For several years now, I’ve been a dedicated exerciser. My routine has varied, as I’ve experimented to figure out what exercise strategy works best for me. I’m finally at a point in my life where, even if I miss working out for a few days or a week, I trust myself to get back to working out as soon as my schedule allows. However, a few months ago, my dad passed away and, I spent three weeks living with my mom, sister and my sister’s kids to help the whole family adjust to our new normal. I didn’t exercise the entire time, and I think I’m actually better for it. So here’s why I stopped working out for three weeks and how to know if a break is right for you.
The physical benefits
Before the self-imposed break, I had a pain in my right hamstring that no amount of stretching seemed to cure. It wasn’t hurting enough that I felt as though I couldn’t exercise, so I just pushed through. I had also added the use of a foam roller to my routine, and while I liked it, I could feel just how tight my muscles in my legs were any time I used it. Honestly, I ignored the discomfort, figured I wasn’t stretching enough, and kept going. Don’t do that. I could have really injured myself. When I took three weeks off, the pain resolved and I found that using my foam roller was much more comfortable and effective.
This is probably because I was overtraining. If I told most gym rats my workout, they might laugh at that idea. But I have a chronic condition that can affect my entire body, which may make me a bit more sensitive to exercise than other people. If you feel any consistent pain – especially if it’s sharp, but even if it’s just one that won’t go away, you may want to take a few rest days to see if it resolves. You can also try “active rest” where you still work out, but not as hard as usual. Try yoga or light walking, so you still get your blood flowing, without overusing your muscles.
The mental benefits
One of the reasons I exercise consistently is because I feel as though it improves my overall mood, helps me sleep, and lowers my stress. But it is possible for too much exercise to have the opposite effect on all of those things. While I don’t think I was mentally exhausting myself too much with my workouts, I do think that I was teetering on the edge of doing so. I was nervous any time I had to miss one, even though I knew I would exercise the very next day. Fortunately, when I stopped working out for three weeks, I was in a good enough place to make the choice deliberately and mindfully.
Experts report that overtraining can be just as detrimental on a person’s mental well-being as their physical well-being. If you feel anxious about missing workouts, if you’re working hard, but not sleeping well, or if exercise is just causing you too much stress, it’s okay to stop for a bit. Taking three weeks off like I did may or may not be the best choice, but it is yours to make.
The emotional benefits
What’s special to my particular situation is that deliberately not working out for three weeks gave me time to focus on other matters. I was able to fully turn my attention to my family and help them, and be helped, through the transition of losing my Dad. Since I live out of state from all of my family except for my husband, I often worry that I don’t focus on them enough. This was my chance to do just that. As good as exercise is, if it’s getting in the way of something really important to you, it’s worth reevaluating your routine, and possibly stopping for awhile.
All in all, exercise is supposed to be something that enriches your life. If it’s causing any type of negativity in your world, it is okay to quit for awhile. I encourage you to do so mindfully and in a way that helps you return to exercise once you’ve healed, physically, emotionally, or mentally. I feel as though when I stopped working out for three weeks, it was the right choice for me in all regards. It just might be right for you, too.