Last Friday I had one of the worst workouts ever, during my second shoulder session of the week. My first exercise was a clean and press, which is something I always look forward to. I warmed up using an unweighted Olympic bar, for two sets of 15 reps. I loaded up the first plates and I was definitely ready for some powerlifting!
As I cleaned the bar into position, something felt wrong. Pressing it overhead was a huge struggle. I only did three reps before stopping myself. I literally stood looking at the bar for a good minute wondering what was going on. For a weight I’d comfortably pressed for 10 reps many times before, and usually then added an extra plate to each side, it did not make sense.
I did three more sets, determined to figure out what was wrong. I tried varying my grip and my stance, and dropping into a deeper squat position. I checked my form to make sure I was keeping the bar close to my body, and I even checked to see if the bar happened to be ‘extra’ heavy – although I’m pretty sure my gym doesn’t carry 40kg bars! While those sets were slightly better than my first, I still couldn’t manage more than six reps.
In hindsight, there was nothing wrong with my set-up, my form or the bar. I was just having an off-day. I’ve only ever really had one terrible workout (when we were in New Zealand), but there are certainly days where I feel weaker than normal.
You can’t expect to achieve personal bests week to week. About six weeks ago, I achieved a personal best on my deadlifts. Even though I pulled five reps, the next week I could not even move the bar off the ground at the same weight. Your body goes through natural periods of maximal strength, and each particular workout is also affected by factors such as what you’ve eaten over the previous day or two, how much sleep you’ve had, and how much stress you’re under.
While the scope of your periodisation is a personal choice, I personally like to follow the following cycle, with each phase lasting four to eight weeks: a power phase (less than eight reps, low total volume) to gain maximum strength, followed by one or two hypertrophy phases (8-12 reps, medium volume) to work on building muscle, and then repeat. If necessary, I will program an endurance phase (12-15+ reps, high volume) to reduce body fat.
Within a power-based phase, I often perform three weeks of my program at a high intensity, and then aim to max out during the fourth week. Again, this varies depending on your goals. I follow this kind of cycle as I enjoy variety, and I love lifting as heavy as I can. Endless weeks of 12-15 reps would bore me to tears.
That being said, you should not exert maximal effort week to week in an attempt to see results. For example, on Monday I wasn’t feeling as pumped up as I usually am for leg day, so I kept it fairly light. I only added 15 kilos to the bar for front squats and lunges, and I didn’t even add any weight for overhead squats. Yet, two and a half days later, my legs are still in so much pain I can barely sit down and stand up. The week before I happened to be maxing out on my lifts, but I didn’t feel sore afterwards at all (not that feeling sore after a workout is the only sign of success, might I add!).
My clean and press mishap was most likely caused by my mind being otherwise occupied. I have a lot going on at the moment with the move and finishing my studies, but once I refocused I was able to continue with my workout as normal – rather than letting one weak experience ruin the rest of my workout.
We are trying to organise an apartment in the UK before we move. Rob’s brother – who lives in London – has been an absolute lifesaver, by going to view the properties we’ve been interested in. We have just applied for one and we were looking to see what the area is like. Guess what’s literally around the corner??
Gyms like that do not exist in Australia. When we first decided to move to London, one of the first things we looked up, of course, were gyms. We were disappointed to see that all the bodybuilder gyms were in north London, where we don’t want to live. The apartment isn’t as nice as some of the others we’ve seen in our price range, but given this gym snuck under our radar all this time, I think it’s a sign we should take it!
Do you ever have workouts where you don’t feel as strong as normal?