An Off Day

Sorry for the late FitnessFriday post.

Today has been a bit of an off day. I don’t mean a vacation. I mean crazy schedules.

Nonetheless, I still have to work out, so I walked into the gym today, feeling stiff and sore from my last workout, knowing I was about to make those same muscles cry once more. But I had a day to rest in between, so I had a chance to recover a bit.

That’s the kind of off day I want to talk about.

Last week, I recounted a mantra one of my favorite Spin instructors would repeat almost every class. “Your mind gives up before your muscles do. Be strong.”

I would always give another reminder at the beginning of class. “If you feel discomfort and soreness in muscles from being challenged, great. That’s where we want you to be. If you feel pain and discomfort in joints, stop pushing yourself. That’s not safe.”  Sometimes you get people who are new to cycling, or people who are so eager that they are pushing themselves too far beyond their present limits.

There’s a balance between these two statements, an comfortably uncomfortable and somewhat challenging place where you are pushing yourself beyond your present fitness level, while maintaining your overall health and wellness. You’ve got to be strong at times, breaking through the “I give up” in your mind. You’ve also got to be smart, able to identify when enough is enough for a day or two.

Your body needs time to recover, to adapt to everything you’ve done to it. Your muscles need to repair themselves so you can get stronger. This is of course why you see people rotating through major muscle groups when they go to the gym. “Today is legs, tomorrow is arms, next up is abs and core,” and so on.

Cardio exercise is similar. Repetitive motion with no recovery leads to those joint issues I mentioned earlier. Sticking to the same exercise over and over with no breaks is a risk to your body.

You’re not a robot. You need a rest day.

You’re not physically made for long durations of constant repetitive motion every day like some automated factory machine.

You’re not mentally or emotionally made for repetition either.

Give yourself a rest day from the menial tasks, the unending cycle of mundane labor. We are not made for monotony.  Take time to let go of the mental weight of responsibility now and then. If you’re in a position where playing hooky is not an option, like a single mom or a caregiver for a close relative, then see if you can at least coordinate getting a break from a friend who can help. You’ll come back fresh, renewed, ready to take on the challenges once more, stronger than you were before.

I’ve had coworkers who simply will not stop until all their tasks are accomplished, no matter how overwhelming. My friends and I have tried to explain our concerns, to no avail.

Discipline is great, but be smart about it. When you work constantly at a task – physical or mental – you begin to slow and tire out. You start missing important steps. Your form becomes sloppy, if it’s physical activity. If it’s mental, your product ends up with flaws. This all starts small but builds up quick.

A boss reminded me about this today:

“Slow is cautious, and cautious is fast.”

It takes time to do a thing right. It takes even more time to go back and fix something when you’ve made mistakes. In physical exercise, you risk hurting yourself and derailing your efforts to improve. In mental exertion, you may end up creating more work for yourself, or failing to accomplish the goal you set out to achieve.

Stop, catch your breath, grab a cup of coffee. Take some time off from that particular task. Then jump back in, ready to give it another shot.

You’ll probably have less of those chaotic off days once you schedule some restful ones.

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