The Value of the "Off" Day
Updated: Mar 5, 2019
Today I had the most important session at the gym I have had in weeks. What made it that way? New Personal Records? No. New clients? No. Did I add an innovative new exercise or routine? No. None of these made today special. What made today so noteworthy was that when I awoke this morning, I felt like crap. Achy, muscle soreness, a few knots in my back, and a general dread towards not only the training session, but to the day as a whole added up to a shopping list of excuses for not training today. It would have been so easy to blow off going to the gym. But, alas, no – I went.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned and internalized over the years is the value, on so many levels, of doing the hard work, or even the routine work, when it feels like it would be easy to avoid these. To be sure, I was not ill in any way nor was I injured. These are real considerations which must be taken in to account before training. There certainly are times when real illness should preclude a public training session. But getting that work in, on a day which seemed better spent on a Netflix binge, proved to be a fantastic reminder of the value of physical exercise.
As I lumbered on to the bike for my HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) session at the start of the workout, I had low expectations and attuned myself to my aches and pains for any sign that they were being exacerbated by my workout. What I found was that, as I got two or three minutes into my ride and my body temperature, heart rate, and work output began to elevate, I began to feel… Well, normal. Mind you, I still had a knot in my back. I was still wary of how the weight lifting portion of my session might turn out. But I felt that for today, this ‘off’ day, at least the HIIT portion seemed on track. In fact, the metrics displayed on the bike’s monitor at the end of the eight minute session were right in line with most rides. Hmmm.
Next I settled in at the pec deck to begin the resistance training portion of the workout. It was a ‘Push’ day, meaning I was focusing on exercises where I push weight or resistance away from me. I find this exercise, as the first or second of this workout, specifically warms and loosens up anterior deltoids, pectoralis major, and the medial part of my chest. Keeping in mind the muscle soreness I had, and the few knots in my back, I started with a little less weight for my first set of fifteen repetitions. Set completed, I moved on to a set of eight, and then finally a set of five reps. With each set, there was a modest increase in resistance. I paid particular attention to form, pace and breath control as I worked through this first exercise. What I found was, that although I used a little less weight than normal, the degree of exertion and the intensity of the lifts felt like my regular training sessions. That is, my pacing and weight selections combined to provide the desired optimal intensity for this workout. My final rep in each set was very difficult, yet obtainable with proper form. Therefore each set finished with a successful lift, which is important for muscle memory and a positive neuromuscular connection.
This workout continued to its conclusion approximately 30 minutes later in much the same way; a little lighter on the weights, a focused emphasis on correct form and pace, and aiming to feel my usual intensity at the end of each set and exercise. When I finished the workout a few things occurred to me:
I felt a great satisfaction for having persevered and completed the training session which a few hours earlier was entirely unappetizing. My aches, pains and muscle soreness were reduced considerably via a combination of being warmed up through progressive exercise, and the release of endorphins which naturally occurs as a result of physical exertion. https://www.medicinenet.com/endorphins_natural_pain_and_stress_fighters/views.htmThese endorphins had a parallel effect on mood, disposition and mental alertness such that I felt much better with respect to tackling what the rest of the day had in store for me. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/the-mental-health-benefits-of-exercise.htm/
I felt like I won on all fronts. I had a very positive sense of accomplishment. My body physically felt better. And, I was in a great mood and carried on with my day with a feeling of energy and confidence to manage what lay ahead.
The take away for me from this experience is in the value of persevering. A little grit and resilience to get the work done, when I was inclined to give it a pass, had a great carryover effect for the rest of the day and reminded me of the wider benefits of a regular, committed training regime. Pushing through a tough day and then realizing the benefits of physical exercise on mood, disposition and the self satisfaction of completing a task that I was initially unenthusiastic about all helped to remind me of the benefits to regular training beyond the physical. Feeling ‘robust’ and lively at any age is more than just how we feel physically. Mood and mental health are critical elements of our health. It is important to stay attuned to our physical and mental well being and we can take comfort in the fact that often we can help boost both of these areas through regular training and physical exercise.
So, try and do all you can to hit the gym, make it to your pick-up hockey game, take a long walk on a glorious winter day, or go for a run, especially when you might prefer to just give it a pass. You’ll thank yourself later and you’ll continue to set yourself up for great days ahead.
Cheers for now…
Michael Patterson M.Ed, has spent 30+ years as a fitness and health professional. He holds degrees in Physical and Health Education, Psychology, and Education. Find out more about Michael and follow him on his website at www.45andthrive.com, and on Instagram @45andthrive. Questions and comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.