Now, don’t get me wrong. Most people are really good at not exercising. The most recent Statscan report found that only about 15% of Canadians are getting enough exercise, that most people spend about 9.5 hours a day sitting. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that this is bad. Like, global pandemic causing 57 million annual deaths bad.
So why on earth would I write a post about NOT EXERCISING?!
Because it is possible to over do it. Did you hear that doctors are starting to perscribe exercise as medicine? (check my FB for a recent article about this happening in BC). This is awesome. Not only because it gets people moving but because it recognizes that exercise is powerful medicine.
And like any powerful drug, it can be overused and abused.
Let’s go over the basics of how exericse works. When we do a tough workout – like, let’s say one of my killer bootcamp classes– we are creating tiny micro tears in the muscles and putting stress on our heart and respiratory system. I know that sounds bad but it’s not. Because our amazing bodies take this as a signal that our muscles are needed and therefore we better adapt and get stronger. Which is exactly what happens – on our recovery days.
If we don’t allow adequate time for recovery – when we overtrain – there are consequences that are going to move you further away from your goals. Here are a few signs that it might be time to back off:
- You are hungry as hell
- You are always sore/achy in your muscles or joints
- You get colds often or it takes forever to recover
- You often have insomnia
- You haven’t seen any improvement in your physical condition in a while
- You have trouble losing weight
- You are emotional/irritable/depressed
So is it as simple as exercising one day and then chilling the next?
Not necessarily. Like all medicine, the dosage will depend on the individual. A day on/day off schedule would probably bore Anna Kournikova to tears but send Al Bundy to the hospital.
So, unfortunately, you are going to have to listen to your body (I know – most unwelcome advice ever.)
Here’s a few rules I suggest:
1. The 15 minute rule.
It’s really common to feel like you are too tired to exercise. Very few poeople spring out of bed looking for a burpee TABATA. However, a well designed warm up will increase circulation through the body and start sending those feel-good chemicals to the brain. Within 15 minutes, you will probably be feeling more awake and glad that you didn’t hit snooze. If, after 15 minutes of exercise, you still feel completely wiped, this is a sign that it should be a recovery day. My suggestion is to maintain your intention for an hour of self-care and transition your workout to focus on restorative flexibility.
2. You should feel fully recovered from your last workout before you workout again.
If your quads are killing you from the wall sit enurance test you did yesterday it’s not necessarily a bad idea to go for a jog. In fact, moving some oxygenated blood around will probably relieve the soreness. But save the front squat 1 rep max for another day when your quads are feeling spring loaded and ready for action.
3. Your workout should leave you feeling energized, not exhausted.
When you are done your workout, you should feel like a champ.
If you feel like roadkill, you probably overdid it.
Now here’s the tricky part: Some people don’t know how to chill (hi, Mum!).
If you are in that very small minority that could benefit from less exercise, you might be reading this and experiencing some anxiety. Because for you, my one-percent warriors, it’s more than a workout, right? It’s your ‘me’ time, it’s your stress-relief, it’s your happy place. These are some of the awesome effects of exercise, which is why it can be so addictive. So how are you going to get your hit when you are giving the body a break? Here are some ideas:
I need the workout to de-stress and get mental clarity:
Try yoga and meditation, or going for a walk in nature. All of those are trite. All of them totally work.
I need the workout to feel happy and energized.
Three words: Dance. Mix. ’96.
Or whatever makes you feel like doing the Humpty Hump. And then call up a friend who is smart and hilarious (Hi, Meg!) and get them to meet you for that walk in nature. (check this post for a list of Toronto’s best hikes)
My workout is the only thing I do for myself.
I get it. You have so many demands on your time that the only time you insist for yourself is for something virtuous and dutiful like exercise. And you would feel like a jerk if you left the dishes in the sink and let the kids watch TV while you did something indulgent like…read a book. Don’t. Everyone was fine while you went for an hour long run. They will be fine if you go for an hour long pedi. If judgers gotta judge that’s their problem.
It makes me feel productive… like I’m doing something GOOD for my health.
Then spend that hour doing something else that’s going to move you towards your goals. Like batch cooking some healthy new recipes (subscribe at the top of the page to get our Meal Planning Made Easy Guide to get started) or download the best apps for workouts you can do from your phone while you are at the cottage this summer.
And to deal with the elephant in the room…
I’m worried I will get fat if I take days off:
If you are overtraining and not allowing your body to recover, your body is under some serious stress. When your body is stressed, it thinks you need lots of energy to fight off sabre toothed tigers. When you are not in a state of elevated stress, you will not need as much food to feel satiated and your stress hormone levels will balance out. I promise you it will be alright. Your body won’t eat more calories than it needs if you listen to it. And, seriously – get into that meditation. It will help you tune in to what the body needs and calm alot of the fat anxiety chatter.
If you need some other ideas about how to not exercise, you can always ask the other 85% of Canadians who are already experts at that.
But if you need some next-level inspiration, I’ve have scoured the internet for recovery-day heros for you. You’re welcome.