Great Attitude Means Great Workout, Right?

When your heart’s just not in it.

I’m a big believer in paying attention to your body—taking periodic days off from exercise and working out, adjusting food choices when you feel unsatisfied or low-energy, and, if you feel “off,” making informed decisions about whether or not you are actually sick, and need to see your doctor, or simply rest. Or, maybe, you just need to “push through” the funk you’re feeling, and stick to your commitment to healthy living. That last thing is what happened to me today. Not the first time it’s happened, and probably not the last.

My morning was spent in somewhat intense discussion with loved ones, about issues which are irrelevant to the point I’m making here, leaving me emotionally drained. (We are all fine, by the way, in case you were wondering.) Right before this unexpected family discussion, I’d prepared a big breakfast for myself, anticipating a weightlifting workout followed by some cardio.

So now, here I was, physically prepped and ready to go, but feeling emotionally drained, and not at all in the mood to go to the gym and work out. I found myself looking for excuses: “you know, feeling like this, you’ll never be able to lift with any strength, because you feel so drained,” for example. “A day off won’t hurt you, and it’ll give you a chance to emotionally replenish yourself and have a stronger workout tomorrow.” (That one is completely true, by the way.)

I decided to get myself together and go to the gym anyway.

Today’s agenda included wide-grip pullups, flat bench dumbbell presses, and post-lifting cardio. One of my favorite workouts, actually, that I’d anticipated for days, hoping to increase my results from the last time I did this one. I arrived at the gym, still feeling “down,” and went upstairs to the weight room. The apparatus I use for the pullups was being used by someone else. It occurred to me that maybe I could just do cardio today, and hit the weights tomorrow, but I decided to follow through with my original intent. Besides, I only had to wait a couple of minutes.

I approached the pullup station, took the wide-grip stance, and began. First one felt nice and strong, and I completed 9, which was equivalent to the last time I did these. After waiting several minutes, I started another set, thinking this time that if I just thought of them in groups of 3, it would be easier to complete another set of 9. Success. Meanwhile, my mood was not improving at all. I still felt “down.” So far, no real improvement over the last workout, either. After another rest interval of several minutes, I approached for my last set. Last time I did this exercise, I was only able to do 8 on the third set, so here was my final opportunity today to do better. And I did. The ninth one might not have been “regulation” regarding me getting high enough, but it was unquestionably better than the last time I did these. In its own way, that felt good… but my mood wasn’t any better than it was before.

Next exercise was the flat bench dumbbell press. Last time, I did this exercise with 60 lbs. dumbbells, which, for me, is getting very close to the maximum I’m capable of doing. Twice in recent years I’ve injured my shoulder using dumbbells greater than 50 lbs. so I knew that I had to be careful. Considering my mood, I thought for a moment that perhaps I should use a lighter weight, just to be safe. I decided to “go for it” and got the 65 lbs. dumbbells. First set was successful; 12 repetitions completed. With this exercise, it’s getting the dumbbells into position and completing the first rep that is the most dangerous, followed closely by the way you complete the last rep and “dismount” the exercise. Second set was also good for 12 reps. By now, you’d think I’d be thrilled, because these results were a personal best—but no. Still in a funk. At this point, I considered playing it safe, and backing down to a lower weight dumbbell for the last set, to minimize the potential for injury. Going to failure with dumbbells is dangerous, because if you lose control of them, that’s when injuries most likely occur. Dismissing that thought, I went ahead and attempted the third set with the 65s, and completed another 12 reps with no problem. This was a huge accomplishment! I’d never been able to perform this strongly on this exercise. But my mood remained the same. I’ve started workouts “in a funk” before, and not only ended up having good workouts in spite of that, but experiencing a lifted mood as well. (See my article here.) But this time was different—I was having a great workout, but not having a concomitant improvement in spirit.

I usually end a weightlifting session with 30 minutes moderately intense cardio, so I moved to a treadmill, set the time, speed, and incline, and began. After 10 minutes, I was ready to be done. “Just go ahead and stop at 15 minutes; you took about 23 minutes to lift weights, so 15 minutes cardio makes for a total workout time of nearly 40 minutes, which is fine.” I decided to keep going. Once I passed the 20 minute mark, I was in the phase of cardio that I refer to as “almost done, why stop now?” so I completed the 30 minutes and went home. Feeling just as emotionally drained as when I arrived.

Lesson for today: persistence and consistency do not require that you have a good attitude going in. You might get great results anyway. And now, several hours later, while I still feel rather depleted in spirit, I know that, overall, I feel better than I would if I had decided not to exercise today.

Stay motivated, my friends—the long-term results are worth the effort.

Author: Ron Maurey

Pianist, teacher, vocal coach, and church musician. Fitness enthusiast.

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