We've all put working out on the back burner. Possible, though not always justifiable excuses may have included impromptu happy hours, Netflix marathons, less than ideal weather conditions, or long commutes. And while it's important to power through these moments of vulnerability and squeeze in workouts at least a couple times a week, there are indeed times when you can (gasp!) cut yourself some slack and not feel an ounce of guilt. We tapped Jessica Matthews, M.S., a registered yoga teacher and assistant professor of exercise science at Miramar College in San Diego, to share when it's perfectly acceptable to cancel on gym time and engage in some couch time instead.
YOU'RE SICK AND IT'S MORE THAN A COLD
One bout of sniffles shouldn't have you hitting the bench just yet: light to moderate exercise can boost immunity and actually cut down on sick time. But if you're not sure if boot camp class should wait, Matthews suggests a neck check: "Symptoms such as runny or stuffy nose are usually ok, but if you're experiencing symptoms below the neck like chest congestion, upset stomach, fever or body aches, it's best to wait this one out. Not only will skipping the gym allow your body to focus on getting better and not drain your immune system, you'll also spare other exercisers from catching your bug," says Matthews.
YOUR MUSCLES ARE REALLY SORE
Feeling a little achy after a workout, especially a tough one, is normal, but severe muscle soreness may indicate injury. "Delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS may occur as a result of engaging in new activities or increasing the intensity of a workout too drastically. This discomfort can lead to extreme muscle and joint soreness, debilitating pain, and limited range of motion," Matthews explains. Working out if you're already in pain can up your risk for injury and stress out the body even more. Being super sore all over gives you permission to spend some coveted time on the couch for a day or two until you feel the pain subside.
YOU HAVE EXTREME FATIGUE
Normally, there's good reason to push through those I'm-too-lazy-for-the-gym-days: "A little movement can actually hike up your energy levels," Matthews says. But if you're burnt out—a stressful job has been keeping you after hours or just ran an endurance race—take it easy. And if you’re experiencing persistent fatigue to the point where your normal daily functioning is suffering "skip your workout and make an appointment to see your physician, as extreme and chronic fatigue may be the sign of a more serious illness of condition," she advises.
YOU HAVEN'T BEEN SLEEPING WELL
It’s not uncommon for us to occasionally skimp on shut eye, but consistently getting far less than the recommended eight hours of sleep per night can wreak havoc on your health, fitness, and waistline. "If you regularly find yourself exhausted from only getting four or five hours of sleep per night and can't decide whether to get caught up on your beauty rest or cut it shorter by getting in a morning sweat session, give yourself permission to skip your workout in favor of some much needed rest. Not only will you be able to approach your next work more focused, you'll be more alert and energized, which will help you to have a safer and more effective exercise experience," says Matthews. That being said, try reboot your sleep routine for the next couple days, so you can squeeze in shut eye and Soul Cycle without feeling zapped.
YOU WERE ALREADY ACTIVE TODAY
Staying fit doesn't just happen within the four walls of the gym or yoga studio. "On the days when you find yourself physically tired from a full day of performing strenuous yard work, helping a friend move, or engaging in fun recreational activities such as kayaking, hiking, or surfing, allow yourself to be flexible in your approach to fitness and to acknowledge that fitness is multidimensional. Remember that there are a variety of ways to be physically active and that every step truly does count," Matthews says.