Why It's OK To Skip a Workout

Learning when to let your body rest (without feeling guilty) is an important part of a healthy exercise routine

Modern fitness culture likes to emphasize extremes.

For example, “motivational” graphics on Pinterest display sayings like “unless you puke, faint or die, keep going,”  “excuses don’t burn calories,” and “just wake up and work out, because honestly, what is that extra hour in bed going to achieve?”

Of course, these mantras mean well, but when we’re constantly bombarded by the “just do it” and “no pain, no gain” mentality, it’s easy to forget that: a) our bodies and minds also need rest, and b) many times “just doing it” is much easier said than done.

Sometimes this leads us to feel guilty about not giving 110 percent all the time, even though it’s totally unrealistic.

“Taking a rest day —think of it differently than of taking a recovery day—because of stress, scheduling, etc. is valid, and there's no reason to feel guilty about that choice,” says Kimberly Watkins, a New York City based fitness expert and CEO of inSHAPE Fitness and inMOTION Exercise on Demand. “You have to consider how any expenditure of your time will benefit the overall quality of your day.”

In other words, if your workout is thwarted by an unexpected life event, or you even just simply feel like it won’t serve you that day, go ahead and skip it without feeling guilty or like you’ll have to make up for it later.

“A missed workout is in your past,” Watkins added. “Let it go. People with the highest quality of life rarely are those who spend all of their free time in the gym. A missed session can give you perspective on your priorities or more importantly, on the way that you execute your priorities.”

For example, Watkins said, maybe one day you can’t make it to the hour-long boot camp class that’s 20 minutes away from your home, but instead you can spend 10 to 20 minutes on something simpler like walking around your neighborhood or bodyweight exercises you can do at home.

The main idea, though, is to recognize that it’s perfectly OK to miss a workout every now and then without making a regular habit out of skipping them just because “you don’t feel like exercising.”

Regular exercise is essential to maintaining good health, so it’s important to make sure that you can strategically plan your weekly and daily schedules to make room for it.

“Figure out how you can best schedule your fitness routines into your calendar at the most optimal times,” Watkins said. “For many people, exercise sessions take place when the time is right. The elephant in the room, however, is that there's hardly ever a perfect time for exercise. Given all of the other commitments in the day and all of the other activities you'd rather do if you have extra time, working out is life's bottom feeder.”

In other words, for the majority of the time treat exercise like a priority, the same you would a meeting at work or brushing your teeth.

Additionally, it’s also important to recognize the importance of including recovery days in your workout schedule.

“Rest serves an active role in exercise, particularly in high intensity exercise regimens,” Watkins said. “If you include high intensity sessions in your exercise schedule, make sure that you pencil in a reminder to take the following day off to let your body heal properly. Microscopic tears in your muscles, inflammation and corresponding hormone imbalances render your body susceptible to poor performance, extreme fatigue, burnout and injury.”

Additionally, even if you didn’t anticipate the need for a recovery day and didn’t have one scheduled, it’s also important that you learn to listen to the cues your body will give when it’s in need of extra rest.  

“The (Wong Baker Faces) pain scale is the best way to determine your body's physiological need for a recovery day,” Watkins said. “Slight tenderness at a level two or three on the pain scale shouldn't sideline you for the day, though you should alternate intense workouts with lighter ones.”

Otherwise, pain at a level of four or five and that affects more than one muscle group definitely warrants a day of off for full recovery.

And finally, when you do decided to take a rest day, for whatever reason, as mentioned earlier, you shouldn’t feel like you need to “make-up” what you missed.

“Your body will suffer if you try to make up for ‘what you missed’ at a session. Simply pick back up with the schedule as you have set,” Watkins said. “Or, use that missed session as an anchor to evaluate how exercise fits into your life. The truth is that you can get a lot done by simply moving around during the day more. Improve your posture and practice concentrated isometric exercises at your desk or even in your car. Squeeze your abs, perform kegel sets or exercise your diaphragm. Walk more, take the stairs, ‘run’ your errands. That skipped workout won't matter at all.”