As a fitness professional, I am frequently if I work out every day. The answer is a resounding “NO!” Though, few years ago, the answer might have been a hesitant “no” because I really wanted to or may have, but didn’t want to be considered obsessive (because I was). I have since discovered a healthy balance in which exercise isn’t something that I look at as something I always “have” to do, but that I “get” to do and that enhances my ability to do other things I enjoy. While I genuinely look forward to it most days, there are some in which I simply do not feel like exercising. This is okay, and if rest is what I need than it is what I need. But, how does one determine the difference between simply not feeling motivated and actually needing rest?
For the person who regularly exercises or trains, an extra rest day may be what he or she needs. Do not feel guilty about getting extra rest if it is needed—your body will benefit in the long run and you decrease the risk of the effects of overtraining. In the long term, overtraining (and any long-term, excessive stress) can result in what is known as adrenal fatigue.
For the person who just began an exercise regimen and has not been training consistently, your reasons for not getting the workout in are probably different—figuring out how to make it work with your schedule can be your number one difficulty! If this is the case, sit down and write out a detailed schedule for yourself–if you have kids, evening may not be the best time to get your workout in as they rightly demand and deserve your attention and investment. If you have a strong evening social life that you do not want to sacrifice or are completely drained after work, try scheduling your workouts in the morning. You probably won’t feel like exercising when your alarm goes off 60+ minutes earlier, but stick to the schedule. It may not ever become easy to get up at 5am to work out, but it will become less difficult as you get into the habit. It might even do you well to find a group fitness class simply to take the planning out of your workout and develop community and accountability. (This will require that you go to sleep earlier, so take that into consideration for your scheduling as well.) The 6:15am group fitness class I taught for over a year became a solid community that many looked forward to on Wednesday and Friday mornings, including me!
Excuses become easier to justify as reasons as we give in to them. If you are completely drained because you have not been sleeping or eating properly for the addition of a workout into your daily life, get these aspects of your life corrected and see what happens and if your motivation improves—not just for exercise, but for everything else as well.
For the record: people whose careers are centered on health and fitness also lack motivation some days to do the very thing they love. We are not perfect and do not have everything on-point all the time! Daily activities and demands vary and can throw us into living through the unexpected, so through those times you do what is required and reprioritize as necessary.
I know that others have different ways to deal with not feeling like getting their workouts in, or having a sudden change in plans. Ink Young, founder of HealthyGrowingKids and a woman whose insight and perspective I respect greatly as she is one whom I know to have a very realistic perspective of healthy balance in one’s life, says,
“I think that like with everything else it is finding what works for you- sometimes there are good reasons not to work out for what we may perceive as “ the lack of motivation”. I think rest is the most underrated aspect of our wellbeing and sometimes you need to do just that.
I have, with experience, learned that I really need to listen to my body; sleep and rest are the highest priority to make fitness gains, and often the lack of motivation is truly need for more rest.
Also switching up the workout plans and training for specific goals every 10-12 weeks will help with the motivation.”
If boredom with what you are doing, especially if you have been doing the same workout for months and have plateaued (very easy to follow the mindset of “what’s the point in doing what I do if I don’t see results?”), happens frequently, it may be time to mix things up! If stress is to blame, and you don’t feel like you can generate or tolerate heavy lifting but can run, then go run! If running seems overwhelming, but a traditional strength training session is what you handle best when overly stressed, then do that! An occasional “deviant day” in which you do something different than your program has written into it is okay. Missing or changing one workout over the course of many will make negligible difference. It may help to even write in one day per week of something different than the rest of your program. I know a few people who do this and it assists in the maintenance of their sanity as well as incorporates a different challenge for them physiologically. Traditional strength training programming doesn’t train the body the same way as plyometrics, running, or cycling. In my opinion, a varied program holds a greater practical advantage over doing strictly one style of exercise because of the variety of demands that are placed on the human body on a daily basis.
When boredom with a program doesn’t seem to be to blame and you just cannot muster up the motivation to get your workout in, try troubleshooting. There are a few techniques that I use, in almost a flow-chart manner, to discern whether just having a lazy day or being sedentary is to blame for not wanting to do anything requiring physical effort (which does happen more than I’d like) or whether a rest day is actually needed:
1) Just start moving. 1a) Start moving and you feel fine, keep moving. 1b) Start moving and even walking is a chore, either stick simply to walking or stop and go do something you really enjoy doing to refresh yourself!
2) If you felt fine and feel like you might be able to progress a bit, pick up your walking pace or start doing something easy like lunges. Today probably is not the day to think about doing high-intensity plyometric circuits—it might be, but that will come later. 2a) If lunges/easy exercise movements feel okay, keep progressing. 2b) If lunges or that light exercise movement feel like enough, stick to that and circuit between walking and lunges.
3) If you continue to progress from lunges, choose a resistance exercise that might be a bit tougher, like pullups or light deadlifts.
4) Keep gauging how you feel as you progress—and develop a reasonable circuit. That “WOD” might not be the workout for you that day, and that is okay! (Crossfitters may have a different opinion on that statement, which is what they are entitled to, however having run the gamut and overtrained for years, I do not believe the effects are not worth the cost.)
Some days, something will be better than nothing (more often than not), and on some other days nothing will be better than something. It is best to take the long-term goals into consideration: one missed workout, especially if you truly will benefit more from resting and recovery, will not be a hindrance long-term, and can even be more beneficial. The mindset of “more is better” is on its way out because it simply is inaccurate. The only reason to train for multiple hours on end is for an event that lasts for multiple hours on end. Someone training for an Ironman should most definitely be training for multiple hours on multiple days per week, doing long hours of brick training, etc. but for general fitness purposes, the time really can be better spent and invested elsewhere. You can knock out a tough workout, train the right energy systems, improve fitness and physique, and not spend more than 15 minutes on your workout. Remember—our bodies are not the entirety of our lives, they are the vehicles through which we live our lives and can greatly enhance or detract from our experience. working out is not the entirety of your life. If it is, you may want to consider your priorities. It does, however, enhance your ability to do the things you enjoy better! Who doesn’t love being able to play an extra 5 minutes of tag with the kids, move all of those boxes that have been taking up too much space in the spare room in order to create a guest bedroom, or embark upon a grueling hike for the reward of a beautiful vista that you saw pictures of in National Geographic and just have to see for yourself?
Takeaway: Take care of your body so that you can live life well, whether through work, play, or rest!