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Workout Guilt. How Many Of Us Feel Guilty For Skipping A Day?

How many of us suffer from guilt or anxiety when we cancel a workout, hit the snooze button, OR heaven forbid – sleep in???

"..It’s okay to take a day off from working out. But on that day, you’re not allowed to eat."

Jack LaLanne

Jack was an old school bodybuilder who trained till his death at age 96, and was famous for that particular saying. Whether he meant that literally or figuratively, who knows.

But in short, is there a physical or mental effect when we skip workout days?

With a mind-melting amount of medical research and data out there on all the various physical & mental aspects of fitness & weight training, its RATHER easy to feel some level of guilt for not working out each and every day, or at least doing something physical on those guilt-laden 'rest days'.

A Danish study found that in a human experimental laboratory setting, training twice every second day was superior to training once daily. [1]

The Australia Beyond Blue website references studies that suggest what’s required in order to reap the positive mental health benefits is 30 minutes of ‘vigorous’ exercise at least five times a week (with ‘vigorous’ defined as putting in enough effort that it’s very hard to have a conversation while you’re exercising) [2]

A Norweigen study found that training 6 times per week leads to greater strength and muscle gains than 3 days per week when the weekly training volume and program are the same. [3]

According to the American National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), taking at least one day between resistance training workouts when you train the same muscle groups is recommended, and they advise against doing a full body workout every day. [4]

This may pose a challenge for those who enjoy group classes, where often the same exercises are scheduled each day, particular basics like pushups, lunges squats and everyones dreaded nemesis - burpees.

So where does this leave us in terms of guilt? Is the guilt that we feel really based on not working out – or rather not doing something we know deep down is productive and in our best interest? (...unlike sleeping in)

Could we alleviate any feelings of workout guilt by doing something else linked with our deepest values? Starting that project we’ve been putting off? Doing an hour of meditation & inspiring reading? Taking a walk and practicing being really present? Doing something deeply satisfying vs some temporary diversion?

"It’s amazing how a good day’s work will get you right back to feeling like yourself."

Steven Pressfield, best-selling author of The Legend of Bagger Vance.

Wise words. Are those feelings of guilt or anxiety really just our subconscious's way of telling us that we're not allowed to get unfocused?

So, to those who feel that familiar unease on ‘rest days’, the workout substitutions one can try are endless. From yoga/stretching to a light recovery run. From rolling your sleeves up and tackling an overdue project to reading something inspiration.

If we reframe 'rest days' to 'recovery days' does that allow us to open up to the possibilities of either not resting and/or doing something productive for our physical or mental health?

Test what works for you ...and share with your mates at the gym.


[1] Skeletal muscle adaptation: training twice every second day vs. training once daily Anne K. Hansen, et al, 01 JAN 2005.


[3] Frequency: The Overlooked Resistance Training Variable for Inducing Muscle Hypertrophy, Scott J. Dankel et al Sports Medicine volume 47, pages799–805(2017)


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