7 Scenarios When Not Working Out Is the Healthier Choice


Most of the time, we hear you should fit in your workout no matter what. Even if you’re tired, a little under the weather or simply just don’t feel like exercising, you should make it happen. No excuses.

“Many of my clients are super successful, Type A, driven professionals who demand a lot from themselves (and the world around them),” says Jonathan Jordan, a certified personal trainer. This can be a really positive trait and an attitude that helps people get the results they want from their workouts. “But sometimes, especially with the stress of our 24/7, always online culture, this can be dialed up too high and they push too hard,” Jordan says.

For his part, Jordan recommends listening to your body: “If you ignore your body, it will only scream louder.” So what does that look like? Well, there are seven situations when the best thing for your health really is to stay away from the gym. (And it’s not just when you’re sick.)



Working out when you’re under the weather isn’t a huge deal, but a high temperature is a surefire indication you’d be better off at home. “A fever indicates that whatever sickness you have is starting to affect your entire body,” explains Jeff Cournoyer, an exercise physiologist and athletic trainer. “This is one of the first signs that rest is a much better idea than exercise. It’s generally OK to work out with a bit of localized sinus congestion, but when things become systemic, the body is at a much higher risk of extra complications.”

Exercising with a fever may also make your symptoms last longer, Cournoyer points out, since

intense activity could steal energy away from the immune system, which is busy fighting whatever illness you have.

Lastly, exercise naturally increases your body temperature. “When this is stacked on top of a fever, the increase in temperature can actually leave you more susceptible to heat-related illnesses such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke, even if you’re exercising in air conditioning.”



We’re not talking about run-of-the-mill, everyday stress here. Extreme stress is what you might experience when a traumatic event happens in your life or when you’ve had a series of really bad days at work. “Sometimes stress from work, family, finances, children, dieting and exercise (yes those are stressors, too!) adds up and becomes overwhelming,” explains Krissi Williford, MS, a certified personal trainer and exercise physiologist. “Exercise can be used to help reduce stress, but there are times when it is best to rest.” If you’re feeling like things are just too much due to a temporary peak in stress, you may want to consider skipping your workout.



Good news: Exercising after one night of bad sleep won’t hurt you. “A bad night of sleep will definitely hurt your performance during that exercise, but it won’t negatively affect your health,” says Cournoyer. (Although it’s important to make sure you have enough energy to pay attention and perform your workout safely.)

“Chronic sleep deprivation changes things a bit,” he says. “That has a negative effect on your immune system. So, there is a chance that those issues could stack and make you more susceptible to getting sick.” If it’s been several days since you slept well, consider prioritizing rest over physical activity.



“I see people limping around in the gym all the time, thinking they can still do their normal routine,” says Jamie Hickey, a personal trainer and nutritionist. “If you’re injured, you may be able to work other parts of the body, but a lot of times, it can lead to hurting yourself even more.”

Often, people are able to create a routine that works around their injury with a physical therapist or trainer, but it’s not a great idea to attempt this on your own. Instead, “focus on getting better and back to 100%,” Hickey advises. If you’re injured for more than a week (or in a lot of pain), seek a qualified professional for an evaluation.



Exercise does put our bodies under a certain amount of stress, and that’s a good thing. The way our bodies react to that stress is what allows us to make progress. But not allowing for proper rest and recovery from that stress can have some pretty severe consequences, Cournoyer says.

“I am a huge proponent of at least one rest day per week,” he notes. “Even when I work with elite and professional athletes, I ask that they take at least one day off. The reason comes down to one of the worst illnesses that I’ve ever had to work with: overtraining syndrome.

“Overtraining syndrome happens when you continuously exercise at high levels of intensity, and your physiology and your nervous system sort of get ‘stuck’ in that heightened state, even at rest. It’s like getting the gas pedal in a car stuck down, where the engine just revs non-stop until it eventually fails.” At that point, you begin to experience fatigue, muscle and joint pain, increased levels of anxiety and increased susceptibility to getting sick. All of this can be avoided by simply taking rest days.



When you’re in a good routine, it can be tempting to put your social life on the backburner to prioritize your workouts. In some cases, that’s OK. But if you’re going to miss out on a social event you really want to attend, like a dinner party or seeing family from out of town, consider this permission to skip your workout. “Exercise isn’t the only way to make yourself happy and healthy,” Hickey says. “Having a social life plays a part in creating a well-rounded life.”



It’s true that when we don’t feel like working out and go anyway, we’re usually happy we did. But there’s a difference between not feeling like working out and knowing your body or mind isn’t on board with your workout.

“The rule I use in my facility and with all of my clients is: If you don’t feel at least 70%, don’t come in,” Williford says. “If you are 70%, we can move your body and try to help you feel better. These workouts are slow and intentional, with easy movements.” But if you can’t say confidently that you feel at least 70%, it’s better to give yourself the day off.


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