This Is The Workout You’ll Regret Doing

“The only workout you’ll regret is the one you didn’t do.”

You’ve probably seen this somewhere before — on a poster at your gym, or scrolling through your Facebook feed. It’s motivating, right? It prompts you to get your lazy bones up and moving, right?

Yeah, sure. Except that it’s crap.

If you’re a regular exerciser, anything that causes you to want to break that habit should be taken seriously. If your body usually tears it up in the gym, or gets a kick from a long run, or feels a hundred times better after yoga, ask yourself: would it suddenly slam on the breaks for no reason at all?

“But it’s not my body!”, you cry. “It’s my all in my head!”.

To which I respond: have you really become so brainwashed by “fitspo” that you no longer consider your head a part of your body?

Have you forgotten that your brain receives signals from every nerve and every muscle and every organ, in the most beautifully intricate system of biofeedback? Your brain telling you to stop is your body telling you to stop. Indeed, sending signals to your brain is pretty much the only way your body can tell you anything at all.

Maybe you’re thinking “I’m just a little tired!”. That could well be true. Your tank might be just a little empty today. You might feel totally fine after a decent sleep and maybe a cup of tea. So why does being “just a little tired” seem like a valid excuse to forge ahead? Do you really think that pumping the accelerator when the tank is empty does the car any good?

It is entirely possible to regret workouts that one should have done. There are entirely legitimate reasons to scale down or completely skip a regularly-scheduled session.

And, here’s the really dirty secret: you don’t even need one! You can skip a workout for absolutely no good reason at all, if you want.

Somehow we’ve collectively developed this mindset — fed and nurtured by “fitspo” and well-meaning fitness instructors on television — that it’s Work Out Or Bust. Get Sweaty Or Die Trying. Get To The Gym, Or Die Fat And Alone. These attitudes seep in, make themselves comfortable, and soon they permeate our thinking without us even realising.

They manifest in people pushing themselves to the brink of overuse and strain injuries. People working out while under the weather, creating a vacuum into which opportunistic infections will swoop. People working out on empty stomachs and no sleep, only to pass out on the cross-trainer. And, most often, people working out and just feeling irreconcilably crap afterwards.

I must confess, at this point, that I was once a (gulp) Fitness Blogger. I shared low-calorie high-protein recipes. I went Paleo. I wrote long treatises on ketosis. I ran (in fact, I geared myself up to train for a marathon before permanently fucking up my leg and experiencing a physical collapse). I lifted. I did yoga and pilates and every other class I could afford within walking distance of my house. Most embarrassingly, the Facebook Memories function now and then reminds me that I was prone to sharing fitspo memes *retch*. One came up the other day, it said:

Crying is acceptable. Puking is acceptable. Quitting is not acceptable.

I am covered in shame.

Let’s put on our Rational Pants and look at this one: does physical exertion to the point of vomiting really sound healthy?

If a job makes you cry in the mornings, is it healthy to stay there?

If a friend punches you in the face and shatters your jaw, do you shrug it off and pour some beer on it? (OK, we’re Australians, we probably would — but really we should quit being dickheads and seek some medical attention.)

Puking, crying, bleeding: all of these are very fucking good reasons to stop or skip a workout. Tiredness, soreness, and sadness are all acceptable reasons too. In fact, let me give you the permission that you inexplicably think you might need: any inclination you have that a workout might make you feel worse instead of better is a good enough reason to stay at home.

You know what *I* think is not acceptable? Convincing people to push through workouts when their body is screaming at them to stop.

We seem to have forgotten that exercise is a stressor. It stresses your body. Sure, this stress is what causes your body to grow stronger and become more resilient, but it achieves this by first breaking it down. Kind of like how a vaccine puts a bit of a disease into your body, forcing your immune system to spring into action and build up its defences. It’s called hormesis: the idea that just a little bit of something bad prompts your body to repair or fight, which ultimately makes it stronger.

However, effective hormesis is like walking a very-high tightrope — the balance is tricky. Your body can’t do that fighting and repairing when it’s running on empty. If your bodily resources have their hands full fighting a cold, or repairing an injury, or compensating for a lack of sleep, it simply doesn’t have enough fuel left for the fire sparked by a workout. What was an adaptive stressor quickly becomes counter-productive, whatever your goal.

And you know what? Fuck the physical repercussions for a minute — they’re only a small part of the reason a lot of us exercise anyway. Think about it. A workout should be something you enjoy. Something that you look forward to. Something that yeah, will probably leave you feeling sweaty and depleted, but also happy and accomplished and rejuvenated. If you’re dreading your next workout and it leaves you on the brink of utter exhaustion, what good is it really doing? Listen to what you’re telling yourself.

It boggles my tiny mind that we’ve reached this point, where our focus on health and physicality has lead us to become more disconnected from our bodies. I blame capitalism, but that’s a story for another time.

TL;DR: It is entirely fucking possible to regret a workout that you shouldn’t have done. Quitting is entirely acceptable, under a variety of circumstances. When your body tells you to take a break, you should try listening. Be kinder to yourself. I promise you, that’s okay.