6 Strategies to Get Through Tough Strength Training Sessions

“Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds.” – Henry Rollins

On paper never have truer words been spoken: two hundred pounds will forever be 200 pounds, but it doesn’t mean it will feel like that. Some days you go into the gym and wonder why you bothered. Everything is heavy, slow, and uncomfortable. It’s going to be a long day and you know it. The reality is though that these bad sessions are part and parcel of serious training and sadly get to us all eventually. Good recovery and smart programming can reduce their frequency, but sooner or later we all get caught out.  

What you do have control over though is how you respond to these bad sessions. Do you call it a day and go home or do you get hyped up and give it your all? There is a time and place for both strategies — and a few others, too.  


As long as you don’t have a weight limit to make in a few days or an upcoming bodybuilding show, your first port of call when the going gets tough is to get some food in. Not eating right can leave you drained and miserable, especially if you’re a bigger athlete. Consistently coming into training with zero motivation and still feeling beat up from that light session a few days ago is often your body begging you to make some changes. In the long run I suggest playing around with a few different approaches and seeing what works best for you or bringing someone into help you.

Short term, though, that won’t help and you may need to go rogue to ensure that you get a good session in. Flapjack and a protein shake almost always does the trick for me, the combination of easily digested protein and carbohydrate mixed with the ‘stodge’ of the oats leaves you feeling full and full of energy. This is best eaten on the way to the gym, to give it time to settle, particularly important if you’ve been low or carb free.

Tweak the Session

If a few more calories haven’t cut it, tweak the session itself. Absolutely nothing is set in stone. There is no need to feel compelled to follow the program blindly, just because it’s been written down. Instead do what’s best for your body and your long term goals. Sometimes that means battling through the session by any means necessary, more often though it’s better to change a few things round.

Normally every program will have a primary focus; that could be to hit a certain weight, a certain number of reps, or to do a WOD. The rest of the program will typically be accessory and skill work, especially if you’re training for strength. On your bad days, dial in on that one movement that you need to get done and then tailor the remainder of your session to make it more achievable. There are a whole host of ways you can achieve that, whether it’s adding or taking away warm up sets, longer rest periods, or any of the other methods below.


Caffeine makes things easier. A lot easier. A cursory Google search will show a plethora of studies praising caffeine for its effect on endurance and while that’s brilliant for runners. It’s not why most of use take it before or during training. We drink our coffees by the bucket load because it helps us get motivated. To get hyped. Each sip making our heart race faster, raising the temperature on our bodies and making everything more achievable including that GVT squats that you’ve got scheduled. It doesn’t have to be coffee either; there is an exponentially growing market of energy drinks out there at the moment. Find one that you like and go to town.

At this point it seems prudent to point out that the above advice should not be a daily routine, but an ace in the hole. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a moderate daily caffeine intake, but if you find yourself unable to sleep or get anything done without a coffee, it might be time to take a week off.  


I owe a debt of gratitude to whoever invented the soft belt. It’s saved more sessions than I care to think of; that and thin neoprene knee sleeves are my go to when warm ups feel hard. If your body is beat up these two will allow you to hit your lifts pain free and without affecting the movement too much.

Sometimes it’s more than just a lack of pain holding you back though and you need a little extra to get those numbers up. That’s where the real gear comes in. Leather belts, dual ply sleeves, wraps, lifters, straps, and anything else you have hiding in the kit bag.     

Pure Rage

If all the above has come up short but you’re still determined to get the session in, it’s time for the last resort. Rage and rage hard. Take over the speakers, play your angry songs (Rag and Bone Man – No Mother and Solo 45 – Feed em to the Lions), call up your training partners, crack out the smelling salts, give yourself a talking to and get after it.

Just as with the caffeine section, it again is worth highlighting that this shouldn’t be your average training session. And if it is you need to look at why you require so much stimulation just to lift, save the crazy for your tough or heavy sessions and reap the rewards.  

Go Home

Sometimes it’s just not worth it. Sometimes it’s better to go home, have a cup of tea and live to lift another day.   

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.