What are the Consequences of Missing a Workout?

What are the consequences of missing a workout? Although this isn’t a common question the implications of the answer affect anyone following a training plan. A training plan is only as good as the adherence to this plan. As a result I am often asked “What do I do if I miss a session?” but before I answer the more common question I will explain what I refer to as the ‘Why factor’. The ‘Why factor’ will help provide you with the information as to why that is the case.

Lets look at a hypothetical training programme that goes for a 4 months building up to an event with 6-10 workouts per week. So that is a total of between 96 & 160 workouts as part of that build up. If you miss one workout over that 16 week period, that is somewhere between about 0.5% & 1% missed or a consistency rate of about 99-99.5%, which is pretty damn good and I don’t think I’ve had any client that consistent (although a couple spring to mind that might have got close). Lets look at the other end of the spectrum of someone who constantly misses a session or two per week.  That represents missing 10-33% or a success rate of between 67% & 90%. Now only missing 1 session a week when there are 10 sessions to do, represents  a success rate of 90% which is pretty good in anyone’s books, but when there are only 6 workouts in that week then that drops to 83% which is starting to get pretty thin on the ground and consistently missing sessions is far from optimal, especially if that is every week without fail.

The key to successful training is consistently doing that training. This is the time of year where there are other distractions that take you away from your training, which takes you away from your goal.

As a coach I am not worried if one of my athletes misses one session once in every blue moon, but if they are missing a session week in and week out then lets be honest they are also setting themselves up for failure. Especially if that is a key session or consistently the same session. A key session for a cyclist is the Long Bike Ride and as a coach if I set that every Sunday morning for them and they are consistently missing it for what ever reason they are missing a key opportunity to condition their body and develop their aerobic energy system. Maybe they are trying to set a PB for 10km and their Wednesday Interval session gets missed constantly. This session is what will give them speed and the ability to buffer lactic acid, missing this session will potentially mean they miss their goal time. If you are missing the same session every week (regardless of the reason why you miss it) it will severely limit your ability to develop the component of fitness that that particular session was developing. It is in your best interests to get this session done, but how? Do you double up somewhere else in the week or do you try and catch up by doing it on your rest day?

Lets look at what happens in these situations. Firstly lets look at why we have a rest day. By the way, I like to schedule training that will improve you without being physically demanding on your rest day, hence why I schedule Flexibility Training for you. I’ll discuss the benefits of Flexibility Training further down this piece. But the key is that a Rest Day (or a day that only involves Flexibility Training) allows your body to recuperate and repair itself. When the body does this as a response to training it makes itself a little bit stronger, a little bit more powerful and a little bit more efficient than it was previously. Without recovery between sessions like this your body never gets this chance to develop. This IS the reason why we conduct training (to make our bodies better). Without the recovery our bodies don’t and can’t improve.

So what happens if I just double up my training on another day and do both my scheduled training and the training I missed from earlier in the week? It’s seems fair enough that if I do more training than scheduled then I will surely get better right? Not so fast. I’ll use the example of a client who did all their training from the weekend and squashed it into a single 12 hour period. Don’t get me wrong, it was an epic training stimulus, but a training stimulus is only as good as the recovery from that training load. As this person works they had a big training session scheduled on Saturday and then another one on Sunday in a different sport. If the programme was done as planned they would have had the opportunity to recover (nearly fully) from the Saturday session overnight as they slept.  They would have been relatively fresh on Sunday for the next big session that was planned. What actually happened was they did the first big session, then jumped in a vehicle and drove to the venue where they were conducting the next session and conducted it. As they hadn’t really got much recovery prior to the second big training session, they wouldn’t have got much benefit from that training session and consequently loaded themselves up with a great load of training that they now need to recover from before they would start to see any improvements. As a consequence, their training over the following days (whilst they continued to recover) will also be compromised.

I hope from these two examples you can see that there is no benefit to trying to catch up with the training that you missed. What should you do? If you miss a training session, acknowledge that you missed it (it isn’t the end of the world) and just move on with the remainder of the training and don’t worry about catching up. If you are missing the same session each and every week, talk to your coach about why you struggle to do that particular session at the scheduled time and look into solutions that involve scheduling the week differently so that the key sessions are scheduled and then conducted at a time that ensures that you can get them done.

As an aside a number of my athletes are training for a major event, but like to include low key local races as part of the training and preparation. This I fully support where it doesn’t impact the key sessions of training for what they are ‘focussing on’. There are some great benefits physiologically to doing this type of racing. It is also a great way to be involved in sport socially and support local clubs and events. But if this low key event doesn’t totally line up with preparing you for your key event it might not be the best thing for your long term goals. Further more, if this local event (or event series) then leaves you too tired to do the most important training sessions of your build up…….is it setting you up for failure?

Earlier in this piece I said I would discuss the benefits of conducting the flexibility training. There are two key reasons why I schedule the flexibility training into the programmes of my athletes.

  1. Enhanced recovery. By taking the time to stretch and focus purely on stretching with no distractions, you can relax into each stretch and slowly lengthen out each muscle being stretched. This has been shown to be therapeutic and to enhance recovery. The perfect activity to conduct on a rest day.
  2. Decreased risk of injury. Training by it’s nature shortens muscles, although some forms of training can lengthen muscles.  In general repetitive activities such as running and cycling etc shorten the muscles. By conducting flexibility training, the stretching helps lengthen the muscles returning them towards their original length.

Further to the two key reasons a third reason to do the flexibility training is to increase the range of motion at a joint that can then turn into a performance advantage that allows you to increase your mechanical efficiency  i.e. to make you faster. We all want that.

In summary, rest and recovery is very important part of your training but you are only ever going to be as good as the consistency of the training that you do. So if you miss a training session for what ever reason, don’t try and ‘catch’ that session back up if it is going to compromise your recovery from the other training that is scheduled for you.

If you would like further advice feel free to contact Coach Ray.

Coach Ray is the Head Coach & Director of Qwik Kiwi – Endurance Sports Consultant.

Coach Ray specialises in assisting first timers and recreational athletes to achieve their sporting goals. He can be contacted at www.qwik.kiwi, ray@qwikkiwi.com and 021 348 729. Make sure you sign up to his monthly informative newsletter.

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