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No matter how much you enjoy working out, we all have times when we find ourselves inventing excuses to throw in the towel. From the classic, “I’m too tiiiiiired” to the contemporary, “but I’m so behind on that Netflix series!” there are plenty of reasons that just don’t hold water.
But there are a few specific instances when you should give yourself the green light to pump the brakes on your workout:
There’s a difference between the aches and soreness of a previous day’s workout and a new or sudden pain that feels sharp or radiates to other places. Pain like that could indicate a muscle tear or nerve injury, and trying to push through it could cause further damage. If you’re out running and can call someone to come pick you up, do it; otherwise, sit down to assess the issue and try walking the rest of the way. And if you’re mid-class at the gym or doing a strength workout at home, just grab your towel and excuse yourself. Either way, be sure to follow up with your doctor ASAP.
An illness like a mild cold can make you feel wiped out, but oftentimes encouraging yourself to exercise can give you an energy boost and make your symptoms less noticeable. However, the key here is to listen to your body and know when to stop pushing yourself. Generally, symptoms of a head cold like nasal congestion or a scratchy throat won’t be enough to derail your workout, but a chest cold or the flu are more serious and working out while sick can prolong or worsen the symptoms. If you have a minor illness and the energy to exercise, go for it—but if you’re running and feel dizzy, weak or like you might cough up a lung, by all means, go home and get into bed.
If you don’t feel tired after a tough workout from time to time, you’re probably not doing it right; kicking your own butt is an awesome feeling and will leave you rightfully worn out. True exhaustion, however, is a different animal. Symptoms can include an inability to focus, headaches, bad moods, and an unrelenting feeling of weariness. If you’ve noticed a pattern of less-than-stellar workouts and find yourself half-heartedly jogging through your usually enthusiastic run, it may be necessary to literally stop in your tracks, go home, and take several days off to recover.
While you may usually meticulously plan out your workouts and follow them to the letter, every once in a while you’re just not feeling it. Now, this alone is not a reason to give up on working out altogether; first, try switching gears to see if that helps. If the treadmill isn’t cutting it, head outside to finish your run; if your tempo run isn’t working for you, just go for an easier couple of miles; if you’re pulling your hair out halfway through your long run, head for the hills for some incline work instead. Sometimes a different type of workout is all you need to finish strong. But if even that isn’t working, it might be best to just call it a day and try again tomorrow. You may be exhausted or coming down with something, or you might be stressed or overwhelmed by something else in your life, or maybe your body is just telling you it needs to rest. Whatever it is, in this situation it’s totally okay to pack it in and give yourself an obviously needed break.