Ask Yourself These Questions Before Skipping a Workout

Ask Yourself These Questions Before Skipping a Workout
Photo: Studio Romantic, Shutterstock

We’ve all had days when we’ve talked ourselves into either skipping or changing a planned workout. Sometimes, it’s because we are sick, exhausted, excessively sore, or we’ve had something more pressing come up. On other days, we just don’t feel like exerting the effort. On the days when you are considering changing your workout plans, though, it’s a good idea to think through your reasons first. Here are some questions you should ask yourself before you choose the couch over the treadmill.

Will I regret my decision?

In your moment of indecision, when it’s 5 a.m. and you so badly want to hit the snooze button, or when you had a long, tiring day at work, and you don’t think you have the mental energy, it’s all too easy to convince yourself it’s ok to skip just this once.

When this happens, take a moment to imagine what you might feel like after you’ve made your decision. Will you feel regret that you aren’t making progress toward a fitness goal? Or will you feel relief that you gave yourself the rest you needed?

What have my other workouts this week looked like?

Achieving your goals doesn’t happen because you worked out on a specific day; it happens because you were consistent in your efforts over a long period of time. Doing so involves making a plan — one that will work with your particular situation — and then adjusting as needed. “Making a schedule for yourself at the beginning of the week will keep you on track,” said Michelle Parolini, a senior master coach at Row House.

If you are thinking about changing your workout plan for the day, look also at your schedule for the week. If you’ve been consistent all week, and can find ways to make up your workout in other ways, skipping one day won’t make much of a difference in the long run. However, if your week’s schedule has been lighter than usual, it’s probably important to fit in your workout in whatever way you can.

Will I be making up this workout?

This is one of those questions where you need to be honest with yourself. If you are working toward a goal, for which this workout is important, do you have a specific, achievable plan for making it up? If the make-up plan is to wake up at 5 a.m. to squeeze in your missed workout, when you are a night owl who can barely drag yourself out of bed by 8 a.m. every day, that might not be a realistic plan.

However, if you are looking ahead, and you see a solid chunk of time on another day that you can fit your missed workout into, that might work. As Danielle Cote, director of training at Pure Barre, points out, although some people can stick to a consistent schedule, “there are a lot of people that often have to pencil in their workout at a variety of times.”

If your schedule shifts around a lot, it’s far better to have a variable workout schedule than no schedule at all. The important aspect is that you come up with a realistic plan to make it work, and to be consistent in your efforts.

What is my reason for changing my plan?

Are you thinking about skipping or modifying your workout because you are sick? Exhausted? Sleep-deprived? Bored? Worn down from a long day at work? Pinpointing the real reason isn’t always easy, but it’s useful. For mental fatigue — the kind you get after a long day of work — getting in a workout can actually help. If the fatigue is physical, however, a challenging workout may make you feel worse.

For illness, your priority needs to be rest and recovery. “Our bodies will let us know when they need rest,” Parolini said. “Respect that and allow your immune system to do its job.”

When it comes to sleep deprivation, think carefully before doing a hard workout. “When we’re tired, we can be more prone to overtrain, as we may not be as in touch with our bodies,” Cote said. “Consider a lower intensity workout if you are running on low.”

Will changing my workout plans affect my goals?

If you are training for a marathon or a competition, consider how this missed workout will affect that goal. Skipping the last long run before your race might not be such a good idea. But if you are skipping a slow, easy run early in your training plan, and you’ve got a solid reason for doing so — as well as a game plan for how to achieve the bigger goal — that’s another story.

It’s also good to envision what it feel like to achieve your goal. For Karen Tickner, a pilates instructor at Club Pilates, on days when her motivation is lagging, she will remember what it felt like in the past when she achieved a meaningful fitness goal. “Usually, that feeling of accomplishment inspires me to get back on track with my mindset, and see my workout goal through that day,” Tickner said.

Can I make working out more enjoyable?

Sometimes, the reason you want to skip or modify a workout is because your workouts are starting to feel dull or stale. Workouts are meant to challenge you, not bore you to tears. “It doesn’t matter if the workout is the best in the world,” Parolini said. “If you don’t like it, you won’t stick with it.”

If you are in a rut, and your usual workouts just don’t feel as satisfying as they once did, consider how you might change things up to make the process of reaching your goals more enjoyable. “Switching up your workout or even your workout environment can work wonders if you feel like you are a little unmotivated,” said Chris Ryan, a certified functional strength coach, former Division I athlete, and MIRROR trainer.

Examples include changing up your usual running routes, finding a workout partner, or setting a new mini-goal that you can work on as a stepping stone toward achieving your bigger goal. You can also experiment with the tempo of your workout, whether it’s putting together a new playlist or lengthening your warm-up and/or your cool-down.

Will rewarding myself help?

Don’t underestimate the power of bribing yourself. We all want something to look forward to, and if achieving a long-term, somewhat abstract goal isn’t enough at the moment, rewarding yourself for pushing through even when your motivation is lagging can be an effective tactic.

For example, you can treat yourself to a meal at your favourite restaurant, give yourself a little extra self-care in the form of a new book or a long bath, or finally buy that new workout gear you’ve been eyeing. (Chocolate also works.)

Can I modify, rather than skip, my workout?

If your reason for skipping a workout is that something urgent has come up, such as a work crisis or an unexpected family obligation, consider whether you can modify your workout rather than skip it altogether. “Give yourself the latitude to make changes if needed,” Parolini said. “Keep in mind that routine is important.”

For example, if you were planning on a one-hour strength training workout after work, but now you’re on a time crunch, maybe you can fit in 15 or 20 minutes of whole-body exercises instead. Life is always going to happen and “flexibility is important,” Parolini said.

Something is always better than nothing.

What impact will this have on the rest of my day?

Workouts often have the effect of improving our mood and our energy level. As hard as it can be to fit in a workout in the early morning or after a long day of work, doing so can improve other aspects of your day. (On the flip side, exercising to the point of exhaustion can also have a negative effect on the rest of your day, which is good to keep in mind.)

When thinking about skipping or modifying your workout, think about the impact your decision will have on other aspects of your day. Sometimes that’s enough to get you started, even when your mind is telling you “no.”

Is there anything holding me back?

We all have our excuses for not wanting to work out. We’re too tired, we’re too busy, we don’t feel like it, we’ll do it later, etc. You’re not required to work out. However, we know there are many benefits to regular exercise, including improved mood, increased energy, and a decreased risk of a number of chronic conditions.

As hard as it is to get started on a workout plan — and to keep going — making time for regular physical activity can have a significant impact on your quality of life.

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