A guide to setting boundaries so you can stay consistent with your workout routine all year
Being hardcore with your New Year’s workout goal is awesome, but for most of us it’s not sustainable. What do you do when life happens: you catch a nasty cold, you’re working overtime on a big project, you have family in town, etc? There are lots of things that can get in our way, even if we are determined not to skip your workouts.
As a trainer, one of the most common problems I help people face is figuring out how to stay consistent despite, well, LIFE. Sometimes you have no choice but to skip a workout, but how should you respond when you do have a choice? It’s crucial to set boundaries in advance and work to find a plan for a sustainable workout schedule.
You won’t drift into a rockin’ body or improved health. You’re going to have to work and make it a priority. This list, or discussion if you will, can help hardcore and unmotivated people alike set boundaries to help them balance real life and fitness, stay consistent year-round, and reach their goals! Check out the suggestions and apply what might work for your own routine.
When It’s OK to Skip When You’re Sick
In the long run, it’s believed that exercise boosts your immune system, so as you make this a habit you should find you are sick less and less. Since there’s always a chance, determine in advance what type of sickness for which you’ll allow a skip. Does a cold count? Stomach feels unsettled vs. stomach flu? Headache vs. migraine? Will you try to sweat out a fever or will you let yourself rest? What about when your allergies act up? The list goes on, but you know what ailments tend to affect you.
I suggest you set a number on a scale of 1-10, with 1 meaning you feel good but not great, and 10 meaning you feel like death. Decide what number on the scale is your breaking point, meaning X number and higher equals an unplanned rest day. If I have scratchy throat, I don’t want to workout, but that doesn’t mean it’s a reason to skip. Setting this system in place can help you make a wise decision when the time comes. And be considerate – if you could be contagious, opt to exercise at home so you don’t risk anyone else’s health. (Side note: I know of a website that can help you with that…)
Before you decide these things, it’s important to know when exercising and stress will make your sickness worse, and when just adapting your workout will do. To help you make those decisions, check out this infographic “Should You Workout When Sick?” by Precision Nutrition.
I am a firm believer in a workout accountability partner for those days you want to skip. It’s helpful to have someone hold you accountable to your workout goals, be the voice of reason if you’re really too sick to go, or tell you to suck it up and hit it hard. Choose your accountability partner wisely, and let them in on your decisions. Have them hold you to it, using consequences if necessary (buy them dinner, have you send $10 to someone you don’t like…be creative!). Accountability is helpful for people who tend to overtrain as well as for chronic gym-skippers.
When It’s OK to Skip When You’re Tired
The struggle is real… Determine ahead of time how many days (
a week a month) you get to use this excuse. As previously mentioned, set a number on a scale of 1-10 that predetermines which level of tiredness qualifies for a skip. A workout usually wakes people up better than a nap and can give you energy for the rest of your day. This is necessary to decide ahead of time because when you feel tired you can easily talk yourself out of anything.
Although it’s become common to brag about how little sleep you got last night, let’s discuss how sleep deprivation is hurting your quality of life (and increasing your pants size). It’s linked with chronic stress, heart attack, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, depression, and stroke. It also increases mistakes, whether on the road or punctuating an email, as well as makes us more forgetful. Chronic sleep deprivation is associated with a higher BMI. When you sleep, appetite controlling hormones are released, and sleep deprivation is associated with lower levels of leptin (a hormone that helps control fullness) and higher levels of ghrelin (a hormone that signals to the brain it’s time to eat).
So now that we know exercise wakes us up, but sleep deprivation promotes weight gain, what’s a girl to do? There isn’t really a cut and dry answer, but I would start with deciding if you are tired or exhausted. Setting that number on a scale of 1-10 will help, as well as giving yourself a number per month you can miss. Unfortunately for us busy ladies, sleep and exercise are two big factors in promoting mental health. Shoot for 7 hours a night, and if you get consistently less, then change something up.
- Maybe you’re always tired because you’re not eating healthy foods. Check out our new Nutrition Course to teach you how to eat right, lose weight, and feel better!
Once you’ve set your number, have someone keep you accountable and set up consequences and boundaries. Tell them your level of tiredness and number of days per month. If you want to skip, tell them why you are tired and let them have a say in your decision. An example of a consequence might be if you skip you’re required to go to bed an hour earlier (or pay up! Or no skip allowed next time, etc). If poor decisions are what’s making you tired, should that count toward a skipped workout? Your friend could help you brainstorm ideas to get more rest, cut things out of your schedule, or make you pay up if you stay up late binging on Netflix. Again, it’s up to you, but write it down, tell someone, and have them hold you to it.
When It’s OK to Skip Your Workout When You Don’t Feel Like It/Lack Motivation
It happens to the best of us… A good place to start to determine if this is a valid reason to skip is analyzing why you don’t feel like it. Just want to cuddle up on the couch? That can be your reward post-workout. Had a really rough day? Maybe a walk and talk with a friend is better than giving in to your emotions (read: drinking all the wine), or take that frustration out on a run!
I would hate for a strict no-skipping policy make you dread your workout, but if we always go on what we feel then we wouldn’t exercise enough and we’d eat too much ice cream. This is another situation where it’s important to determine in advance how many of these days you get (monthly or quarterly!), and I recommend keeping this number small. Don’t forget to enlist your accountability partner! Since this feeling is common, you might really need them.
Honestly, this is never a valid reason for me. I give myself zero lack of motivation skips. I suck it up, put on my shortest-never-wear-outside-of-my-home shorts (look good in them: motivation // look bad in them: motivation), and make myself. Maybe I allow an easier workout and decrease the weight I use or only do one set. I personally do not allow this excuse because health is not a luxury or an option. I schedule it, prioritize it, and on days I’m not “feeling it” I treat it like paying bills or showing up to work: I have no choice.
Combat this with writing down your why and reading it whenever necessary. You know what motivates you, so write it down, and tell it to your friend so they can be a broken record to you when you are lacking desire. And for those really tough days? Consequences make me pouty-faced, but they also make me lace up my sneaks and get to it!
When It’s OK to Skip Your Workout When It’s That Time of the Month
Yep. This is a common week to skip your workout. I understand, and it sucks. However, it’s important to analyze your habits- are you doing anything to promote cramps, bloating, hormonal imbalances, or any of that fun stuff that comes with being a woman? Can you tweak your diet? Have you talked to a doctor about it? Your monthly shouldn’t take you out of the race, and it shouldn’t significantly alter your normal life. In fact, research shows regular exercisers have better periods, and exercising during can relieve cramps. How’s that for motivation?
Saying “Screw it, it’s only a week” is OK every now and then, but technically it’s 1/4 of our year. It’s worth it to try to incorporate exercise and see if some lifestyle modifications can bring relief if you need it. I had some issues with hormone imbalance and was able to regulate my body and emotions with essential oils (endoflex and clary sage). Change up your diet and habits and see if that makes workouts during that time of the month more of a reality.
If all else fails, you (usually) know when it’s coming, so plan ahead and get in a killer strength training workout beforehand, so your “time off” is spent with recuperating muscles and boosted metabolism. If working out during that time doesn’t seem feasible yet, try that last suggestion and, wait for it…. get someone to hold you accountable to it.
When It’s OK to Skip If Other Plans Come Up
Life is short, so time with family and friends is important! However, there’s always something to interfere with your health goals. By prioritizing your health and setting boundaries in advance, there will be no wavering when the time comes.
First of all, if plans arising is a rare occasion, go out! Have fun! But if it happens somewhat consistently or always on your workout days, then let’s talk…
If there’s a possibility you can do both, do it. My husband and I used to be notorious for showing up late to events because we wouldn’t skip a workout. Our health came first. Show up late if you can, or if you’re presented with options, choose the one that allows time for a workout.
If there’s a night of the week this usually happens (Taco Tuesdays, Thirsty Thursdays, etc), plan ahead. Get in a morning workout on those days. You could also schedule your workouts around when plans usually arise, or have a backup day/time set.
You can set a limit on how many times per month you can skip a workout for plans with friends, and once you hit that limit, you can show up late or not go out. This is especially important if the plans involve goal-sabotaging food.
If you know you’re likely to cave, don’t forget to elect an accountability partner who’s up to the task of checking in and following through with consequences (did I mention I do that for a living with The Fit Tutor?…).
When It’s OK to Skip When You’re Too Busy
I’ve written a post solely dedicated to this, so you should check it out! I’ve had seasons of busyness that were mostly outside of my control, and I’ve had seasons where the busyness was in my head and caused by my own expectations, inability to prioritize, and desire to do it all. It’s vital to your health to recognize the season you’re in, and take steps to becoming less busy. Chronic stress kills, and we need you here on this earth!
Step 1 is to recognize the season you’re in- is this just a busy day? A busy week? A crazy month? Or is this your life? If it happens occasionally, like you just had a jam-packed day and couldn’t squeeze it in, then that’s excusable. If this seems to be your life, with no light at the end of the tunnel, then something needs to change.
Step 2 is setting your pre-established guidelines… Decide in advance how many times and when this is an acceptable excuse. If you know a busy day is coming, plan a workout the day before or after, or get up earlier. Tell your accountability partner so you don’t get swept away with the demands of life, and before you know it, don’t fit into your jeans. Set goals, set boundaries, and establish consequences if you’ll need them. It’s OK to give yourself grace when you need it, but keep in mind exercise is a great stress relief!
When busyness is looming its evil head and telling you you don’t have time to exercise, refer to your pre-established guidelines. If you have a really hard time fitting in any time for exercise, check out these tips to make it happen:
- Schedule it in– a specific day and time if needed
- Do tabatas: a 4 minute strength and plyometric workout to start the day is better than nothing, and can still help you build muscle and boost your metabolism
- Multitask: squats while cooking, mommy and me workouts, planks after each chore, walk while on the phone, read while on an exercise bike or listen to audiobooks while doing cardio, curl your grocery bags as you’re carrying them, the list goes on!
- Have someone else look at your schedule and help you prioritize- my husband is constantly helping me realize that some things aren’t as urgent as they are in my head. Sometimes we need people to tell us this is not the season to do something, or show us we spend X amount of time on social media each day, and that putting the laundry away can wait until after a workout, etc etc.
- Get a reality check: Social media has its purpose, but it can be a giant time suck. I recently started using RescueTime to keep track of how productive I really am. I highly recommend it!
- Set up consequences: I’m just saying, if you had to pay $100 for every week that goes by without a workout, you’re going to bump it up on the priority list… ;)
The truth of the matter is you have time for other things because you have prioritized them and make time for them, so why can’t working out be on that list, too? I know we don’t always get to set our own priorities, and things come up unplanned. It happens. But if it happens every day and you are stressed out of your mind, or overweight and increasing your disease risk, exhaust all possibilities to make exercise happen.
Determine what season you’re in, set goals, and find the best way to give yourself grace while pressing through the busyness. It’s okay to start out slow if you’re currently inactive. Shoot for 1x a week and go from there. Accountability is crucial- and you know yourself well enough to determine if you’ll need it or not.
I understand busyness and stress, my friend, and I am not diminishing its realness in your life. I’m just pushing you out of love to take control if possible, and determine to place more value on your health.
When It’s OK to Skip When You’re in Pain
With pain or injury, I would talk to your doctor and see what she/he recommends. If you haven’t seen a doctor but are experiencing a lot of pain, it’s worth an appointment to make sure you heal up and don’t make anything worse. Ask them if exercise will make this problem worse, and if it will get better with rest. Once exercise is declared safe, you could decide based on a scale of 1-10. If you have X amount of pain, maybe today’s not the day. If it’s less than X then you can plan your workout around your injury. And let your doctor help you decide what X is…
It’s really important to know your limits and learn how to workout so you know exercises that don’t exacerbate your injury.
Maybe during this season of life you need to explore different types of exercise, like yoga, tai chi, water aerobics, chair exercises, etc to name a few low impact styles. It’s important to find what you can do and keep moving. I shared some of my journey with this after a car accident here.
If you find yourself always complaining about pain and always complaining about not being able to workout, push yourself (or have someone push you!) to explore alternatives to your normal workout regime. If/when you find something that works, use the principles discussed here to make it happen!
What About Sore Muscles?
Although each section deserves its own post, this one especially does. Here’s the gist: If you’re too sore to workout, you need to tweak your workout so you aren’t damaging your muscles so much. You can still workout while sore, but do a lighter version of your workout or do cardio to get your muscles and blood moving. Make sure to finish with a good cool-down. Focus on getting enough protein, and think about supplementing with BCAA’s if this is a continuous problem. Soreness isn’t a free pass to sit on the couch. Movement will help- so sorry friends, this is no reason to skip your workout. More on this later!
Did You Sense a Theme?
I know there are plenty of other reasons to miss a workout, but I believe you can take the principles explained here and apply it to your struggle! Accountability, consequences, rewards, and cutting some things out of your life are not glamorous or sexy, but they work (just ask our buddy B.F. Skinner, who was also not glamorous or sexy). If you’ve tried and failed in the past, these are practical ways to stick to a routine. Determine ahead of time for what you’ll allow a skip, and since we covered several topics (and of course not every possible reason) it might be good to set a limit per month, in case some bad luck hits and you experience every single one of these!
Consistency yields results, and planning on how to stay consistent all year will help get the results you want.
What tips can you share about what has worked for you when you’ve wanted to skip your workout? What other pointers can you add? We’re in this together! If you’re interested in online workouts, learning how to eat right, or that accountability I wouldn’t shut up about, click here!
Your faithful online workout partner,