How To Make A Bad Workout A Good Workout

Posted on 05 Jul 2014 16:41


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This is the first episode of Lift Big. See the video below or read it as an article! What can do when your lifting session is not going how you planned? Sometimes, for all of us, the weights just don't move the way we expect them to. Is the right approach to just give up and go home, hoping that the next session will go better? That is what many people will tell you to do. They call this reactive training and they say that your body is telling you what it needs and what it is capable of. This advice is dead wrong.

The problem is that for real strength training, things not going according to plan is par for the course. Everybody has a plan, until the crap hits the fan. Sometimes you fail to lift a certain weight that you have lifted before, or you are unable to get the number of reps you planned. If you want to be successful, you have to be able to think on your feet and adapt, and realize that a plan is only a loose one. This video gives suggestions and motivational tips, using examples of typical scenarios on the weight room floor. Just because you feel sluggish, or things don't go the way you want, doesn't mean you have to give up and skip the workout! You can turn a bad workout into a good workout, and sometimes even a GREAT one!

Watch the video below or view it on YouTube. The transcript (exactly what I say in the video) is included below. Keep in mind that I have left out false starts and stutters, which naturally are in this unscripted video, but if I left them in the copy below it would be difficult to read. So those parts of the speech I skip over in the transcript are separated by three periods "…"

Lift Big Episode: How to Turn a Bad Workout Into a Good One

Hi, everyone, welcome to Lift Big. My name is Ashiem. Today's training video is gonna be about converting a bad workout into a good workout. So, let's say that you're doing back squats. Last week you did 3 sets of 5 reps, with 225. This week you're gonna do 3 sets of 6 reps with 225. So, essentially, you're just adding a rep. Let's say that…so this is your target. Three sets of six, with 225. And now, as you're warming up, you feel that the weight of your warmups is heavier, and more difficult to move than it was last week. But you still persist, you say that you'll power through…you think that no, it's okay this is heavy lifting…it's gonna be difficult…I shouldn't think that it's gonna be…that's OK. So, you keep pushing through and then…you get to 225, and you fail…and now you're stuck, you're like, okay so this workout has gone to sh**, but it's not.

Don't panic, it's not a lost workout…the solution is very simple. So you failed 225, right from the get-go…So this means that it's an overall lack of preparation [I should have said preparedness]. Whether it's mental or not…is beside the point. I'm not gonna get into the how or why your workout failed, I'm gonna talk about what you're gonna DO once it failed.

…So, you fail 225. A lot of people would just attempt it again. But don't…don't be bullheaded. You fail 225, it wasn't something small like oh, my breathing was off…it's something bigger. So, first, back off the weights…I'm not saying go back to the drawing board and start from scratch. No. But go from 225 to 135. And do a few sets with 135. I'm not gonna call this speed work..but this is not the type of powerlifting speed work that powerlifters do. I'm not interested in dynamic effort, for that part. All I care about is that you take a certain weight, which is lighter than your main set, and you try to do as many fast reps as possible with it, because, in the beginning of your workout, whatever, uh, speed you have, is gonna pay off in terms of brute, absolute strength towards the end.


So, you take 135. Let's say you do two sets of three reps. Oh, no, that's too much. Let's say threes sets of two reps. Ah, you take 135 for three sets of two reps, you take 155 for two reps…you take 185 again for threes sets of two reps. You take 205 for a single, then you come back to 225. Nine times out of ten, you're gonna get it. You're gonna get your target; you're gonna be fine: You've salvaged you're workout.

Step one was not panicking. Step two was backing off the weight, and coming back, and working back up slowly. So, this is one scenario. But, here's another scenario. Let…and this is a personal experience of mine. I did a deadlift of 505, for two, on week one. On week two I had to do 475 for three. That's very possible, it's not unheard of, and it's not something that I cannot do. It's…something that I CAN do. And, I was expected to do 475 for three, however, during my warmups, everything felt fine…warmups felt as good as they do any other time. I work up. I work up to 475. I start pulling 475, and I gas out on the first rep, I just can't do it.

And, so, what do I do in that situation? I know for a fact that there's something that is off. I'm not able to brace my core. I'm not getting my abs tight enough…that sensation that I'm very stable from the get-go. So, I work back. I strip off the bar 475. I go to 405…Here's a small trick that Eric taught me: You know the bands that you use for banded deadlifts or banded squats. These resistance bands. He told me to double loop a resistance band and tie it around my waist, as if, like I'd do if I was wearing a belt. I don't wear a belt when I train. So, I took a band, double looped it around my waist. So, it…had some tension. Which means that when I brace my core, when I push my core out, there's going to be tension added to the band and then the band is gonna get tensed up and I'm gonna feel, that, okay, this band has gotten tighter, so far sure my core is tight. So he made me do this, I went back to 405. It was fine. 425 felt better. 455 was a breeze. And I got 475 for three. It was a successful workout.

I panicked initially, and that's…that's a flaw that I have. I tend to panic, but I'm getting better at it. Because, the thing is with strength training, almost all the time you may have a plan that isn't set…that is set…but it's never set in stone. There's a plan, but then once you're on the floor, and you're training, you have to be able to think on your feet. It's crucial. So, this is one of the ways in which you go about it.

…I'll provide another example of how you're failing…Let's say that you're about to do a max…a new one rep max…or a max that you've not done in a while. So, you get set…Let's say it's front squats. I'm gonna do front squats with 315. I've done 315 before a few times…but I haven't done it in a while. I feel like my training has led to me building up enough steam where I think that I can do 315 now. So, I set the bar right. I've done my warmups. Everything feels fine. But now…as soon as I unrack 315, the weight feels super heavy. It's like my body's gone into shock. That, oh my God this weight is way too difficult! OK, so my body panics. And I - let's say that right from the get- go I don't even attempt it because as soon as I walk out the weight, I know that it's gonna fail. There's no stability. The bar is moving. I'm not able to get it, uh, the fe…it's not set straight. There's something that…everything is off. My core isn't tight. I'm panicking.

OK. In a situation like that, you put the weight back and you say, OK, you take some time, you increase the weight. Yeah…I would take from 315, I would take 365. I would load it up. I would unrack it and I would just walk it out. Maybe I can't walk it out, but I would unrack it and just stand over there. So…as long as the bar is not on the pins of the bar cage…it's suspended in air. I'm the only one holding it. And the weight is only on me. I'm gonna unrack it and I'm just going to wait over there for 15 to 20 seconds. And just be confident that, OK, so this is what 365 feels like, OK. I think I can do 315 now. I put the weight back, I strip off…the 25's. And I take 315, and I just stand again. This is all at one time. I stand again with 315 for ten seconds, then I take sufficient rest. I usually take, uh, 4 to 7 minutes. And especially because this is a big lift. So I take…somewhere around 5 minutes, and I come back and unrack 315 and I nail it. I'll get it.

So, this is how I would make a bad workout into a good workout. Another thing which I talked about a little bit earlier, uh, and I want to get into that more, was the speed work. Sometimes speed work can really really help. And this is…in any context. I'm not being a powerlifter when I say this. If let…let's say that I'm supposed to take, uh, a lot of…a heavy weight and do work sets with it, if I take a lighter weight, see the principle is that regardless of whether it's speed work or not, in my warmups I have to all the reps as fast as possible. I have to try and generate as much force as possible. But, so this…this is a constant.

But, in addition to this, let's say that I say that OK…this is a bit difficult, 455 for reps on deadlifts is difficult. Let me take, uh 365 and do two sets of one rep…oh no…three sets of one rep. But I'm gonna focus on really really pulling the bar off the floor. Like really ripping it off. Cuz that's what I want to spend my energy on. On forcing the bar up off the floor as fast as possible. And I do this unofficial speed work during my warmups. That's fine. That's a great way to approach heavy lifting sometimes. It's not something that you can do every single time. It's not something that you need to do every single time. But on some days when you feel like you're very sluggish and lighter weights are…they're not moving as fast as they should…See there's one thing about feeling and one thing…It's one thing about how you feel when you're lifting, it's another thing about how…what it looks like. And the third thing is what the numbers are. But let's say that there's something that's off and you're not able to put your finger on it. So you, so you throw in the speed work. It helps. So in this case it's a preemptive thing to avoid a bad workout. Cause mostly…most of the time when you do this, it'll help.

…As you're taking these heavy weights, or whatever weights you're using, you're gonna sit back, you're gonna think that, OK, you go through the steps. And you understand that, OK…it's like a check-list. So you have, OK my hips have to be in the right place. I got to be gripping the bar really hard. Arms have to be locked out. Etc, etc. You have a whole check-list. But then, it's better to go through this check-list during your warmups than on your main sets. On your main sets, there's no difference in your form between a warmup and a main set, a work set. You cannot micromanage your form. As the weight gets heavy, you're micromanage…micromanaging becomes more and more detrimental and more difficult to do. So you got to really really get into the movement. Get comfortable with it and make it instinctive.

So, this is how you go about that process. And…don't worry if you're having a bad workout. If it's going…if everything is falling apart. Once in a while it may just happen that you're actually having a really really bad day, you have no energy, or whatever. There are thousands…of reasons for why the workout may be going bad. Once in a while, if you feel like walking away, and saying, you know what, it's not going well. I'm gonna come back later, I'm going to attempt it again, that's fine. But don't make that into a habit. Don't bank on it. Try and do the most that you can in the situation that has been presented to you.

And, one other thing I want to say before I end this little podcast, is that, if you're having a workout where you're failing, not matter what you do you're still failing consistently: Don't end on a failure. Ever. For anything….Let's say your failing, even if you're failing at two…at a 225 pounds squat, back off the weight, take 135, if need be. Take 135 and try and do 5 reps, 6 reps. Do two sets, two light sets of five reps, and then call it a day. Because it's very important that when you leave the gym, you may leave the gym with a little bit of disappointment, that, oh…I didn't get what I have to get done, and I was weak, and that's OK. But, you don't want to leave the gym with so much negative reinforcement that, oh my God I failed and I…I'm leaving the gym with the bar on the floor, and, it's terrible!

You don't want to leave like that. So you want as much positive reinforcement as you can. And, this is the best way to go about it. You'll remember, next time you come in, that oh ah yeah…I failed last workout but I ended the workout by doing 135 for two sets of five, or whatever. I'm just…these are arbitrary numbers but you get the point. That you don't want to end on a negative,. Always end on a positive. And having said that, thank you very much for watching this video. Please subscribe to my channel. Thanks.

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