Should you exercise when you are tired?

Is it best to skip exercise if you are tired, or should you force yourself to exercise regardless of how you feel?


That depends. If you think you are ill or coming down with something, it may be best to rest and let your body use its energy to fight off what’s attacking you. Otherwise, let’s take a look.

The argument for

I try to get some exercise every day if I can. What I do varies, depending upon how I feel and how much time I have. Some days I work out somewhat hard by lifting weights, then pushing myself on the treadmill or elliptical trainer. Other days, I walk at a comfortable pace on the treadmill and watch TV or read.

Recently, when driving home 60 miles from Hanover College, I intended to exercise. But when I came in the door, I felt tired, so I crashed in my favorite chair and clicked on the TV. As I sat there, I felt myself fading fast and realized that if I lingered much longer, I wouldn’t exercise. But it felt so good, (yummy, in fact) just sitting there doing nothing. This started a conversation in my mind.

On the one hand, I was fatigued, mostly mentally, and my body wanted to give in to it. Moreover, I know the human body is programmed to conserve energy, and it is ingrained at a very deep level to rest when it can. It’s our natural state, in other words.

On the other hand, I didn’t want to doze off and lose the evening, which is where I was headed if I stayed put. I also knew from previous experience that if I got up and got going, I would perk up and feel better. But taking that first step can be rough, so there I was, arguing with myself inside my head. Sound familiar?

Ultimately, I compromised, telling myself I’d do only a little exercise, just enough to get my juices flowing. In response, I sucked it up, put on my exercise clothes and got on the treadmill for a comfortable walk. Soon, I felt wide awake, which inspired me to do much more exercise than I had intended. When I finished I felt great and I was thankful I exercised.

For us recreational exercisers, a good rule of thumb is to fight through feelings of being tired, and do something physical. You will be rewarded, as I was, for your efforts.

The argument against

Now, let’s shift gears to athletes, or those who train like an athlete. If you do, you typically look forward to working out. When I was young, I recall sitting in high school algebra class, jotting down ideas for my workout when school was out. I couldn’t wait to get home to lift weights, to push myself to the limit.

This kind of gut-busting workout takes a big toll on the body, and as I discussed last week, you have to be certain to fuel your body with good nutrition, and to get lots of quality sleep each night. This is critical for full recovery from your workouts. But what if something interferes with eating and sleeping right? If so, you might not recover fully and be ready for your next workout. Unfortunately, even if you eat and sleep right, if you are doing too much, too often, you can become over-trained. When this happens, the body can’t keep up, and it starts to decline.

When you train hard, feeling tired and losing interest in training can be the body’s way of warning you to cut back, to rest more. Forcing yourself to keep going can make things worse.

The bottom line

Feeling that you’d rather watch TV than exercise is natural, and you have to be disciplined to overcome it. But pay attention to what your body is telling you, because sometimes the desire to rest is legitimate, and it’s smart to give in to it.