Despite the situation that many of us are living through right now, life is still busy. Family needs to be attended to, dinner needs to be made, laundry needs to be folded and, of course, our jobs need to be done. This means that on any given day you might not be able to complete every workout in your schedule. What should you do when this happens?
The approach that I see many athletes use is to stack all the workouts that they missed onto other days. I think of this as the “to-do list” approach. The workout schedule is on your weekly list and what you don’t get done on Monday, you should just move to Tuesday. This type of approach works well in many other areas of life. In general, things on the “to-do list” must eventually get done, and if you have to jam a day full of tasks to get them all done, then that’s what has to happen, right?
There are several reasons why this doesn’t work when it comes to exercise, and they are all related to some of the core principles of training. One of is these is the principle of progression. This principle states that increases in training load must be controlled. If the plan you are following does not call for a three-workout day when you do one, then the controlled progression is lost.
Another principle that is ignored when stacking workouts is the principle of specificity. Each workout in your schedule should be designed to elicit a specific stress on the body, related to the intensity, type of exercise and duration of that session. If you put several workouts together you risk not being able to achieve the goals of one or more of those sessions. Can you really go as hard as you need to during your third session of the day? Will you be able to execute drills as efficiently and effectively as if you were fresh? If you aren’t able to train specifically then you won’t get the benefits of the training session.
Even if you can string it together for one day and do all of the sessions that you’ve squeezed in properly, you run into the final problem with a fundamental training principle. That is the principle of adaptation. Adaptations are the physiological changes that occur as a response to training. These adaptations do not occur while you are training but when you are resting. If you train twice as much as you were supposed to, are you going to be able to rest twice as much before your next session? If not, you’re impairing your ability to complete future workouts and not getting the adaptation to the stress you put your body under by doing those extra workouts. Unfortunately, your body cannot “bank” rest, so that day you rested earlier in the week when you missed your other workouts doesn’t help you adapt and recover when you overdo it later on.
For all these reasons, the best approach when you miss a workout is to just move on. Think of exercise more like a part of your daily routine rather than something on your “to-do” list. If you miss something from your daily routine, say flossing your teeth, you floss them the next day and try to be better about flossing more often from then on. Treat your exercise the same way. Not only can that relieve some of the stress of trying to fit everything in, but you might actually get more out of your training too!
Darian Silk is a triathlon coach and Clinical Exercise Physiologist based in Toronto. Read more about Darian here or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out his TrainingPeaks profile here.