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This podcast is all about skipping workouts. When does it make more sense to skip a workout than to do a workout (or to swap the workout you were planning with another)?

Sometimes you just don’t feel up to a workout due to lack of sleep, stress, soreness, or something else. If you’re warming up and your joints feel achy or your mind is wandering, and you feel like it’s not going to be a great workout, you have two choices.

You can suck it up and continue. Good enough is great, after all. 

Or you can do the workout on another day. 

Which choice is better? In other words, does it pay to be flexible with our workout programming? Will it pay off in terms of better long-term results? Listen to this podcast to find out.


5:26 – What is flexible programming?

15:43 – What does the science say about autoregulation?

17:50 – What are the benefits of flexible programming?

19:56 – What are the downsides of flexible programming?

21:46 – How can we make flexible programming work?

23:39 – An example of how flexible programming might look.

Mentioned on the Show:

My New Book Muscle For Life

What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!


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I’m your host, Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today. And quickly, if you haven’t already done this, please do subscribe to the show in whatever app you are listening to me in, so then you don’t miss any new episodes. And it really helps me because it boosts the popularity of the show on the various charts.

All right, so in this episode, I’m gonna be talking about skipping workouts when. Makes sense to skip a workout when it makes more sense to skip a workout than to do a workout or at least the workout you are planning on doing. Because sometimes you are just not feeling it. You are really not feeling it.

You’re really not feeling up to it. Sometimes you know why, maybe you haven’t been sleeping well. Maybe stress levels have been very high. Sometimes you don’t quite know why, But let’s say. In the gym, you’re warming up. The weights feel very heavy. Your joints are feeling achy. Your mind is not in it. Your emotions are not in it.

Maybe your mind is wandering or you have your attention stuck on something, maybe an upset or something that was upsetting. And you have a very strong feeling that it is not gonna be a great workout. Now you can just suck it up and do it. And there’s a lot to be said for that. I’ve written and spoken about that in many different ways over the years.

And often good enough is all we can muster. And that’s okay because a lot of good enough makes for greatness. That is the only way to become great, is to just do a lot of good enough. And then sometimes we get to experience great. And if we’re talking about doing a workout versus not doing a workout, let’s say, ever.

So you’re either gonna do the workout now or you are never going to do it. You are just gonna skip it and wait for the next week. Then doing it is almost always the smart choice. We never regret having done a workout, right? No matter how much we maybe did not want to do it going into it. But if we could choose between doing.

A workout today, let’s say a tough workout a lower body workout, heavy squats, and other heavy exercises we could choose between doing that workout today, right now, let’s say going and doing it and having a rather poor go of it, or doing it maybe tomorrow or the following day and having it go a lot better.

Which should we choose? That is the question that we are going to be exploring in today’s episode, Flexible programming, as it’s called, Being flexible with our workout programming, being willing to change things when it will result in better results, especially better long-term results. In the intro to this episode, I mentioned a term flexible programming.

That is the topic of today’s episode. So what is that? Pretty simple. It just refers to adjusting the order or the frequency of your workouts based on how you feel. The idea is to apply the concept of auto regulation, which is regulating your training based on how you feel, based on how it’s going, making changes to it Could be the amount of weight you’re gonna put on the bar, the amount of sets you’re gonna do, the amount of reps you’re gonna do in each set.

But in this case, we’re talking about our workout schedule, so it’s regulating our workout schedule based on how we feel and how it’s going. And to understand how this works, let’s see how it compares to more traditional, rigid programming, which involves doing the same workouts on the same days every week, regardless of whether you are more or less fatigued, more or less motivated, more or less rested.

So forth. So let’s say you are following a simple push pull legs workout program that has you do a push workout on Monday, a pull workout on Wednesday, and a legs workout on Friday, and every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. You do those workouts on those days regardless of how you feel. Now, most of the time, that works fine.

You progress. Fine. You have no trouble recovering between the workouts and you are able to consistently add weight to the bar and to the dumbbell and to the machines. Over time, you’re able to progressively overload your muscles, but sometimes things don’t go quite so well, though sometimes you start to skid.

So let’s say you haven’t been sleeping well throughout the week. It’s Friday, you really did not sleep well the night before. You’re supposed to do your leg workout. That’s the hardest workout of the week. Now, normally you might just gut it out and you’d say this is gonna be one of those days, and you may not be able to perform like you wanted to perform.

You may have to take some weight off the bar, but you do get it done and you hope that you start sleeping better. So you. Have better workouts. If though you were to be more flexible with your programming, you could push that workout back to Saturday. You could skip the workout on Friday and maybe take a nap instead, maybe take that time to take a nap and give yourself that day to rest another day of rest, so then you can have a better workout, a more productive workout.

Saturday. So here’s another example. Maybe your upper body is still feeling a bit ragged from your push workout on Monday. Maybe you added weight to a couple of exercises and you are particularly sore now. Instead of doing your pull workout on Wednesday, you could swap that with your leg workout that you would normally do on Friday.

So in this case, you’re still training on the same days, but you have rearranged the order of your workouts going from push pull legs to push legs pull, which by the way is a variation on the conventional push pull legs split that some people prefer. So that is the essence of flexible programming. It’s just changing your workout schedule so you can hit the weights when you’re freshest or when you are at peak readiness, as some sports scientists like to say.

And there can be quite a few benefits to being more flexible with your programming because ultimately your body doesn’t care how closely you follow your workout schedule. It cares about getting enough high quality training stimulus and high quality recovery. And if you give it enough, Of the right stimulus in your training.

If we’re talking about weight lifting in particular, if you give it the right exercises, if you use the right amount of weight, if you take your hard sets close to failure, if you do enough hard sets. And then in terms of recovery, there’s sleep, there’s managing stress levels, there’s nutritional component.

Supplements can help to some degree. If you do all of those things mostly right, you don’t have to be perfect, but just mostly right then your body gets fitter and stronger. But because there are many components to both the stimulus and the recovery, it can be hard to predict when you are fully primed for.

Optimal performance in a workout. And although experience and knowledge and good guesses can get you in the ballpark, there’s no way really to predict how fast you’ll recover from your last workout, and then when you’ll be ready to give your all in another workout. And It doesn’t make sense to think that we will always be optimally prepared for heavy squats on a Friday or heavy deadlifts on a Tuesday, or heavy bench pressing or overhead pressing on a Monday, because let’s say we blitz our triceps on Friday, or maybe we were a bit more active than we usually are over the weekend.

And then so Monday comes and. We just don’t feel like all cylinders are firing or capable of firing. I’m running into that this week because I played too much golf last weekend. Yes, you heard that, right? Because I played too much golf last weekend. My lifting is compromised this week. How does that work?

You’re wondering? I was at the driving range for a couple of hours on Saturday and Sunday. Hitting a lot of balls, and if you haven’t played any golf, you might be surprised actually at how violent the swing is when you’re swinging at higher swing speeds. And it’s a strange movement too, because obviously it’s very asymmetrical.

Like for example, this week, the left side of my body, my left, particularly my left hip flexors and my left lower back. It’s tight, it’s sore, and I don’t feel anything on the right side, and that’s just a consequence of that rotation in the golf swing. That again is rather violent. Your hips have to open very quickly, very hard, and then they have to stop very quickly and that puts a lot of strain on the left part of.

Lower back and your hips. And so in the gym this week, what I’ve noticed is I haven’t had to drop weight on any exercises, but in a couple of cases I’ve gotten a couple fewer reps across the four sets that I did. So that is a slight decline in performance. In a couple of other cases, I was able to follow my programming.

I was able to lift the right amount of weight for the right amount of reps, but I. Noticed that my reps in reserve, my number of good reps left, went down about one in a couple of cases, like in my deadlifting, it was just a little bit harder. I was doing sixes this week with what was it, 365 I think, on the trap bar deadlift, and I got my six.

But this week the number of good reps. That I had left, good reps left in the tank with My first set in particular was a little bit lower than a couple of weeks ago when I was doing sixes with 365. Last week I deloaded. The week before that I did fours. The week before that I did sixes, and so this week.

Set one good reps left two, maybe three, couple of weeks ago when I was doing sixes with 365 set one good reps left solid three, maybe even four, but a solid three, so just a little bit harder this week, and that is completely from the golfing over the weekend. So my point is when you have a good routine and your body is used to the amount of stress that you are regularly subjecting it to, you’re not spiking it like I did last weekend, you will recover on a pretty predictable schedule, but there are gonna be times when your body.

Just doesn’t do what it normally does, and when you will be better off giving it another day or maybe another two days to recover before you press on and when you view your workout routine. Through that lens, it looks more like a to-do list than a timetable, right? Because you have your list of workouts, you gotta get them done by, let’s say, the end of the week.

But you can decide when you do them and in what order you do them in. And while athletes in various sports and especially endurance sports have been toying with flexible programming for decades, more and more scientific research has accumulated in support. Of the idea for weightlifting as well. So for example, there was a study that was conducted by scientists at St.

Francis College and they took 16 beginner weightlifters and they split them to two groups. You had a rigid programming group, which performed all of their workouts in the same order on the same days of each week. And then you had a flexible programming group, which was allowed to choose what workout they did every day based on how they felt so they could.

Train their legs on one day if they wanted to do that. Or they could train their chest on that day instead and train their legs on the day they would normally train their chest. And by the end of the study, the flexible Programming group gained significantly more strength than the Rigid programming group, despite doing the same amount of workouts and using the same workout protocols.

So the same intensity. The same volume. And this was over 12 weeks as well. And another study worth mentioning was conducted by s. At South Florida University, and in this case, they were working with power lifters, and you had power lifters who used flexible programming versus rigid programming. And the flexible programmers only missed four workouts during the nine week study, whereas the rigid programmers missed eight workouts.

So in this case, flexible programming appeared to help already dedicated and experienced weightlifters better. To their program. And because we are talking about the effects of auto regulating your workout schedule, it’s worth noting some of the research on auto regulation of other workout variables.

For example, studies show that you will probably do better if you rest as long as you feel you need to rest in between sets. And this would be particularly applicable to sets of heavy compound lifts rather than, dumbbell side raises. But I wouldn’t say that this concept wouldn’t apply to dumbbell side raises.

You’ll probably just find that after maybe two minutes or two and a half minutes of resting, you’re ready to do another set of dumbbell side raises. Whereas a heavy set of squats, two to two and a half minutes of rest is almost certainly not going to be. Enough. And so the point here is studies have shown that if you rest as long as you feel you need to, you are probably going to do better than just using predetermined rest periods, even if it’s a little bit more than two and a half minutes.

Even if your program says rest three minutes and you’ve rested three minutes and your heart rate is still up and you don’t feel like you are ready to give maximum effort on that. Set of squats, rest longer, three and a half minutes, even four if you need to. Other studies have found that deciding how much weight to add to an exercise and how many sets to do based on how you feel, rather than arbitrary pre-planned benchmarks can help you gain strength faster.

Now, of course, that is going to be. More applicable to experienced weightlifters you wouldn’t want somebody new to have. Try to figure out how much weight to add to the bar and how many sets to do, and how many reps do per set. But if somebody has at least a couple of years of experience under their belt, and if they have taken some time to learn about the fundamental principles of workout programming, and they pay attention to how their body responds to training, they’re going to have.

A great intuition, a more sophisticated intuition than they might give themselves credit for. And another benefit of flexible programming is it can help you prevent injuries. And I’m not aware of any data, any scientific data to back that up, but many experie. Weightlifters will tell you that many of their worst injuries, including just overuse injuries, stuff that made them have to stop doing an exercise or stop training a muscle group for some time, that in many cases those situations were precipitated by a couple of.

Off workouts that they knew they should have skipped or even sets in workouts where their workout called for, let’s say three or four sets of heavy squats, twos, threes, fours, and they had a strong feeling that they shouldn’t do it and they should just come back to that maybe a day or two later. Maybe not even do it at all that week.

But they did it anyway and they had to pay the pipe. And so flexible programming has a lot to offer. You can think of it as effective adaptation to training circumstances, right? And that’s a principle that pops up in fields far from fitness, right? You have the famous quote from the Prussian military strategist, Helmuth von Mult.

The elder who said, No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy. Darwin, he put forward the idea that the fittest creatures are the ones that are the most adaptable in business. Many successful business people will talk about the importance of being able to pivot. And if you can’t pivot successfully, then you were gonna have a very hard time of it.

Robert Burns warned us against blind faith in the best laid plans of mice and men. Okay, I’m stretching, but you get the idea. My point is empirical evidence, collective wisdom, and just common sense. Suggest that tweaking our training within limits is probably superior to unending adherence to the plan.

Now, flexible programming isn’t all sprinkles and lattes though because. It does have some downsides. The most obvious one is it requires more judgment on your part. You can’t just run on autopilot. You can’t just open the spreadsheet and do what it says on the day it says to do it. You have to continually assess your readiness and you have to adjust accordingly.

And if you are into your fitness, you probably are. Into your routine. You probably like to know what you are going to be training every day, what exactly you are going to be doing in those workouts. And you’re probably also like that. Just in general. Most of US fitness folk are, we like our routines, we like our boundaries.

Discipline equals freedom and all of that. And so when you start second guessing your plan or when that’s, Option. It’s easy to be skeptical, man. What if I’m just being soft? What if I will feel the same tomorrow? What if I’m actually gonna have a great workout because that can happen. We’ve all had that before where we were walking into the gym.

Not feeling it and not expecting anything special. And then we were pleasantly surprised with how well we performed or how great we felt afterward. And so with flexible programming, what we wanna make sure we don’t do is plant these little seeds of doubt and then water them every day. And then, Have them grow into thick vines that can snare us.

We don’t want to get to a place where we just start skipping workouts altogether, where we’re not just shuffling things around strategically. We are just not training as much as we should be or as effectively as we should be. And so for flexible programming to work for us. It needs to be done with some constraints, and this is where an experienced coach can really help.

This is one of the reasons why experienced weightlifters will hire coaches, is they want people who can provide expert objective judgment on what makes. And what doesn’t, when they should just stick to the plan and when they should change the plan. But let’s talk about how to do it ourselves.

And there are different ways to do it well, but one that I’ve found works very well for most people is to pick a weightlifting routine and to follow that routine most of the time. But don’t be afraid to make change. Fly. Don’t be afraid to change which days you train and what workouts you do on each day.

And it’s best if you leave at least one day of rest in between workouts that train the same muscle group, but that isn’t even essential. So if you. Feel like doing the lower body workout today is probably not a great idea. And so you’re looking at what you have left and you have an upper body workout, but you also did an upper body workout yesterday.

Again, not optimal, but okay. Not something that I would recommend doing for long periods of time. But if doing it this time means that your lower body workout is going to be significantly better, not a problem. And also, if you are not able to do a workout in one week, you do have to skip it completely for some reason.

Don’t try to make it up. The next week. So if you’re following a routine that has five workouts per week and you miss one, don’t work out six times the next week, just look at each week like a blank slate, a new opportunity to get more jacked. So let’s look at an example of how this could go. Let’s say you are following my five day bigger, leaner, stronger program.

And so you normally do your push workout on Monday, you. Pull workout on Tuesday. You do your upper body workout on Wednesday. You do a legs workout on Thursday, and you do another upper body workout on Friday, and then you rest on the weekend. And so here’s how a few weeks of flexible programming might look like.

So week one, Monday, push Tuesday, poll Wednesday, upper body Thursday, legs, Friday, upper body, and then you rest. Okay, that is your boiler plate. Bigger lean or stronger five day and then the next week on Monday do your push workout. But you don’t wanna do your pull workout on Tuesday because your lower back is very sore because you are pounding golf balls on the driving range for five hours over the weekend.

And so you do your legs workout instead because let’s say you are front squatting in this training phase, and that is very easy on. Low back, and so you do your legs workout. Now on Tuesday, you do your upper body workout that you’d normally do on Wednesday, and then on Thursday you do your pull workout instead of the legs workout because that one’s already done.

And then you do your upper body workout, upper body B as it is referred to on Friday, and then you rest. And now on week three, let’s say you don’t want to do your push workout on Monday like you normally would because your upper body is sore from maybe something you did over the weekend or maybe you slept funny on your shoulder and it is hurting and warming up on the bench press makes it hurt even more.

All right, so let’s make a change. Let’s do legs instead, let’s say, and then maybe Tuesday you do your push because things are feeling better on Tuesday, Wednesday, you do your upper body A as it’s referred to as you normally would Thursday then. You do your pull workout that you would’ve normally done on Tuesday.

Friday. You finish up with your upper body B, and then you rest over the weekend. So as you can see, it’s not complicated. We’re just swapping a few workouts here and there while leaving the overall structure of the program intact. I hope you liked this episode. I hope you found it helpful, and if you did subscribe to the show because it makes sure that you don’t miss new episodes.

And it also helps me because it increases the rankings of the show a little bit, which of course then makes it a little bit more easily found by other people who may like it just as much as you. And if you didn’t like something about this episode or about the show in general, or if you. Ideas or suggestions or just feedback to share.

Shoot me an email, mike muscle for, muscle f o r and let me know what I could do better or just what your thoughts are about maybe what you’d like to see me do in the future. I read everything myself. I’m always looking for new ideas and constructive feedback. So thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you.

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