6 times when it’s OK to skip the gym, according to experts

Exercise boosts endorphins and lifts our mood. But that doesn’t mean we need to work out religiously. Here are six times it’s OK to skip the gym.

In our busy lives, the promise of that post-exercise “high” can truly be a motivating factor to get us into our activewear and out the door – especially on those days when we simply don’t feel like working out.

But experts say hitting the gym when you’re stressed at work, haven’t eaten properly, haven’t had enough sleep or, for women, have your period, can have the opposite effect.

Instead of getting a mood-boosting hit of endorphins, exercising when your body isn’t properly equipped to recover from your training session can leave you feeling irritable, tired and even angry.

If you’re not in the mood for a workout, experts say these are six times when it’s OK to skip the gym.

1. You’re stressed out

Fitness and movement coach Jana Barrett says for our bodies – specifically our nervous system – exercise is a form of stress.

“Yes, it’s a good stress that can make us stronger, fitter and healthier, but our nervous system doesn’t recognise stress as bad or good,” Jana explains.

“If the intensity of your exercise is too high, or you are experiencing lots of other forms of stress in your life, you can enter into hyperstress, which you can’t efficiently recover from and (which) can lead to mood changes like irritability, exhaustion and fatigue.”

2. You haven’t had enough rest

A 2021 study into overtraining found that excessive exercise can not only lead to increased depression, low motivation and anger, but also hampers exercise performance.

The good news is setting a training schedule that incorporates enough time for rest and recovery could be all you need to ensure you’re getting the full mood-boosting effects of your workout.

“It’s all about finding the sweet spot of training stress, preparation and recovery,” exercise physiologist Ryan Hebron says.

3. You’re hungry

“We’ve seen first-hand people who thought they didn’t like exercise, and the antidote was something simple like a pre-session banana, finding a type of exercise they enjoyed, or just modifying the intensity of training,” Ryan, of Longevity Exercise Physiology and Personal Training, says.

Proper pre-training nutrition is crucial for ensuring you’re set up for a successful exercise session, and Ryan recommends eating a balanced meal of carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats and fibre around three hours before hitting the gym.

“For a quick pre-session boost, a carb-rich snack like a ripe banana or energy gel is best, especially for early-morning sessions where sleep is more important than waking up early for a big meal,” he says.

4. You’re already sore

Regularly participate in high-intensity exercise? Research shows the benefits of active recovery sessions include increased blood flow to muscle tissue, and reduced muscle soreness.

It’s also most beneficial when you go at your own pace.

“I recommend mobility training, yoga or other forms of gentler movement in between strength or other high-intensity training,” Jana says.

5. You have your period

Jana says for women, it pays to take their menstrual cycles into account because certain hormones are more sensitive to high-intensity exercise.

Studies show bursts of high-intensity exercise increases cortisol (the body’s stress hormone).

To create this extra cortisol, the body may “steal” progesterone – which is already low during your period – to convert it to cortisol in a phenomenon known as “pregnenolone steal”.

Ryan recommends reducing the intensity of your workouts during your period and increasing intensity during the follicular phase (the time between your period finishing and ovulation), when your progesterone levels are naturally higher.

6. You’re training too much

If you find you’re regularly forcing yourself to fit in four or five gym sessions a week, Jana advises going a bit easier on yourself.

“I think we seriously need to abandon the ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality and stop sacrificing our bodies for short-term results,” she says.

“Our bodies continuously communicate with us and send us messages – if you’re getting tension, stiffness, aches and frequent injuries, that is your body asking you to slow down or adjust your training.”

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Written by Chelsea Spresser