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Why do rest days feel so guilty?

The chances are most of us know the ‘rest day guilt’ well. Picture this - you’ve worked out 3-4 times this week, you’re achy, sore, stiff, you settle into your rest day and within hours, sometimes even moments, the guilt sets in. Feeling guilty that you’re being lazy (and before we go any further can I just say you are absolutely not being lazy for taking a rest day), guilty that you might lose progress, guilty that you should be doing ‘more’.

What's more, you don’t even have to be into exercise to know this feeling well. You plan a day of rest - from work, from life, from gym, and the guilt can still set in. The nagging voices in your mind.

This guilt is often rooted in the misconception that rest is synonymous with laziness or lack of progress. But first, what is guilt?

Guilt is a complex and multifaceted emotional experience that occurs when you believe you have violated your own moral standards, values, or societal norms. We often see, and experience guilt alongside feelings of remorse, regret, and a sense of responsibility for one's actions or perceived wrongdoings.

Analsying the very definition of guilt alone shows us that often when we’re putting incredibly high standards on ourselves, whether personal or through societal norms, which can easily lead to rest day guilt when it comes to exercise.

The first part of tackling, or reducing, rest day guilt, is to understand the deeper meaning of where it comes from.

Rest day guilt can manifest in various forms, but it typically stems from these factors:

Fear of regression: Most of us fear that taking a day off from exercise will lead to a loss of progress. We worry that our hard-earned gains will disappear, our endurance will wane, or we’ll gain weight. The truth however is very different. It would take weeks to lose a noticeable amount of progression. Not only this, but multiple studies show you need rest in order to progress. Fatigued muscles do not lead to results as quickly as rested muscles do.

Social comparison: It’s no secret that social media has created a culture of constant comparison, where you can often measure your success against others. Seeing others constantly posting about their workouts can lead to feelings of inadequacy when taking a break.

Unrealistic expectations: Some of us have unrealistic expectations about the frequency and intensity of exercise required for optimal results, believing that more is always better. Really we should be looking at quality over quantity.

Exercise addiction: For some, exercise can become an addiction, and the fear of missing a workout can be a sign of an addictive relationship with physical activity. There are much worse things to be addicted to of course, but it’s worth keeping an eye on this as exercise addiction can lead to toxic habits. I know, I’ve been there.

External pressure: Peer pressure, societal expectations, or the influence of social media can push you to disregard your body's signals and push through fatigue.

Tips to Overcome Rest Day Guilt

Reframe your mindset:
The first step in overcoming rest day guilt is to change your mindset. Realize that rest days are not setbacks but essential components of your fitness journey. Instead of viewing rest as unproductive, consider it an investment in your long-term well-being. Recognize that your body needs rest to repair, recover, and come back stronger.
Set realistic goals:
Establish achievable fitness goals that include rest days as part of your routine. Striving for a balanced approach to fitness allows you to celebrate rest days as milestones in your progress. These days give your body the time it needs to adapt, repair, and grow.
Trust the process:
Understand that progress is not solely determined by the number of days you exercise. It also relies on nutrition, sleep, and overall self-care. Trust the process and recognize that rest days are an integral part of it. Trust that your body will benefit from the break and return to training more robust and resilient.
Listen to your body:
Learn to tune into your body's signals and respect them. If you're feeling fatigued, sore, or mentally drained, it's a clear indication that your body requires a break. Pushing through such signals can lead to overtraining, injury, and burnout, hindering your long-term progress.
Engage in active recovery:
Rest days don't have to be completely sedentary. Engage in active recovery activities such as yoga, gentle stretching, or a leisurely walk. These activities promote blood flow, reduce muscle tension, and help maintain mobility while giving your body the rest it needs.

And always remember, it's not about how many days you exercise but how effectively you balance activity and rest that leads to sustained progress and a healthier, happier you.


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