bad day at the gym, here are some strategies to bounce back and prevent another one from occurring.

Understand that progress is not linear.

Athlete in Mirror

You will have peaks and valleys. The effectiveness of progressive overload begins to wane as athletes and lifters accumulate a deeper pool of motor skills and achieve greater levels of fitness. Progressing from a lift with a bare barbell to one loaded with 100 or 200 pounds is easier than going from 200 to 300 pounds and beyond. Manipulating variables and incorporating planned time off become more important in facilitating continued progress.

View "pain" and "failure" as guides and nothing more.

Tired Athlete Lifting

Pain science is complicated. In a nutshell, nerves known as nociceptors are activated and send signals alerting the central nervous system that something is wrong. If pain becomes unbearable, extending beyond the threshold of discomfort associated with fatigue, it's OK to walk away. And pain accompanied by a sudden loss of function may warrant medical attention.

RELATED: How to Mentally Bounce Back From a Bad Performance

Failure happens. The uncharted territories of heavier weights and higher intensities can make or break an athlete or lifter, since the chances of falling short are magnified. A missed lift isn't the end of the world. Before the dejected masses succumb to the impulse of trying again or tearing up their training log in a fit of rage, know that additional missed lifts can place significant demands on the central nervous system, consequently delaying recovery and interfering with subsequent workouts. Miss a lift; simply walk away.

Training logs are hard to replace. Destroying your training log erases your only tangible account of your journey to date. Ripping it up is a big mistake and could cause your nostalgic beating heart to break.

Know the difference between preparedness and readiness.

Tired Athlete

Preparedness is the culmination of programming and loading parameters resulting in the achievement of biomotor skills or fitness qualities. Readiness is the capacity to express them. It can easily be altered by sleep, nutrition, and competing demands, whether occupational, competitive or recreational. You might be capable of pulling five plates, but you might not be ready for it, especially if your nutrition and recovery aren't shored up and you have not given proper consideration to competing external stimuli.

If you are gearing up for a PR, select your loads wisely.


Strength athletes should select PR loads no more than 10 percent of their current one-rep maximum. Other athletes, who rely on strength training as a means to an end, should adopt a slightly more conservative approach, going up by no more than 5 percent at any given time, knowing that maximal attempts exponentially increase injury risk.

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock