Will it Hurt to Skip the Workout?

by Dick Vincent, USATF Level 3 Certified Coach, I.A.A.F. Level 5 Certified Coach

Back in the late 70s Mike Kelly and I met at my place and jogged down to the local hill on Cauterskill Road to do one of our favorite workouts. Repeats on Slagg's Farm hill is about 500 meters long which gets steeper closer to the top.  Alternating between this hill and one near Mike's house in Hurley we did these repeats with regularity during this phase of training. On this particular day I was exhausted from a combination of working long hours, a week of running over 80 miles, and a few nights of staying out late. I honestly didn't have this workout in me. After a warmup, I said to Mike “do you think it is going to hurt to miss this workout?” Mike's reply was spot on. He said, “It isn't going to hurt you to miss the workout if it's going to hurt you to do the workout!”

In our quest to train hard and get all the hard workouts we can during a training cycle, we sometimes forget what the purpose of each training day is. Our goal isn't to do hard workouts for the sake of doing hard workouts, but to train to improve fitness and become better runners. Sometimes a forced intensity workout or that long run that we had on the training plan is more counterproductive than productive. Yet our dogged determination tells us we must forge on regardless.  Three things can happen when we push beyond reasonable limits. We get sick, we get hurt, or we add another layer of exhaustion to the onion. We forget that recovery is as important to the formula as the hard work. The purpose of intensity workouts is to break ourselves down so we recover and build back a little stronger. If we don't stress the body enough, there isn't anything to recover from. If we stress the body enough, we recovery on our easy days and build back stronger. If we over reach and stress it too much then we take too long to recover wasting precious training days. If we continue to stress ourselves before we have a chance to recover from previous workouts we break down with illness, injury, or stagnant with lingering fatigue.

Don't get me wrong, there will be times when we are lethargic and we must kick ourselves in the pants to get out the door and get a workout in. Most of the time, once we get going, we find we have plenty of energy and a productive workout unfolds.  But now and then, NOPE, NADA, IT AIN'T HAPPENIN’, this workout is going to be a disaster. Those are the days when we have to make the wise decision to abandon the plan and wait for our energy to return.

Nothing sews doubt in a distance runners mind more than walking (okay, jogging) away from an intended hard workout. It can be mentally defeating and for those in the later stages of training for an important race, it will fan the flames of self-doubt sabotaging much needed confidence. But wait, there is a way to salvage an aborted workout so that you don't go home without something positive to hang your training shoes on.

The workout I often suggest to athletes who are in this bind is very simple, very productive, and not fatiguing. It is strides, or as I call them, “striders.” Rather than go home defeated, walk/jog a little, put a new game in your head, and do 10-15 minutes worth of striders. Very simply it is accelerating to a fast pace for 15-20 seconds. Ease into the stride for the first few seconds, accelerate through the middle to near top speed (no sprinting), then easy out. Walk or jog for a minute or two and then repeat until you are finished. The first one or two reps may feel like you are running on spongy grass but soon you will get that bounce in your stride and zip along. There isn't much fatigue or acidity build up so it is something that can be done at the end of an easy workout and still remain an easy workout. But it gives  neuro-muscular benefit, helps improve stride, cadence, power and form. Most of all you finish up with something more than a broken workout.

You should have a purpose for every run even if the purpose for that day is to work off the anger you have for that obnoxious bozo you bumped into at the water cooler. If your purpose for that day is an intensity workout but you begin only to realize you are sick, tired, or sore, ask yourself this: “Is it going to hurt me to miss the workout if it is going to hurt me to do the workout?”

If you can honestly evaluate yourself and answer that question, you will keep yourself off the junk pile and have more productive training down the road.


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Dick Vincent now holds a Level 3 USATF Coaching Certificate, the highest level of certification, which can be earned from USATF. Additionally, he holds a Level 5 certification from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), passing the IAAF Academy Elite Coach Course in Endurance with distinction. In addition, he is the full time coach of the ARE Racing Team and offers private coaching sessions.

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