Sometimes, despite the best of intentions, you’ll have a day where you just don’t feel like working out.

And guess what? That’s okay.

You’re allowed to feel tired. You’re allowed to feel shitty. And you’re allowed to feel distracted, or discouraged, or whatever the hell is keeping you down. It’s okay.

On days when you’re just not feeling it, you have a few options:

  1. Skip your workout
  2. Push through
  3. Try something different

On a day when I’m on the fence about working out, I’ll ask myself this question:

“What is the healthiest choice?”

You may think the answer is obvious. Working out is always the healthiest choice, right?

Not so fast.

As a practitioner of holistic health, I believe we need to maintain health not only of our physical bodies, but also of our mental, emotional and spiritual dimensions. Sometimes that means sacrificing a physical activity for one that provides emotional, mental or spiritual rejuvenation, or vice versa.

For me, there are a few things that can derail a workout:

  • Lack of sleep. I suffer from insomnia, and there are some nights where I struggle to fall asleep at all. Sometimes, after a sleepless night, I don’t have enough motivation to consider a workout. I’m bleary, unfocused, and low on energy. On a day like that, the healthiest thing I can do for myself is go home and get some rest.
  • Emotional turmoil. When something gets my emotions going, I have a hard time focusing. Whether I feel frustration, fear, anger, or sadness, intense emotions make it difficult for me to get in the zone at the gym. On emotional days, sometimes I’ll skip the gym in favor of a walk or a run to clear my head. Running is the one activity where I can turn off my brain and zone out. I always feel a mental ‘reset’ after a run, which makes it a great fit for days when I don’t have the focus to lift or do circuits.
  • Poor eating. If I eat poorly or not enough during the day, chances are I won’t feel energetic going into an afternoon workout. Usually, I feel better once I get going, but I may have to lighten my weights or shorten my workout to compensate for a lack of nutrition. If I can, I’ll eat an energy bar full of nuts and dried fruit to get some quick energy before going to the gym.
  • Over training. When I go really hard at the gym, my body lets me know. I’ll notice that my immune system seems more fragile after particularly intense workouts, and I can sense when my body needs a break. On the days after an intense workout, I’ll skip the gym in favor of a stretching and foam rolling session, or I’ll do light cardio, like the rowing machine, jumping jacks, jump rope, a quick jog, or a bike ride.

Then there are days when it’s difficult to pinpoint a root cause, but I’m just not feeling it. Those are the times I repeat to myself:

“’Wow, I really regret that workout!’ Said no one, ever.”

Whether it’s lack of motivation, a busy schedule, or a stressful day, I’ll do my best to push through. At times, I cut back on weight, or skip a circuit, but more often than not, once I start my workout, I’ll start feeling better.

Here are some things that help me get in the zone when I’m not quite there:

Have a pre-gym routine

For me, the act of putting on my gym clothes, lacing my shoes, putting in my headphones, starting my workout playlist, and walking to the gym gets my mind geared up to crush it. Form a routine around your gym time, and it’ll be easier to get into the groove.

workout motivation

Seek Inspiration

Remind yourself of what you’re working for and why! Go back to why you started working out in the first place. Picture yourself achieving your goal, and connect the choice in front of you to the fulfillment of that goal.

Speak Encouragement and Positivity into your Life

Sometimes, literally talking yourself into motion does the trick. Tell yourself that you are strong, disciplined, and energetic, and then go be that person! Research has shown that positive self-talk has tangible effects on mood and performance.

Pass on free weights for a day and do machines

While I normally suggest using free weights, on an off day, machines can be a godsend. Machines are less taxing on the nervous system and joints because they don’t require stability. There’s also something to be said for dedicated isolation work. Knock out a full body workout on machines on a day when you’re not feeling 100%, and you’ll get faster gains than the guy who skipped a day because he was too tired to do free weights.

Not once have I ever regretted time spent in the gym.

Next time you’re struggling, ask yourself: what is the healthiest course of action right now? Consider the full spectrum of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. Make the choice that will bring you the greatest amount of health – even if it’s the hardest choice to make.