Assessing Your Training; The Importance Of…

Updated: Dec 1, 2020

It’s always great to post a PB and talk about how well things are going, but at the end of the day we are human, not robots, so it’s sometimes good (I believe) to address sessions that didn’t go to plan (like the one I had yesterday!) and talk a bit more about them…

In my opinion there’s a fine line between knowing when to battle through and when to accept that cutting your losses is a better option in the long run. But it’s a significant line nonetheless and probably applies more to the more experienced and stronger lifter.

Assessing yourself and the session (during and after) honestly is important, but crucially do it without being subjective and personally critical.

Taking the emotion out when you evaluate what went well and what didn’t go so well will help you make a more objective assessment, which is key to getting better in the long run. For example, I had a great session the week before with Squats and yesterday I had it in my mind I was going to smash it again and get a huge PB. The warm ups felt good but when the weight I wanted to do was attempted it just, to be honest, crushed me. Assessing what happened during the session immediately afterwards made me realise that I was a lot more physically and mentally tired and drained than I thought. I realised my determination to get my goal for that session clouded how I actually felt. No judgement, just observation.

Therefore, I knew (from experience) that it wasn’t happening and ended the session, cooled down and headed for the sofa.

The words of my old Powerlifting Coach, Monica Porter, cropped up in my head: “It’s always better to be able to fight another day…”. So, I left, and I still can….

Now, the important bit is to try and figure out why it didn’t happen for me yesterday and why I stopped (which is very rare) the session: The questions I asked myself were:

  • Did I expect to much from myself (over-reach)?

  • Did I get the warm ups wrong (jumps to big due to over-confidence?)?

  • Was my diet on-point that day (& days before)?

  • Was I recovered enough to train well? (if not why not?)

  • Did I Squat too soon / late again after my previous Squat session?

  • Did other training days affect my ability to Squat that day?

  • Were outside factors I’m dealing with affect my performance that day?

  • Was I right to stop the session?

  • Do I need more of a rest before I resume training again?

  • Do I need to properly Deload?

  • Was it just a bad day at the office?

  • Do I need to just to crack on and clear the cobwebs?

The questions you ask yourself when things don’t go to plan can be similar or different, depending on what went awry and what answers you want to find out that are pertinent to you and your training. All I’d recommend is that the majority of the questions have a simple Yes or No answer (with maybe a little one sentence explanation (tops) to clarify). This will keep your session valuation clear and concise and allow for easier modification, if refinement is needed… And this is another point I would like to make quickly if I may:

Do not drastically change everything with your programme!

When / if things don’t happen as planned don’t panic. If the majority of your training sessions have been going well then you may not need to change anything at all. You may have just had a bad day! If though you’ve assessed your session(s) and feel something needs to change to facilitate your continued improvement then only change one or two things. I.e. exercises and / or frequency for example. This way you give yourself a better chance of figuring out if the variables you’ve modified with your training have actually helped or not.

Now back to my original post…Missing a lift doesn’t automatically constitute end of session and a quiz, on the contrary. There have been plenty of times where I’ve assessed why I didn’t get a lift during the session, (usually technique) but felt more than strong enough to give it a go the second time round and make it, in turn continuing the training session because it was worthwhile to do so…Other times I’ve just moved onto the assistance work (after assessment) without any more dramas and continued the rest of the training session / week with no negative effects. But yesterday, I knew that carrying on blasting the assistance work would have just made me even more tired, more fatigued and more susceptible to injury. Not ideal.

From experience I can tell you that you’ll get better at evaluating your sessions, well…, from additional experience you attain from more training. Learning about how your body (and mind) works and being more aware of certain cues / feedback your body gives during the session that day, allows for better assessment of what may lie ahead and also provide possible clues why things happened when the session is complete. For example, how many sessions have you had that you thought we’re going to be crap, but turned out to be amazing? And vice-versa, how many sessions have you had that you thought were going to be great, but you were miles away from lifting what you thought was possible that day? We can learn from these scenarios…

Understanding that ‘the above’ can happen may allow you to know that lifting, when you initially thought you were not going to set the world alight, is just what you need to do and buckling down and getting on with it may pleasantly surprise you. Conversely, thinking today is going to be the day that records will fall may alas prove wrong and knock you down a peg or two… But understanding that this can happen too makes it easier to ‘take on the chin’ and bounce back from.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m 100% behind having a constant positive attitude and discipline towards your training and goals (“There is no tomorrow!” (quoting Rocky!)), because that mindset and work ethic will give you the best chance of achieving your daily, weekly, monthly targets etc. in the first place. Giving up and stopping a session is easier to do though if you are apathetic and it will skew your answers to the possible questions you ask yourself, because you’re not being truthful and committed in the first place. In this instance, if you are feeling indifferent towards your training and goals, ask yourself why this is before anything else… But, if you honestly know your attitude is on point, being comfortable and able to assess accurately and objectively why failure occurred, even with the best laid plans and preparation in place, is a skill to develop and harness.

To conclude, I wanted to write this article to help you (and I) remember that training is not just about numbers on a piece of paper and writing down whether you lifted well or not… the underlying importance is the understanding of WHY you lifted well or not as this insight will help you continue to develop more as a lifter and hopefully help you lift better for longer.

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