Eight Ways to Salvage a Bad Workout

Workout rescue 911! Pluck success from the jaws of workout disaster.

Eight Ways to Salvage a Bad Workout

Nobody plans to have a bad workout, but sometimes you get distracted, you can’t use the equipment you wanted to or, try as you might, your strength and muscle pump just aren’t up to snuff. As you grind out the final reps, you realize, "My workout sucked." Stay where you are. Never leave the gym knowing you performed poorly. Help is on the way. Your lackluster workout can be rescued if you immediately administer a stinger.

A stinger is a final sharp jolt of activity. If done correctly, it can resuscitate your bland training and turn a left-for-dead workout into a unique growing experience. The following eight stingers are the best emergency care for a faltering workout. Using any of these, you can leave the gym with a feeling of accomplishment, knowing you went to the brink.

 1: GO HIGH 

If you get to the end of a workout and feel as if you need to do something more to tax your muscles, simply finish your last exercise by grinding out as many reps as you can. However, instead of doing 40 reps with the same weight (in which case, at least the first 30 reps will be low intensity), for example, we recommend descending sets, wherein you do several sets in a row of approximately eight to 12 reps with a progressively lighter weight. So, you might do 10 reps of side laterals with 40-pound dumbbells, followed immediately by 10 reps with 30s, 10 reps with 25s and 10 final reps with 20s, pushing each of these descending sets to failure.


Sometimes, to rescue an otherwise dying workout, the best medicine is something new. Consider the exercises you’ve just performed, and then pick an exercise for that bodypart that is as far removed as possible from those exercises. For example, if all of your calf exercises were performed on machines — as is typical — do a final set of high-rep one-leg calf raises while holding a dumbbell.

If you did only free-weight biceps exercises, use a curl machine. It is often effective to end with the most compound exercise possible, such as doing dips after isolation triceps lifts — thus the previous exercises pre-exhaust the bodypart before the final compound lift. Two sets of 12-15 reps of the extra exercise should be sufficient to shock your muscles without overtraining them.


Often, a workout that starts strong ends weak. If you are at or near your strength peak for your first exercise but your intensity and focus fizzle for subsequent lifts during a workout, return to your initial exercise at the end. If, for example, you bench pressed heavy, followed by incline presses, dumbbell flyes and pec-deck flyes, conclude your workout with a stinger set of 12-15 reps of bench presses. You will generally find that such a strategy boosts your pump while it re-accustoms your muscles to the range of motion and strength of your initial lift.


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