As someone who exercises regularly, reads and writes at length about sports and nutrition and enthuses (perhaps rather overzealously at times) about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, it might seem somewhat surprising for me to admit that sometimes I feel really low on energy and lacking in anything even resembling ‘get-up-and-go’ (and today is a case in point!). I have sessions that leave me feeling more irritable than energised, when my legs feel like lead and my body feels stiff and inflexible, and I have days when I feel stodgy and lethargic, like I’d rather curl up in bed than lace up and run.
At times like this it is easy to get into a rut. You may put yourself off exercise because in persisting you are preventing your body from having the rest it needs. You may end up having a series of bad sessions when you consistently feel like you’re under-performing, you may push yourself too far and get injured, or simply not push yourself at all and just give up. None of these outcomes are ideal and it is good to have strategies in place to help when such bad sessions and negative feelings set in.
The first thing to acknowledge is that if you are not a professional athlete (and I doubt [m]any readers are!) it doesn’t really matter if you have a bad session or two, or if you skip a run in favour of a bath and an early night if that’s what your body needs. Of course you shouldn’t miss workouts on a regular basis, but if you miss the odd one when your mind and body need some time out, then that’s ok. I’ll repeat that as it’s not something you often hear: it’s ok to miss a session and to rest up if that is what your body needs. This is one of those things I have to regularly remind myself when I’m at a low ebb. I often keep pushing and make myself more tired and grumpy as my times get slower and by limbs get more knotted and weary. If my head is in the wrong place my body follows and I end up in a mess and what is the point in that?
It’s also important to remember that exercise is meant to be fun: it’s there to energise you, to work out stress, to build up your body and to clear your mind. It is really important every now and again to remind yourself why you run, climb, dance, swim, do yoga or Pilates, or whatever your exercise of choice may be. Even if you are competing or aiming for a PB, will the world really end if you don’t hit your target? Are there other opportunities to better your performance or to try again? Can you learn from the experience and move on? Of course you will be disappointed if you underachieve – you might cry or throw a tantrum, you might even declare you’ll never do a particular race or event again, but don’t confuse a setback with defeat and don’t let one bad experience put you off ever trying again.
If you find that you are beating yourself up because you can’t get a particular dance step right, or climb a particular route, or even fold into a particular yoga posture you have to remember that while perfection is desirable, it’s not always (if ever) possible. Sometimes you have to look at the bigger picture and not let yourself get snagged up on one thing at the expense of something else. You might have to walk away from a climbing route, try something else and then come back to it with fresh eyes, you may have to take an easier variant of a posture one day because your limbs are stiffer than usual, but you could then find that you can hold another position that you’ve never done before further into a class. Don’t give up at the first hurdle, but similarly, don’t obsess over that first hurdle and let it become a barrier to even approaching others.
If you aren’t achieving the goals you are setting yourself and it’s putting you off, can you change your objectives from your exercise? You may not be getting any faster but can you figure out a new running route and challenge your sense of direction (a constant challenge for me!), or run for longer? You might not be able to get every yoga posture, but can you master syncing your movement to your breath? Can you workout without an objectives? Or set the singular objective of exercising to relax? Can you use a long run to listen to an audio book and take some ‘me time’ or use a climb to take your mind off a work project? Luckily exercise can be moulded to your objectives – use this fact to try new things and change your challenges.
If you are anything like me, you will put pressure on yourself to be the very best version of yourself at all times. You will want to exercise regularly, to excel in all of the activities you do, to be supportive and fun company for your friends and family and to get ahead in your career. Then, when you can’t physically achieve all of the things you’ve stacked up on your to do list, and when your mind and body are so exhausted that you just want to cry, rather than showing yourself the compassion you would show others in your position, you beat yourself up and find yourself filled with guilt and disappointment for not being able to keep on top of everything.
It may seem that there are people who have it all, who can do everything all of the time; it may seem that they are relentlessly happy or have limitless energy, but the reality is we all have our bad days. We all have bad training sessions, we all have days when we feel stodgy or like we’ve gained weight despite sticking to a healthy eating plan, we all miss out on PBs in a race, or trade a gym class for a bath and a night in with a box set. The (not so big) secret is that when we feel ourselves flagging we need to forgive ourselves, rest, reset and restart.