The Zen of Gains – Five Things to Do When Your Doer is Broken

Anyone who has been in the iron game for any time at all knows that at some point you will slump. Jim Wendler, creator of the 5/3/1 method, once wrote something to the effect that an experienced lifter is one who knows they will have periods of setbacks and fights through them anyway. Powerful words. Our bodies are dynamic, and it is unrealistic for to expect every workout to be a PR. In fact, most lifters will see weeks or even months of plateau or even downward trends in their lifting journey. This is perfectly normal. Have you ever seen a graph of the stock market? Like the stock-market, our physiology is a non-linear system – we should expect to experience ups and downs. They key is for the overall trend to be upward. So how do you respond when your body doesn’t? Instead of getting down in the dumps, know that you will come through on the other side, and take some steps to make your recovery as quick as possible. Here are five tips to overcome a slump.

  1. Examine your total lifestyle

You want to look for three specific things. First, what is your cumulative stress? Your body can’t distinguish stress, so the more stress you experience from work, lifestyle change, significant other, or (the biggest stressor for most people) money, the less stress you have available to put toward lifting heavy shit. Second, look for recent changes. Marriage or a significant relationship commitment, moving, new children, and new employment are four of the most stressful acute changes you can experience. Other sudden changes might include diet and water changes related to traveling or moving or switching jobs, picking up or dropping new habits, or changes to feeding and sleeping schedule. Just be aware that correlation does not equal causality. Some changes may have nothing to do with recent lethargy or regress.

  1. Take the right drugs

Did I get your attention with this one? This is an essential part of getting out of a slump. Some people respond to a slump by taking some kind of drug – sleeping aids, stimulants, or even PEDs. Before we go any further, let me just say that I have no experience at all with PEDs. Just book knowledge. So if you are experiencing a training setback due to the timing or structure of your gear, this article might be less useful to you. Chemical imbalance caused by juicing should be addressed with your physician. In my opinion, trying to “out chemical” your slump is not the best choice. Instead, seek balance and wait. Zen it out. The “right drugs” to take are the three most important elements to your training and goals: sleep, nutrition, and water. Do you journal these critical inputs? Why would you track your training and not your recovery? These three elements are just as necessary as lifting weights to get #strongAF. Make sure you are getting eight hours of sleep in every 24 hour period. Make sure you are getting the right balance of nutrition and from the right sources. Make sure you are drinking at least one gallon of water every day.

  1. Pamper yourself

Ok, this one is kind of a joke because I have a reputation for being brutal and sometimes cruel – especially to myself. Suck it up buttercup and all that macho shit. But the truth is that if you are going through a slump you need to be intentional about removing unnecessary stress and maximizing recovery. So don’t “pamper” yourself by buying a $6 coffee-based sugar drink – that actually adds stress since your body isn’t designed to metabolize that shit. But do spend time on recovery and prehab. Go ahead and buy some Epsom salts and schedule some soaking into your week. Eat simple and easy to digest foods. Drink green tea. Get a massage. Do Zen. Let your body unwind and center itself.

  1. Tweak your inputs

Do NOT start randomly changing things. DO gradually and intelligently examine your inputs and tweak them. For example, a common influence behind training regress is overconsumption of caffeine. If you are drinking more than 12 oz. of coffee a day, you might be in this category. DO NOT go “cold turkey”. That just adds more stress. Instead, come up with a plan to dial it back one step at a time. Things to check for: over-stimulation, harmful habits (e.g. tobacco, alcohol, cola), undernutrition, overtraining.

  1. Fucking grind

This does not mean to lift too much weight with poor form. Instead, this means to set a goal in the gym, and just do it. Keep on grinding, no matter how shitty you feel about your lack of progress. Here is how this works: create a set and rep goal for each exercise, but do not set a weight goal. The whole problem is that you aren’t hitting your weight goals, right? So you might decide to do three sets of ten on dumbbell flyes. Now just do it. You may have to drop the weight or increase rest periods or some such, but just do it.

In conclusion, keep this in mind: everyone goes through slumps. Fight through it, and use the five tips above to help you overcome more quickly. Keep your head in the game, nugget!