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Motivating to Train Hard on Good Days and Bad

kettlebell running strong first Feb 26, 2021

As of the writing of this blog post, I’m 23 weeks pregnant, working with our 8 year old to complete virtual school each day, running a growing company and hunkering down through the end of a Wisconsin winter mid-pandemic. Despite my 15 years of gym-rat status, if anyone understands “lack of motivation” or “lack of energy” to workout right now … it’s me. If that’s you too : I see you and I high five you.


Motivational swings are not just an isolated or situational thing for me. As a kettlebell athlete, instructor and sweat junkie, I’ve spent years balancing the tough workouts on my calendar with cyclical hormones, seasonal changes and the usual ups and downs that just come with life. Whether I’m training for a long run or race, or a kettlebell certification … some days the “YES! I get to workout!” just isn’t there. Other days, the mental drive is DEFINITELY there, but my body just isn’t up to the task, choosing instead to feel exhausted, crunchy or just obstinate.


I’ve had a lot of time to question:


How to decide whether to train or rest?

Is it really mind over matter?

Do I stick to my training calendar? Or go with the flow?


Having a motivation problem? Start here :


The first thing to remember here, is that something called “INTRINSIC MOTIVATION" is in short supply. It’s a limited resource dependent on time of day, amount of fuel and a lot of environmental factors. If you happen to have this one, congrats! You’ll feel excited, energized and ready to roll out those heavy squats, that hill run or a bunch of kettlebell snatches.


The more important resource to have at your disposal is a well developed toolbox of EXTRINSIC motivators. These are the things that provide you with a boost when you don’t “feel” like it. Social support, accountability partners, reward systems, hard deadlines, and things like fun music and a new pair of running shoes come into play here.


But on the really hard days, when routine, friends and a new workout shirt just doesn’t do it, this is going to be your best friend: 

Keep your TRUE NORTH (your deep reason for doing what you’re doing) at the forefront of your mind. Write a keyword on a piece of paper and tape it to your water bottle. Set a relevant photo as your phone wallpaper. Visualize yourself in that place, doing that thing, being that person and remind yourself over and over that THIS workout is one step closer to that place.


Feeling mentally strong, but physically out of whack? :


Some days, your mindset is RIGHT on track, but aches and pains suddenly appear, a sense of fatigue extinguishes your energy, or everything suddenly feeling awfully heavy. Those “bad days” (in my opinion) are probably the most frustrating for me, and are some of the most challenging coaching sessions we see around here.


Here’s a three step approach to training those days :



  • Exercise the mental superpower of flexibility and adaptability. It’s quite likely that - while your written or planned workout feels like garbage, something else will feel pretty good. Always have a back up plan, be willing to train another day’s workout, and use the assess/reassess tool to test your nervous system’s response (FOREST METHOD) to what you’re trying to do instead. Usually, if you can step back, take a deep breath, and be strategic and flexible, you can still get a damn good training session in. It might just be pull up practice in place of kettlebell presses or kettlebell swings instead of a run.


    1. Just do the Warm Up. If you’re unsure of whether it’s a minor glitch or your body telling you it’s time to pack it in, just try the warm up. Take at least 10 minutes to do respiratory warm ups (link to Breathing Blog), do a full joint range of motion practice or unloaded version of your workout, and slowly ease in. See if your energy or pain adjusts, apply whatever drills or rehab exercises you can along the way, and you might just get a green light as your nervous system comes online.


  • Be willing to pack it in or go for a walk. Some days, it just isn’t going to happen, and that may well be a request from your body for a day off, some yoga and breathwork or a walk outside. If you are menstruating, pay attention to whether these days tend to happen at the end of the follicular phase, as shifting hormones will often signal that a wind-down is needed to prepare for the start of the next cycle.



Being an intelligent athlete (link to workshop) indicates that you don’t just have knowledge of your sport or skill set, but a deeply intuitive understanding of your own body’s needs and language. Be strategic about your mindset, be superhumanly mentally flexible to make sure your training sessions happen consistently and without injury, and ask for help on days when you just can’t tell. I ask my partner and my coach on the regular “Can you just check me here? I can’t tell if I’m being rigid or dedicated.”

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