The better-than-nothing workout

We all have those days; short for time, short on inspiration, when our energy has stayed in bed and our mind has wandered even further afield. Yet somehow, the motivation is there and burning stronger than ever.

If you’re struggling to identify, let me set the scene. I had just spent four days in France caring for my granddad, with little time to think about myself and no time to think about my fitness. With a sore tooth, I took some codeine on Monday evening before bed, ensuring that I got a fantastic night’s sleep but a more difficult wake-up call. Plus, Monday was a fast day. All in all, I was feeling pretty drained on Tuesday but raring to go. Unfortunately, knowing I had to get a workout in before a client, get back in time to attend a seminar Ben was giving on ACL rehab, before embarking on a 90-minute to Surrey in order to feed a cat, and back – not to mention still trying to process the weekend past – my mind was definitely not ready to push me through lactic acid burn.

Arriving at the gym soaked through after getting caught in a downpour, I had about an hour in which to get completely changed into dry workout gear, train, and get changed back into work clothes. And I still hadn’t thought about what I wanted to train!

Now, I love doing upper-body work, but Ben is struggling with a shoulder injury so we rarely get much work done for that area. Plus, leg work hurts a lot more, so it makes sense to save the leg work for when Ben is there to help push me through it! Finally, I knew I was going to have a lot of running around to do that evening, so I didn’t want dead legs.

Really, there wasn’t a huge amount of logic to this workout; I just wanted to get that good burn throughout my upper body without destroying myself, be able to work with short recovery times – i.e. low weights, high reps – and kill as many birds with one stone (or whatever the vegan equivalent is) as possible!

I have to stress that this isn’t a workout I would necessarily recommend, but it’s an example that sometimes, something is better than nothing – and it’s OK to just to what you enjoy doing, especially at those times!

The Warm-Up: 5mins upright bike, 3 x 6 lateral band steps, 3 x 6 forward band steps [standing on a resistance band with feet shoulder-width apart, pulling it taught with an upright row, and stepping whilst keeping tension on the band; warms the hips up at different angles], 3 x 8 atomic push-ups [warms up with upper body and core, gets some pressing action in before I get too tired, keeps the legs moving too]

The Wake-Up Call: 3 x 10 bent-over reverse flyes [really squeezing the shoulder blades together and holding for a second at the top; gets right into the rhomboids and keeps me standing tall and proud for the rest of the session!]

The Real Work: 3 x 10 single arm cable pull low-to-high [standing side on, holding cable with arm across your body at hip height (e.g. right hand by left hip), pull handle diagonally across body and continue extend the arm until elbow is straight and hand is pointing away from the body diagonally, making sure to lead with the elbow; gets shoulder, tricep, and lat involved whilst keeping the core engaged, gets some more explosive action going]

The Random Superset: Three rounds of 12 x reverse flyes with a resistance band, 12 x Arnold press-to-lateral raise (both standing) [OK, so I guess at least these target the shoulders in some way, but otherwise they are pretty much very different exercises; I used them both together because on their own, neither of them challenges me that much as I can’t use heavy enough weights for fear of compromising form (e.g. leaning back), but together they create a real burn in the rear delts… and I like them both!]

The Burn: Three sounds of 15 x chest press, 15 x incline press, 15 x overhead press, 16 x medicine ball round-the-worlds (all standing) [using a light bar, I really punch these out for speed, careful not to swing or lean backwards, or move my head during round-the-worlds; this is a great time-saver as I fatigue in no time and take very little recovery between sets, just enough time to shake my arms out and get my breath back, but it doesn’t do enough damage to leave me dead-armed for the rest of the day]

The Top-Up: One set of bicep curl 21s [to get some bicep work in with hardly any time to spare and an aversion to spending hours doing bicep curls in front of the mirror; a quick way to get a burn and to condition the biceps to low-intensity high-volume work so they don’t fail me in back exercises!]

That lot took me all of about 40 minutes and I felt perfectly functional for the rest of the day. Embarrassingly, I am suffering a fair bit of DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness; I wondered for years what the term actually meant!) from what I didn’t think was a tough workout, mainly through the lats, so clearly I did something right!

If, like me, your training has been erratic and unreliable and you’re not sure where to start… just start and see what your body says. Something feels tired? Leave it alone. Something feels pumped? Work it!

Remember that the purpose of fitness and strength training is to enhance quality of life, both in the short and long term. If training feels like a chore, find a way to make it not feel so tedious; try something new, try something totally different, and if none of that works, try taking a break. I should really make a cheap joke here about being a try-athlete, but I don’t think I can do that to any of us.

Have fun and keep me posted on what you come up with!