Some days, your workout just winds up being really, really crappy.
It doesn’t matter how prepared you think you are or how much you were actually looking forward to your workout. Every lift feels like you’re trying to move a whole planet. Every sprint feels like you’re running through the thickest mud. Every movement feels as challenging as going through the Fire Swamp from The Princess Bride.
Everything you do, something just. Goes. Wrong.
If you’re lucky, it doesn’t happen very often, but man! When it does, isn’t it just the pits?
You’ve made the time for your workout, motivated yourself to get to the gym, and actually put on underwear. Then you get to the gym, all pumped and ready to go, and… you fall flat on your face.
Not too long ago, I had one of these workouts myself.
The workout called for pull-ups—one of my absolute favorite movements. I’ve been practicing them for several years and am typically capable of doing several strict, unassisted pull-ups in a row So when I saw these bad boys on the schedule I was actually pretty stoked, and assumed I would absolutely destroy this workout! I walked into the gym feeling confident and enthusiastic, ready to get my happy ass over the bar again and again.
What actually took place was something else entirely. Instead of doing sets of eight to 10 strict and unbroken pull-ups, I could barely string together three or four before I completely burned out! At one point, I resorted to both “kipping” (an easier pull-up variation) and using a band for assistance.
I managed to make it through the workout, but I felt somewhat defeated and wholly incredulous. “What the hell just happened to me? I am the pull-up queen! I love pull-ups. I crush pull-ups. This was supposed to be a killer workout. It shouldn’t have gone down like this.”
Or should it have?
If I’ve learned anything from my years as a coach and athlete, it’s this: progress is not linear. Some days you’re on fire, and other days you totally drag. Some days you feel as though you could lift all of the weights in the world, and other days you can barely move your own body with ease.
One of the most fundamental things about the pursuit of strength is that it simply doesn’t exist in a black-and-white state, but rather on a constantly shifting spectrum. Strength is always with you in some capacity. Strength oscillates and undulates, naturally and frequently, as does the rest of the Earth.
But just because it sometimes wanes, that doesn’t mean it ever leaves you. It doesn’t mean that a crappy workout suddenly means you’re no longer strong, or that your pursuit of strength is in vain.
But can I tell you what is actually happening?
Real life is happening, complete with hormonal fluctuations, dietary influences, sleep and rest factors, and the ever-flowing, ever-changing, ever-evolving river of emotional stress.
Your body is going to respond to these changes, sometimes favorably, and other times not so favorably. Some days you will crush your workouts and some days you will feel like your workout crushes you.
Case in point: The day after my sucky pull-up workout, I lifted and carried a 180-pound sandbag for the first time ever! I participated in a Strongman session and crushed every single feat. I felt incredibly powerful and strong—a 180-degree difference from just one day prior.
Who knows what changed from one day to the next. Maybe I slept better that night, or maybe it was all the carbs I ingested the night prior. Maybe I perform better at 9 am than I do at 12 pm, and maybe my hormones were just a wee bit less wonky. Maybe my emotional and mental states were more balanced during that second, more successful training session.
Hell if I know. But you know what? I don’t actually care.
What I do care about is doing my best, and I can honestly say that I did—on both occasions. Sometimes my best is beastly and other days it’s a shade lame; both of those outcomes are completely OK with me. The truth is that even if you’re consistent, hardworking, and well-prepared, things don’t not always go the way you expect them too.
The outcome, believe it or not, isn’t the most effective place to which you can direct your energy — the effort is.
If you direct your energy toward churning out your honest-to-goodness best effort, and you wind up on top, that’s fabulous. If your outcome is a flop, that’s great too. If you do your best, no matter what, you’ll either feel like a champ or encounter a valuable learning experience—both of those outcomes are absolutely stellar.
In The Four Agreements (a book I believe everyone needs to read), author Don Miguel Ruiz writes:
“…Your best is never going to be the same from one moment to the next. Everything is alive and changing all the time, so your best will sometimes be high quality, and other times it will not be as good…
…Regardless of the quality, keep doing your best—no more and no less than your best. If you try too hard to do more than your best, you will spend more energy than is needed and in the end your best will not be enough. When you overdo, you deplete your body and go against yourself, and it will take you longer to accomplish your goal. But if you do less than your best, you subject yourself to frustrations, self-judgment, guilt, and regrets.”
Always do your best, while recognizing that “best” is a completely relative term.
Show up. Do the work. Root yourself in integrity, authenticity, and your highest commitments for living. Be grateful for your body’s many abilities and stay (stay, stay, stay!) enthusiastically committed to movement.
Do the best you can to direct your energy towards your highest commitments, and let the rest go. It’s always more peaceful when we try not to attach our worth to outcomes—because doing our best eliminates this incessant need for expectations.
Some days I might end my workouts feeling exhausted and underwhelmed, and other days I’ll feel like the Queen of All Things Iron. I don’t know what to expect on this wild adventure of sweat and strength, but I do know one thing: I am fully committed to giving it my absolute best.
It can feel a little strange to let go of an outcome and focus on the effort or the process—especially when you expect things to go a certain “logical” way, or you really, really want a particular outcome. How do you even begin making that mindset shift?
It starts with intention. There are three ways to shift your focus from outcomes to simply doing your best today — and every day.
1. Set an intention each morning that is free of expectations.
Setting intentions, as opposed to goals, helps eliminate the “failure” aspect that often comes from a strictly goal-oriented mindset. Often when we set goals, we are so focused on the outcome that we lament anything other than the outcome we envisioned.
Setting intentions keeps us open and adaptable; intentions serve as a reminder to live in alignment with our values and own our worthiness. Write down your intention and, throughout the day, as your emotions swell, refer back to that sheet of paper to help ground and center you. For example, “My intention today is to do my absolute best, and to give myself grace and compassion, no matter the outcome.”
2. Lean on a friend who has earned the right to see you at your most vulnerable.
When you feel like you’re doing your best, and it still seems like it’s not good enough, reach out to a trusted friend who gets why you’re feeling down, and with whom you can talk about your struggles. This is not the friend who tangles your emotions into her, or who tells you to just suck it up. This is the friend whose spirit invigorates you, whose energy empowers you, and whose advice is thoughtful, compassionate, and objective.
You deserve someone to listen to you with an empathetic ear, and often, talking out those feelings can help you shift the focus toward intention rather than outcome.
3. Practice gratitude.
The thing about gratitude that is so powerful, is that it helps shift your perspective from the negative to the positive. Our brains are hardwired to seek out the negative (hello, survival and evolution!), but by practicing gratitude, we can actually train our brains to seek out the positive instead.
Whether you practice gratitude by keeping a journal or making a daily Instagram post to highlight a grateful thought—or any method that feels authentic to you—a grateful heart and a positive mind will help you process “crappy workouts” and not-so-great days with a bit more perspective, and a lot more productivity.