I’ve had the same conversation with various people over the last few months and I’m sure other members of the coaching team at UNIT 22 have had the same too:

Member – “I’ve lost my enthusiasm and drive lately and I don’t know why.”
Me – “OK, that’s fairly normal. Can you remember if there was anything that sparked that?”
Member – “I just feel like I’m going through a bit of a plateau and I haven’t hit any PBs for a couple of months now.” OR “I did a couple of competitions and then just couldn’t get back into the swing of things.”

I bet you’ve just read that and thought, “I’ve definitely felt like that in my time at the gym”. As humans, it’s very normal to go through periods of really enjoying something and then not so much when things aren’t going so well. When we first start at the gym, wherever that is, we’ll be feeling awesome about taking that step to improve our health and each workout will be a huge rush of endorphins that will make us feel amazing and keep us coming back. We’ll feel like superheroes when we hit PBs on our lifts or go that little bit faster – we’ll always try and better ourselves, which is part of what we do at UNIT 22.

However, when we repeat lifts or workouts and we don’t put 5/10kg on our squat, or don’t knock 45 seconds off of our Helen time in CrossFit, or add another 50 reps to the workout that we did 3 months ago in RAW, we get depressed about it and start to wonder why. The same goes for weight loss. When people start coming to UNIT 22 after a period of inactivity they lose weight really quickly and, rightly so, feel awesome about it. But then the weight loss slows down and sometimes we start to increase in weight!

We can’t understand it. We’ve been attending classes, we’ve been working out really hard every time we’ve come in and we’ve been eating really well, but none of the above is clicking for us. What’s going on?!

What we don’t consider are the other factors in our lives that are having a huge impact on what we do in the gym. Stress at work is piling up because you’ve either got a new job, a big project on, or you just really hate it and can’t find a new one. Stress at home is piling up for various reasons, potentially linked to the fact that stress at work is getting on top of you, or there’s some other factor that is causing you stress at home that’s constantly in the back of your mind. It could be none of those things and just the fact that you don’t feel motivated to lift heavier or go faster in a workout, but external factors are usually at the root of it.

Any of those factors can play into this situation and it’s how we manage things that will affect the outcome. If you’re stressed, for whatever reason, you may not have the resources to push that bit harder in your training because you’re already trying to cope with the stress outside of the gym.

My initial response in the conversation above is always “why did you start coming here?” and the response I always get is “because I love it”. That’s usually all that person needs to hear themselves say to realise that they don’t need the extrinsic reward of heavier lifts, faster times or more reps to get that sense of achievement. They just need to remember why they started coming in the first place and why they keep coming back.

It’s not all about being better, or lifting heavier than last time, it’s about enjoying every session and enjoying it with the people around you. If, on a certain day you don’t feel like lifting heavy, or doing the workout with the Rx weight, that’s cool. Sometimes you just need to come in and go through the motions to switch off from those external stressors in your life and enjoy that hour of your day. Make it the best hour of your day. If that means just getting sweaty and thrashing a RAW or CrossFit class with a lighter weight than usual, do it. If it means doing the opposite and lifting something heavy in a CrossFit or Weightlifting class and then stepping out of the workout at the end, do it. We’re all different and we’ll get intrinsic rewards from different stimuli.

Consistency is vital! Don’t fall into the trap of not coming to the gym because you’re feeling stressed and you don’t feel like doing what’s on the board. Use that class as an escape and scale whatever you need to get through it, get sweaty, move a bit and feel good at the end of it. Don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself to perform, because that’s not why you started. You started because you love it and if you keep going because you love it, everything else will sort itself out. You have to ride the waves to come out the other side.

I’ve gone through the same process a few times due to various stressors with organising the events over the summer, exams at university and a couple of injuries and I’ve had the same conversation with myself (I don’t talk to myself all the time). I’ve scaled a lot of workouts that I’ve done over the last few months, but I felt awesome afterwards because I’d had some time to focus on what I was doing in that moment and escape from those stressors for a little while.

Hayley can always tell when I haven’t trained, because I’m grumpy and she’s the same (don’t tell her I said that). If we let those stressors get on top of us and don’t do what we love, then we don’t have that release from the stress. We’re then on that slippery slope of not coming to regular classes, feeling a bit shit and losing motivation to do anything about it. Once we’re on that slope it’s hard to climb back to the top and get over it.

On the flip side of this, I’m not saying that you should scale every workout from now on because you feel a bit down or demotivated. You still need to push yourself to get results and the UNIT 22 team and your class-mates will carry on pushing you in classes, but it’s got to be at the right time depending on the factors we discussed above. Unfortunately, that’s not always clear cut and it’s going to take some trial and error to realise and adjust to that, but once you do I’m sure you and your training will benefit hugely from it.

The most important thing is to stick with the programme, enjoy the process and the rewards will come. You just have to be patient. Getting stronger and fitter is a slow process for most of us, so don’t expect huge changes over-night. Every time you come in and train, you’re getting better, whether that’s cardiovascular fitness, strength, skill ability, technique or just stress relief, you’re going to get a positive result from that session regardless of whether you feel it.

Remember why you started and don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself to perform. That first step of getting up in the morning or coming to the gym straight from work rather than going home is the hardest part, especially at this time of year. Once you’ve done that, the rest of it is easy and you know that when you’re here you’re going to love it and feel awesome at the end of it. Take the pressure off of yourself and start enjoying your training and the people around you again.

If you want to chat about this or anything else to do with your training, grab one of the team. 

Happy training!