Let It Be Hard – And Other Strategies for Overcoming Difficult Training Days

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Not every day of practice has to be your best day

Yesterday during my 9 am kettlebell training while trying to press the double 16 kg bells over my head and struggling it struck me that this was not going to be an easy day. I got a little frustrated because these were the same bells that I knew I could press 75 times in one session and yet I was struggling to get these measly six reps in a complex. I was having an off day.

But then I remembered one of my favorite phrases – “Let it be hard.” I finished the session, even if that meant push pressing the last two reps of each round and while I was walking home (yes people do walk in Los Angeles, I am proof), I thought about all the different strategies I use to get through hard sessions.  I used these tactics to make it through grueling Muay Thai sessions when training for fights and I still use them today.


Let It Be Hard

This one is my favorite as it encapsulates all aspects of mindset. Training is hard. If it were easy, it would not be worth it. If it were easy, you would not make progress. If it were easy everyone would do it, and you would not feel the same accomplishment from your achievements.  When you hit a snag in your training or are just having a bad day remind yourself that hard = good. Embrace the hard. What can screw with us about a training session being hard is what we think it means about us. Maybe it’s hard, and it wasn’t hard last week. Maybe it’s hard, and we think we should be progressing faster. Maybe it’s hard, and it’s not hard for the person next to us. But what you have to realize is that all that means NOTHING. Training is about progress; training is about getting just a little bit better every day. Sometimes that means our strength, stamina, power or endurance improves; other times that means our mindset is challenged and we improve mentally, or we learn a new technique, and we improve our skills. Progress is not always measured in numbers, reps or time, sometimes it is mental, sometimes it is subtle. When you feel that your training is hard, let it be and know that you are improving in some way. Hard is what gets you better.

Focus on the Movement

Not every day will be a PR day. Not every day you will smash ten rounds of pad work and feel like a superhero. Those days are awesome when they happen, but every athlete knows those days are not the norm. On days when you feel you are struggling, sometimes it’s better to focus on the movement. Your 80% feels like 110% today? Just drop the weight down and pick some cues you need to work on. Film yourself and see what needs improvement. Muay Thai fighters have days they just do technique drills with partners. It’s not hard sparring or even sparring; it’s not rigorous pad work, it’s just some simple blocks and counters, footwork drills or new combos they are working on. We will always get better by focusing on technique, drilling and breaking down the movements.

Take an Inventory

Off days can be the result of several factors: nutrition, sleep, training volume, mental stress, time of day you are training, etc. Taking an inventory of what is going on in your life and training can be beneficial to pinpointing the cause of your off day and preventing it in the future. Remember you are NOT making excuses for your performance; no excuses is needed. Taking inventory is just acknowledging what was missed and taking note how you can improve lifestyle factors next time.  Maybe you slept only 6 hours? Maybe you ate pizza last night? Perhaps you have been going too low carb? Maybe you had a fight with your significant other, and the stress is affecting you? Various factors to off days are why I urge my clients to keep a training journal. Write down everything you eat, what you do for training and how you feel. If you do this regularly, you will start to see patterns of what is working for you and what needs to be cut out or changed.

Know When to Rest

You can’t go 100% all the time. That’s a recipe for injury and early retirement. If you have been feeling crappy in training 3-4 days in a row and your performance is dropping significantly, it would be good to take an inventory and also take a few days off.

Praise Your Strengths

You won’t get anywhere by beating yourself up. Great athletes are never fully satisfied with where they are; they are always seeking progress. It is one of the reasons they are great, but that is NOT the same thing as regularly seeing fault in yourself and focusing on the negative. While you must strive to get better each day it is also important to praise your strengths. One of my favorite things to tell myself when I’m having a hard training day leading up to competition, test or fight is, “I am better under pressure.” This phase takes my mind off the less than stellar day of practice and puts it in perspective. I know I will rise to the occasion when it’s needed. A bad day doesn’t define who I am as an athlete.

Another way I like to praise my strength is to end on a high note. I was so excited yesterday when coach Tyler said we were doing 100 swings after the press complex that I sucked at. I was going to do them on my own had he not programmed it. I eagerly chose double 16 kg bells for my five sets of 20 swings and put a fresh mindset to the task at hand. Swinging is one of my strengths. I have great hip power and endurance. I focused on this knowledge as I finished the last set and ended my training session feeling positive. If there is something, you love that you know you are good at, end with it and give yourself a little confidence boost to raise your spirits. Maybe you have a bad sparring session, but you’ve been loving this body kick combo you’ve been working on? Throw on the bag gloves and drill it on the bag for around before you leave. Bag work is meditation for fighters. It sharpens our tools and clears the mind.

Love the Journey as Much as the Destination

I love goals, and I’m a big advocate of making them, but if you only focus on where you want to be you miss out on a lot.  It’s about steady progress and enjoying the process of steady progress.  Remember what I said before: progress is not always physical, sometimes it is mental. In overcoming a hard training day, we are progressing as athletes and as people. The skills we learn in the gym we can take into our daily lives and learn to face challenges head on. Some training days just plain suck, but getting through them IS the lesson and when we make it out the other side with our heads held high and our minds steady on the bigger picture, we are victorious.