Why skipping the gym really is nothing to feel guilty about, according to an expert

Posted by for Long Reads

Don’t fancy going to the gym in the UK heatwave? That’s totally fine – and could even be good for you, says personal trainer and coach Danni Tabor.

“That’s it, I’m going to the gym,” I proclaimed to my mum at 8am one morning in Bali.

I was dragging myself to a workout, despite the overwhelming evidence that I should be allowing my body to rest. I had Bali Belly. We all had Bali Belly. But I was adamant that I was not going to miss a gym session.

I’m a personal trainer. I had just come on holiday off the back of my first ever fitness competition, and I’d been training a lot. I knew that rest was good for me, and that my fear of taking a day off was irrational. And yet… all logic had gone out the window. 

It had taken me about 18 months to really ‘get into the gym’. Well, 15 years to be precise, but the point was, it had taken me a long time to get into the habit of working out. So the idea of skipping a session that I had scheduled in was terrifying. I felt that by skipping the gym, I’d be reverting straight back to my old, lazy ways. There was a voice inside my head telling me that if I skipped the gym I was weak, and not a real personal trainer.

“To be honest,” that same voice was saying, “you’re not good enough at all”.

woman skipping rope
The gym: “You have to think about the bigger picture and decide what working out (or not) means on a larger scale”

Of course, going to the gym that day knocked me for six, and I made myself far more ill than I had been in the first place. When you train, you’re using your central nervous system, which is the one thing that needs to be in good shape to help you recover from feeling run down. Had I just taken the rest day my body needed I would most likely have been able to train the next day, but instead, I had no choice but to take a week off. With exercise you have to think about the bigger picture and decide what working out (or not) means on a larger scale.

This is about our health. Our wellbeing. And yes, we want to see results, but we also need to be smart. 

But guilt around missing a workout is ingrained into us. We’ve all heard the expressions ‘no pain, no gain’, ‘never miss a Monday’, and ‘the only bad workout is the one that didn’t happen’. I know, it really can feel counterproductive to ‘rest’.

“Rest?” someone in the office says. “Don’t be lazy. Come and do that HIIT class that makes us cry and crawl out on our hands and knees. Don’t skip a workout. You NEVER miss a workout. Don’t you want to see results?”  

And you feel it burning into your soul. The shame. ‘They’ are shaming you. Sharon from accounts is shaming you. The pressure to abide by those ‘Pinterest quote’ rules is overwhelming.

“But maybe she’s right,” says the voice inside your head. “The women I follow on Instagram don’t rest. They post work out videos eight days a week.”

Stop. That’s a lie – no one trains that much. 

woman chilling out
Rest days: “You can take a rest day or three. Permission is granted”

I advise you to take your rest days. Please miss a workout. I know it’s really hard to trust that rest days are acceptable, let alone good for us.

But this body of research explains that, ironically, more than three consecutive days of training actually makes us weaker. Results, whether they are aesthetic goals, fitness progress or most importantly, wellbeing and lifestyle changes, come from getting stronger over time physically and mentally, with consistency.

Training too much can mean we burn out quickly and consistency goes out of the window, and with it our progress.

Nothing impacts consistency quite like being fatigued, mentally stressed, injured, exhausted, bored or burnt out. All of these things can happen if we train all the time and skip our rest days.

If you’re tired, if you’re ill, if your body is aching beyond belief, if you’ve had a seriously hard day at work, if you want to go home to watch Fleabag, or simply go and have some drinks with your friends, you CAN. You can take a rest day or three. Permission is granted. And no, it doesn’t mean you’re lazy.

If taking a rest day means you get proper sleep, have some fun and recover from your session before, then taking that rest day is far more beneficial than not. It will also allow you to consistently keep up your new healthier, active lifestyle habits. I have to convince my clients that rest days are not ‘falling off track’ but are, in fact, pit stops that allow you to refuel for the rest of your journey. 

women at the gym
Feeling guilty about not working out? Don’t worry about it, says our personal trainer expert. 

Listen to your body. Listen to your soul. How much sleep are you getting? How much stress are you under? Are you eating enough to fuel all these workouts? These things may be better for you then training every single day.

Every time you exercise you are putting your body under stress. When the body is under stress you have high levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and this can cause water retention, inflammation and, of course, mental burnout. Muscles also need time to recover from the workout before, so rest is important for these adaptations to take place.

You would get more out of three to four ‘focused’ training sessions per week, where you feel recovered, energised and alert, than six or seven workouts where you feel exhausted and stressed. Researchers say we should train each muscle group twice per week, so three to four sessions work well. You will save yourself some time, injuries, a beat up central nervous system, muscle fatigue and the risk of severe burnout. 

So next time Sally from HR tries getting you to go to a lunchtime class, explain: “My trainer says I need the rest day as I’ve been working really hard in the gym. PT’s orders, I’m afraid!”

Take a break. Have a glass of wine, put your feet up and eat that Easter egg whole. Because sometimes, that might be exactly what you need. 

Stylist Strong is at 24-26 Maddox Street, London, W1S; AllBright members, £16, non-members, £18; visit stylist.link/strong; for AllBright membership enquiries visit allbrightcollective.com/membership 

Images: Getty

Share this article

Recommended by Danni Tabor