My usual exercise routine goes something like this. On Mondays and Fridays I do a full-body superset workout with weights. On Wednesdays I do 8 minutes of Tabatas that absolutely ruin me. I cycle through mountain climbers, kettlebell swings, squat jumps, and the battle rope four times doing 20 seconds of work and resting for 10. It’s a bit of an aside for this post, but people are always kind of amazed that my workout is over after 8 minutes of work. This speaks to a big part of the problem with the way people work out in that they don’t go hard enough when it’s time to go hard. By the end of those eight minutes I’m often a little nauseous and always have my heart rate up around 170. Anyway, the rest of the week is spent trying to go for lots of walks, doing a half hour or so on my bike trainer in the basement, and crawling around on the floor with kiddos.
Yesterday was supposed to be a Tabata day, and I decided to skip it. I was on about 5 hours of sleep because there’s a stomach bug working its way through our children and all four of us slept like garbage. I bring it up because I think the easiest piece of advice to give and the hardest to follow is to take a day off if you feel like it. All of the intuitive wisdom around exercise like
Leave one rep in the tank,
Stop if it hurts,
Rest and recovery are more important than the workout,
And don’t workout if you are feeling tired
is really hard to follow if you value your workouts and are in a routine. There’s a fear that the whole thing can get derailed.
Though it’s not exclusive to them and it’s purely anecdotal, I find that people who are married to a specific type of workout are more manic about this than people who switch it up. Crossfit, Orange Theory, Soul Cycle, running, etc., people think if they miss a day, they’re going to undo their life’s work up until that point. Moving is certainly better than not moving, and running was very addictive for me when I was into it, but I’m not sure a regular dose of 5 miles four or five times a week was good for my health.
The science on this is relatively straight forward. A good night’s sleep predicts better athletic performance and a good exercise session predicts a good night’s sleep.
Counterintuitively, this study found that peak athletic performance could be maintained on short sleep. However, it did find that exercise without rest could result in a central nervous system imbalance that can simulate overtraining. Both of these things make sense from an evolutionary perspective. The former because we still need to eat and defend ourselves on short sleep, and the latter because exercise, like a lack of sleep, is a stressor, and the cumulative effect of them together might be too much for the body to handle.
So, I took the day off yesterday because it seems to make sense with the science, but I also took yesterday off because I didn’t really feel like working out. I’m not sure we should always listen to the voice telling us to take the day off - I never feel like doing Tabatas, but I believe they’re good for me, so I suck it up – but I do think we have some intuition about whether or not it’s a good idea to push ourselves with which we might have lost touch. Next time you are due for a workout and you really don't feel like it, go for a walk instead, and try to get an extra half hour of sleep that night before you give it another shot tomorrow.