This week’s question is one I deal with often. I see many clients who come into their workouts feeling drained and/or stressed out. In fact, one of the first questions I ask my clients when they walk into the door is, “How are you feeling today? How is your energy?”
If they respond that they are feeling well we will continue on with the workout as usual. However, if their energy is a little low or they are feeling a little crummy we will modify the workout as needed (see below).
So how can you decide if you should head to the gym, or modify your planned workout if you are feeling tired and/or stressed out?
Unfortunately, I cannot give you a definitive answer as usual. The answer is: it depends.
Not getting enough sleep and being stressed out are hard on your body. Exercise is also a stressor and if you do not have proper rest and recovery after a workout you are not going to see the changes that you desire.
That is the goal with a workout – to place a stress on the body and then allow it to rest and recover so it can repair and come back stronger, leaner, faster, etc. If you cannot give your body the time to adapt and recover it will not acquire these benefits.
On the other hand, exercise is also a great way to deal with stress if the workout is set up correctly. A workout can help you get your mind off of other stressors and helps promote a more relaxed state if it is not too intense (less weight on the bar, running a little slower, etc.) or heavy in volume (lower in reps and sets, less distance and time, etc.).
So unless you are really exhausted and/or have limited time (which would stress you out more) I always suggest clients at least go into the gym and do their warm-up. If they are still feeling unmotivated or tires then it may be best to head home and relax.
On the other hand, if you are feeling a little better after the warm-up then move into the workout, but decrease the intensity and/or volume. Do not aim to set personal records. Take a little longer between sets if needed. Just try to work up a little sweat, get your mind off of everything, and get in some good movement.
After the workout pay attention to how you feel. Do you feel better? If so, make a mental note in case a similar circumstance comes up in the future, which I am sure it will.
Here are some questions to ask yourself if you are feeling tired or stressed out:
Will working out add additional stress to your life?
For example, if you have a big project due at work tomorrow and you have not started, then a workout is probably not a good idea.
How do I feel after I workout? Does it make me feel tired or energetic?
Some people feel great after working out while others are pretty drained. I would argue that most effective workouts should leave you feeling more energetic than when you first walked into the gym.
Will it help get my mind off of other stressors?
Have I been getting enough restful sleep? If so, why am I tired?
Is is because you have been sitting a lot at the office lately? A lot of people actually feel more tired if they have been sitting a lot. If this is the case, I would try to get in a workout. You will feel much better.
When can I workout again?
If you are extremely stressed and tired and know you can get in a workout the following day then it is probably best just to head home and hit the gym tomorrow.
I hope this helps. The answer is never clear cut and you will have to experiment to determine what works for you. Just make sure to prioritize restful sleep and stress management. Your body and workouts will improve dramatically.