Arthur Lynch - Dealing with the disappointment of a bad training session

Dealing with the disappointment of a bad training session


This article aims to deal with a very specific time in a person’s life, the sad feels immediately after a bad training session (not a workout, a term which implies you do no train for anything in particular)

Don’t worry friend, all gains have not been lost!


To illustrate this point I will use myself as an example. A few months back I was due to bench press 140kg for 4 sets of 4 reps. Going into the session I knew it was very doable.  Set one went well, set 2 was very tough but I got 4 reps. Then came set three…everything fell apart! After a slow second rep, I descended for my third and got stuck on the chest. I tried to make up the missed volume by adding extra sets but in reality, my head was gone, I was out of the game. Then we moved onto Overhead press. More missed reps! The same thing happened on Dumbbell Bench Press and at this point I was just fed up and left.

Then a few days later I was due to hit 88kg for 4 sets of 2 on the overhead press. After what felt like a very, very heavy first set of two it started happening again. I started missing reps again. Then my shoulder started bugging me (probably from my degraded technique). Then I started warming up for bench press with the goal of hitting 4 sets of 7 with 120kg. However, after my second warm up set I decided to stop. I had realised that my head was not in the game and that continuing was doing me more harm than good. So I abandoned the session, did some low-load blood flow restriction training for 30 minutes and got the hell out of there!

At this point after having two bad sessions it’s easy to feel frustrated, feel like all gains are lost, FOREVER! And you should feel like that, because you know you’ll never be in the gym ever again after that, you won’t ever have another opportunity to make up for those bad sessions. In case you can’t tell I’m being extremely sarcastic. The reality is you will be back in the gym again soon and you’ll probably smash those numbers sooner than you might think.

4 days later I repeated that second session described above. I hit 90kg for 4 sets of 2 on the overhead press and 120kg for 4 sets of 8 on the bench! 2 weeks later I repeated the first training session described above and got 4 sets of 4 reps on the bench press (with the potential to do a fifth set) and didn’t miss anymore reps on the other exercises in the rest of the session.

What changed?

Surely I didn’t get that much stronger in a few days. Well, in the aftermath of a bad session, you have to analyse where you went wrong. According to Elite FTS owner, Coach, former Powerlifter and Bodybuilder Dave Tate, missed lifts always come down to any one (or a combination of ) 3 factors: Physical, Technical or Mental. We will use this as a framework for why my sessions were going poorly!


1. Physical:

  • Did you eat enough today and yesterday?
  • Did you perform any activities in the last 48 hours that may have left you in a fatigued state coming in to this session?
  • Did you get to bed early enough and did you get enough high quality, uninterrupted sleep last night?
  • When did you last train and have you any lingering muscle soreness or fatigue in general?
  • Have you grinded much in your training sessions recently (i.e. have you recorded a lot of RPE’s in the 9-10 range) (Zourdos et al. 2015)?
  • How stressful is your life lately? Are any of your relationships with any of your family members, work colleagues or your significant other causing you to stress out lately?
  • Is there anything going on in your life that is causing you a lot of stress (e.g. money worries, a loved one very sick, work very stressful this week etc.)?

These are all the questions you have to ask at this point. And one stressful event that eats into your recovery ability can have a knock-on effect on another factor. For example, you may be well able to recover from a heavy deadlift session and able to train the bench press the next day no problem, under normal, low stress conditions. However when things get hectic at work, to the point you get stressed out and you start to miss meals accidentally. Then you accidentally snap at your friend who means well but just manages to say the wrong thing to you at the wrong time (Edit, Arthur really hurts our feelings when he's hungry). Then you land yourself in a big, stressful argument, which serves to further deplete your recovery sources. Then you go and do that brutal deadlifting session. Think you’re in an optimal state to recover before your next session now? This is illustrated brilliantly in Figure 4.6 below. Which is taken from Greg Nuckols and Omar Isuf’s recent e-book “The science of Lifting” (highly recommended by the way, they’re much more intelligent than me).The blue line represents recovery capabilities under low stress conditions, whereas the red curve represents recovery capabilities under stressful (i.e. compromised) conditions.



2. Mental:

  • Have you been looking forward to this session or do you not even want to be in the gym today (this can be indicative of over-reaching)?
  • Was your arousal level optimal before this session/set (see Figure 1)?
Figure 1 - Yerkes-Dodson Inverted U-Theory of optimal arousal levels for a given task

Figure 1 - Yerkes-Dodson Inverted U-Theory of optimal arousal levels for a given task

  • Were you overthinking the lift before you attempted it?
  • Had you in your head, 100% convinced yourself you were going to get it?
  • Was your mind elsewhere (the stress inducing factors mentioned previously for example)?
  • Did you draw on a memory of a past performance that did not go well for you (i.e. did you think of another previously missed lift)?
  • What was your training environment like? Were you training on your own or were you with others who support you and help motivate you to lift better?

3. Technical:

  • Did you change your usual bar speed, particularly on the eccentric (i.e. if you went much slower on your descent for some reason)?
  • Was your breathing/bracing off?
  • Was your bar path off? Why? (For example sometimes I can bring the bar down too low on my chest and/or over-tuck my elbows if I get nervous on a bench press)
  • Was something not kept tight enough (e.g. core, legs, upper back)
  • (Note: This is a key example of why it’s crucial to video your sets, and from an angle that provides as much feedback on the movement as possible).


On reflection, that week of poor training was accompanied by some very hectic days at work and some nights of poor sleep. With me being someone who pushes hard regularly and leaves little room for error, something even as small as that can put me off. I also noticed that when I was lifting the bar out of the rack on the bench press that I was losing upper back tightness. Finally, and this last one may be related to nerves but my bar path was very inconsistent particularly on the way down (the eccentric portion) from rep to rep. So I also addressed this in the next session.

Now in my own scenario, I was able to address my poor sleep and hectic increase in stress at work. Someone else may not be as capable of dealing with these outside stressors. For these people the most important thing is to be aware of these external influences. We’re not robots that just move bars up and down. So many different factors go into determining whether or not you’re going to perform well in the gym or not. Outside stressors have a profound effect, particularly on advanced lifters. I would recommend you back off in training (especially your volume) and a little bit in intensity if necessary as well. Perhaps take an extra rest day between sessions to allow you to recover better. Outside of that, always attend to your form (but you should be doing that anyway). Finally, keep calm! Nothing good comes from getting frustrated and giving up. You have to accept that whilst X stressor is around, recovery resources and adaptation capacity are going to be compromised. But once X stressor becomes less and less or if you adjust your training accordingly, progress can still be made long term.  


Nuckols, G. and Isuf, O. (2015) The Science of Lifting.

Yerkes, R. M. and Dodson, J. D. (1908) "The relation of strength of stimulus to rapidity of habit-formation",Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychology, 18(459–482).

Zourdos, M.C., Klemp, A., Dolan, C., Quiles, J.M., Schau, K.A., Jo, E., Helms, E., Esgro, B., Duncan, S., Merino, S.G. and Blanco, R., 2016.Novel Resistance Training–Specific Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale Measuring Repetitions in Reserve.The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 30(1), pp.267-275.


Arthur Interviews Rory Girvan of Hench

Arthur Interviews Rory

1. Arthur: For those of who aren’t familiar with you Rory, could you give a brief synopsis of you, your background and how you got to where you are today please?

Rory: At the moment I find myself in the bizarre position of being a ‘Multi-Hyphenate’ – with interests in business, performance, health and wellness.I am a 30 year old owner of several businesses in the Fitness and Wellness Industry, a Strength Coach and an Athlete from Belfast. I also do work with a local charity to help raise awareness for mental health, particularly in males.

The story of how I got to where I am today is complicated but on reflection it feels like each juncture, twist and turn lead towards my current position.I studied Biomedical Science, Sport and Exercise Science and worked in S & C and Applied Exercise Physiology in amateur and professional sport. It sounds quite convenient that I’m now Head Coach at HENCH after doing all this but the path to getting here was fairly convoluted.

In reality I've worked in over 20 jobs since I was 14, from earning £2 per hour in Jungle Jims, to making cold calls for 8 hours a day,to holding down 3 jobs to put myself though University.


2. Arthur: You run a semi-private gym in Belfast called Hench (a very similar model to CityGym). Tell me more about it and the philosophy you and the other coaches there follow?

Rory: The model we use at the moment has evolved in response to seeing what worked over the years to help normal people and athletes actually achieve their goals. We’ve tried the open gym model but found curating the culture of the gym was challenging – it takes a different type of person who puts their hand up to ask for coaching VS those the average gym member who feels they don’t require help.

 We now ‘vet’ all members and this has been one of the best decisions we’ve made. It helps to create the special atmosphere we now have; positive, motivating and fun.

 Our philosophy (copied and pasted from our site!): ‘Real fitness cannot exist without a solid foundation of raw strength, built on good health and well being.’.

 At the time of starting HENCH, Upper Body Transformations and quick fixes were the industry standard in Belfast and around the island. It is hard to believe now, but we took a bold step being the first dedicated strength focused gym on the island - but it felt right.

 Delighted to see places like CityGym thrive – the industry CANNOT have enough good quality, intelligent and compassionate coaches. The days of the Spice Boy PT spoofing his way through his ‘career’ are numbered.


3. Arthur: When you opened Hench, what was your target for 3 years down the line (i.e.approximately now), what challenges did you face in order to get Hench to where it is today?


Rory: My team and I have now exceeded all of even the loftiest goals I initially had for HENCH. Challenges are almost too innumerable to list (understatement) but with each one it strengthened us.

 The biggest challenge was risking everything to pursue our mission, whilst growing the business. Being commercially successful in the fitness industry whilst not compromising your integrity is no joke. The layman doesn’t know how to differentiate between the charlatan and those who are the authentic, so learning how to communicate this to our customers has been instrumental.


4. Arthur: You recently hit a whopping 707.5kg Powerlifting total in the Irish Powerlifting Federation’s All-Ireland Championships in the 93kg class. Firstly congratulations on that, particularly when you consider you were nursing a knee injury at the time! How do you manage to consistently keep adding to your total whilst running a business?


Rory: Thanks man! Appreciate it.

 I had set out at the start of the year to seek out the highest level of drug free competition nationally in raw powerlifting, and was fortunate enough to win the Overall Best Lifter Trophy at both the NIPF and All-Ireland Championships.

 I intend on doing the same in 2016, but will also have a crack at at my first international competition in the IPF – the Worlds in Texas. I was honoured to be selected to represent Ireland last month and can’t convey how excited I am to be a part of the team. Ireland is beyond an after thought in elite drug free powerlifting, but this will change from next year. We have a number of excellent male and females coming through – very exciting time to be competing for anyone form the island.

 As for improving despite running the businesses? I’m quite thorough when it comes to all aspects of recovery, but it’s difficult at times – especially dealing with emotional stress. Having said that, I consider it a privilege to compete- I’ve been involved in strength training for 16 years now and love having the opportunity to test myself but still feel like I’m only getting started, really feel there’s load left in the tank. I have ambitious goals for this year, and will be competing in the 83kg category for Ireland internationally.


5. Arthur: Are there any mistakes you have made in the past (in training, coaching or business) that if you could go back in time and rectify what would they be?


Rory: Good question. The answer to all three is to avoid spending time with people with self limiting beliefs. Being ambitious, positive and driven solves most things.

 Also, if you want to improve in any of those areas, seek knowledge from those who are the real deal. This will involve lots of reading, but passion will make this a breeze!


6. Arthur: What does the future hold for Rory Girvan and Hench?


Rory: For HENCH, we are continuing to improve the way we do things and the quality of the coaching we provide to our members. For me, some new ventures and new sports and hopefully more adventures!


7. Arthur: If you could give the average gym-goer 1 piece of advice, what would it be?


Rory: Make friends with people who have surmounted similar challenges to the ones you’re trying to over come. Your friends are your future.


5 Strength Tips from Arthur Lynch

5 Strength Training Tips from Arthur Lynch


 1. Stop thinking about your deadlifts.

After coaching dozens of people (particularly beginners and intermediates) I can honestly say the number one biggest mistake I see time and again on deadlifts is over-thinking the lift. What usually happens is the client/lifter will go very quiet (indicative of them being caught up in their own thoughts), assume the start position, grip the bar and stay down there for 5-10 seconds. After wasting those valuable seconds they’ll finally go to lift, the bar will usually come up a few inches or maybe even just past the knees and then stall. A missed lift! The inexperienced me would probably have said “Ah, they must need more lockout work” or something to that effect. Whereas in actual fact they need to walk up to the bar, take a massive breath of air into their stomach, then grip and rip, no more about it. The deadlift isn’t overly technical, especially compared to say the bench press, overhead press or any of the squat variants. You can afford to walk up quickly and just go straight to it, even if you are ever so slightly off with your hands or feet, and you will lift far more than if you go down and wait around for a few seconds. Fred Hatfield (aka Dr Squat) has spoken about how in his deadlift training he would sometimes perform a vertical jump, land and then immediately go into his deadlift in order to obtain the benefit of a stretch reflex which you don’t get from a regular deadlift as it is purely a concentric movement that begins from the bottom position. Even though his grip on the bar may not have been perfect (e.g. one hand might be slightly too far out) he still benefited from this technique. If you assume the start position of a deadlift, then waste 5-10 seconds down in the bottom position, any kind of muscular rebound (or stretch reflex) will be lost and you’ll likely have to exhale and take another breath which will cause you to lose tightness. It’s analogous to a paused squat. Because you are able to obtain the benefit of a stretch-shortening cycle in a regular squat, you can lift more than in a paused squat where some of that stored energy within the muscles has dissipated.

 2. Buy some fractional plates

So your first few months of training you can easily add another 2.5kg to the bar each week. This will continue indefinitely right? Whilst that would be lovely it’s not going to happen. As you become more experienced strength gains are going to become smaller and harder to obtain. As a consequence I recommend you buy yourself some fractional weight plates. If you have the money these can be bought online for a ridiculous price. Alternatively, you can buy and use washers with an internal diameter of 2 inches. These usually weigh about 240-250 grams and are ideal for making small incremental increases in your lifts when standard 2.5kg increases are just not possible. Personally, I find these absolutely invaluable for training the Overhead Press, where 0.5-1kg can make a big difference to the lift. I also know many Olympic Weightlifters who regularly use them. 

 A worthwhile investment

 3. Bring a camera to the gym

Let’s say you’re about to do a max set of 5 on squats and you ask your training partner to check your form for you. After finishing the set, what is the worst thing your training partner can say to you? Well it would be something along the lines of “Oh you killed it bro, great job!”. Whilst positivity  is welcome, this kind of feedback provides no useful information on how you can improve your squat. Maybe your hips are shooting up too soon, maybe your knees aren't tracking properly, maybe your upper back isn't tight enough, maybe your heels are lifting off the floor a little, you’re breathing technique is incorrect or maybe the bar path is slightly off. A lot to consider isn't it? Well the best solution is to bring a camera and a small tripod a film your work sets. This is most objective way of providing feedback on how you are performing on your lifts and where improvements can be made. The trick is where to position it. Taking the example of our squats once more, if you have a problem with your knees caving inward, then record form the front, if your hips coming up too soon or moving backward is the problem then record from the side or if you want to keep an eye on your back tightness then record from the back. Simples.

This camera angle provides a detailed view of the lifter’s knee tracking, amongst other things

 4. Make your squat walk-out as efficient as possible

This is small technical tweak I only just recently adopted, but it does appear to help quite a bit. When walking out my squats, I used to just assume my squatting stance, get under the bar, take it out and walk back. However Ben Esgro (A Powerlifting and Bodybuilding coach I highly recommend) outlines in an excellent Squat tutorial that I will link below how this is not the most efficient way to walkout the bar (a long one but highly informative). Instead, assume the stance you would for a conventional deadlift, with your feet pointing straight ahead of you in a narrow stance, like a vertical jump stance. Then once under the bar and when you have taken your air in, simply stand up, then walk back into your squat stance (with hopefully only 2 steps).

Click here for: Squat Tutorial

 5. If you’re an Olympic-lifter you can learn from a Bodybuilder.  If you’re Powerlifter you can learn from an Olympic-lifter. If you’re a Bodybuilder you can learn from a Crossfitter. If you’re a Crossfitter you can learn from a Powerlifter and any of the above can all learn something from each other

Long story short, all lifters can learn something useful from each other. Bodybuilders can learn from some of the crazy stuff Crossfitters do which happens to get them crazy jacked looking. Crossfitters can learn from Powerlifters how to just get strong which is the foundation for all other forms of athleticism. Powerlifters can learn from Bodybuilders how to build bigger muscles, which is essentially like upgrading the engine in your car to a bigger and more powerful one. It is well known in the scientific literature that there is a strong correlation between the cross-sectional area of a muscle and its ability to produce force (i.e. strength) (Schoenfeld 2010). The Powerlifter can learn from the Olympic Weightlifter how to increase their squat, and the Bodybuilder can learn from an Olympic Weightlifter how to squat properly for optimal leg development. Tom Platz, the man with probably the most famous legs in Bodybuilding history learned how to squat from Olympic Weightlifters. So to sum up, all lifters can learn from each other, so swallow your ego right now and be more open-minded. We all have our flaws and none of the lifting sports are any different in that respect.


Schoenfeld, B. (2010) “The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training”, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(10), 2857-2872.