How to get through a workout when you have zero energy

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I thought about this post today while on the elliptical. I went to the gym to escape our house cleaners, but from the minute I started working out, I felt drained. Immediately I started wondering if I was going to make it through my planned leg day. I started to mentally negotiate my escape and head out the door I just came in 7 minutes ago. But because there was a crew of women at my house with mops and vacuums, I didn’t have the option to go home. It was the elliptical or sit in my car for the next 90 minutes scrolling Facebook, and I couldn’t justify that level of sloth.

So instead I motored on while thinking about the wisdom I’d pass on to my awesome readers (that’s you!) about what to do when you actually get past the initial resistance to even go to the gym (half the battle), but then find that you have zero energy to actually make it through a workout, once you’re there.

no energy for workouts

Here’s what I recommend:

Acknowledge your energy levels and don’t push too hard. Doing so can increase your stress hormone levels and won’t do jack to give you results (unless you like the look of a protruding belly from inflammation and cortisol).

Something is ALWAYS better than nothing. We tend to have an all-or-nothing approach to diet and fitness. When we’re not perfect with our well-intentioned plans, we often say, “f-it” and then end up face first in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s with a plan to start again fresh the next day. That’s not how success works, folks! Success is making small, incremental, but consistent forward movement, so don’t let a lame workout turn into no workout at all. Lame workouts can totally rock your world.

Warm up longer. Very often that feeling of being too drained to do a workout is simply a need to warm your muscles up more or give your heart a little more time to get going. Even if you never get past the warm-up, the physical benefits of light exercise can’t be understated. Sometimes these workouts where you kinda just warm up, then cool down, can do wonders for releasing stress, elevating mood and help you figure out your obsessions of the day.

Avoid leg days when you feel drained. Legs are really big muscles and they require a lot of energy to get through. Opt for an upper body workout, like a good shoulder circuit. It’s a small, concentrated area of the body that doesn’t require every ounce of energy to focus on.

Lighten up on the weights. To avoid injury and hating life, it’s best not to pick the heaviest weights you’ve ever used to get through your workouts. This is a great opportunity for a lighter load day and do more reps if you can. So, instead holding 20lb dumbbells for your walking lunges, use 15lbs and perhaps squeeze in a few more steps.

Do bodyweight workouts. I love doing workouts like Piyo on days where I’m tired. I always feel sweaty and accomplished afterward, but equally energized and relaxed. It’s such a good mix of functional movement without overtaxing the body.

Test your body with Biofeedback. I don’t profess to be an expert at this theory, and I’m not even sure I buy into it, but apparently, your range of motion can dictate what workouts your body wants to do (and not do). Personally, I would use this technique to avoid anything hard because I’m kinda lazy. If you’re interested to learn more, check out Jen Sinkler’s article on the topic.

Grab your coat and leave.  Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to give your body a break.  If you’re working out 5 to 7 days a week, then you clearly need a break.  If you only get a chance to workout 2 to 3 times a week, try your best to do something in the time you’ve given yourself.

Food & Nutrition Tips 

  • Water, water, and more water – dehydration will often reflect as low energy, but you already know that.
  • Don’t eat for 2 hours before a workout. That’s while I felt like hell during my workout today.
  • Use a pre-workout drink to give you a little pep, but read the labels. Steer clear of weird colorings or chemicals.
  • Have a cup of coffee before your workout. Works like a charm for me!
  • Eat 25 – 50g of carbs 2 hours before your workout. This might be a small bowl of oats, a quest bar or banana. But if like me, you’re on a low carb diet and you’re already fat-adapted, this isn’t something you want to do.
  • Make sure you’re eating enough.  If you’re doing a ton of movement, you need more calories.  Don’t kill yourself by cutting calories and going nuts on the workouts. It won’t end up well.  I know this from experience.

So over to you!  What do you do when you’re feeling meh and you don’t have the energy to do a workout?  Do you have a favorite low intensity go-to that you opt for, or do you just skip it?

xo caren

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  1. Great tips! I usually tell myself something is better than nothing, and that I came all the way to the gym so I should at least do something. I may only do 30 minutes instead of an hour if I’m really not feeling it.

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