- Don’t panic. Remember it’s just a training session and not every session will turn out the way you want it.
- Don’t begin to doubt your own strength and start running a dialogue in your head which goes along the lines of “My strength has dropped. My lifts aren’t where they should be. I’ve got weaker” etc. This is harder for some people than others. A few bad reps/sets or even full sessions will not destroy your progress by themselves, but developing a negative mindset and writing yourself off will. Some people will let a negative mindset creep in and it can stay there for weeks or even months if not addressed and rationalised.
- If you have a coach, then speak to them and discuss your doubts, work out what went wrong in the session, and formulate a plan to get yourself back on track. If you don’t have a coach, then I suggest getting advice from a mentor or simply utilising your training partners for an objective viewpoint.
- Accept that you will not always be at your best, but recognise learn to recognise that progress comes in many forms. Technique improvements, more efficient warm ups, confidence to take bigger jumps for warm up sets etc. Have you done enough work to progress and move forward? Look for as many indicators of success in the session as possible. If you missed one rep on a top set of squats, but beat all your records on your assistance work and hit more reps with more weight than you have managed before on everything else, was the session really a bad one?
- Did you learn something from it? Whilst missing reps isn’t desirable, we have to make mistakes to be able to learn from them and fix problems we didn’t previously know were there. If you got some useful training information out of it regarding a new cue you must work on with a lift, or a better mental approach to adopt etc then you have benefitted from the session. You can go one of two ways when you fail a weight. You can become negative, write yourself off and want to give up, or you can use it as motivation to make sure you don’t make the same mistake with the same weight again and use it to enable your technique to be refined and know that you will be better prepared the following time.
- Learn to auto regulate. Auto-regulation is a term to describe the amendment in situ of a programme to enable the best result from a training session to be obtained based on the circumstances. For example, if you are ill or have not slept enough, reducing the loads used for the session could be a sensible decision for the day to enable work to be done. Equally if you are feeling good and think that you can increase the loads for the session without exerting more effort than the programmes calls for then do so (usually check with your coach first). Auto-regulation is a whole topic in itself so I will discuss this further in a future article.
- Remember that percentages are only a guideline in any programme and can be misleading when you consider that they are very often based off a competition max. If you think of your current 1RMs as a 100% state of performance then on any given training day you may or may not be functioning at 100%. Therefore if a programme calls for 80% for a set of 5 for example and you are only functioning at 90% of your best (which is pretty good for any given day as it happens) then you are actually handling almost 89% of what your 1RM capability would be that day and still expecting to hit 5 reps.
Are you starting a programme having come back from a period of time not training? Percentages won’t mean very much as you will not at the beginning be functioning at your best. You must therefore learn to adjust accordingly. Stresses of general life, work, illness, poor diet, lack of sleep etc will all affect whether you are able to perform at your best and if you miss some reps and have a less than stellar session then it could come down to a whole myriad of factors. Whilst I am not suggesting to use these to make excuses, they should not be overlooked and I think you will know whether it was something in or out of your control which caused the issue.
So bottom line with this point is that percentages are only a guideline, do not get too caught up with them. Very often we use percentages as a guideline but often use a range rather than a set number so as to account for good days and bad days.
- Ask yourself, did I give the weight enough respect? Your mindset when approaching a working set (whether its 60% of 100%) should be to treat the weight as if it is a max lift. If you go into a set complacent because, “It’s only an easy 80% double” then it could quite easily feel like 90% or more.A deload or lighter week should still require the same mental focus as a max set, and each set should still be attacked with the same attitude otherwise those supposed ‘de-load’ percentages will not actually be relevant at all.
- Ask yourself, how good am I really at selecting weights to use? Was the weight right for the day and what notes did I have in my programme or from my coach to help determine how to make this decision (percentage, as spoken about above, is one way of predetermining or guiding weight section, but is flawed in its own way). The RPE scale is another system used a lot currently by coaches, but this probably is the most poorly executed method or communication between coach and athlete going. If you are going to use RPE (rate of perceived exertion) then please please learn what the scale is supposed to represent. Most of the responsibility should lie with the coach initially on this one. It is the coaches job to ensure that you are both on the same page and understand the scale and exactly what it means. Once you have gone over this is it up to the athlete/lifter to adhere to the scale and be honest with themselves and their coach regarding assessing RPE. Also be aware that there are several interpretations of the scale that are used and not every coach uses the same version. Personally I believe that the RPE scale has its uses but there is so much room for poor judgement (ego being the biggest driver behind this) and this really highlights a huge problem especially when a coach is not there in the room with the lifter to help the lifter make these decisions. All too often I see lifters post up ‘easy single at RPE 8’ for example when there was clearly not a second rep in the tank, let alone a third and the bar speed was not fantastic and there was form breakdown.
The only version of the RPE Scale which I really value is the following…
10 – Could not do more reps or load (form breakdown at the limit at which is agreed acceptable)
9.5 – Could not do more reps, could do slightly more load (perhaps some form breakdown, but acceptable amount as agreed with coach)
9 – Could do 1 more repetition (little to no form breakdown) [Or add load, unlikely both].
8.5 – Could definitely do 1 more repetition, chance at 2 (no form breakdown)
8 – Could do 2 more repetitions.
7.5 – Could definitely do 2 more repetitions, chance at 3.
7 – Could do 3 more repetitions.
5-6 – Could do 4-6 more repetitions
1-4 – Very light to light effort
When you read this scale as it is written above, is suggesting that a top single was an RPE7 realistic? Maybe it was but what is a top single doing in your programme that you could have done a set of 4 on it comfortably? De-load week maybe? Also remember this is hugely flawed in the sense that having the skill to be able to judge a set based on this scale is something that realistically takes years to develop. I appreciate that most coaches who heavily rely on RPE are only trying to open up some communication between themselves and the lifters that they coach remotely, but do they really know whether their programmes are being completed as intended when such gross misinterpretations are made such a large percentage of the time?
- When you missed the rep(s) assess was the failure caused by a technical flaw, mental approach flaw (usually lack of confidence and preparation) or a physical weakness. If you are not sure then you must seek one or more opinions on the matter, and provided you have one, speak to your coach. All of these things can be worked on but its important to know which of these it was (or perhaps a combination of them) so it can be fixed. Failure to assess this correctly leads to a general confusion and feeling that have lost the ability to control the outcome in the session. If a lift seems to be going badly and you do not feel in control to fix it then confidence issues creep in and the lift will end up in a downward spiral until you assess what is going on. If it’s technical then discuss and work on necessary cues to improve the movement pattern. Try to pin point where the lift went wrong and use advice to workout why this happened and how to stop it happening. If it is a physical weakness then a plan must equally be put in place to strengthen required muscle groups. If it is a mental issue then this is more complex but once again a plan must be put in place and priority must be placed on building confidence.
- There are times, when you simply need to get your head right, turn your music up, and retake the set. If you have good training partners they should get to know you well enough to see whether you need to reign it in for the day or if you need a push forward. I’ve seen some people fail a weight, and then with the right mental approach, for the following attempt, have come back and hit an even heavier weight with ease.
Be aware though that if you have to routinely mentally struggle and overly force yourself to produce the necessary results in the session then this will take its toll. You cannot train in a heightened state constantly so if you are having to routinely reach for the ammonia every single session for anything other than a max attempt then you will likely burn out pretty quickly. Some times its right to use some louder music, some smelling salts and a bit of encouragement from your training partners to be able to complete the set, but if this is required all the time you must ask why? Are you recovering from sessions well enough? Are you coping with the demands of the programme? Can you fix the problem or do you need to change the plan?
- Lastly, if you do miss a rep(s) in a session then don’t let your frustration ruin the rest of your session. I have witnessed people storm out of the gym before, and drive home, because they missed one set they felt they should have been able to get. This definitely is something you shouldn’t do. There is always progress to be had and a session can easily be salvaged even if all your working sets weren’t up to the standard you’d hoped for. Never come away from the session feeling disheartened. Make some changes to the session, switch the focus for the day perhaps, and concentrate on the remaining work left to do. Sometimes, as previously stated, you’ll be able to retake a set and get the reps required, but sometimes you won’t. It’s not end the world if it’s just not on for that day. Do what you can on the main lifts and use auto-regulation to appropriately adjust the loads, sets, and reps to something achievable for the day. Remember as well that abandoning the session in frustration is bad if you train solo, but doubly so if you train with a training partner or group. Don’t be the cause of them having a bad session because you decided to go home and cut your session short. Progress comes in many forms and understanding that the success of a session should not all ride on one set is important.