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How To Work Around a Missed Workout

BY Sarah Kaufmann

Sometimes life takes priority over training, and that's okay. With a supportive coach, you can adjust your plan and get back on track.

I recently heard from a friend who was feeling guilty after her coach expressed disappointment with her missing several workouts. She explained that she had been overwhelmed with work and child-rearing duties. She felt guilty but also frustrated. She is a motivated athlete and prioritizes training when she can. But sometimes, life happens. It left me feeling… stumped.

As a coach, I can understand wanting an athlete to nail the workouts and get the most out of their training to improve performance. But as a human, I know better. We all have adult responsibilities pulling us in different directions — and sometimes that direction isn’t our scheduled training ride. Here are some things to consider for when life takes precedence over your training plan.

Look for a Supportive Coach

I believe that a coach’s job is not to “crack the whip” or to shake their head disapprovingly when you miss your workout. A coach should motivate you, but also be willing to work around your life schedule to set you up for success with your training. When you inevitably miss or shorten a workout, instead of chastising you, a coach should offer support and modify your training schedule to mitigate the interruption. 

Help Your Coach Plan Your Training

You can also help your coach manage these interruptions to training. Of course, sometimes things come up at the last minute; we’ve all had a day get away from us before we could get that workout done. But if you know you’ll have exceptional work obligations, additional family commitments, or any other of the multitude of ‘life stuff’ that might come up to derail training, let your coach know ahead of time.

As a coach, if I have enough notice, it might schedule a recovery week during an athlete’s busy week to dramatically reduce their training load. This can really alleviate stress during an already fraught period. If a recovery week does not fit, I will plan shorter, more intense training sessions so time management is easier around other obligations.

Understand What Motivates You

Many athletes hire a coach for ‘accountability,’ and it can indeed be very motivating to have someone peeking over your virtual shoulder. For athletes who benefit from this external motivation, the knowledge that someone will see that red or orange box in TrainingPeaks is strong encouragement to prioritize training!

In general, though, I find that the athletes who are motivated enough to work with a coach do not need a lot of external motivation. They tend to benefit more from the feedback, structure and experience a coach provides. Often those athletes need more reining-in than encouragement!

Whether you’re more externally or internally motivated, understanding what drives you (and what helps you best prioritize your workouts!) is a great thing to communicate with your coach. If you’re missing workouts because you’re lacking that feeling of accountability or feel lost without feedback, your coach should know!

Stress is Stress

For those very intrinsically motivated athletes who tend to burn the candle at both ends, remember that we manifest different types of stress in the same way toward fatigue. Whether you’re experiencing training stress, work stress, family stress or relationship stress, to your body it’s all just stress, and it’s all equally exhausting.

While it may be tempting to push through with your plans, adding training stress to a full plate is unlikely to produce a positive training effect; your body can only handle so much. Even if you have the actual time to accommodate your regular training, sometimes less is more. If missing a workout means you’ll be able to keep your stress level manageable, then you’ll likely have more energy to nail your key training sessions later on. 

What does all this mean for you?

Above all, it’s important to be honest with yourself about your time and physical, mental, and emotional capacity for stress. The next step is to communicate this with your coach through the season, as well as what you expect from them in terms of motivation.

Remember, training is a learning process, and it’s rarely perfect. Everyone misses a work out here and there, and sometimes that’s actually the best thing for your overall progress and wellbeing. So listen to your body, listen to your coach, and let go of the guilt! Good luck!

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About Sarah Kaufmann

Sarah Kaufmann is the owner/operator at K Cycling Coaching. She has been a professional level XC and CX racer since 2008 and working as a coach since 2012. She uses her experience as a racer and combines a holistic, personal approach with science-based design. Sarah lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, where the singletrack is abundant and the roads climb quiet mountain canyons. She can be reached at or 413.522.3180.

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