Home Cycling Ask the Experts: What Do I Do If I Miss A Workout?

Ask the Experts: What Do I Do If I Miss A Workout?

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There will come a point in time when the inevitable occurs and you…miss a workout. Fear not, your fitness is not lost forever and this is no time to panic train. 

First things first, take a step back and assess the reasons why you missed your workout. Your why will lead to a more informed solution as to how you should incorporate (or not) your missed session back into your training. 

When training is stripped down to its basics it is the process of repeating stress on your body, and then allowing time to recover from this stress. From this point, your body becomes more robust and is able to handle greater stress placed upon it. 

When talking of stress, there are two types of stress that can affect our bodies: physical and mental stress. A lot of us may only take into account physical stress, but mental stress can wear on us the same if not more. Both physical and mental stress make us our total stress.

Our body can only handle a certain stress load, and this is important to remember when you do miss a workout. While many endurance athletes can be overly critical of themselves in these scenarios, rarely is a missed workout a case of being “lazy.” There are typically two different scenarios that are occurring when you miss a workout:

  1. External Factors
  2. Internal Factors

External Factors are situations such as family, work, and life emergencies that occur out of our control. Do not beat yourself up over these factors and instead focus this energy on nailing your next session on your training plan. Stressing out about a missed workout over these circumstances will only lead to further issues down the road such as loss of sleep or increased tension in your body that can affect your next workout. Instead, try to take some time prior to bed to relax and unwind from the days’ events. 

Internal Factors are situations where you are either sick, overly tired/fatigued, or feel extremely unmotivated. While some of us may chalk these reasons up as a lack of willpower, remember that your body is smarter than you think. Unconsciously your body is telling you it needs extra rest or sleep to overcome previous fatigue that was placed upon it. Even the most dedicated athletes will go through periods of feeling extremely unmotivated due to rising fatigue levels. These are times where you must listen to your body and try to get an extra hour or two of sleep if you are able. 

Finally, the next question will arise, “how do I make up for the missed workout?” The answer to this not only will rely on the reason as to why you missed your session, but also will be dependent upon where you are currently in your training plan. 

Depending upon your age, ability, and time availability most training plans are built off of weekly structures called blocks. While not all are, for this scenario we will use the assumption that most plans use a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio when it comes to a training block. These ratios refer to weeks on versus weeks off. Therefore some athletes can be “on” for two weeks and then have an “off” recovery week. The same logic will apply with the 3:1 ratio.

Next, it is important to look ahead in your week’s training schedule to see where your upcoming rest and workout days fall. 

First ⅔ of Training Block Last ⅓ of Training Block
Next-Day on Schedule: Rest Day Workout Rest Day  Workout
External Factor Do the session tomorrow. OR Add on 10-15 minutes of ride time to your next few training sessions (Until you hit 100% of missed ride time) Add on 10-15 minutes of ride time to your next few training sessions (Until you hit 80% of missed ride time) Do 80% of the session tomorrow. OR Add on 10-15 minutes of ride time to your next few training sessions (Until you hit 90% of missed ride time) Add on enough ride time to the remaining training sessions to make up for 75% of missed time.
Internal Factor Get some extra sleep, try and get in a 10-20 minute recovery spin. Get some extra sleep, start with a 15-minute recovery spin.  Feeling better? Give the planned session a try.  Not feeling better? Another 5-10 minutes of recovery spinning then call it day. Get more sleep!! Extra sleep followed by a 10-20 minute recovery spin.

 

If you find yourself in the scenario where large amounts of time are missed in training due to any circumstances (sickness, injury, family, large periods of being unmotivated) then it can be time to reframe and reset your goals. Perhaps it was time you needed to reset both physically and mentally in order to come back to your training plan refreshed, reenergized, and ready to tackle some hard sessions again. If you had to take off a few weeks of training, resist the urge to immediately jump back in where you left off. Your previous training plan was built off of accumulated fitness, fatigue, and rest. If you had weeks off, you have lost fitness but gained a lot of recovery. Though you may initially feel as if you can do these workouts right out of the gate, it is not smart for the risk of injury and overstraining. Instead, begin with a new training block and ease back into the swing of things. Before you know it you will already be looking forward to rest due to accumulated fatigue. When resetting goals be patient. Give yourself at least 6-8 weeks (*Depending on the length of inactivity) to build some fitness back before testing yourself. 

Though it is tempting to try to cram in the missed session wherever you possibly can, do not always jump to this conclusion. As you can see in the table above, during the last week of a block your body will be under large amounts of accumulated fatigue as well as stress (mental and physical.) If you try to cram in a missed session on top of an already stress-loaded body, you run the risk of injury, overtraining, and digging an even deeper hole of fatigue that you’ll have to come out of. The name of the game is consistency, and this one session will not make or break your training. Still unsure? Try this: keep a log of all workouts or sessions you miss along the way of your training schedule. Be sure to record the reasons as to why the session was missed, when in the training cycle, and if you added volume later in the week to make up for it. Over time, you will still see large trends in upwards fitness trajectory that were hardly affected by a few missed sessions. This can give you the confidence to not only learn to feel okay with missing sessions but to learn to listen to your body better when it is giving you warning signs of fatigue. 


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Mac Cassin is the Chief Cycling Physiologist at Wahoo Sports Science. He holds a degree in Integrative Physiology from the University of Colorado-Boulder and has won multiple National Championships. The experience of juggling athletic goals with collegiate and career responsibilities has taught Mac that peak performance is achievable even for those who cannot focus exclusively on training.  While concentrating on exercise physiology in an academic setting, Mac competed at the World Championships, Pan American Championships, and World Cups on both the road and track.

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