Common workout derailments and how to stay on track

March 17, 2012

This is a guest post by Joe Pawlikowski.

Stop me when this sounds familiar: You’re progressing in your workouts, diligently working through every one. You’re enjoying it, and you’re getting into a groove that makes you feel unstoppable. But then something unexpected comes up, and it sets you back considerably. Things return to normal, but you’ve lost all that motivation you built up. And so your fitness goals stagnate.

It happens to the best of us, so it’s bound to happen to you. That is, if you don’t make preparations now. By planning ahead for these unforseen circumstances, you can ensure that they don’t derail your workout plans. Here are a few common derailments and the easy cure.


It’s one thing if you stop working out on vacation. That’s a time for rest and relaxation, so perhaps you’re setting fitness aside for the week. There’s nothing wrong with that. And, since you plan vacations in advance, you have probably planned your week off from the gym in advance. So there are no problems here.

The biggest offender here is a work trip. These are often cost-monitored, which can lead to problems. Sure, you might not mind sleeping in a cheap hotel. A bed’s a bed. But cheap hotels are cheap for a reason. Chances are it doesn’t have a gym. If it does, it’s probably shoddy and essentially unusable. And there are few more disappointing feelings than walking into a hotel gym and realizing they have none of the equipment you need.

The best solution is to always have a bodyweight workout ready to go. I’ve always dug Men’s Health’s hotel room workout, because it’s straightforward and simple. You can do it every day you’re on your trip, since it takes just 15 minutes every morning and isn’t too taxing on your muscles. Just make sure you have one of these ready to go. That way there’s no thought involved.

Getting sick

This happened to me earlier this year, so I’m particularly sympathetic. I felt the cold coming on one morning as I was preparing for the gym, but decided to ignore it. But by the next day I was too worn out to go. I still wanted to, since my symptoms were above my neck. Of course, that meant exposing others at the gym to my germs, so that meant no working out.

As with travel, you should have a plan in place for when you get sick. It should include at least one day with no activity. Sleep in, if you can, and go to bed early. Your body needs sleep to recover, so the more you’re snoozing the more you’re healing. While there’s a chance you can exercise, it’s best to hold off. If your body is recovering from a working at the same time it’s recovering from an illness, it can’t properly focus on one or the other.

It’s best to have a plan in place that covers a number of days on the shelf, since something like the flu can make it impossible to even leave the bed. If you need just one day off for a cold, it shouldn’t hurt too much. But if you need four or five days off for the flu you need a plan. The best plans involve an easy workout — maybe a hotel room workout — to get back into the groove slowly. It’s definitely not recommended that you jump right back into your regular routine with your regular weights. Your body is still recovering, even when you start feeling better. Treat it gently.

An emergency

Our final workout derailment somewhat combines the first two. It will also probably take your mind off your workouts for a bit. Emergencies of all types crop up in our lives. It’s impossible to plan for them specifically, but you can still have a plan in mind for general emergency situations. It’ll help you get back into your groove once you’re done attending to this serious business.

The wild card here is that oftentimes emergencies can be emotionally draining. A death in the family can not only take us away from our workouts for a period of time, but it can leave us without motivation to get back into the groove. At this point the plan doesn’t involve a certain kind of workout. It involves an emotional checklist, and perhaps some emotional cues, to get back into the normal swing.

It’s tough to nail down what to do here, because everyone has different emotional cues. For me, it’s music. Like most gym-goers, I listen to music while I work out. But I find that when I’m emotionally drained and unmotivated, listening to music before my workout helps. You can apply this to anything that enhances your mood. Do it before your workout, and you’re more likely to get through it. It might seem petty and trivial at the moment, given your recent emergency, but if fitness is important to you it’ll come back eventually. You might as well get back on the horse as quickly as you can.

Surely there are other circumstances and events that can derail a workout. What are some of the obstacles you’ve faced, and how have you gotten yourself back on track?

photo by: jaredpolin

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