It took me many, many years to learn whether or not I need to take a day off from exercising—or push through.
At one point in my life I ran a 13-mile loop every day, as in seven days a week. I also weight trained and rode the stationary bike at the gym. I would work out for hours a day, and sometimes more than once; obviously, I had a problem.
And then my body gave out in various ways and I was forced to take down time, but I was also forced to recognize that I love exercise.
I love sweating and pushing through and endorphin release—and even yoga clothes.
I love Spinning and running, walking and hiking, yoga and Pilates—you name it. So the choice I had to make was, to me, quite simple: I had to learn how to be an exercise enthusiast without going overboard, and what I’d like to share with you here is what years and years of experience have taught me (as well as a few of my favorite “day off” suggestions).
If you’ve pushed through for a couple of days in a row, it’s time for a rest.
If you cannot remember your last day off, it’s time for one.
If you feel depressed and sluggish, it’s time to push through.
If you are sick from the neck down, it’s time to take it easy.
If you woke up feeling tight and sore from sleeping incorrectly, it’s time to push through, but gently.
If you’re tired from not sleeping long enough, but not so tired that you could injure yourself, it’s time to invigorate the day with a workout.
If you have a slight cold or feel a cold coming on, it’s time to have a slow-paced, short workout to boost immunity rather than deplete.
And my favorite: those times when I genuinely don’t know what to do; when I really am having a hard time listening to my body because my brain wants to workout or my heart needs to be silenced for a little bit, I begin to go through a yoga flow or a trek on my 1980-whatever Nordic Track—and if I’m still not into it after ten minutes, I stop.
Let me say, however, I’ve only stopped twice to my recollection.
Moreover, our muscles cannot become their strongest if we never take time to let them be at ease. Actually, this is why yoga is so ideal: it encourages both release and relaxation of the muscles and also tone and strength. Still, those days off can be tedious for our brains in our monkey-mind society, so, in order to make the most of my days off, I try to do one of the following.
I schedule a massage.
A massage is the perfect way to treat an athletic body during rest days. Even a 30-minute session is remarkably wonderful for our bodies (and, also, for our wallets).
I do something else I love during my exercise time-slot.
I love making crafts with my daughter, indulging in crappy Netflix shows and reading, so a day off is a great way to celebrate with one of these other activities.
I schedule a phone date with a friend.
I’m a mom who never talks on the phone. For one, I don’t want to take time away from my children to talk and, for another, they are young enough that it really isn’t practical. That said, I miss my friends and my family that I love talking with—which is exactly why I occasionally skip my morning workout and call a friend instead.
Now, to be fair, I love going through a short, simple yoga flow that almost feels like a day off—it’s so gentle and low-key—but it focuses on opening my shoulders and hips so that I can sit without discomfort for a longer period of time. This suggestion of meditation, I feel, is crucial. If we are constantly running away from our lives and minds during our workouts then, in my experience at least, we’ll often find that the problems we are running from have grown in size instead of shrinking.
In other words, taking the time to sit in complete silence gives us the opportunity to find mental relaxation without requiring movement.
And, really, shouldn’t a day off feel glorious and not forced?
Simultaneously, if we find exercise and movement enjoyable we’ll do more of it, naturally, without having to push through. In this vein of thinking, a day off is actually the perfect way to celebrate being an exercise enthusiast.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go get ready for my massage…
Photo: Nick Webb/Flickr.