Excuse 1. You're still sore from your last workout
Perhaps you’re new to fitness, or you haven’t dipped your toe in for a while. Or maybe, more likely, you overdid what you usually do or tried something new. No one's judging. Quite the opposite, in fact.
'You should be satisfied that you’ve achieved significant enough overload,' says Jim Pate, physiologist at the Centre for Health and Human Performance in London. The inflammatory response to the tiny tears you’ve caused in your muscles is what drives your body to adapt, so it doesn’t get overloaded next time. 'Soreness is a good sign,' says Pate.
So, you’ve earned a sofa day, right? Not quite. 'You need to rest, but you don’t want to be static,' says Pate. 'You’re trying to encourage your muscles to work better for you, so you need to maintain them.' In other words, rest is relative. While the thought of it might make you wince, 'A slightly softened effort will keep your body ticking over and allow it to let go of that soreness.'
Hop on a treadmill or rower if you access to them, or take to the streets in your trainers, and warm up with five to 10 minutes of cardio at between 50% and 60% of your max intensity, with a few bursts of higher-level stuff. Once your stiff muscles are more pliable, dynamically stretch and mobilise, paying extra attention to tight, sore areas. If it's only one area of the body screaming at you, train the other areas as normal. Cool down with static stretches, holding them for at least 30 seconds. See you tomorrow, bright and early.
The quick fix
- Warm-up sore muscles with 5-10 minutes of moderate cardio, followed by mobility work.
- If only certain parts of your body ache, train the rest as normal. If it all hurts, try a light bodyweight circuit.
- Remember that soreness isn't a bad sign.
Excuse 2. You had a terrible night's sleep
The noted sports scientist Will Shakespeare defined sleep as “sore labour’s balm”. And he was right – it's when your body repairs the damage caused (and replenishes stockpiles depleted) by the previous day’s activities. 'If you didn’t get adequate sleep, you’re already starting a little bit in the hole,' says Pate. In a study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, cyclists tasked with riding at an ever-increasing intensity gave up sooner when they were sleep-deprived compared to their than daisy-fresh counterparts.
Still, onwards and upwards. Because training is the best way to give your tired brain a lift. One study at the University of Georgia found that exhausted volunteers who took part in moderate-effort exercise experienced a significant decline in fatigue, while separate research revealed that a 10-minute stair climb can boost alertness more effectively than 50mg of caffeine.
Pate advises avoiding anything too intense and building your sessions around mobility, stability and fun stuff such as skill development. Bear in addled mind, though, that your coordination will be impaired – this is not the time for complicated gymnastics. Working through your pull-up regressions, however? Perfect. No kipping…
The quick fix
- Understand that you’re going to find things harder. Prioritise form over weight or speed.
- Replace high-skill movements with simpler versions focused on stability.
- Don’t be a hero.
Excuse 3. You're bored to death of your training program
Granted, training plans may not be as exciting as flitting between the latest trending fitness classes. But they still have a place, even in this workout-of-the-day era.
If you have a bona fide training plan – and not just a bunch of exercises you do out of habit – you’re probably working towards a goal: whether that's adding muscle, losing fat, or improving your 10K. Mix things up too much and you'll violate two important principles of effective exercising; specificity (if you’re improving your 10K, you should, erm, run) and progressive overload (forcing your body to adapt by applying a greater stimulus than it’s used to).
The trick is to tweak your training plan just enough. 'Each week, you should be making small increases – lifting slightly heavier, adding a few more reps, running a little faster,' says Jonathan Dick, a Tier X coach at Equinox Kensington. 'Then, after four to eight weeks, make changes to your plan, so that you move towards more advanced versions of your favourite exercises. This way, you can make consistent progress.'
Yes, consistency might not exactly fire you up. But progress will. Gains never get dull, after all.
If you have anything left in the tank once you're done with your regular session, you can always try tagging on a rotation of challenging finishers. Trust us – boredom will feel like a luxury.
The quick fix
- Make your plan progressive, rather than doing the same squat and biceps sesh every time.
- Tweak that plan every four to eight weeks, changing the movements to ensure they remain challenging.
- If in doubt, a gruesome high-intensity finisher will always break through the tedium.
Excuse 4. You can't find your bloody headphones
If you can't put in an album request at the gym's reception desk or nab another runner's wireless headphones, use today as a chance to tune into what you’re doing. 'Choose exercises that challenge your coordination,' says Ian Robertson, personal training manager at E by Equinox in London’s St James’s, 'You’ll be far more engaged.'
Granted, music is a proven performance enhancer, but aimlessly trawling Spotify is not, and all those seconds spent waiting for the guitar riff or bass drop before you start your next set will add up. In a study published in Computers in Human Behavior, treadmill runners who looked at their phones during training spent 10 of the 20 minutes they worked out at low intensity and only seven at high. Those who left their handsets in their lockers only phoned it in for three minutes, and dialled up their speed for 13 minutes.
Besides, you don’t need your trusty playlist to get amped. 'Rhythmic breathing can actually help you push an extra rep and very often we lose this benefit when we don’t hear it,' says Robertson. It doesn’t hurt to get used to functioning without your musical crutch. That way, all won’t be lost on race day when your battery dies halfway through, or you can’t find your AirPods.
The quick fix
- Practise more complex, show-off moves while you can focus on what you’re doing.
- Listen to your breathing during your workout, rather than today's mix.
- Once your hard-wired association between exercise & earbuds is broken, this won't be an issue.
Excuse 5. You're hungover as merry hell
Here begins the sermon. 'When you drink alcohol, you're effectively poisoning yourself,' says Pate – which explains why you’re in purgatory. Booze also disturbs sleep. And, in the cruellest of ironies, after all that drinking, you’re dehydrated. Safety should be in the forefront of your mind.
'If you’re half-cut, wait until you’re sober before you do anything that could endanger you,' says Pate. An early-morning session is out. Once your head is sore but clear, however, get it into your skull that this is not the day to give it a rest. As well as easing your pain, the rush of endorphins will rebalance your brain chemicals to combat alcohol's depressive effect, making it a more effective salve than any bacon sandwich (you can have that afterwards).
Pate recommends something with 'a little aerobic intensity to remind your body that it still has to work'. Steady-state cardio is your order of the day. 'Drink enough water: your urine should be clear,' says Matt Gardner, a performance nutritionist and the host of the Big Feed Up podcast. This will lubricate your joints and delay the onset of fatigue.
As for your pre-gym fuel, alcohol irritates your stomach lining, so resist greasy temptation and stick to your normal breakfast. But factor in some, ahem, 'gastric emptying time'. In other words, bear in mind that a protein- and fibre-rich meal such as eggs on toast takes two to three hours to absorb. If you’ve got an hour or less before your workout, just eat a banana.
The good news is that Boulder University has linked even light aerobic training to the reversal of alcohol-induced brain damage. Flagellating yourself isn’t healthy. But escaping your darkened living room is guaranteed to make you feel better: physically, mentally and spiritually.
The quick fix
- Cancel your morning session and wage a watery war on dehydration instead.
- Resume your normal diet if and when you can stomach it. Failing that, eat a banana.
- Aerobic exercise will protect your brain, as well as making you feel human again.
Excuse 6. You've only got 15 minutes anyway
Pah! You can get a whole lot done in that time – work your entire body, raise your heart rate, build muscle, burn fat – and, crucially, do so with minimal equipment. Weighted HIIT, such as this one-kettlebell workout from Sylvester Savyell, another Tier X coach at Equinox, provides more bang your for buck than standard cardio. 'You’ll continue to burn more calories as your muscles recover,' he says. Spend five precious minutes warming up, then perform as many rounds as possible.
1. Kettlebell goblet squat
Do: 15 reps
Holding a kettlebell to your chest with your feet shoulder-width apart, squat down, chest up, knees wide (imagine sitting back in a chair). Then drive back up, squeezing your glutes.
2. Pullover with static hip thrust
Do: 15 reps
Set up in a double-leg glute bridge, with the kettlebell on the floor behind your head, so you can reach it. Pull it over until it’s above your chest, then lower. Don’t let your bridge collapse.
3. Burpee into overhead press
Do: 10 reps
Goblet squat down and place your knuckles on the (ideally, padded) floor. Shoot your feet out and back, then in again. As you stand, lift the kettlebell and press it overhead. That’s one rep.
4. Kettlebell lunge with chop
Do: 10 reps each side
Hold the kettlebell at one shoulder, fingers interlaced. Lunge with the opposite leg and simultaneously chop across your body (grip the kettlebell, so it doesn’t smack you). Reverse.