It’s OK To Not Work Out…No, Really It Is

In Fitness, Motivation and Success by AngelaLeave a Comment

Try to have this conversation with most meatheads in the gym and they start twitching, or at the very least the eyes glaze over and you can tell the brain has already moved on to their next set of bicep curls and is no longer listening to what you say.

In the fitness world it seems there are two types of people and ne’er the twain shall meet:

1) slackers.
2) Overachievers
treadmill slackerThe former group is comprised of people who complain about what they don’t have, read books while walking on the treadmill, aimlessly wander the  gym picking up dumbbells here and there and then return to the treadmill where it’s “safe” to continue another chapter, content in their mediocrity yet constantly complaining they don’t get “results”.  This can also apply to the people who never leave their couches who are merely content to order every ab-blaster, Shake-Weight, Hydroxy-Slim-Wham-Bam-Fat-Be-Gone-Pill and other late night TV infomercial weight loss wonder.
The latter consists of those who don’t understand de-loading, rest weeks or the power of rest in general and if they take more than a day or two away from exercise or lifting start to get cabin fever.  These are also the people who tend to run themselves into the ground, wonder why they don’t see “results”, get sick, injuries or their muscles quit “growing”.
Granted, all these things can be chalked up to other causations but if you’ve ever step foot in a gym, you will doubtless have see these two types of people.  Rare is the person who lifts 2-4 days MAXIMUM, does little cardio (if at all) for weight loss and only if they enjoy it (aka cycling, running, etc) and it’s a rare day to see them be in the gym for more than an hour at a time.  Comprise this with either of the two individuals above who aspire to either end of the spectrum, doing too much or too little and you’ll see what I mean.  Moderation is rare.  In our country where we are all about excess, this spills over to the stupid slogan of the 1980’s “No Pain No Gain”.
I cry foul.
As I have stated in previous posts,  there is a definite time and place for rest and time away from exercise.  Now, if you find yourself part of the first group,gym slacker this isn’t your problem.  Your problem is that you have no idea what to do so you are paralyzed by a fear of the unknown and are content to stay in your “safe” zone.  How do you fix this?  Hire a trainer for goodness sakes.  It will be the best thing you have ever done for yourself.  You’ll learn proper form, good workouts that aren’t senseless (this is if you have a trainer who has a clue what they are doing, and there are plenty who have no idea….they just think they do because it worked for them….those are the trainers to stay away from.  Get a trainer who can explain EVERYTHING to you, even if you don’t care, because that will show you they know what they’re talking about) and with good luck and good help, you will progress to the elusive and desirable “Moderate” category.
If you find yourself part of the 2nd group, working out 6 days a week, sometimes 2x’s a day, first off, ask yourself WHY?  Why do I really want to devote this much time to the gym?  When was the last time I got measurable results?  When was the last time I took a week off?  If you can’t remember when, then for goodness’ sake, do us all a favor and walk out of the gym right now and don’t touch another pair of dumbbells for two weeks.  Yes, TWO WEEKS.  GET OVER IT.

guy think

Yes. Rest is good.

The body was designed to move, yes, but we also need rest.  You don’t grow in the gym you tear down.  Literally.  You rebuild outside of the gym when you are resting.  When you don’t rest, you don’t recover and eventually the body will start giving you warning signals (illness, sleeplessness, brain fog, aching joints, DOMS that doesn’t go away, low energy) and if you ignore these, it can completely shut itself down and you can get injured or become very ill.
I could go on and on as to “why” certain people fall into this category:

  • Type “A” Personality
  • Think more is better
  • Don’t undertand the relationship between lifting and rest/recovery
  • Only read muscle mags and blogs about how pain is good and you have to really kill yourself in the gym everytime you go or you’ve wasted your time
  • Avoiding home
  • Avoiding other things or people
  • Feel like the gym and your body is the only thing over which you have control

If any of the last three are you, I strongly recommend finding a friend to talk to, a counselor or finding some other way to face your problems head on instead of coping with them through exercise.  If you don’t, they can move on to other coping mechanisms like addiction, strange food behaviors, becoming unsociable, etc.
This post is inspired by my current state.  If you keep up with me on Facebook at all, you’ll notice my schedule is go-go-go nonstop seems like.  Lifting, training for a cycling century, training my clients, teaching flute lessons (driving to all said appointments) orchestra rehearsals, Drill with the Army in another state, more driving….
It caught up with me. exhausted polar bear
The last few days I’ve noticed this:

  • Immediately after I get out of bed I wonder where I can get some caffeine
  • After a full night’s sleep I am tired/exhausted
  • I don’t nap and if I just lay down for a second I fall asleep
  • I can’t sleep at night
  • During the day I feel jittery, on edge and tired all at the same time
  • No energy for every day activities
  • My appetite is whacked out/not normal
  • Lifting and cycling are more difficult than they should be.

These are all warning signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue.  I have consumed too much caffeine, been under a little too much stress and not taken adequate time off to recover.  While my schedule can’t change, I can change.  For the rest of the week, I WILL NOT EXERCISE.  No cycling, no lifting, just general activity and lots of rest when I can.  Considering I have to drive to TN back within a 48 hour time period, shoot at the range with the Army, play a dress rehearsal with the orchestra and play a solo at an Orchestra Concert there is really no reason to add vigorous exercise on top of it.  My body is yelling at me to rest and thankfully, I’m at least wise enough to listen.
Sadly, too many exercisers are so addicted to their “sport” that they don’t listen until their bodies force them to pay attention.
Listen up, if any of those symptoms above apply to you, if you feel burned out in the gym, if you’ve been hitting it hard and just don’t have the motivation then STOP.  Your body is asking for some time off.  Even if it isn’t, a few days can do wonders for you and won’t hurt a thing.  You won’t lose muscle (if you’ve been lifting hard, you might even gain), you won’t get fat (unless you overeat during your time of resting)  – in fact, you just might lose some water weight as your cortisol and inflammation markers come down.

Sometimes time off has a convenient way of putting itself in our schedules when we travel, have family over, life circumstances get in the way, but for those for whom the gym is life, if you do not take time off, this is sure to befall you:

Is there more than one type of rest?

Yes, there is passive and active rest.  Passive is just what it sounds like, you don’t do ANYTHING but enjoy doing nothing.  Active rest is something very low impact and low intensity, a walk, an easy spin on the bike but don’t take that to mean brisk walking and spinning class, you’re missing the point.  Enough movement to get the blood flowing to aid recovery and no more.  Lyle McDonald wrote a great article about it all here: The Importance of Rest.

How often should I take a break?

You should take, at minimum, 1 day COMPLETELY off (as in passive rest) once a week, and maybe one more of active rest.  All of this, of course, depends on what you do for training.  For those who workout intensely several times a week, a general rule is to go hard for 3 weeks and take 1 week easy.  If you are part of the NASM crowd and follow the OPT model, this can be put into the model as well.  Even if you are training at level 1 Strength Endurance, even though you are lifting very high repetition, the intensity level can still be high depending on your level of fitness. Add to this the slowness of tempo of your movements and you have a deceptively hard workout.  You can do a de-load week or, lower the intensity a bit and then move to the next phase.  What I like to do with my clients is plan off weeks for 1-2 weeks here and there during the year, mostly to coincide with when they couldn’t be training anyway: vacation, family time, travelling, etc.    From Lyle:

Almost all athletes take easy periods in their training (some call this unloading or deloading) although this depends significantly on how they are training. And the ones that don’t should. The average scheme is to train intensely for 3 weeks and then take an easy week where volume, intensity, frequency or all three are reduced. Others will go 5-6 weeks and then take an easy week. My generic bulking routine, alternates 2 weeks of easy training with 4-6 weeks pushing the weights up I’d probably suggest, on average, taking a full week off from training after every 3 cycles (18-24 weeks) of continuous training.
Longer cycles of 16-18 weeks are often followed by periods of 5-10 days completely off from training. Charlie Francis, sprint coach extraordinaire, often gave his athletes 5 days completely off from training between every 12-16 week block. So they’d work up to a new peak over 12 weeks (on a 3 week hard/1 week easy schedule) including their final taper, take 5 days off to recharge and then do it again. Yet most people training recreationally think they can go all out year round (bodybuilders are notorious for this).
Additionally, at the end of every training season, most athletes will take anywhere from 2-4 weeks away from their sport during what is called the transition phase (where you transition from the previous season of training to the next). This used to be called the off-season, athletes would sit around for a month or two but, with periods that extended, they would detrain and lose a lot of fitness. Now it’s closer to 2-4 weeks but with some amount of activity to prevent too much fitness loss.

The short of the situation is this:

  • If you can’t remember the last time you took a break, now is a good time. Face your fears.
  • If you have any of the symptoms listed above physically, now is a good time for a break.
  • Don’t discount the mental side.  If you just aren’t “into it” at the gym, burn-out is real, listen to your body and what it’s trying to tell you. TAKE a break.  When you come back to the gym you’ll be pumped to be there.
  • If your weight loss has stalled or your joints hurt it’s time for a break.

My suggestions for break time?

  • Eat good foods.  Use this time to really concentrate on your diet, eating stuff without labels and getting plenty of protein, and FATS (great for your hormone levels, joints, etc.) and focus on eating some anti-inflammatory foods like fish oil, coconut oil, pineapple and cherries.
  • Make good friends with the foam roller.  Use this time to roll every day and find your tender spots.  Get your body back into alignment.
  • Get a massage
  • Go see the chiropractor before/after said massage
  • Drink lots of water
  • Enjoy the rest and maybe get in the sun for a little extra vitamin D you may have been missing out on
  • Catch up on some reading, never have time? Now is good.
  • Reevaluate your training plans and goals.  Is it working for you?

As always, I”d love to hear your thoughts.  Have any of you been here? Are you a rehabbed Thing 1 or Thing 2 and proud to have joined the “moderate” group?  Share you success stories and leave your questions, I’m always here for you.  And join my conversation over on Facebook, I post a lot of great articles there as well.

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