I just got back from a bike ride that nearly ate me alive. By the end I was toast. Exhausted. Ready to collapse into a sweat-soaked, road-dust encrusted puddle of flesh. I know, I know — ewwwww.
Yet the other day I did a similar ride and had a completely different experience. Same intensity, same type of terrain, no problem. It was a piece of cake. Easy-peasy. I felt wonderful, maintained a good pace, and at the end I leapt off my bike, smiling.
I know I’m not the only one who has exercise ups and downs, but why things should vary so much from one day to the next is a complete mystery to me. And it’s not just limited to biking. I’ve had this problem in a variety of activities — including skiing — and if I could bottle the good days for the days when I felt like crap, I’d be a happy camper.
So why is working out so hard sometimes? Why can’t each day be the same?
There are a variety of theories on why this happens, so I thought I’d share some with you:
• It could be nutritional, hormonal, sleep-related, [insert something here]. The body is a complex machine, and there are stressors in our lives and bodies we may not even be aware of. Drink alcohol the night before, and you might not perform well. Get a poor night’s sleep, and it could make a difference. (Though as a chronic insomniac, I’ve had some pretty good days following nights when I’ve slept maybe 3-4 hours Maybe it all comes down to what you’re used to?)
• It could be the environment. Maybe it was too hot/cold/humid/dry/windy. Maybe it’s the air quality. Maybe it’s the altitude. In short, in addition to internal things, there are external things that can affect your performance. Working out when it’s really hot or humid can be much more exhausting than it is on a moderate day. And biking when it’s extremely windy can be a real challenge. Know that and make allowances.
• Maybe you were over/under hydrated. If you don’t drink enough before or during your workout, you could feel weak, dizzy, confused, or sluggish. Overhydration has its own set of problems, too: cramping, nausea, and confusion, so it can easily be confused with dehydration. In fact, drinking too much fluid, especially from certain “rehydration” drinks, can ironically cause dehydration. A drink that has a high level of sugar and additives may require too much of your body’s own fluid to dilute so it can be absorbed. Also, drinking too much water at once may cause you to pee too much, so you don’t absorb any fluid.
• It’s in your head. It’s no secret that energy can be related to attitude. A positive attitude can result in greater energy for a better workout. And depression can wreak havoc on the way you perform. So keep that in mind (pun intended).
• These days just happen. And when they do, either pack it in or just expect less from yourself. Your body is trying to tell you something, so listen to it and back off. You may be doing too much. There’s actually something called “overtraining syndrome.” Too much training can break you down and make you weaker. Physiologic improvement actually occurs during the rest period that follows hard training. During recovery, your cardiovascular and muscular systems build up to compensate for the stress you’ve applied. The result can be a higher level of performance.
In short, who knows what’s going on. Some days are just not as good as others, so I kind of like the last explanation best (though trust me, I am not overtraining). But if you think you have an idea of your own, post it here. I’d love to hear it.
Something I’ve felt useful is electrolyte drops. Instead of getting the sugar and colorings from Gatorade type drinks, just add the drops to water and you can get more useful hydration. I get Endure from a local health food store. It’s small enough to tuck into a ski bag and can give you tons of drinks.
Thanks for the tip, Iris. Great idea!