Rest Day Guilt

I am at one of my favorite coffee shops in town when I am reminded of an email I received this morning from my mom: Guilt Free Paleo Nutty Apple Dip Recipe.  My mom always sends me healthy recipes that she finds or someone sends her, knowing full well that I love food and enjoy a good healthy recipe.  The title of the recipe had me thinking: why do we feel guilty for things we eat?  Isn’t it all just forms of carbs, protein, and fat: energy of some sort?  Then this thought brought me back to last Wednesday when I skipped my workout simply because I was stressed and unmotivated.  I left the gym because I knew if I didn’t I’d probably end up in tears anyways (#femaleproblems).  I did not feel guilty about this decision at all but it had me wondering how many people can leave the gym when they feel they need an off day, guilt free?  I remember swimming all through college and not even taking a week off after our season was over.  As soon as I got home for spring break which coincided with the end of our season, I was right back in the pool trying to get in shape for the summer season.  Why didn’t I take time off?  I loved my sport, I was paid to swim, swim season is technically all year round competitively speaking, and I had too big of goals not to train.  I never had a problem getting up to train in the off season and even though I was training, the amount of training hours decreased and my body was able to heal up.  During season was a different story and as most collegiate/pro athletes know, being paid to play your sport requires you to train through a lot of ailments.

When I competed in the bodybuilding world, I trained 6x a week.  I never really felt that I needed to take time off and for the most part was pain free unless I was dieting for a show and then things would flare up.

Then came my switch into Crossfit a year ago.  I stopped the hamster wheel I was on of decreased calories and plateaued weight loss, increased calories, and started doing Crossfit full time.  5 weeks later I was so much stronger but with life stressors, moving back home with my parents, eating foods I didn’t know I was intolerant to, starting a new job that required me to know over 100 people by name, and waking up before the sun had my body stressed beyond its capacity.  My body broke down quickly which lead to 2-3 months of rowing, biking, and anything not squatting or overhead oriented.  I was not seriously injured by any means, but my nagging aches took their time to heal.  That was a frustrating lesson but a good one.

Throughout the year I have had other minor incidents, but I have learned a lot.  I have learned my body can’t handle the work capacity other athletes can handle so I have to be careful.  I can feel great and make major gains in 4 weeks, but too much can knock me out of training, and who would want that?  I am also no longer paid to be an athlete and if I want to do this for the long term, I have to be smart and remember that nagging aches and pains are not normal or healthy.  I think a lot of us forget that taking some time off to heal is smarter than continually pushing through it and making it worse to the point of surgery or needing excessive time off.  I have also learned that if I feel unmotivated, it is for a reason.  One of the major signs something was wrong the first time I was out for 2-3 months was that I would have days where I was so frustrated or unmotivated that I felt like crying at the gym.  If I am that stressed/run down, why add to it by doing a workout?  Remember, stress is stress and your body can’t decipher between what is training or life stress.

But how many people can just take a day off from the gym and not have that nagging feeling that they are doing something  “bad”?  I coach Crossfitters every day and I see this trend, especially among those that have been Crossfitting for under a year or just have never been a high level athlete who’s experienced not being able to take time off when it would have been smarter.  Crossfitters hate skipping workouts and sometimes get mad when they can’t do doubles.  What I have gathered is it seems that with Crossfit, people see positive changes in their bodies and then they associate those changes with doing Crossfit.  But then they are in fear that if they stop, all of their hard work will disappear, they will be back to squatting the bella bar, and will gain all of the body fat they lost over the course of the year.

What happens though with these athletes is that they work so hard in the gym that things flare up.  Then they get frustrated because they can’t do pull-ups due to shoulder pain they’ve had for over a month, but they refuse to take time off to let it heal.  So they keep on chugging in hopes it will magically go away.   Why do people do this though?

Maybe it isn’t just feeling guilty because we may disappoint someone or ourselves, but because we are in fear.  Especially as women, we seem to associate everything with gaining body fat or never attaining a 6-pack.  If we skip a workout or eat a cookie, bye bye abs of steel.  So by not skipping workouts and eating “guilty free” snacks/desserts, we feel ok with our decisions and will be able to sleep at night.

Instead, we need to view taking care of our bodies as priority and comprehend how that will benefit us more in the long run.  Instead of training hard for 2 months and then having something flare up to the point to where we must take extended time off, why don’t we pay more attention to our body’s wants and take 1-3 rest days a week, take a lighter week if we feel like we need it especially if there is an increase of external stressors, or take time to heal a nagging injury before it’s too late?  By caring for your body, fewer days will be missed due to ailments and strength and lean body mass will most likely improve compared to if you would have trashed your body instead.

I know this is all easier said than done because this is a mental game more than anything.  Expect it to take time for your mind to be ok with the idea, but trust me, you won’t regret it.  I have yet to have a nutrition client that is a Crossfitter that eats too much to supply the demand they place on their body or doesn’t work hard enough in the gym.  I have told numerous clients to put in more rest days, take a week off, etc and what happens is they usually start losing weight again.  Remember, MORE is not always the answer.