Illustration of a girl sleeping while her alarm clock rings to wake her up
Illustration by Lindsay Hattrick


Should You Take Time Off From Working Out?

It can be good to push through exhaustion, but sometimes you really need to rest

by Molly Hurford

You set an alarm with every intention of getting to spin class at 6am, but when the buzzer goes off at 5:30, you're more tempted to hit the snooze than you are to hit the espresso button before heading out the door. The allure of your cozy comforter is addictive, and you could stay cocooned in it forever. But do you give up on your morning class for some extra ZZZs? It's decision time: Are you legitimately in need of a day off from working out, or are you just being lazy?

In the heat of the moment, it's hard to tell. So here are a few easy ways you can assess whether it's reasonable to stay under the covers or pull yourself out of bed and hit the gym.

The night before… Consider your sleep

Day off: If it's midnight and you're just sliding into bed, a 5am wake-up call is going to do more harm than good. Recovery, immune function, and—let's be honest—function as a human being requires seven to nine hours of sleep, especially when working out is part of the equation. If you're going to get under seven hours of sleep, consider swapping early morning spin for a later afternoon class, or decide to get out for a walk or jog during your lunch hour instead.

Lazy: If you're going to be able to get a good night of sleep, but you know you're going to be grumpy about getting up to run in the morning, pregame your morning routine by setting out your clothes and shoes, and prepping your coffee, so all you need to do is boil water. (Some morning-haters even go so far as to sleep in gym clothes so they can literally roll out of bed and into the gym.)

When you wake up… Do a full-body assessment

Day off: Are you feeling like your throat is sore or your muscles are just aching like crazy? If you've been on that #NewYearNewMe bandwagon for the last few months or working out a ton more than usual, you may have actually compromised your immune system and given yourself a nasty cold, or you might have gone too hard or lifted too heavy in the last couple days and are feeling Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, better known as DOMS.

Lazy: If you're just feeling groggy, get out of bed and start your morning wake-up ritual. The fog will probably lift in the first couple of minutes as you move around.

When you're starting your workout… Focus on perceived exertion

Day off: After your workout has started, try to focus on how you're really feeling. Does it feel harder than usual to pedal fast in spin class, or is every yoga pose feeling like it's more painful than usual? If after 10 minutes, you're still not feeling warmed up, dial your exertion down to "easy," which might mean slowing down to a walk or super-easy spin, or even a seated meditation session.

Lazy: A lot of the time, just getting started pumps you up. Make a promise to yourself to get through the warm-up and the first set in class, giving yourself permission to drop out after that. The odds are good that once you're in the zone, you'll stick it out for the whole workout if all you're feeling is a bit of ennui heading in.

When you just don't want to get started… Trick yourself

Whether you actually need a day off or you're just being lazy, don't waste the time you slotted in for a workout. Instead, use the workout time for something productive—even if that means listening to an inspirational podcast or taking an actual nap. Clean your kitchen, sort through a stack of mail, do a load of laundry, meal-prep something healthy for tomorrow, anything that will feel productive and useful. That means no Netflix bingeing. The goal here is to make sure that skipping a workout doesn't result in a "reward," so you're less inclined to skip a day due to just being kind of lazy. It's a lot easier to get out for a run when the alternative is doing tax prep, amiright?

If you're always in need of a day off… Recalibrate

All of these scenarios leading to taking a day off? Something needs to change. You might be pushing too hard, too fast in the workouts that you're currently doing, or stressing your body too much trying to cram in fitness while work is just in a hectic phase. Rather than throwing in the towel entirely, though, try taking a few weeks of toning down those workouts that you are squeezing in if you're feeling sick or sore constantly. Swap runs for walks, weights for yoga, and spin class for leisurely pedals around town. If getting enough sleep is a problem, consider dropping the time you're spending working out instead: You can get a lot of strength training done in just 30 minutes in your own apartment versus taking a class at a gym that's a 20-minute drive from your place.