Original Post on HaroldGibbons.com
Alright, riddle me this: How often have you accomplished something big, that goal that you were all-in for, only to finish and be slammed with the slumps?
Weights feel heavy, diet isn’t the best, we feel drained thinking about foam rolling, let alone getting under the bar. Show of hands if this has happened to you!
Recently one of our most badass Ninjas at MFF shared that she was feeling this way, and it resonated with me immediately. Sarah asked,
“Hey guys, do you ever go through phases where your workouts just feel crappy? I finished Snatched [MFF’s six week transformation program] and it was AMAZING, and I was feeling VERY STRONG AND GOODLOOKING.
“I pulled back a little last week, but the last three times I’ve lifted it has felt AWFUL. Every rep is a grind, and I don’t seem to have the work capacity that I did when I was working out 5x/wk.
“I’ve been going over other variables, and I can’t figure it out. I am sleeping fine, I haven’t changed my diet, not trying any new and crazy supplements…I am not sure why my workouts feel so terrible when I am less tired??
So many other people experience the same thing, and I’ve experienced it myself, so I shared two particular “options” for explanation with Sarah. Let’s appreciate that a binary explanation rarely works in the “real world,” and it’s likely that there’s some combination of both a Mind explanation and a Muscle explanation. It’s likely somewhere between these two ideas that our reality sits.
Mentally, it could be that the “high” of the six-week program is subsiding, and the purpose of the workouts has now changed. For six weeks, training was all about following the set program balls to the wall, and now it doesn’t have that particular framing. Now it’s about lifting weights. Sometimes when we complete one mental task and move on to the next one, we might not be performing as well without that framework of purpose. This could be the case after a 5k, a marathon, a powerlifting meet, or a ballet recital.
I had this after the two bike races I’ve done. A week after each race, I’ve gone from 4 or 5 rides per week to maybe one. Purposeful pedaling is replaced with unintentional apathy. If we don’t set our intentions, training is hard!
From a muscle perspective, coming off a phase of high-intensity exercise could be pushing us to the edge of our abilities, and if lighter weights seem mysteriously heavy, it could be your body kindly asking you to take it easy. In this case, MFF’s Snatched II, a follow up 6 week program, is pretty intense, so perhaps Sarah’s body is saying, “YO, take a chill-pill!”
If we get into some classic exercise science, after an intense training period our abilities would decrease. Following up with the second 6 weeks of Snatched II could fit within the “training” block below, after which taking it easy actually lets the body recover beyond the initial performance level to a new found ability. That’s the supercompensation, or improved abilities, that develop when following progressively more challenging workouts.
If we’re considering a muscle explanation for not nailing it as much as you’d like, allowing for more recovery work could give the body time to recover and adapt.
Recovery work might mean you take a day off, decrease your training volume, swap out higher-intensity intervals for aerobic-style work, or any combination thereof.
As Kyle Langworthy noted, that could be as simple as adding a walk in the soon-to-be warm NYC weather, or “exploratory movement exercises that are easy and lend variety.” For example, I’ve really been digging this row variation from our friend, Kevin Carr.
Again, I don’t believe that this is only a mind or muscle approach, but rather a blend of our bodies getting tired while our brains are fueled by our goals, then our brains feeling a bit “stuck” without something to work on while our bodies sit back and say, “Wait, why did you do that to me?!?”
As I consider everything I’ve learned from Coach Stevo about habits and psychology, I’m driven to think that finding the next goal to practice is a great way to get refocused and ready to rock. I’m keen on asking:
What’s next on your list of things to practice?
What accomplishments do you see in your future?
It’s natural to feel this way after accomplishing something big like Sarah just did. After you finish something that require lots of mental and physical effort we need to take time reset our mind and our muscles before we tackle the next project.
Taking a moment, be it 90 seconds or a week, to consider what’s next can allow our mind and muscles to have the recovery time to carry on to our next opportunity. The ability to feel and decide that for ourselves is what makes us all human.