May 31, 2012

On Taking a Fitness Break

So have you ever taken a break from your normal workout routine?

Generally, the secret to lifelong fitness is consistency. Learning how to coax yourself out of a seductive state of physical relaxation into a sweaty panting frenzy of uncomfortable exertion? That's crucial, and it takes practice, will-power, and even courage. In my opinion, an almost-daily practice of vigorous exercise is the profoundly annoying key to staying fit for life.

And yet, sometimes there are very good reasons to let things slide for a bit. These include:

1. Major Illness
2. Debilitating Injury
3. Natural Disasters
4. Overwhelming and All-Consuming Life Events
5. Discovering You Just Don't F--cking Feel Like Exercising For A Few Days

Anyone care to guess why I skipped my normal cardio, stretching, weight training, HIIT, and balance exercises for nearly a week?

Well, my inactivity resulted from a combination of factors, many of which were obstacles I could have easily overcome had I been feeling sufficiently motivated. But I wasn't, so I succumbed to the bad case of dontgiveafuckitis and put everything off except lovely long walks by the seashore for many days in a row. Note: this was after our road trip, which presented a much higher degree of difficulty in working out, yet I managed to stay on track just fine.

Now I'm back to the sweaty stuff, hooray!  But it occurred to me that over the years, I've had to learn almost as much about how to NOT exercise as how to exercise.

Involuntary breaks due to Illness or Injury

These are a whole different animal from voluntary breaks and are so freakin' frustrating!  Perhaps the subject of another post, which I've no doubt written before, given my hysterectomy, broken arm, etc.   Fortunately at my age I can't remember when or where I wrote about them, so will probably write it the same things all over again later--be forewarned.

But to summarize: HEALING IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING!  Don't sacrifice long term health by doing dumbass things to lessen short-term, misplaced guilt.  Figure out what you can do safely and then treat the whole Patience and Acceptance thing as a good personal development lesson that will serve you well as you approach your wheelchair-and-Depends years.  (The sad truth: you will either (a) die in the prime of life or (b) need to learn to cope with a body that hurts and won't do what you want it to anymore.  Yet some people manage this with grace and good humor. When your turn comes, will you have cultivated the flexible mental strategies to be one of them?)

Also, keep in mind that if you keep fixating on what you can't do rather than what you can, you will become a tiresome querulous bitchbucket and a huge pain in the ass to be around. Trust me, I speak from experience.

But what if you're not working out because you just don't feel like it?

Tips for Weathering a Voluntary Period of Not Working Out:

1.  Evaluate the Consequences

Are you someone who often takes breaks and has a hard time coming back? Is this "temporary" break likely to derail you and set you on the path to slothful simmering self-hatred?

Then get off your ass and get back to it! This is not the self-help tip list you should be reading.

But go easy on yourself and set the bar low.  Fitness perfectionism may be part of your problem.  Or perhaps you need to put some energy into re-motivating yourself to work out.

On the other hand, are you someone who has been exercising consistently for ages, who always gets back into it when life interrupts, and who has natural cycles that includes periods of demotivation?  Then by all means, drop the guilt and nagging and enjoy a little time off!  Most likely your sudden inertia is telling you that you need to mix it up a bit.  You could use the exercise time to be good to yourself and body in a different way--catch up with friends, sleep more, enjoy some contemplative solitude, play, create, enjoy, relax... there are tons of other endeavors besides physical torture exertion that your body and mind might thank you for later.

2.  Drop the Stuff That Sounds Icky But Keep Moving at Least a Little

If you go on some nice easy walks, stretch a bit, dance, whatever sounds fun, you can reframe "lazy slacking" as "active recovery." Doesn't that sound way more impressive?  Plus you'll sleep better and feel more like yourself and not like you've been possessed by the Pillsbury Doughboy.

3. Be Wary of Fitness Magazines Until You're Ready to Get Back Into It.

I love reading fitness magazines, even the awful ones.  And I had two issues of Experience Life waiting for me when I got home, which is the only one I subscribe to that is not awful.  It's one of the few that actually focuses on health and fitness, rather than wasting countless pages extolling miracle weight loss tips and advice on hair, makeup, fashion and other superficial girly stuff.  (Note: at one point my subscription to Experience Life was comped, and I can't remember if I renewed myself or if it still is free, but I'd totally pay for a subscription. In fact, I have no idea why I felt the sudden need while writing this post to be all gushing and grateful... probably it has to do with the pile of other health & fitness titles sitting there on the nightstand with the same old annoying crap in them. But if you guys know of any other good health & fitness magazines you love, please let me know in the comments!)

But anyway, when you are not working out hard, even for a few days, it is weirdly painful to read your favorite fitness magazine or visit fitness blogs and websites!  Motivational advice and inspirational hints when you are trying to honor and respect your demotivation can feed the voracious guilt monsters. Much more fun to save your sources of fitness inspiration for right before you get back off your ass and you're psyched to implement any new suggestions you come across.

4. Figure Out What You're Avoiding

Perhaps the most helpful thing you can do if you feel like taking a break is to take a few minutes--or even just a few seconds--and figure out what exactly sounds the most loathsome about your current routine.  And then a few more seconds to see if there are any alternatives, tweaks, or inspirational ideas that you could dream up to make it less obnoxious.  And then, if you really want to chase any lingering guilt monsters away, do some preliminary preparation to make reentry more fun: download some new songs, find a new phone app, order a new exercise toy, or go back to that fitness magazine with an open mind and a craft a plan to actually do some of the stuff in there.   Give yourself something to look forward to when you get back into it.

Anyone else ever take a fitness break, whether voluntary or involuntary?  Any thoughts, complaints, or tips?


  1. Breaks are good. Maybe once a week or every other week I plain don't feel like exercising so I don't. I consider these feelings to be messages from my body to give it a rest.
    I think as long as you don't get into a rut of thinking every day is a rest day, then you'll be fine.

  2. Unfortunately, yes. Involuntarily. Several times. Most recently thanks to a stupid, minor calf strain that has kept me from doing cardio since December! I find it hard to really "rest" when something is that minor and as a result, think I healed much more slowly. When I had surgery and, another time, broke a bone, it was much easier to "rest."

  3. Messages from your body are a great way to think of it Leah!

    And Karen, I totally know what you mean about the seemingly "minor" stuff being harder to treat properly. How many times have I reinjured the same soft tissue by going back too soon? Dumb! But SO hard to avoid.

  4. As much as a hate my rest day every week, because I'm so restless and worried about every morsel I put in my mouth, I am always rewarded the day after, I feel stronger, the scale is almost always agreeable and my body seems to thank me for it.

    I am definitely one of those people that if I get off my fitness track than it takes me FOREVER to get back into it. So I know that consistency for me is the key. If I don't feel good, I will at least do SOMETHING like a walk just so I was moving a little. It's hard work and I wish I was just naturally thin and only had to work out like 3 days a week.

  5. A break is a GREAT thing.
    You just went 3000 miles across the country---maybe a little more than fatiguing? ( I love road trips, but they do tire you out. Kudos to you for working out on the trip.)
    Your body is subliminally telling you to relax a little bit.
    Go with it. ( and enjoy!!)
    Have a little seafood, get settled in, and you will back to your routine in no time.
    I used to beat myself up about breaks-- now I just roll with it.

    Thanks for the road trip pictures.. it makes me want to take one soon!

  6. My problem is ditching perfectionism -- if you can't do it "right" (go to the gym for two hours), don't do it at all. So i have to aim for: exercise done "wrong" (at home, as best i can because of extenuating circumstances) is better than none at all and is still good for me.

  7. Stop reading my mind. : ) I'm actually just coming off an exercise break. Two breaks in a way - 1) stopped running for awhile. It was frustrating me beyond belief, so I switched over for some Billy Blanks DVDs. 2) Fatigue - my daughter is refusing to sleep through the night and getting up at 5am I was so damn exhausted I just decided to say to hell with it for a week. Still tired, but not quite so bone achingly so. But I got up at 5 today and hit the trail for 4 miles. Except that the temps were just above freezing (34), it was awesome. I think I'm back. :)

  8. I had to take a forced break a few years back when I had my hysterectomy. I think I started back slowly at about five weeks post op (although the recommendation is six, I'm impatient).

    I think the rest was good, both for recovery from the surgery and general recovery for my body from years of running, cycling, and weight lifting.

    What kind of came as a surprise to me though, was that while I thought of my time off as simply a break, where I would come back stronger because of the rest, Mother Nature had another idea. Instead, it was just like starting over from scratch! Almost, anyway, my cardio fitness was almost zilch and it took a long time to return. While I didn't lose all of my strength, it still took a lot longer than I'd expected to get back even close to where I'd been before surgery.

  9. I'm just recovering from a 7-month fitness break since the birth of my son. I'm dealing with a number of issues caused by the birth and stress. My body is in the worst shape it's ever been in.

    I agree that you should take it slow, especially if your break was involuntary due to illness. You're right - HEALING is the most important thing. We all want quick results, but you have to fix what's broken first.

  10. I'm with Leah (as usual.) Listen to your body if it wants a break.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  11. I believe in taking a week off every 3 months to allow for recovery. After an injury laid me up I learned start light & go slow. No more then 15-20 minutes & no more than 2-3 times a week or you'll be flat on your back again. Also, when you're taking time off reduce your caloric intake

  12. I always take 2 days off a week. When I could afford vacations once a year, that was my time to pull back & stay active but not anything like my normal workouts. In the past few years with no vacations, it is hard for me to take a week off like a real vacation since the stress of the situation, the workouts help me thru that.. BUT I do feel it AND with age, honestly, I feel what I can't do now vs. 5 or 7 or 10 years ago. I have had a few forced off weeks due to my teeth so that has helped BUT I am feeling the need to really evaluate the workout schedule for more recovery time due to this aging body. I don't make excuses for my age & will work out just as hard but I need more recovery time. For me it is hard to take time off - well, from the weights! :-)

  13. Huh/ I always have some bit of simmering self hatred. Yes, it usually involves exercise. I really really yearn for exercise when I am hobbled. Once back to fitness I am... meh - about exercise. I find it to be just like my feeling about men. Can't have them - want them. Have them at hand - meh. And now that I have that analogy going. Sometimes I want a break to comb the shore and other times I am all gung ho. Yes, I said ho.

  14. This is a really well written post, Crabby with several great messages!

    I know this will surprise you, but no I haven't, lol! It's like brushing my teeth for me, I just do it.

    I'm sure I could take a break, honest, really I could.

  15. I do indeed take fitness breaks. But only when my body tells me it needs me to. I don't plan them, but do sometimes push them out a week or two so that I finish the training plan I'm on.

    The big picture goal, for me and my clients, is always to be aware of the messages from your body, tune into them and have a kind and warm conversation with your body. After all, you've only got one of them, so you might as well learn to work effectively with it!

    My 2 pennies worth,
    Keep up the good work,

  16. breaks are great.
    and the older I get the more I find I need the rest to grow and get stronger (in all senses I think. mentally and physically).
    that said, I tend to take said breakage when life compels me to.
    getting busy
    that kind of stuff...

  17. Regular breaks are also a good habit just for getting better results. Your body gets stronger not during the workout but during the rest, so taking the "one step back and two steps forward" approach can lead to better results and less injuries. Of course, a scheduled downtime is different than just being lazy...

  18. Hey! I was thinking about writing about "active recovery," because I have been sitting on my butt—er, I mean, going through the recovery period of my workout system… Damn, you caught me. Actually, I somehow managed to have a month where I teach significantly fewer Zumba classes, so I’m soaking up some cross-training/hanging out with the hubby! For me, this break is also helping me with mental burn out. I was just getting so SICK of Zumba music! Ha!

  19. I take some breaks from formal exercise sometimes. I still bike for my commute, walk to grocery shopping and errands, just because otherwise I'd have to drive, and that's intolerable. But sometimes I'm too tired for the gym, or a bit ill, or feel like I deserve a social life. It's never for more than a week, and I generally get right back into it.

  20. Yes, I take short breaks when my body tells me too. This month will be a slow work out month due to medical reasons and travel reasons...but I am fine with July I will go HARD!

  21. Please ignore my typo...I wish I could. :D

  22. I"m guilty as charged! Been lazy for a couple of months now, contented sitting and working the whole day. But I guess, I need to take into consideration the things that you told me. May this serve as a wake up call. :)

  23. I recently had to take a break for about two weeks and I came back feeling better and stronger than ever. it was my body's way of telling me it was time for a rest. Plus I started to see results again, another added bonus.

  24. Had to take a break for a non-fitness related surgery. It was so hard. 6 weeks off. I'm just now getting back into the routine and I feel like I've lost so much. But, sometimes it's good to work your way up again.

  25. I agree! Taking a break from working out is actually a very healthy and wise thing to do! Putting our bodies through so much stress day in and day out does take it's toll, so generally a week off after every couple of months should do some good! Of course, staying on track with your diet during that break is crucial!

    Great post!

  26. The problem is that we are just too good at excuses. We come up with numerous excuses of why we missed a day of exercise, and then that day turns into two, and a week. And it is strange how we could use that single excuse and use it for prolonged time.
    Though this is not what your post was about, yet I felt like sharing the thought that came to my mind. And yes, it is my issue too!


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