Home > Training

How to scale down your workouts

For the days when you want to put in the work but you need a little slack

We all have days when we’ve got a speed session on the program but for whatever reason, we’re just not feeling it. Maybe you didn’t get much sleep last night or maybe you’ve had a long and exhausting day at work — regardless of the reason, your motivation is at an all-time low. One way to handle times like this, when you don’t want to bail on the workout but you’re having trouble mustering the drive to do it, is to scale down the workout to help you over whatever mental or physical barrier is standing in your way.

RELATED: 4 running workouts to do when you’re short on time

When to scale down the workout, and when not to

Before we go any further, we want to emphasize that there are times when lightening your workout makes sense, and times when you’re better off skipping it altogether. If you’re experiencing any kind of pain or discomfort, for example, you should take the day off and see a physiotherapist or other sports medicine practitioner to find out what’s going on. If you notice you’re constantly lacking the energy for a harder run, you may want to consider if you’re overtraining, underfuelling or experiencing burnout. In each case, you may need to take a bit of time off and get to the bottom of your chronic fatigue and lack of recovery.

How to scale down your workout

Once in a while, though, modifying your workout to be a bit shorter or easier may be the best solution. A poor night’s sleep, high-heat conditions or even a lack of time are all good reasons to scale down your workout, and there are multiple ways to do this:

Shorten it

If you’ve got 10x400m on the schedule, simply cut it back to eight or even six intervals. While you don’t want to do this all the time, this is an easy way to fit your workout in when you’re short on time.

Give yourself more rest

There are days when your workout calls for one or two minutes of rest between intervals, but you may need more, to keep hitting your goal pace. The same goes for tempo runs — if you’ve got a 20-minute tempo in the plan, break it up to 2×10 minutes or even 4×5 minutes with some rest in between. Again, you don’t want to do this all the time, but once in a while when you’re not feeling great, it’s a good option to still put in the work in a way that you can handle.

Adjust the pace

It can be disappointing when you can’t hit your goal pace during a workout, but sometimes the best thing you can do is go easy on yourself, adjust your expectations and slow the pace to something that’s more manageable. As long as you’re still challenging yourself, you’ll still get some training effect, even if it’s not quite what you were hoping for.

Adjust the frequency

If you find you’re often unmotivated to do speedwork, or you’re struggling to hit your goal paces, take a look at your weekly training schedule and ask yourself if you have too much speedwork in your program. Try for a week or two dropping down to just one speed session per week, or stretch your training week out to 10 days from the traditional seven. A little bit of extra time between workouts may be all that’s required for you to have renewed excitement for your workouts.

RELATED: Why recovery is key to performance

Keep in mind that once in a while, it’s OK to skip a workout, even if you’re not injured or you have tons of time. Sometimes, our bodies and our minds need a break from hard training to regain motivation to get back at it. For most runners, hiring a coach who can help them know when and how much to adjust their workouts and when to rest is the best way to navigate the ups and downs of training.