When you finally decide to get stronger you’re in a mental state of mind of both readiness and acceptance. It takes a while to get there and some never do, while for others, they wax and wane in and out of the mentality. Having to miss scheduled training days due to external conflicts can derail that mentality and any strength gains pretty quick. One of the most common questions people ask is:
I have to miss a scheduled strength training day, is it better to skip a workout or weight lift two days consecutively?
The answer to this question varies based on where this person is in their training, weight, height, age etc. For the purpose of this post, let’s assume the question applies to someone who is pursuing a barbell weightlifting training program.
Exercise vs Training
Before we jump into the answer to this question, I’d like to call to attention, a distinction that Mark Rippetoe makes in his book, Starting Strength, about “training” vs. “exercise.” Individuals who are training have a specific goal they are working towards. Each time you go to the gym you’ve identified what you need to do beforehand to help achieve that goal. You can’t accomplish this end goal by dropping into the gym on a whim or being sporadic and unsystematic about the load you lift. If you do those things then you are simply exercising but don’t kid yourselves into thinking you’re actually training, because you’ll never see real progress without adhering to and following a program. If you are merely exercising as opposed to training then obviously it doesn’t matter if you miss workouts.
Novice, Intermediate & Advanced
Before we jump into this section allow me to make one important distinction about gaining strength. You don’t get stronger by lifting weights; you get stronger by recovering from lifting weights. Physiologically, the act of lifting weights stresses, damages, and fatigues your body, actually making you weaker. During the recovery process your body repairs itself and super-compensates for the stress. In that sense, the next time you lift your body has adapted to “take less damage.” This explains why in training we add more weight to continue your body’s progression in strength. We use the body’s ability to recover as the sole indicator of whether a person is a Novice, intermediate, or advanced.
A Novice can recover from the stress of training in 48-72 hours, and thus can increase the weight every workout. An Intermediate needs a week for recovery, and thus their increases occur weekly. An Advanced lifter requires a month or more for recovery, and has a far more complex training regimen.
I discourage Novices from “making up” workouts and doubling up. Someone following the Novice Linear Progression should try to avoid lifting on consecutive days, even if it means skipping a day. As a Novice your training looks essentially the same every single day, so “missing” a workout simply means you get it done next time you’re in the gym.
As an Intermediate, it’s actually a little harder to figure what to do when you need to miss a day. Since an Intermediate has a whole week of training planned, with each day looking different and serving a different purpose, you can’t just “skip” one or do it next time without affecting the rest of the week. For example, someone on the 3-day Texas Method will have Volume on Monday, Active Recovery on Wednesday, and Intensity on Friday. This person should make it a priority to never miss Volume day. The Volume day is the majority of the weekly stress placed on the body, and if you can only lift a single day during the week — this is the day to hit. It’s OK to sometimes entirely miss your Active Recovery day. It’s possible to do Volume on Monday and Intensity on Thursday if need be, but you could also just do Mon, Thurs, Sat, if your schedule allows.
Advanced athletes will have been training consistently for years and will know how to adjust their schedule to adapt to external changes.
Be Adaptable, Get Creative
Life happens and you’re going to have to miss scheduled workouts. There’s no way around that but just be aware that if you miss workouts you’re not properly following the training program and thus are not working towards your goal. If you’re missing training because of travel, try to find a gym to drop-in or check on a hotel gym. If you’re missing workouts due to scheduling conflicts make it a priority to rearrange your training schedule accordingly. For example, if you lift Mon, Wed and Friday but have to miss Wednesday, try to lift Thursday and Sat instead.
If anyone has a different take on this or has suggestions, the floor is yours.