Gather around and I’ll tell you one of life’s simple truths: Some days, your workouts will make you feel like Simone Biles. Others, you’ll feel like Danny Zuko trying to dribble a basket ball. It’s not exactly clear why you might “kill it one day and it kills you the next,” but Mike Fantigrassi, NASM CPT, CNC, a certified personal trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine, has some ideas.
Before unpacking the causes behind a not-so-great workout, Fantigrassi says that you first need to know the magic formula for creating a great one. “When you have a really good workout, it’s likely because you ate really well and you slept well,” says the trainer. On top of that, he says that the best exercises happen when your nervous system is functioning well. Meaning, your mind is just as on board with the spin class ahead as, say, your legs. When these three factors align, you’re set up to crush your sweat goals.
When you have a bad workout 24 hours after an amazing one, Fantigrassi says that you’re likely falling short on one or more of these factors. Let’s say you ace an epic treadmill workout, skip a refueling breakfast, have a stressful day at work, and burn the midnight oil trying to get ahead of your to-do list. All those factors are stacked up against you, and the straw that breaks the camels back—according to Fantigrassi —is muscle soreness.
When you go hard at the gym, “you’re creating some trauma to the muscle tissue in the workout. That’s going to need recovery,” he says. If you push through your sore muscles, you’ll likely feel delayed on set muscles soreness (DOMS) kick in mid-workout. And just like that—your already difficult task of exercising whilst sleepy, stressed, and improperly fueled becomes that much more challenging.
Sometimes, you’ll just have to forgive yourself and take the c‘est la vie mindset to a crap workout. (Alas, we all can’t always channel our inner inner J. Lo.) However, Fantigrassi says that you can take four steps to treat your body it’s very best so that you rack up more good workouts than bad ones.
What to do before you’re too sore to work out
1. cool down, always
“Doing some cool down stuff, in particular foam rolling, is a good thing to do. There’s some metabolic waste products that are created from exercise, and rolling can help move some stuff around and possibly help with decreasing some soreness,” he says. Don’t just check off your workout and run off to the next part of your day.
2. Refuel right.
Protein kickstarts the anabolic process, or the process of rebuilding muscle tissue. To help move anabolism along, Fantigrassi strongly recommends eating no more than an hour after you’ve wrapped things up at the gym. Make your plate half carbs, half protein.
3. Practice active and passive recovery
Passive recovery may involve getting a sports massage, or another muscle recovery technique of your choosing. Or, opt for something active: go on a walk, stretch, or hop on your foam roller again.
Cryotherapy is another type of active recovery. Here’s what it’s like: