The advent of the internet means that the average, (motivated) gym goer has access to top quality information on training and nutrition the likes of which has previously been reserved for the clients and athletes training under the industries top coaches. By and large this exposure to elite training practices has had an overwhelmingly positive impact on the methods people are using to better themselves in the gym, however it is apparent to me (working every day in my own training facility) that this knowledge has the potential to negatively impact on the results people are getting.
Not Perfect Vs Not Worth It
The problem is that as people become aware of the best training practices the more they view any deviation from this ideal as a reason to not to train at all. It’s not necessarily that they don’t want to train but that they have confused ‘sub optimal’ training with training that is worthless or possibly even counterproductive.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that people are recognising the importance of hydration, mobility, adequate sleep, proper pre and post workout nutrition and correct exercise selection. All of these play a vital role in optimising your training. The problem occurs when you start assume that it is impossible to make gains without them.
Expecting the Worst
I remember an internship I did several years ago with renowned strength coach and nutritionist Phil Richards. I was spending a fortnight with Phil shadowing him as he trained a group of professional boxers. We met in the hotel reception early on the first morning of my visit and he suggested we hit the gym for a strength session before the boxers arrived for their AM session. I was horrified, I had slept badly, hadn’t hydrated properly, hadn’t eaten breakfast and I had no pre-workout to take! How could I possibly get through what I knew would be a brutal session when I was so poorly prepared?! How would I prevent all of my hard earned muscle being cannibalised by my body for fuel?! I couldn’t avoid the session so I guzzled down as much water as I could, took some of Phil’s amino acids and prepared to suffer through a pointless workout which would surely leave me weaker and generally less awesome than I was before…
Lifting the Fog
In reality I had a great session. I hate eating the minute I wake up so these daily morning workouts generally followed the same pattern and I packed on muscle and got stronger. Don’t get me wrong, I was interning with a world class strength and conditioning coach and sports nutritionist so I was training and eating well, but the fog had been lifted. I didn’t need the perfect preparation for every training session. I still wanted it, and did what I could to achieve it but in spite of training in ‘sub-optimal’ conditions I made great gains.
Strive for Perfection, Don’t Count on it
Obviously I’m not advocating that you stop worrying about the prep that goes into your training. You should be striving to create the optimal environment for success every time you walk into the gym. But the reality is that you’re not always going to be able to achieve it. I have three children, two of them are currently under two years old. A minimum of 8 hours sleep a night, while ‘optimal’ is a pipe dream so I have to work around that. Could I be stronger and better recovered if I was getting that extra sleep, absolutely! But I’m still making gains without it. If you haven’t got your amino acids, protein, creatine, omega 3 fish oil or a chance in hell of meeting your calorific minimum for the day you can still train and you can still improve. If you haven’t slept enough and only have time to do half your session you can still train and you can still improve. No, you won’t make the same gains you would have done if conditions had been perfect, but you will make significantly better gains than you would have done sitting at home.
Improvise, Adapt and Overcome
If you’re miles off your peak every time you walk in the gym then it may be time to take a break, I’m not saying that you should train regardless of circumstance. However, if you’re skipping any session that you don’t feel perfectly prepared for you’re missing out on valuable training time that would contribute greatly to achieving your goals in the long term. Modify your session, maybe skip the plyos and max attempts but do something. Hitting 6 reps instead of 10 because you’re tired and hungry may not be ‘optimal’ but it’s generally better than nothing!