Bet we got your attention with that title! There are plenty of lousy reasons to skip a workout, for sure, and a thousand other articles about those. (Tired after work? Nice try – exercise will make you feel more energized, so get to the gym!) But there are also a few legit reasons to skip the workout, circumstances that will render your workout useless or even dangerous. If any of the following situations applies to you, go ahead and take a break. Just don’t make it a habit.
Coughing or wheezing
It can be beneficial to exercise if you are fighting a minor cold with runny nose and scratchy throat. The movement can boost circulation and actually make you feel better, as long as you don’t push too hard. But for a cough that originates in the chest, especially when it affects breathing, it’s important to rest. Those symptoms could signal a serious infection, and your body needs time to recover. No one likes to hear someone coughing at the gym, either.
Running on too little sleep
The conventional wisdom is that you do what you have to do in order to fit exercise into your daily routine, even if that means dragging yourself out of bed at 5 a.m. But cutting short your sleep is never a good idea. Studies show that sleep deprivation results in higher levels of stress and hunger-inducing hormones, and that’s just in the short term. Over the long haul, not getting enough sleep raises your risk for dangerous conditions like heart disease. If possible, switch your workout to the afternoon or evening. If you can’t do that, try to incorporate several shorter sessions throughout your day.
Running a fever
A high temperature is a sign that your body is fighting an infection. It needs rest in order to win that battle. Exercise will raise your body’s internal temperature even more, potentially getting into the danger zone for organ failure. Other signs of the flu, like body aches or chills, are also reason enough to hit the sack rather than the gym. Don’t forget to drink as much water as you would have during your workout.
Sore muscles from a previous workout
Building up muscle strength occurs when a tough workout causes tiny tears in your muscle tissue. The repair process then leaves the muscles even stronger. Called delayed-onset muscle soreness (or DOMS), this is a good thing. But it can affect later workouts. You are more likely to exhibit poor form when you favor one part of the body, and this can lead to injuries. If only one part of your body is sore, however, you can still work the rest.
Exercise can be uncomfortable, sure, but it shouldn’t cause agony. If you experience persistent pain in a particular part of your body, such as your feet or knees, you may be injured without realizing it. Common culprits are strained muscles, stress fractures, and plantar fasciitis. It is important to rest the painful area until you can exercise without pain. If that never happens, get to a doctor for a check-up. A course of physical therapy could be all you need, but pushing it is likely to lead to further damage.
Simply feeling sluggish or tired occasionally is no big deal. In fact, it is a strong reason to get in some exercise, as this can help increase your energy. But if you have felt the effects of chronic fatigue, like you are constantly walking through water, for over two weeks it may signal a deeper problem. It could be chronic fatigue syndrome or a thyroid problem, but you’ll need to get a diagnosis to be sure. Your exercise routine may need to be adjusted going forward.
Feeling dizzy at the gym or on a run is problematic for a couple of reasons. The first, most obvious one is that you need your balance in order to perform the workout safely. A fall can cause all sorts of dangerous injuries. But dizziness may also signal an underlying condition, such as diabetes, anemia, or dehydration. It’s important to get to the bottom of the problem and resolve it before you attempt another workout.
Menstrual cycle disruption
Female athletes who work out intensely may experience menstrual changes, including the absence of periods or amenorrhea. This can signal that estrogen levels are too low, which is a risk factor for osteoporosis. Preteens and teenagers are in a time of rapid bone growth and can experience lifelong issues if amenorrhea is not addressed. Women of any age probably don’t need to stop exercising, but it’s important to take a beat and check in with a doctor. He or she may recommend decreasing the intensity or length of your workouts.
Pregnancy (with caveats)
Pregnant women release the hormone relaxin, which loosens muscles, tendons, and ligaments to prepare the body to accommodate a growing baby. This can make it easier to sustain a muscle tear or other injury. However, exercise is still important for pregnant women. It is just not the time to take on a new intense program to which you’re not accustomed. Women who are heavily pregnant should take it easier, of course, as they have very loose joints toward the end and can’t see their feet!
Exercise is a vital part of any healthy life, and as such, we would never recommend that you give it up for good. But sometimes your body will need rest, and that’s okay. If you simply need to heal from a previous tough workout or have a nagging cough, a few days should do it. If there is an underlying condition that needs attention, however, you’ll probably be on the couch a bit longer. The good news is that once you are healthy again you can get back out there – maybe a little differently than before – but still with the goal of living your best life.