I’m writing this blog to talk about why always sticking to your workout plan isn’t a great idea, and how by not listening to your body, always pushing through no matter what, and not responding to day-to-day realities can ultimately be detrimental to your long-term fitness goals.
Last night, I went to bed with the intention of doing a bodyweight and resistance-training combination workout for my upper body. I had already planned on doing one the day before, so I knew that today I just had to do it, no matter what. After a fantastic, busy day at work, I came home and made a quick plan to first take my dogs out before going downstairs to the gym for 20-30 minutes of quick, but intense strength work.
When I got outside, I started stretching my shoulders and upper-body, just like I always do before a workout. (I use the dogs’ leashes as a stretching tool, and this allows them to run around and get tired in the process – very efficient.) The weather was warm, but not too warm, so I decided that I would skip the indoor workout and use a nearby outdoor pull-up bar instead. I was warming up my shoulders, and noted to myself that they didn’t feel quite as smooth as I would like them to be before a workout, and decided that I could change my workout if need be.
I got to the pull-up bar, hung on the bar, and examined how my body was feeling in a little more depth. It didn’t take too long to realize that my shoulders were still pretty sore from my last workout, even though it was almost 4 days ago. (It made sense though – that last workout involved a ton of pull-ups past the point of failure, and I did some exercises I hadn’t done in months!) My joints didn’t feel 100% either, and I hadn’t slept that well that week. So then I did something that years ago I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing – I decided not to do my workout. Instead of doing strength training, I would be doing stretching and flexibility work.
But here’s the thing – I wasn’t upset that I had to change my plan. In fact, I was happy. And I was extremely grateful that I had the body awareness and the humility to do a recovery workout instead of my planned strength workout. In addition to saving my shoulders, it also reveals the evolution in my fitness journey.
What am I talking about?
When I was a collegiate lacrosse player, I approached everything with 110% effort, and in the process, I didn’t give myself adequate time to recover. I used my ego to help me push through workouts that my body probably wasn’t ready for. At the time, it was helpful. It gave me extra motivation. Holding myself to a standard which my teammates could depend on me for made it easier for me to push through what other people could not.
But that was when I was working out for 3-4 hours per day, and years younger than I am now. That approach works fine when you’re in your teens and early 20s,
but unless you’re a professional athlete, not even then, actually – then that push-push-push mentality is going to result in your breaking point. At some point, your body will give out. It could come in the form of a minor muscle strain in your shoulder, but it could also come in the form of a herniated disc – or worse!
Maybe you didn’t play sports in college and don’t appreciate this explanation. Let me explain it like this instead, by returning to the title of my blog.
Why shouldn’t you always stick to your workout plan?
The simple, short answer: LIFE happens. Life does not always go according to plan, and, you need to be able to change your fitness plan accordingly. Here are a few specific examples of why you shouldn’t always stick to your workout plan:
1. You didn’t sleep well the night before.
Your body only recovers while you are sleeping. If your body doesn’t get the sleep it needs to recover, then your workout is actually detrimental to your overall fitness goals – it further prevents your body from recovering. On top of that, if you don’t sleep, then you might not have the energy you need for your planned workout.
2. Your body is more sore than you expected it to be.
The main fitness goal of a workout is to provoke a growth response from your body. Your workout is targeted stress on your muscles that sends a signal to your body to grow accordingly. Soreness is an indication that your workout worked. Soreness isn’t a reason for avoiding exercise altogether, but a particularly high level of soreness is a good sign that you should focus on a recovery-focused workout, instead of a strength-training workout designed to break down muscle fibers.
3. You didn’t get the right fuel.
Your body needs the right fuel to workout. If you are doing intense exercise that elevates your heart rate significantly (a 2-mile run as fast as possible, agility work, sprints, lifting at maximum effort, squat jumps, etc), you NEED carbs to fuel your workout. If you forgot your lunch, you most likely won’t have the energy to do your workout the way you’re used to. Instead, a better idea would be to do a moderate form of exercise, such as a light-medium intensity yoga session, a walk or a light jog, which relies on stored fat instead of carbs.
4. You’re not in the same shape you were at another point in your life.
Depending on what your main form of fitness was, this means you might not have as much strength, endurance, or mobility as you did at another point in your life. And that means certain movements will be more difficult, feel different, or will be downright impossible. Not to mention your recovery will be different. You have to continually evaluate yourself, check in with your body, and determine what you need, what you can do, what you might be able to do, what you definitely can’t do.
There are so many reasons why your day might not go according to plan, and you need to be ready to have a Plan B for when these unexpected occurrences come up.
Expecting your life to always go according to plan would be crazy! It then goes without saying that it would be just as crazy to expect to stick to your exact workout plan, which assumes that your body doesn’t have its ups and downs. You’re human – and it’s okay if you don’t always do what you originally planned on doing.
This concept is not only incredibly freeing – it’s also an important concept to embrace for our long-term health. Listening to your ego and pushing yourself no matter what is incredibly risky. Unless you’re spending a SIGNIFICANT amount of time on your recovery, the application of the ego-first principle to fitness is downright dangerous. At some point, your body will reach the breaking point, and it’s just a question of how severe the breaking point is.
I want to end this blog on a positive note, because I don’t want you to leave this blog thinking that you pushing yourself is inevitably going to result in injury. Far from it – if we DON’T push ourselves enough, then we won’t grow. And in fitness – just like in life – NOTHING is static. If we aren’t getting stronger, we’re getting weaker.
What I want you to take from this blog is the necessity of being able to plan for the unexpected. Instead of always following a plan, which does not account for the reality of life, you need to be able to respond to the obstacles, tree roots in the running path, and minor injuries that life serves you. You need to LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. If you don’t know what that means, it’s time to start developing that awareness. You need to take into account the nights of less-than-satisfactory sleep, the donut you probably shouldn’t have had, and the simple fact that we are all getting older with each passing day (f***!), which makes recovery slower, restricts mobility, and just generally forces us to be a little more conscious with our decisions.
So next time you have a day where you’re feeling extra slow, lethargic, and your joints aching at the thought of your workout later that day, GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK. Do some yoga instead. Go for a walk. Play around with a foam roller while watching Netflix. (Yes – I give you permission.) Not only will this eliminate the stress that comes from the unrealistically high standard you set for yourself – it will also help your fitness by giving your body the time it needs to recover and get stronger.
Thanks for reading, and I hope this blog was enlightening!
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