Last Updated on
You know the feeling, you've just left the gym and you feel frustrated. Normally when you walk out of there you are on a slight endorphin high, you've worked hard and your muscles have got that pump that lasts all of 40 seconds, by the time you reach your car it has gone, but you don't care.
But today nothing went well, you were tired, had low levels of energy. You were irritable and listening to the guys around you only irritated you further.
None of your lifts were anywhere near their usual levels and from the moment you got in you were clock-watching, waiting for the minimum time that you had to be there for before you could leave.
But what were the reasons why? Was it just one of those sessions? Or could there be some underlying issues that you can address?
This article will look at some of the more common reasons why you had a bad workout, and how you can fix them.
Reason #1. You need more sleep
Sleep is the easiest way to improve your workout performance, just lie in bed with your eyes closed!
Multiple studies have shown that increased sleep leads to raised growth hormone levels , whilst a bad night sleep can lower testosterone .
Having higher levels of growth hormone and testosterone will improve your strength and training levels.
Another reason to sleep is that it has been shown that sleeping more than average can improve your mood and athletic performance.
A 2008 study found that Collegiate swimmers improved their performance when given an extended sleeping time .
So if you have had a bad workout then it could possibly be down to a lack of sleep (whether quantity or quality).
If you have had a bad night's rest then supplementing with caffeine is a good short term solution. Multiple nights of bad sleep will not be fixed by caffeine, but if it is a one-off scenario then caffeine can temporarily mask the effects of fatigue.
A 2012 study by Cook et al found that elite athletes with minor-sleep deprivation were able to outperform the placebo group when they supplemented with high levels of caffeine .
Reason #2. You're training at a different time to usual
On a similar note to point 1, training at a different time to when you usually train can also affect your performance.
If you have ever heard of Circadian Rhythms you will already be aware of this, but your body is constantly fluctuating throughout the day. Sometimes you will have more energy and sometimes less.
For men, training around mid-afternoon is supposed to be optimal for performance. But with the way that your body adapts to training, whatever time you usually train will soon become the time that your body performs best at.
Changing times can result in a low-energy workout, interestingly caffeine can again be the solution as studies have shown that it reverses the reduction in power .
Reason #3. Your Pre-workout nutrition was poor
Without going in to muscle protein synthesis and its effect on performance, you need protein (and carbs) in your system before you train.
Anyone who is still training ‘fasted‘ in the belief that it will help them lose more fat is deluded.
Brad Schoenfeld addressed this in his journal article “Does cardio after an overnight fast maximise fat loss?” , not only does it not do this but the session itself will be poorer due to the lack of energy.
Pre-workout and post-workout nutrition is simple, try to consume a meal (Breakfast or lunch) at least an hour prior to training, and then consume a meal around one hour afterwards (Lunch or Dinner).
If you can't get a meal in, as you are training before breakfast or after dinner then make sure you are at least consuming a high-protein snack or shake.
As mentioned above, consuming caffeine pre-workout can also improve your session quality.
Reason #4. You are overtraining
Some fitness ‘experts‘ claim that there is no such thing as overtraining, but this is obviously not true.
Taking it to an extreme, if you trained for 24 hours straight for 5 days in a row you would have overtrained! Obviously this is not what they mean, rather they claim that most people are not in danger of overtraining.
On this point they are probably correct, but overtraining does exist and it can affect anyone who is training for too long, or too often.
If you are experiencing chronic fatigue (tired all of the time), lower strength levels (not performing as well in the gym as you were a month ago), keep getting ill, or are suffering from depression then you might be overtraining.
Don't jump to this conclusion after one bad workout, but keep it in mind if one bad workout leads into another and another after that.
Give yourself a break from the gym, take a week off and you should come back stronger.
Then look at managing your training so that you get a break every now and again. If the thought of this is stressing you out, then speak to a doctor.
 Born, J., Fehm, H. 2000. The neuroendocrine recovery function of sleep. Noise Health 2(7): 25-37
 Penev, P. 2007. Association between sleep and morning testosterone levels in older men. Sleep 30(4): 427-32
 Mah, C., Mah, K., Dement, W. 2008. Extended Sleep and the Effects on Mood and Athletic Performance in Collegiate Swimmers. Sleep 31[Suppl]
 Cook, C., Beaven, C., Kilduff, L., Drawer, S. 2012. Acute caffeine ingestion's increase of voluntarily chosen resistance-training load after limited sleep. International Journal of Sport Nutrition & Exercise Metabolism 22(3): 157-64
 Mora-Rodriguez, R., Pallares, J., Lopez-Samanes, A., Ortega, J., Fernandez-Elias. 2012. Caffeine ingestion reverses the Circadian Rhythm effects on Neuromuscular performance in highly resistance-trained men. PLoS One 7(4): e33807
 Schoenfeld, B. (2011) Does Cardio After an Overnight Fast Maximise Fat Loss? Strength & Conditioning Journal 33(1): 23-25