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Why Consistency Rules

How Missing One Workout Can Mess You Up

Ever have “one of those days?” You get in from work late, you have had a terrible 10 hours in the office, and your commute home was a real stinker. You slump on the couch and the last thing you want to do is get back up again, grab your kit bag and head out to the gym for a session. Or, maybe you are usually an early bird, and get your training in with the 6:30am crowd, but this morning you overslept and now face the tough call of getting your session in, or just letting this one day slide.

 What do you do?

 Can Missing One Workout Really be That Bad?

If you look solely at your training as a way of burning calories, then it’s highly unlikely that missing just one will set you back. After all, it takes a deficit of 3,500 calories to burn 1 pound of fat, yet an intense hour-long session might burn 800 calories at the most. Even if you factor in EPOC (Excessive Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption – the increase in metabolism and calorie burn caused by training) at worse you might miss out on 1200 calories. Ergo, you’ll lose 1/3 less of a pound than you might have done otherwise. If you have had a couple of hectic, active days with work, then chances are you may even have burnt these calories off somewhere else during the day anyhow. So in that respect, missing just one workout does not really matter all that much.

However, trouble lies ahead!

A Viscous Cycle. 

The big reason why missing one workout is detrimental is because of the change in psychology it creates. You go from being in the habit of training hard, and training regularly, to a mind-set where it’s okay to skip workouts. For a season gym veteran, this might not be an issue – they have been training long enough that working out is ingrained in their very being, and they know that if they miss one workout, they ONLY miss one workout, as they’re back on it at the very next opportunity. For everyone else though, it’s a slightly different story. It takes a long time to make something a habit. Especially when it’s a habit that requires mental and physical effort, such as going to the gym.

In the early days (such as around the start of the year for New Year resolution-ers) the groundwork you lay is vital. If you stay consistent, get into a routine and ensure that training becomes part of your life, and just something you do autonomously, you’re far more likely to stick to it and get long-term results.

Fall off the wagon once, however, and you may not even get back on. And even if you do, what’s going to happen next time you get the choice between the gym or an evening watching TV? Are you going to stand up and make the right choice (i.e. the one that gets you closer to your goal) or is your brain going to think back to that last missed workout and let you do the same thing all over again?

Un-Practical Programming 

Are you one of those girls or guys who goes to the gym with no real plan? You turn up and just do whatever’s free. Maybe you only ever do steady state cardio, hop on any machines that are not being used, or simply work one body part each session however you see fit. If so, then missing a workout will not muck up your program (but then it also means your program kind of sucks!). If you are on a smart routine though – as in one which has selected exercises, splits up the body in an organized manner, gives rep ranges, tempos, rest times and the like – a missed workout can push you back a long way. A sensible program should be periodised, meaning it gets tougher over the weeks and months. Take a common approach in powerlifting for instance – block periodization.

Weeks 1-4 – Accumulation phase. Here, you lift relatively light weights for a high amount of volume. In a squat workout for example, you may do 5 sets of 10 to 12 reps using 60 -70% of your one-rep max, plus 2 or 3 accessory exercises.

Weeks 5-8 – Intensification phase. Volume drops, but intensity increases. Your squats would go to 5 sets of 5-6 reps using 75-85% 1RM, and you’d cut to 1, possibly 2, accessory moves.

Weeks 9-10 – Test phase. This is essentially your testing block. You try to set new personal records, or at least lift heavier than you have done the rest of the cycle. Individual workout volume may be lower, but you are shifting bigger poundages, and pushing yourself hard.

Using the above template, you can see how precisely everything is set out, and that each workout has a purpose. By starting gradually, with relatively easy workouts in weeks 1 and 2, getting a little tougher in week 3, stepping up a gear consistently through weeks 5 to 8, before peaking in the last 2 weeks, you have got a plan for guaranteed success. Let just one workout slide though, and that could be your whole program gone to ruin.

You might be sitting there, thinking –

“But I’m not a powerlifter, this does not apply to me!”

And you’re correct about the first part, but not the second. Remember that any program, whether you’re training specifically for strength or not, should have some form of periodization. That means week on week and possibly even session by session you need to be lifting a bit heavier, performing more reps, cutting your rest times, running faster, or burning more calories per minute.

This is crucial if you want to lose fat, and lose fat fast.

 “I Missed My Workout! What Do I Do?”

So you missed a workout? Maybe you just could not find time to make the gym, something big came up at work, or you were feeling beat up and injured. Despite all the above, don’t worry. Sometimes you do HAVE to miss a workout, and in this instance, there are 3 things you can do.

Don’t Panic. If you are smart about it, you can recover, so DO NOT beat yourself up.

Get Back in the Game

Just pick up where you left off tomorrow. You might wish to re-do the workout you missed, or just set that one aside, and carry on with the next scheduled session

Find a “Better Bad” Option. Something is always better than nothing. If the gym’s not going to happen, hit up a bodyweight circuit, or do some sprints outside. You can still scorch a few calories, rev up your metabolism and keep your mind in the habit of training with a home workout.

Brian Roache.



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