It often feels like you can come up with more good reasons to skip a workout than to actually do it. Maybe you’re comfy on the couch, it’s raining, you’re sore, or you simply can’t envision yourself getting up early to sweat. In those cases, though, it’s often possible to push through and do your workout anyway — if only for that glowing sense of accomplishment that happens the moment you press start on the treadmill.

That said, doing a workout when you aren’t in the mood isn’t always a good idea, says TJ Mentus, an ACE-certified personal trainer. The common notion that you should grind and do your workout no matter what sets you up to ignore signs from your body that indicate you truly do need to take a break, he tells Bustle. And that’s why knowing when to skip a workout is key.

“If there is something physically out of the norm with your body, then pushing through may come with consequences,” Mentus says. “Having pain or consistent lethargy may mean there’s an underlying problem that needs to be looked at, and making yourself workout may cause more damage.”

In general, it’s also super important to take breaks as part of a healthy exercise routine. “Taking a rest day allows the body to recover,” says Mentus. “When we work out we are breaking our [muscles] down, and it’s while resting that the body can build itself back stronger.” While planned rest days are crucial, throwing in a random day off is perfectly OK, too. It all depends on what’s going on and what you need.

Read on below for a list of signs you should skip a workout, straight from trainers.

How To Know When To Skip A Workout

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1. You Have An Injury

If your shoulder is throbbing, your knee is aching, or your back is twinging, don’t ignore it and march off to the gym. But if you have serious pain or inflammation, it’s always best to sit out for a couple of workouts to rest, recover, and figure out what the issue is, says Mentus.

Taking a break will allow your body to heal and it’ll also prevent you from causing more damage to the area that’s injured, which can prolong your recovery time, Mentus adds. The sooner you relax, the sooner you’ll be able to get back in the game.

2. You Aren’t Fully Recovering

Recovery is a super important aspect of training. It involves stretching, rehydrating, taking active rest days, and eating the right nutrients — all the good things your body needs to rebuild. When you don’t do these things, your body is considered under-recovered. “This can cause lower energy and motivation, higher risk of injury, and higher stress levels,” Mentus says.

You’ll know you’re under-recovered if you’re super tired, your physical performance drops — think feeling more lethargic than usual while lifting weights — or if you’re dragging yourself through a workout, Mentus says. These are all signs you probably should’ve skipped your workout for a much-needed 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 on.”

3. You Just Had Surgery

While this should go without saying, you definitely need to skip your workout if you just had serious dental work or surgery, says Liz Wexler, a yoga, Pilates, and cycle teacher at Equinox in New York City. That’s because your blood is flowing to the wounds, she explains, so if you try to work out while that’s happening, you could get dizzy, feel faint, or slow down the healing process. Check with your doctor about when it’s safe to hit the gym again.

4. You’re Sick

While it might feel noble to stuff tissues up your nose so you can go for a run, it’s recommended to stay home and rest when you’re sick. “If you push through when your body is completely wiped out, you could run yourself down more and be stuck in bed with feverish, flu-like symptoms,” Wexler says. Instead of forcing one foot in front of the other, take it easy, drink fluids, and wait until you’re well.

That said, some experts say it’s OK to abide by the “neck up” rule — aka you only feel symptoms like a runny nose or a sore throat. In these cases, you may benefit by doing a light workout.

5. You Woke Up Exhausted

If you pulled an all-nighter or had a late shift at work, go ahead and skip your sweat sesh. It’s one thing to exercise your way through morning drowsiness or a post-work energy slump, but trying to exercise on zero sleep isn’t a good idea. If you’re so tired that you’re unable to focus, it’s best to listen to your body and take a rest day.

“Chances are your workout is not going to be fully effective anyway,” says Chelsea Young, a 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 tough 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 Sore

It’s beneficial to take a rest day if you went super hard in the gym the day or two before, especially if you’re brand new to working out. “If you’re feeling extreme overall soreness — 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. “If not, working out could worsen the damage to the muscle and it will take longer for the pain to go away.” This is another case when a walk, stretch, or foam rolling session might be your best bet.

7. You Need A Mental Health Day

Even if none of the above applies, it’s always OK to listen to your body and take a day off if you want to. “Our bodies need a break, and so do our minds,” Mejia tells Bustle. Working out when you aren’t feeling it can lead to injury, she says, and it can worsen your relationship with exercise, too. If it seems like you’re about to view 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 get back to the gym tomorrow.

Studies referenced:

Doherty, R. (2021). The Sleep and Recovery Practices of Athletes. Nutrients, 13(4). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13041330

Dupuy, O. (2018). An Evidence-Based Approach for Choosing Post-exercise Recovery Techniques to Reduce Markers of Muscle Damage, Soreness, Fatigue, and Inflammation: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis. Front Physiol. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2018.00403.

Golshani, K. (2017). Upper extremity weightlifting injuries: Diagnosis and management. J Orthop. doi: 10.1016/j.jor.2017.11.005.

Hoogeboom, T. J. (2014). Merits of exercise therapy before and after major surgery. Current Opinion in Anaesthesiology, 27(2), 161-166. https://doi.org/10.1097/ACO.0000000000000062

McGlory, C. (2017). Recovery from Exercise: Skeletal muscle and resistance exercise training; the role of protein synthesis in recovery and remodeling. Journal of Applied Physiology, 122(3), 541-548. https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.00613.2016

Weidner, TG. (1996). Sport, exercise, and the common cold. J Athl Train. PMID: 16558389; PMCID: PMC1318446.

Sources:

TJ Mentus, ACE-certified personal trainer

Chelsea Young, NASM-certified personal trainer, founder and CEO of PITYFitness

Liz Wexler, yoga, Pilates, and cycle teacher at Equinox NYC

Irene Mejia, RDN, CPT, certified personal trainer



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