I was feeling pretty good yesterday and was looking forward to a great workout. After a solid warm-up of loaded carries and light mobility movements I was ready to rock. Focused, limber, strong, and moving well.
And it was at that exact moment that my sons’ school called.
Immediately, I went from ready to crush my workout to, “Oh no, I hope everyone is ok”. From focused and ready to rock, to ready to take on a medical emergency in a split second.
As it turned out, my kids were ok. One of my boys was being a goof at recess and his teacher wanted to fill me in on what happened and why he wouldn’t be having recess the rest of the week. While I was relieved that everyone was fine, I was a bit upset my son made a bad decision.
So to recap, in a matter of 40 seconds I went from:
- Focused and ready to attack my workout, to
- Concerned and taken aback, to
- Relieved, but disappointed.
Think I was still ready to crush that workout? Not even close.
But that’s life. We’re constantly being thrown curve-balls. Nothing is ever perfect and we shouldn’t expect it to be.
Having lost focus and intensity, I knew I couldn’t go through with my workout as originally planned. I’m sure I could have gotten through it no problem but I didn’t think the risk of injury (from a lack of focus) and the additional stress to my nervous system (after the roller coaster it just went through) would be worth it.
And as I had just told our Spartan SGX crew the night before – the most important workout is tomorrow’s.
So rather than risk the next day’s workout, or the one(s) after that, I decided to tone it back a bit. I kept the volume low and spent more time on tumbling and mobility than I had originally planned.
Live to fight another day.
This concept of changing a workout mid-session is known as Auto-regulation. And it’s the best way I know to prevent burn-out and injuries. Through listening to our bodies and adjusting on the fly, we are able to stay within our limits, keep things fresh, and stay healthy.
Basically, what you do is change your workout (i.e. volume and intensity) based on how you actually feel, rather than just doing what your program calls for.
I’ve done structured workouts in the past. I’ve written them (and still do). I believe there is value in trying to follow intelligently designed programs. But it’s important to remember that life isn’t always going to allow for us to follow them exactly as prescribed.
Trying to set a personal record or lift a heavy weight when you’re having an off day just isn’t a good idea. This is typically when injuries happen.
It’s a pretty simple concept. The most difficult part, though, is having the guts to follow through with it.
It’s easy for us to go through a workout and just do what the training plan says to do. When we train with a group or a busy gym, we’re worried about what others will think of us.
No one wants to be seen as weak or wimping out. Psychologically it can be hard to take a step back and stick with a light weight, run a bit slower, or just focus on mobility. Sometimes we feel like we cheated ourselves if we don’t do all 8 prescribed intervals or lift 80% of our 1RM for three sets of five.
But often times, a little bit less is exactly what we need. One step back, two steps forward, as they say.
How We Incorporate Auto-Regulation In Our Training
Sometimes our Morning Warriors or Youth Athlete warm-ups last over twenty minutes. We do a variety of loaded carries, animal movements, bodyweight work, and light weight training. The length and intensity of the warm-up is based on what I see and hear.
Are people squatting to proper depth?
Are they breathing heavy after just a couple bear crawls?
Are they conducting their suitcase carries walking tall and straight?
Are they taking and having fun, or still trying to wake up?
The answers to these questions determine not only what we do for a warm-up, but also what we do for a workout that day. I always have an idea of what the workout will be, but nothing is written in stone (or dry-erase marker, rather) until after that warm-up.
Our Spartan SGX program works a little different.
In this program we have multiple class times, as well as online athletes all across Canada. This makes it difficult for me to auto-regulate anyone’s workout. So instead, when appropriate, we provide three different options for the workout of the day. If someone isn’t feeling great, they can go down a level. If they’re feeling awesome and want to push themselves, they’re more than welcome to try that next level up.
We also encourage our athletes to listen to their body and use an appropriate level of intensity for that session.
How To Incorporate Auto-Regulation In Your Training
Auto-Regulation is not an excuse to skip a workout or be lazy. I’m not saying it’s alright to miss training just because you don’t feel like doing it. Instead, on days where you aren’t thrilled to workout, start the warm-up and see what happens. You might discover that you were just having a bad day and a good, hard training session will set you straight. Or maybe you’ll decide to run a bit slower or lift a bit lighter because you just aren’t feeling it. But skipping training all together isn’t necessarily the answer.
“Fatigue or stress are no excuse for skipping a training session.”
– Pavel Tsatsouline
On the other hand, there will also be days where weights feel light and running feels effortless. It’s equally as important to take advantage of these days as it is to respect the days you’re not feeling it. Go for that new record and be proud of your accomplishment. You deserve it.
Just keep in mind – you’re not invincible and will come back down to Earth soon enough.
As World renowned strength coach Dan John says, out of every five training sessions, one will be terrible, three will be “alright”, and one will be amazing. Once in a while we string two or three fantastic workouts in a row, but with that comes the inevitable two or three terrible ones in a row too.
Don’t let it get to you. Training is a roller-coaster ride. The sooner you come to grips with that the better.
Auto-Regulation is a simple idea, but an important one. My hope is that you take three things away from this post:
- Life happens, it will affect your training, and it’s ok. Using a lighter weight or running a bit slower some days doesn’t make you any less of a bad-ass. It makes you a smarter, healthier athlete.
- Following a plan is good, but keep in mind that training ebbs and flows. Just because a training plan says you should train hard or go easy doesn’t mean you have to. Some days will be great, some not so great. Do what you can that day, accept it, and move on.
- Staying withing your limits through Auto-Regulation is the best way to train as often as you’d like while staying injury-free and preventing burn-out. Learn to listen to your body and it will reward you greatly.