Running: How to Decide on Your Next Day’s Workout

September 10, 2014 By Uta Pippig
© Betty Shepherd

You are in the middle of one of your training periods and so far most of your training sessions have gone according to plan. You are pleased with your progress, your energy level met your expectations, and you were able to train with a good rhythm―alternating between hard workouts and recovery according to your schedule.

Now it is the afternoon before one of the more important workouts you have scheduled this week—maybe an interval program, a tempo run, a key moderate run, a long run, etc.—and you are not as sure about the details of your workout as you were a few weeks ago when you drew it up.

The German word “Muskelkater,” also known as a “Muscle Cat,” expresses muscle fatigue after a workout. © Lo Graf von Blickensdorf
The German word “Muskelkater,” also known as a “Muscle Cat,” expresses muscle fatigue after a workout. © Lo Graf von Blickensdorf

The reason you feel this way is that you are reacting to signs your body is giving you. For a few days you have not been feeling as strong, you feel slightly fatigued, you can sense that your concentration is lacking, and you are unable to recover as quickly as usual. You are wondering whether you should maybe adjust the goal of your program or maybe even cancel the workout.

It is a situation every runner typically faces from time to time. So, let us go through it together, step by step.

Firstly, recognize that your mind is not hundred percent up to the task—your workout—and be alert to the signs your body is giving you!

Make sure you address your feelings honestly so you can evaluate the problem to the best of your ability. After all, you want to get the most benefit out of the upcoming workout—even if this might mean adding a day of easy running or deciding on an additional rest day.

Acknowledge how you feel, try to evaluate your situation with care: Can you judge whether your tiredness is just fatigue or caused by overtraining?

Is the tired feeling coming from a combination of hard training sessions, lack of sleep, a change in your daily work rhythm, or simply because you didn’t allow enough recovery in-between your hard workouts? Those are some of the most common reasons, but of course there might be others.

OR can you judge whether you might be experiencing one or a few “Signs of Overtraining?” I have shared them with you before, but they are important and worth repeating.

Signs of overtraining include experiencing (1) an elevated resting pulse in the morning and elevated pulse during training and recovery after your workout, (2) a diminished ability to recover in general, (3) prolonged fatigue and higher muscle tightness than usual, (4) an inability to complete your workout, (5) a greater propensity towards getting injured, (6) lower immune support, combined with an elevated risk for colds, (7) a decreased appetite, (8) a change in your sleeping pattern, (9) a lack of concentration, and (10) a sense of often feeling tired and overwhelmed.

Take your time and try to make this most important distinction: Are you overtrained or just a little tired from the effort you have put into your workouts over the past few days?

If you still cannot decide which it is by the evening before your important workout, wait until the morning to evaluate further. Try to get a good night’s sleep, hydrate well by drinking one or two glasses of water during the night, and after waking up take your resting pulse because this will give you more answers.

To get the best feedback from the pulse evaluation, it is helpful if you are familiar with your normal resting pulse. Take it on a few different days when you are energized and training well—these are your normal heart beats per minute when you wake up in the morning.

Keep these measurements as your baseline. Then check your pulse in the morning on the day when you are feeling not as motivated and strong.

© Betty Shepherd
© Betty Shepherd

If your pulse is noticeably higher than normal, you might be overly tired from training too hard or you might be sick. Listen to this valuable signal your body is giving you, take it very seriously and consider changing to an easy workout or even taking the day off. Wait until the next day, then check to see if your waking pulse in the morning remains elevated. If it is, you might be experiencing overtraining. When this happens, it is best to pull back on your training, with some easy days of running. If you feel any other symptoms that could be a sign of being sick, I would suggest you immediately check in with your physician.

However, if your pulse is normal, but some of the other symptoms we discussed persist, you might want to wait a little longer to make a decision—maybe until just a few minutes before your session. That is fine as long as you are able to stay calm and focused. This approach will help you to judge wisely, even to avoid injury by training too hard.

© Betty Shepherd
© Betty Shepherd

Finally, the time of your workout has arrived. Adjust your workout—starting the program or run slightly easier than planned, for example, and see how you feel as it progresses. You may also change to another workout format by shortening your interval program, prolonging the rest in-between each fast repetition, or shortening the length of the intervals and adjusting the times for the entire program.

You also may change from a tempo run to intervals, or from a long interval program to a shorter one—all with the focus on staying relaxed while running and not aggressively forcing your muscle cells to push through the program, which will NOT give you the effect you want to have.

In summary, you may want to take the following as trusted measures you can reliably count on, not just for this training session but for all those to come. The ability to successfully evaluate the situation and communicate with your body will give you the best chance to become an even better athlete.

  • Listen to your body during the day, the hours, and even the last few minutes before your workout. Take the time to evaluate how you feel. Are you tired? Super-motivated? Sluggish? Focused? Have a feeling that something hurts? Be alert to those and any other signs you might get because being aware of them will determine how you approach your upcoming workout. They can help you follow your workout as scheduled, slightly more aggressively, perhaps, or rather more conservatively, or adjust to a different, less taxing training session. You might even decide to take a rest day and re-schedule the workout altogether. Now, what you have achieved is that you trained most effectively for your condition on that particular day. In this situation, rest can be the most effective training. Rather than risk running on a tired body, you played it safe and went easy. You might even have avoided overtraining.
  • Listen to your body, especially when it needs rest. Respect the necessity for and importance of recovery time. Please take special care of your body by giving yourself enough rest because the more you train, the more your body needs rest. I understand this is one of the toughest things to do but the benefits are extraordinary.
  • Start your training sessions with a good and relaxed feeling, and gradually move up in speed by running “Negative Splits.” This means you cover the second half of your chosen distance faster than the first half. The principle applies to all your interval programs, tempo runs as well as easy and long runs. For example, start your interval programs moderately and finish them with your fastest repeats while still maintaining the same or even shorter rest periods in between each fast interval.

And finally, check the feedback your body is giving you during your workout as well. If you still feel strong at the halfway mark of your run or program, you can speed up. However, if you feel more tired than you expected at this point, and you are unable to run relaxed, modify your plan: try to stay with your current pace, keep your form, and see if you can finish your workout only slightly faster. Take note of how you felt, and adjust your speed and distance accordingly for your next similar workout.

Analyzing how you feel on any particular day—before, during, and after your training—can give you important information about where you truly are in your preparation. It can be a fun process as well as informational. Principles such as allowing enough recovery time, getting proper rest, trying to achieve “Negative Splits,” and taking thoughtful measures when feeling tired and not fit, are great strategies you can use based on listening to your body.

Increasing effectiveness in your training is one of the most important values you can learn to help you to be the best you can be.

I wish you good luck for your next workout!


Reading Suggestions:

  1. Periods of Training for Your Marathon Preparation and Distance Progression for Your Long Runs
  2. Marathon: Training Advice for Your Recovery Weeks

Updated November 10, 2015

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