Throwing up a Brick – learning to understand ‘bad’ workouts

Throwing up a Brick – learning to understand ‘bad’ workouts
By Chris Hauth

Lake Tahoe, California- August 9th, 2007

I have the opportunity to share my thoughts and input occasionally on and this is the first of a monthly article I hope to provide. These contributions will revolve around anything endurance sports related but usually tie back to a coaching related lesson that all of us can apply in our daily routines. This is also for a coaching related page on and I hope to add some value in my own way.

We all train a lot. Whether being a professional or amateur athlete, we have all committed to an event and now look to training to ensure we have the best possible day out there. I write the “commitment to an event” since if we are just in a daily routine of training we tend to not gauge our workouts as seriously or might not have as much complexity in the workout itself.

I had a horrible workout today. I was tired, unmotivated and just not ‘feeling’ right. I was close to calling it a day and heading home – which at a training camp is never easy. I have felt like this many of times before – either I rushed through my day and was not properly prepared for my training (hydration and nutrition), had a bad night’s sleep, was recovering from a hard workout or a lot of stress at work etc. We all have many reasons for being ‘off’ on any given day. They are all valid since there is a lot that most triathletes try to fit into their daily lives – often this comes at the price of the next workout or training day.

Whenever I feel like it is ‘not my day’, it helps me to go through my checklist of what qualifies as a bad workout from when I was a swimmer. Hopefully you find this helpful too since I personally believe there is no bad training day (unless when getting sick – shut it down!).

*In order from airball to ‘swoosh’:

1) Airball – Despite all your attempts the workout is not coming together. You resign yourself to going easy and just ‘going through the motions’. You wish there was that Tour De France sweeper van around to let you get in while holding your hands up blocking the camera. Value? Absolutely! You are out there doing it. You are clearing your mind, getting the HR up (slightly…:)), having the muscles fire their motions they will need when you are feeling better. As I used to say in the pool: I am still doing more than 95% of the world population and what can I expect? Nail every workout every day all the time? Let go and enjoy the sport for what it is – a healthy, active lifestyle that affords us so much. True, some make a living from this but I know they throw airballs every now and then!

2) Clank off the front of the rim – I took a shot but it was horribly bad. Gave it a go, thought I could ‘will’ myself through this but after a go at it I fizzle out. I try again and do even worse. I go easy for a bit thinking that I can actively recover during the workout – Ha! My next attempt is even worse – no power, no speed, no feel for the activity I am doing. Back to easy and focus on form and sport specific drills that will help me improve….on some other day! I had a workout, I worked on some things I probably usually don’t focus on which is good. Value? I let go of trying to reach for a workout that was not there today and regrouped.

3) Clank off the back of the rim – This one started out bad but had some redeeming qualities towards the end. I thought I was going to go easy the whole way but towards the end I felt much better and actually did some ‘work’ – no intervals or what the desired outcome of the training was supposed to be, BUT I felt good again towards the end, had some kick and power. Feel much better about the next training session. Value? I was patient, didn’t force it and regrouped to have my feeling back late. Finished on a positive note.

4) In & Out (rims out) – ok, it doesn’t feel great but at least I got in a few intervals or drills or the prescription (Rx) of the workout. Did I get it all in? No, but at least I was able to pull something out of this workout. There have been much better days but I gave it a whirl and lasted partially through.

5) Bounce off the rim but still goes in – Phew – that was close. I felt awful to start with but once I got going it was there. I have no idea where that came from but I asked my body to perform and it did! Mind over matter? Nah, I just needed a solid warm up and to not think too much into how I am feeling – Just do it right?

6) Swoosh – You nailed the workout. Warm up felt solid, the intervals or the desired adaptation for the workout was completely achieved and you felt solid doing it. Come home and enter the workout immediately into your log with a beautiful and long description of all details. Let coach know how great you feel – even add “bring it on!” into the conversation.

Of course this checklist is constantly being marked and evaluated during the workout, unless you are ‘in the zone’ right off the start. But I come out of every workout knowing there is always some value within it. We have all had these days within our season – but I would be willing to say that 95% of the time we are happy we did the workout once we are done. We always, always feel good about having done it at all!

We all have ‘bad’ days – we often interpret these workouts as unsuccessful or even as a waste of time. As you have read, I doubt there was not something we squeezed out of the session. I once had a fantastic professional triathlete tell me that any workout that is not hard (a workout with a focused, deliberate adaptation or outcome) is not an effective use of time and I might as well lay on the couch resting for the next ‘good’ workout. Well, for him this might have worked since it was his only recovery I think (!) but for the ‘working athlete’, those with jobs other than full time triathlon, and families, sitting on the couch is just not an option. Go ahead, accept throwing up a brick sometimes but know there is always some value to taking the shot. It won’t stop you from taking another shot right? Just ask Kobe….

We’ll talk about ‘bad’ races some other time.

Original article can be found on

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