When To Take an Unplanned Rest Day (And When To Work Out Anyway)

If you want to get the best possible results from your workouts, you need to work out consistently.

And sure, it may be easy to skip a workout if you just don’t feel like it (or you’re too busy, too tired, etc.)… but if these types of excuses become a habit, you’re going to have a hard time actually accomplishing any of your health and fitness goals.

Yet although being consistent is crucial, rest and recovery are just as important as working out—and working out when you actually should be resting may actually set you back.

It’s important to learn how to recognize the difference between being lazy and having an actual reason to take a day off. In other words, there are excuses—and there are valid reasons for giving your body rest.

Excuses for Skipping a Workout

If you skip your workouts frequently, using any of the following “reasons” to do so, you’re just making up excuses. For example:

You Forgot to Pack Your Clothes

If you planned to work out right after work, but realize at the end of the day that you left your workout clothes at home, that’s just a matter of not committing to your goals. It’s your responsibility to make sure you have everything you need packed with you!

How to fix it: Pack your workout clothes the day before and put the bag by the front door so you don’t forget when you leave the house in the morning. Or, if you want to work out first thing in the morning, put your clothes by your bed so you see them first thing when you get up. That way you don’t have to spend energy on looking for them.

You Just Couldn’t Get Up in the Morning

Maybe you committed to working out in the morning, but when your alarm went off you were just so tired… unless your sleep was really short, work out anyway. Train yourself to think that the snooze button doesn’t exist and that getting up right now is your only option.

How to fix it: Why did you not get enough sleep? Did you check your phone or watch TV so late that you went to sleep at midnight or even later? Any kind of stimulation right before bed may negatively affect your sleep quality. Do calming activities, like reading before bed, and set a goal to sleep a minimum of seven to eight hours a night.

You Feel “Tired”

Sometimes you might feel tired just because you have been sitting all day long. Or, maybe you’ve been working on something that has taken a lot of brain power. But you’re probably not physically tired, as you may realize once you get moving. And once you get in the habit, you’ll realize that working out will actually give you more energy.

How to fix it: Try to stay as active as you can all day, even if you have a desk job. Walk as much as you can (walking meetings are a great option!), don’t drive your car to go get lunch if you could walk that half mile. Even a little bit of movement throughout the day will help keep you energized.

If you’re mentally exhausted, working out is actually going to be the best thing that you can do. It’s so much better for you than watching TV on the couch or going to a happy hour where you end up snacking and drinking mindlessly. Physical exercise is definitely the best way to balance out the mental stress!

You Don’t Have Money to Spend on Fitness

Working out can be expensive, but only if you choose it to be. For example, there are fancy spin classes that cost you about $40 per class! But you absolutely don’t need to take classes like these—there are much more affordable options.

How to fix it: You’re come to the right place… The #1 goal of 12 Minute Athlete has always been to make exercising accessible for everyone. We hope you know that we have literally hundreds of free workouts on our workouts page. For more convenient option, you can get the 12 Minute Athlete app and you still don’t have to break the bank.

Valid Reasons for Taking a Day Off

There are definitely times when you’re better off not working out and taking a day off instead. For example:

You’re Sick

For the most part, don’t work out if you’re sick. Your immune system is stretched thin already and working out will demand extra energy from your body that you simply don’t have if you’re sick, so you may end up feeling even worse. Besides, you’re not able to give a 100% to your workout anyway if you’re not feeling good.

Depending on how sick you are, light movement like walking may be good for you, but we wouldn’t recommend doing high intensity exercise.

How to prevent it: The main things are, of course, taking good care of yourself by eating vitamin rich foods, supplement as necessary, and move your body in a way that feels good for you. We all may get sick once in a while, but by keeping your body healthy, the chances are much smaller.

You’re Injured

Working out when you’re injured only puts you at risk of injuring yourself even further. We know that it may be hard to stay away but that’s really the best thing to do. It’s better to give yourself enough time to recover and then come back all healed up. You probably don’t lose as much strength as you thought you would!

How to prevent it: Take care of your pre-workout warm-up and post-workout cool down. Also foam rolling, ice, stretching and massage can help your muscles stay in great shape and therefore decrease the risk of injury.

You’re Absolutely Exhausted

If you didn’t get enough sleep, it’s better to either take a rest day or if you can, sleep a little longer and then try to work out.

Constant sleep deprivation and pushing yourself in spite of it is a bad combination. It may be detrimental not only to your performance but also your hormonal balance. If your goal is weight loss, you may in fact not lose but actually gain weight when you work out at the expense of your sleep.

How to prevent it: As mentioned before, avoid things at night that keep your brain alert, like watching TV or checking your phone. Instead, darken and cool down your room and read something. Turning off your wifi for night is a good idea as well. Get at least seven hours of sleep, although many people might need at least eight to perform their best.

You Haven’t Eaten Anything

Food is fuel—you know that. It’s your friend, not your enemy! You need food to work out.

Sometimes people run out of the door without having had breakfast. Or they may skip lunch because they get so busy at work that they have no time to eat, or because they think that skipping meals helps them to lose weight better.

But by the time you’re going to work out, your body is exhausted if it hasn’t had any food. Totally understandable, because where is it supposed to get energy to fuel the workout? If you still work out when you’re super hungry, the quality of your training probably suffers. Or, you could be so hungry that you miss your workout and dive into any food you find, because you’re just so hungry.

How to prevent it: Don’t skip your meals. Also, keep some snacks in your purse or backpack to have some extra fuel before or after your workout if you need it.

Learn to Listen to Your Body

To get really healthy and fit and crush all the goals you have, you need to be consistent. It’s all about repeating good practices day in and day out.

Good nutrition, enough sleep and dedication are really important in order to become a successful athlete.

It’s incredibly important to learn the difference between excuses and valid reasons for skipping a workout: are you just making things up so that you don’t have to work out, knowing that it’s not going to help you, or do you have a real reason to take a rest day and come back tomorrow?

Learn to listen to your body and know when you should keep pushing or when it’s time to take a break.

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5 thoughts on “When To Take an Unplanned Rest Day (And When To Work Out Anyway)”

  1. Sigh, good insights here. I definitely like my rest days and find sometimes I’m making excuses. Other days I really do need them because I’m lacking sleep. For me, the biggest factor in my workouts is getting enough sleep. I have to get 8 hours, ideally 9 to function my best. Do you have any tips for working out in the morning? I have a hard time waking up and putting in a good solid workout in the AM because I’m so sleepy but it’s the best time of day for me to do it.

    • We don’t recommend working out hard if you didn’t get good sleep, so on days when you didn’t, it’s totally fine not to work out. Our bodies are smart and they figure it out sooner or later if we’re trying to push them too much at the expense of rest. It’s kind of like using a credit card 🙂
      Could you go to sleep earlier so that waking up is easier in the morning? Also, the best thing you could do before bed is probably read a book, instead of being on the Internet, if you do that…

  2. I actually loved this article. I struggle with “feeling tired” and hadn’t thought through the sitting-all-day reasoning for it. I’m always looking for ways to become motivated and stay motivated. Thanks for this clear list with the whole picture: reasons why, useful tips, and smart preventions.

    • Great, we’re glad you liked it Samantha! Moving throughout the day is definitely great, especially if you can do it outside – even just a part of it!


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