Health / Expert Advice

When Should I Skip a Workout?

Sometimes pushing through isn’t worth it. Here are four of those times.

Everyone wants the feeling of accomplishment that comes with powering through a daily workout. Yet, in some situations, it does more harm than good to put pain or uncontrollable circumstances aside and push through. When modifications or taking it easy don’t do the trick, consider taking an unplanned day (or week) off. Unsure of what conditions call for you to skip a workout? Read on. Because sometimes it’s better to throw in the towel.

You’re feeling sick.

“Am I too sick to workout?” is one of the most pondered questions in this arena (seriously, it has over a million search results). When you’re sick, your body is essentially working overtime to fight the illness–on top of all your regularly scheduled functions. Adding a vigorous exercise to the list runs the risk of exhaustion and potentially worsening your symptoms. Trust us when we say one workout isn’t worth another week of bedrest. Skip a workout and give yourself ample time to rest and recoup before getting back into it. You’ll be better off in the long run (or cycle or stair climb).

That said, generally, if you have a mild cold, you should be good to go (lightly!). Consider forgoing the gym for sanitary reasons, and try an outdoor jog or a body weight workout in the comfort of your home. It might even clear your congestion and help you feel better. On the other hand, if you have a fever or any other aches and pains—like in your chest or throughout your body—skip the sweat sesh altogether. We recommend a Netflix binge instead.

You’re experiencing odd/unfamiliar pain or discomfort.

There are a few different types of pain you might feel during or after a workout. Don’t fret about “burning” muscles, a faster heart rate, intense sweating, and your regular muscle soreness. Basically, anything you typically feel as a result of pushing yourself during a workout is pretty standard. Likewise, if you’re injured or have chronic pain and are exercising as a form of approved physical therapy, keep it up. Just make sure you abide by your doctor’s or physical therapist’s guidelines at all times.

You should stop in your tracks if you experience any any sudden swelling or sharp pains, twinges, and throbbing. Head, neck, back, ankles, and shins are just a few common places where this type of sudden pain can occur. In any of these cases, stop what you’re doing right away. It may be tempting to push through, but working out against a pain without a definite cause can be dangerous. Skip a workout and make an appointment with your doctor ASAP.

You’re lightheaded or having trouble breathing.

Please step away from the weights and cardio machinery if you’re feeling light headed or dizzy. These can be signs of respiratory or cardiovascular problems, as well as low blood sugar. Struggling to breathe fully could also come from respiratory or circulatory problems–all of which should be signs to stop or skip a workout.

If you start to feel any of these happening on the gym floor, find a place to rest. This should keep you from fainting, falling, dropping equipment, or otherwise further hurting yourself. It may sound alarming, but if you allow your breathing and blood flow to regulate, you should feel better. If you continue to feel this way during exercise or post-workout, make an appointment to see your doctor to discuss your symptoms.

It’s too cold outside.

While scientists have proposed that no temperature is too low a drop to workout outside, doing so comes with a slew of annoyances and, more importantly, risks. If outdoor workouts are your jam, though, don’t panic. You can still handle most situations by dressing and preparing properly. But know the line between cold and dangerous. It may save you from a nasty fall or frostbite. Take note of any possible windchill before hitting the trails. Regardless of how you dress, once those wind temps reach negative 15 degrees, any exposed or lightly covered skin can become frostbitten in under 30 minutes. Ouch. Also, avoid exercising outdoors in the event of a downpour because those wet clothes and hair will rob you of body heat 25 times faster than air will.

Speaking of frostbite, it’s crucial that you know the signs in case you still decide to brave the snow storm. Numbness and a burning or tingling sensation are typically the first signs, so head inside stat if you experience these. Losing coordination and slurring your words? Book it to the hospital—you could be experiencing hypothermia. In short: hit the gym or take a much deserved day off.

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