Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About Skipping a Day of Exercise

Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About Skipping a Day of Exercise
Photo: fizkes, Shutterstock

Sometimes you need a day off. Sometimes you don’t need a day off, but you take one anyway. If you have any anxieties about what exercise means to you, you may spiral into worry or guilt: Am I a slacker? Am I losing all my gains?

Of course you’re not! A day off doesn’t define who you are. But those feelings are pretty common, and I’ve felt them myself. Here are a few things I remind myself of when I begin to question my commitment to fitness.

One day doesn’t matter

Being strong or fit or getting in shape is a years-long goal, if not a lifelong one. Five years from now, will you look back on this one particular day with regret? You probably won’t even remember it happened.

Tomorrow is a new day, so don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’ve ruined your whole week or your whole training program. Either skip the day or make it up tomorrow, whichever will make the path easier for you going forward. (Not sure? Just skip it altogether.)

Rest is useful

A well-designed program will usually have at least one rest day each week; some programs might even have three or four. All are perfectly valid ways to work out. So if you took three rest days this week rather than two, it’s not like all the rest of your hard work went to waste.

Your body will put that rest to good use, anyway. Some people will say a certain number of rest days per week are necessary; I don’t know that that’s actually true as long as your fatigue is well managed well. But regardless of whether you need a day off, your body can still use one for extra recovery. You’ll feel fresher the day you come back.

Focus on consistency

A big part of the reason one day doesn’t matter is that, in the long run, what does matter is consistency. If you’ve been hitting all your workouts for weeks on end, and this week you have to miss one, you are still the kind of person who usually hits all their workouts.

Maybe you’re afraid that this one day off is going to send you down a slippery slope, and you’ll end up taking more days off. Well, that’s within your power! Decide how and when you’ll get back on that horse. Plan out your schedule for tomorrow, or for next week, and make sure you’ll be able to make those next sessions.

Problem-solve for next time

Why did you take this rest day, anyway? If you were feeling worn down, maybe you need a more balanced exercise program that doesn’t leave you feeling that way. Or if you dread a certain workout, maybe that’s a sign that you need to change something — either the workout, or your mindset. If you always skip workouts with box jumps, for example, there are ways to get over that fear.

Just a time management issue? Try some of these tips for getting in regular exercise even when your schedule is already packed.

Consider your overall plan

Or maybe you’re feeling guilty because you’ve missed a lot of days. That’s a sign that you may be on a path that’s unsustainable. Are you so stressed out from work that you don’t feel motivated to work out? Maybe you need more than a day’s break from working out to see if that relieves some of the extra pressure. Or maybe you need to lift before work instead of after, to see if that gives you enough of a mood boost to get you through a stressful day. Or maybe you just have to solve the larger problem in your life. (Talk to your boss about your workload? Start looking for a new job?)

Bottom line, if you feel guilty about missing one day because to you it’s a symbol of other things going on in your life, zoom out and see what you can do about fixing those other things, so that missing one day of a workout can become its own trivial problem, unconnected to the problems that are actually stressing you out.

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