What Fitness Pros Do When They Don’t Feel Like Working Out

There’s a popular adage in the fitness community that you never regret a workout. And while that generally may be true, there are simply some days your mind doesn’t care and urges you to avoid it anyway.

This is not only perfectly normal; it’s totally acceptable. The notion that you should force yourself into tough workouts creates an unsustainable and poor relationship with exercise.

I’ve personally fallen victim to it: Many days, I’ve been consumed with guilt or shame because I didn’t commit to a workout I originally planned to do, or I didn’t perform as well as I assumed I would.

Despite what you see on Instagram, fitness pros often feel the same way. So how do they honor this feeling and navigate it when it happens?

Read on for some of their best advice on how to keep up a routine while staying kind to your body and mind.

Sometimes they simply just don’t work out.

“I take rest days and give myself the permission to take those days,” said Kenny Santucci, a New York City-based trainer and founder of Strong New York and The Strength Club.

Recovery is vital in any fitness routine. For Santucci, some recovery days may include him trying to “walk, ride a bike, or do something that keeps me moving a little bit,” he said, noting that movement always gets him out of a mental funk.

For other people, recovery might mean taking a break altogether ― and that’s OK. It’s all about listening to your body and not pushing yourself to a point where you end up hating exercise.

“Just as when you wake up feeling rested from a good night’s sleep, a rest day will give your body that same opportunity to meet your next workout with energy and enthusiasm,” Jess Spelke, a fitness trainer in Denver, previously told HuffPost.

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Exercising your brain is just as important as working out for your body.

They acknowledge that their fitness level can change.

What you may have been able to conquer yesterday may not be the same today. In the same vein, your capacity to work out in your 30s is certainly going to be different in another decade.

Don’t be hard on yourself because a “previous” version of you could have done it.

“Your fitness is going to change. The way you take care of your body is going to change from the time that you’re 20 to the time that you’re 80,” Kendall Toole, a Peloton instructor and mental health advocate, told HuffPost in May. “You will always have to take care of your fitness, but the way you move your body will change. The things your body can do will change.”

They remind themselves that fitness isn’t exclusive to a sweat session.

Your mind is just as important as your body. Sometimes it might be better to prioritize that.

“We are living in unprecedented times, and therefore, our stress requires a different amount of bandwidth. My fitness has evolved to a very holistic state encompassing training, sleeping, therapy, meditation, journaling and reading for relaxation,” said Kate Lemere, the chief instructor at Barry’s Chicago. “It’s not just about the workout. It’s about your peace of mind and quality of life.”

They commit to doing just a few minutes.

Your workout doesn’t need to be long in order for you to reap the benefits.

“I’ll do 20 minutes of either biking or running or strength training. It only takes 20 minutes to reset and make me feel good,” Tunde Oyeneyin, a Peloton instructor and author of “Speak,” told HuffPost in an interview last year.

Finding an enjoyable way to move your body for a short period of time ― also known as exercise snacking ― can be just as effective.

“It’s not just about the workout. It’s about your peace of mind and quality of life.”

– Kate Lemere, chief instructor at Barry’s Chicago

They put on an outfit that makes them feel good.

There’s something transformational about a really good workout set. Oyeneyin said her clothes also give her a little boost.

“I make myself put the workout clothing on,” she said. “Putting the clothes on is the first step for me ― it signals to my entire body that it’s go time.”

They blast some good music before getting started.

“I’ve definitely been known to have a personal dance party before a workout,” Hannah Corbin, a Peloton instructor, told HuffPost in an interview in March.

Putting on some tunes that not only hype you up but encourage you to dance can get you in a good headspace and help loosen you up before working out.

They don’t pressure themselves to have their best performance.

You’re not gonna hit a personal record in every workout ― especially on the days where you’re just not mentally there. That’s OK. Just keep it simple.

“If I’m doing a bench press, for example, I start on the bench with just the bar and then I’ll slowly start to increase the intensity with weights,” Santucci said. “I can’t give 100% every day, so on the days I don’t feel great I’ll just take it a little bit easier.”

You don't need to set a PR in every single workout.

Luis Alvarez via Getty Images

You don’t need to set a PR in every single workout.

They stretch or find a gentle way to move their body.

Corbin said she always prioritizes stretching and foam rolling, noting that it consistently makes her feel good each day. “I will often use a foam roller and activate my glutes so I can feel really strong and grounded instead of feeling achy and like I’m dragging my feet,” she said.

Gentle stretches, like figure four or hip stretches, are excellent for giving your body some fluidity if you don’t feel like going all-in on a sweat session.

They find a fun way to move that feels more like play.

Fitness feels easier when it’s an activity you don’t hate. For Noah Neiman, co-founder of Rumble Boxing and Rumble Training in New York, that means hitting a bag.

“If I only have a few minutes to train, my go-to is to jump rope and box,” Neiman told HuffPost in a 2021 interview. “I believe in the therapeutic [power] of fight training so much … knuckle therapy I call it.”

Spend some time discovering fun workouts that don’t feel like, well, work to you. That might mean dancing around your living room with some good music, hula hooping or doing a themed spin class. Finding joy in exercise is essential.

Finally, they focus on their future selves.

“Do you remember learning about inertia in middle school science? Stay with me here. I think about it all the time. The act of continuing to be in a state of rest, or uniform straight motion until impacted by an opposing force,” Lemere said.

“If I don’t feel like getting to the gym and skip a day instead of executing a planned training session, I am breaking my momentum,” she continued. “The act of restarting is most often more challenging than the workout itself. On days when I’m not really feeling it, I don’t pressure myself to have the best workout, I encourage myself to move for the sake of consistency, so the next workout is that much easier.”