It often feels like you can find more good reasons to skip a workout than to actually do it. Maybe you’re cozy on the couch, it’s raining, you’re in pain, or you just can’t imagine getting up early to sweat it out. In these cases, however, it’s often possible to push and do your workout anyway, if only for that sense of accomplishment that occurs the moment you hit start on the treadmill.
That said, exercising when you’re not in the mood isn’t always a good idea, says TJ Mentus, an ACE-certified personal trainer. The common notion that you should train and do your workout no matter what forces you to ignore your body’s signs that you really need to take a break, he tells Bustle. And that’s why it’s essential to know when to skip a workout.
“If there’s something physically out of the ordinary with your body, then pushing it all the way can have consequences,” Mentus says. “Having constant pain or lethargy can mean there’s an underlying problem that needs to be looked into, and exercising can cause more damage.”
In general, taking breaks is also very important as part of a healthy exercise routine. “Taking a day off allows the body to recover,” Mentus explains. “When we train, we break our [muscles] down, and it is by resting that the body can rebuild itself stronger. While scheduled days off are crucial, it’s also perfectly acceptable to schedule a random day off. It all depends on what’s going on and what you need.
Read below for a list of signs you should be skipping a workout, straight from the trainers.
How to Know When to Skip a Workout
1. You have an injury
If your shoulder hurts, your knee hurts, or your back hurts, don’t ignore it and head to the gym. But if you’re suffering from severe pain or inflammation, it’s always best to sit down for a few workouts to rest, recover, and figure out what the problem is, Mentus says.
Taking a break will allow your body to heal and also prevent you from causing more damage to the injured area, which can extend your recovery time, adds Mentus. The sooner you relax, the sooner you can get back to playing.
2. You don’t fully recover
Recovery is a super important aspect of training. It involves stretching, rehydrating, taking active rest days, and eating the right nutrients — all the right things your body needs to rebuild. When you don’t do these things, your body is considered underrecovered. “This can lead to lower energy and motivation, higher risk of injury and higher stress levels,” Mentus says.
You’ll know you’re underrecovered if you’re very tired, your physical performance drops — think feeling more sluggish than usual when lifting weights — or if you’re dragging yourself during a workout, Mentus says. These are all signs that you probably should have skipped your workout for a well-deserved break. “Rest will allow the body to catch up on its recovery before it becomes a problem,” he adds. “By not getting the right amount of recovery [you might need a] longer break later.
3. You have just had surgery
While it should go without saying, you should definitely skip your workout if you’ve just had serious dental work or surgery, says Liz Wexler, yoga, Pilates and cycle instructor at Equinox in New York. This is because your blood is flowing to the wounds, she explains, so if you try to exercise while this is happening, you could get dizzy, feel weak or slow the healing process. Check with your doctor when it’s safe to return to the gym.
4. You are sick
While it may seem noble to stick tissues up your nose so you can go for a run, it’s a good idea to stay home and rest when you’re sick. “If you continue when your body is completely wiped out, you could exhaust yourself further and be stuck in bed with fever and flu-like symptoms,” says Wexler. Instead of forcing one foot in front of the other, take it easy, drink fluids, and wait to be healed.
That said, some experts say there’s nothing wrong with sticking to the ‘neck up’ rule – meaning you only experience symptoms like a runny nose or a sore throat. In these cases, you may benefit from light training.
5. You woke up exhausted
If you had an all-nighter or worked late, go ahead and skip your sweat session. It’s one thing to exercise despite morning drowsiness or low energy after work, but trying to exercise without sleeping isn’t a good idea. If you’re so tired that you can’t concentrate, it’s best to listen to your body and take a day off.
“Chances are your workout won’t be totally effective anyway,” says Chelsea Young, NASM-certified personal trainer and founder and CEO of PITYFitness. You might even injure yourself because you’re too tired to use proper form. Another option is to postpone the hard workout and go for a walk or spend some time stretching instead. “These acts are just as beneficial to your physical health as lifting weights,” she says.
6. You feel too bad
It pays to take a day off if you hit the gym really hard the day before or two days before, especially if you’re new to working out. “If you are experiencing extreme overall pain – as in, you can barely move the next day – it may be advisable to take a rest day to allow the muscles and your body to recover properly,” says Irene Mejia, RDN, CPT , a certified personal trainer. “Otherwise, the exercise could make the damage to the muscle worse and it will take longer for the pain to go away.” This is another case where a walk, stretch, or foam rolling session might be your best bet.
7. You need a sanity day
Even if none of the above applies, you can still listen to your body and take the day off if you wish. “Our bodies need a break, and so do our minds,” Mejia told Bustle. Working out when you’re not feeling it can lead to injury, she says, and it can also worsen your relationship with exercise. If it looks like you’re about to see your workouts in a negative light, take the day and focus on other forms of self-care instead. Mejia recommends sleeping, resting, or doing other activities you enjoy. You can always go back to the gym tomorrow.
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TJ Mentus, ACE Certified Personal Trainer
Chelsea Young, NASM Certified Personal Trainer, Founder and CEO of PITYFitness
Liz Wexler, Yoga, Pilates and Cycle Instructor at Equinox NYC
Irene Mejia, RDN, CPT, Certified Personal Trainer
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