Dealing with a Bad Training Day

Bad training days happen. They're part of the game.

The first step in learning to deal with them, is to accept that they WILL happen. Once you have this acceptance, you give yourself permission to have an 'off-day', and the associated stress or anxiety that can come with a bad training day dissapears.

What we need to look at, is more 'macro' than 'micro'. As long as your general trend is upwards, it's ok.

Sometimes, the question is not 'how do I deal with a bad training day?', but 'how do I deal with the lack of confidence my bad training day gives me?'. Damage to self confidence can be a slippery slope. Low self-confidence is a self-fulfilling prophecy, where each point leads to the next.

  1. Expectation of failure.
  2. Actual failure.
  3. Lowers self image.
  4. Increases expectation of future failure.

If you give yourself permission to have bad days, and you look at training as a big picture, it breaks the cycle of low self-confidence.

Your own performance is the biggest predictor of self confidence. So if you have a bad lifting day, the mistake people make is taking that small piece of information, and amplifying that to make it everything - losing sight of the big picture and the general upward trend.

By definition, a training day is a bad training day because it stands out - it's considerably worse than the rest of your training days. The fact that you're having a bad training day tells us that the rest of the time, training must be pretty good. Bad training days can give you valuable context.

If you are experiencing a bad training day, your self talk becomes vital, and positive self talk can be a ladder out of your negative outlook. If your self talk is negative, there are three major steps you should take. 

  1. Identifing the self talk: Become aware that self confidence exists.
  2. Thought stopping: Concentrating on an undesired thought and using a trigger or cue to clear your mind, eg. ‘stop’. Then shifting your focus to a task related cue.
  3. Changing negative self-talk to positive self-talk: Becoming aware of negative self talk and replacing it with positive self talk.

One mistake people make in assessing the benefit they have taken from a bad training day is in assuming that improvement is a result of output, not effort. In the long term, bad training days have incredible power over our mental state. Weeks of great training can be derailed by one poor lifting session, or by failure to improve on a repeated workout. The greatest beat-downs to your mental state are almost always outcome based. We are blinded by a lower than expected end result with no credit given to the effort applied, or the training effect of that effort. To combat this, remember that it is effort, not result that determines improvement. Input > Output for Improving Performance.

Bad training days happen. Accepting this, and having a few tools to respond, can turn a bad day into a productive experience.

Dan Williams's picture

Dan Williams

Dan Williams is the Founder and Director of Range of Motion. He is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist and Exercise Scientist with a Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Exercise Rehabilitation Science. Dan is a CrossFit Coach (at CF Games Level) and four time CrossFit Regionals Athlete.