Skip to main content

4 Ways to Crawl out of a Sports Slump

All athletes have their peak and not-so-peak times. When things are going well with your training and sport, you feel like you are unstoppable and on fire. Your workouts flow, you can't wait to get up to exercise, you are eating well and you are just plain psyched. Then....there are those other times. Maybe you are not flat-out injured, but you struggle with incessant niggles, aches and pain, you have lost your flow and your mojo. Who on earth would want to get up and run at 4 am? As a fellow athlete coming out of a 11 month slump, I have a few ideas for you, both as a runner and sports medicine doctor. Consider the following:

1. Heart rate monitor training.

I have mentioned this previously, and I am a big proponent. Not for every workout-there are certainly times where you should just get out in nature and move your body without any data or external devices-but heart rate monitor training can be invaluable if you are going through a difficult or confusing period with exercise. Why? It keeps you honest and holds you in check. If you are coming out of a slump, you might not know how hard to push yourself. I kind of lost track of where my current, real fitness was, and instead would go out and run paces consistent with where I used to be, or where I wanted to be. As a result, I would way overdo it on an easy run, be overly sore and fatigued after, and then also moody and crabby. Try exercising at or below your aerobic pace (zone 2 or roughly 180-age as an upper limit of heart rate training for ALL of your workouts for a while, test ( at the start and weekly or monthly and see your progress. Yes, it can get kind of boring, but stringing together multiple weeks of consistent performance, without injury, will improve your aerobic function and get you moving back in the direction you want.

2. Get some assistance.

Start with the basics. Is there something health-related that needs to be addressed, or are you just running low on motivation and pep? It will be hard get your fire back if you truly have a physiologic impediment holding you back. Adrenal fatigue/overtraining syndrome has become a very trendy diagnosis, but as I mentioned in my previous post, it is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning you must rule out other things first. Check in with a health care professional and get the basics checked out. In my case, it turns out I have...asthma. After many months of a strange and annoying cough, I finally dragged myself in to see the doctor. (The old adage, is true, doctors are the WORST patients). This is a case where having some data through heart rate training was helpful; I noticed that running at what should be a leisurely pace, my heart rate was running a steady 150. No matter how out of shape I was, this was not normal. A month on inhalers and I could oxygenate my body again. My point being, if fitness feels hard, make sure there is not something you can deal with that is holding you back. Once you rule out treatable, medical issues, reach out for help in other ways. Hook up with training partners, get a few sessions with a personal trainer, find a good physical therapist, try acupuncture, massage, yoga, rolfing, get some help with nutrition if you need it, cultivate strength and flexbility. Sometimes it takes persistence and perseverance (always good skills to further cultivate) but if you keep trying you will get help and get back on your way to good health.

3. Embrace new things.

Something is not working with what you are doing. Maybe you are an endurance monster and all you do is run, bike or swim. If so, it is certainly time to integrate strength training (valuable at ANY age, especially for athletes above the age of 35), consider mobility/flexibility training, consider trying a new sport. Mental flexibility is one of the most important skills to cultivate, not only in sport but in life. The only constant is change, right? Almost by definition, endurance athletes are prone to a driven, perfectionistic approach that gets them far in sport but can provide a hurdle when the same old, same old, which has worked in the past, is now longer working. This is a time to embrace change, not fight it.

4. Never, ever give up.

I know, it is cheesy, but it is the truth. You can and should always chase after your dreams and keep after them. Any age, any time. Never give up on yourself, never give up on your dreams. Continue to set goals and chase them down. Find others to support you. Keep moving!

About the author

Sarah Vlach