What should you do if you really don’t feel like working out? The simplest answer is…don’t work out. Your body needs rest, for one thing, and regardless of whether you’re sick or sore, you slept poorly, you have other priorities, or you just plain don’t want to, you are under no moral obligation to exercise. That said, sometimes you might be in a gray area—maybe you planned to work out and you think it might make you feel good, but you’re not particularly motivated to make it happen. Or perhaps you’re not really sure if your body is telling you to move or rest.
To be honest, I find this Should I or shouldn’t I? territory tricky to navigate because, no matter how I’m feeling physically or emotionally (and no matter how low the “feels like” temperature is), I usually just work out anyway. I’m a former PE loather who’s learned to love—depend on, even—the mental health boost I get from a sweaty run, boxing session, or strength training workout, but I’d be lying if I said that’s the only reason I’m so rigid with my fitness schedule. I’m also still working on undoing a lifetime of diet culture brainwashing and though I’ve made major strides in learning how to eat more intuitively, listening to my body when it comes to exercise is an ongoing struggle.
Decades of absorbing toxic fitness messaging have also left me with an underlying sense of anxiety or guilt when I think of skipping my planned workout, and those deep-seated feelings are tough to shake. However, I know in my bones that movement should be about joy and taking care of yourself, not stress and self-punishment, so I’m det∫ermined to improve my relationship with exercise.
That brings us back to the question at hand: What should you do if you’re honestly not sure if you want to work out? I asked Morit Summers, CPT, a Brooklyn-based trainer and the owner of body-positive gym Form Fitness Brooklyn, for her best advice on how to decide whether (or not) to exercise.
Start going through the motions and see how you feel.
Sometimes motivation comes after action, according to Summers, especially if you’re already in the habit of working out regularly. “Even on an off day, once you start, you may fall into your pattern and be able to do your planned workout without much pushback from your brain,” she says. “If you always start with a warm-up, just do that and see how you feel by the end of it—maybe you’ll be more awake or energized and ready to go.” Or maybe you’ll realize it’s really not the day to work out, in which case you can stop and move on with your life.
Another way to ease yourself into a potential workout: Put your favorite gym clothes on, even if you’re not planning to start sweating just yet. “It’s so important to feel good while working out,” Summers says. All exercise, even the joyful kind, is uncomfortable to a degree, she adds, so it can be hard to psych yourself up for the challenge if you’re also uncomfortable in your outfit. Walking around in your go-to comfy leggings also ties into the habit point above: By dressing for the occasion, you might find that your workout motivation follows.