Should you work out when you’re tired?

We all have those days when our bodies feel sluggish and the prospect of exercising seems like a herculean task. How should you handle times like these if you are committed to an exercise programme?

Should you force yourself to go through with a planned workout or should you rest your body?

In this post, we are going to discuss how to deal with low energy days, how to spot the difference between a genuine need for rest and an energy low that needs to be overcome, and we will also examine energy drains that might be causing your tiredness.

To tired to workout
Some workouts take more effort than others!

Help! I have no energy to exercise

Some days you wake up and immediately know that there is something off about your energy levels.

The signs can vary from person to person, maybe your morning coffee does not wake you up in the usual way or have sore achy muscles, you might even become more sensitive to sound or light.

It is important to listen to your body and not push it to work when it is signalling to you that it needs rest. However, this is not to say you should veg out and do nothing.

If you are on a fitness journey or weight loss plan, you need to do something physical every single day. There are plenty of activities that put very little stress on the body such as yoga, Pilates, walking, housework or gardening.

Light exercises come with enormous physical benefits as they help to get the blood pumping and oxygen circulating around the body, supporting any repair functions that might be going on inside of you.

Dealing with low energy moments

Different to low energy days are low energy moments. For example, a lot of people find it difficult to exercise after having spent the day at work and attribute this to their day job using up all of their energy.

This might be true if you are a physical labourer, but if you work at a desk your body has been sedentary all day long. What you are really lacking in these moments is motivation, which is essentially mental energy.


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Why you should force yourself to exercise

The only way to overcome your lack of motivation is to force yourself to start the workout. You might find it helpful to say to yourself, ‘I do not have to do the full session, but I have to start it’. Generally, this will clear the brain fog and you will realise that your physical energy levels are fine. This is an important lesson for anyone, but especially those at the beginning of their fitness journey who are more likely to make these excuses.

After all, if we all only worked out when we felt full of beans, we would be lucky to fit in one session a week. You have to push through the mental block and do the workout anyway.

You might not be as tired as you think you are…

While it’s often a good idea to listen to your body (especially if it’s telling you that your muscles are overtrained and need a rest, it could be it’s not telling you the full truth. No matter how knackered you feel, you might be as tired as you think. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve completed some pretty tough workouts after having that awful low-energy feeling. Ending up feeling more energized after a 4-mile run, or a session at the gym than I was before.

Sometimes you have to dive in and try it. You might be surprised.

Using coffee to get your routine started

If you’re regularly starting your workout feeling a bit flat, and you’re a coffee drinker, try timing your coffee to be X time before your workout. This isn’t some crack-pot idea and it’s actually backed up by science. In this study, researchers found that:

can be a powerful ergogenic aid at levels that are considerably lower than the acceptable limit of the International Olympic Committee and could be beneficial in training and in competition

It usually takes around 45 – 60 minutes for a coffee to really kick in, so grab a cup around an hour before you plan to throw the weights around your gym, or jump on the treadmill and you might find you’ve got more energy to get started.


Ways to avoid energy drains

Feel tired when you exercise? Look out for these energy drains!

It is normal to feel tired sometimes for a variety of reasons. However, regular incidents of tiredness are a signal of an ongoing drain on your body’s resources that needs to be addressed.

The 3 main areas to look at are:

  1. sleep
  2. diet
  3. lifestyle.

Let’s look at each of these in more depth.

Sleep

Good quality sleep is more than just going to bed at a decent time. Practising sleep hygiene ensures better quality rest, which allows essential maintenance functions to be performed.

Diet

Diet is about the nutrients you are getting from your food and whether they meet your body’s needs. All of the macronutrients – carbs, protein and fat – need to be present in your diet and you should also be careful about cutting too many calories from your daily allowance.

Lifestyle

Finally, look at your lifestyle. How many times a week are you training? Do you allow for adequate rest days? What are you doing outside of this? Our bodies bear the stress of our lives and can only do so much.

If you live a hectic life, training 4 times a week might be too much for you. Alternatively, relieve the stress of your life outside the gym so that your rest days are not just ‘no gym days’, but actually allow for recuperation.

For example, an evening in the pub is a great rest for the mind but not for the body, which has to work harder to process alcohol.


Is that calorie deficit making you tired?

Achieving a 500-calorie deficit is the upper manageable limit for weight loss, much beyond this and your body (and energy levels) will suffer. Micronutrients – Vitamins and minerals – are important too as these all play a vital role in maintaining good health and energy levels.

Have your bloods checked by a doctor if you have persistent tiredness because you might be suffering from a deficiency, for example, a lack of iron.


Final thoughts: recharging your body to hit your workout goals

You’re not a machine. Take care of yourself.

By addressing the three main energy drains, you will support healthy energy levels which you can then use to accomplish your workout goals. Persistent tiredness should never be ignored or accepted as a cost of being committed to your programme.

There will be times (most of them?) where you have to force yourself to start that workout but you need to look at your exercise holistically too. Having the energy to train starts in your kitchen and you’ll also need to get plenty of rest and sleep too. You’re not a machine. Take care of yourself.

Be sure to check in with your doctor if you regularly feel tired. More often than not, it will be down to a small factor (such as a micronutrient deficiency) that they will be able to test for.


References & Further Reading

Tom Armstrong

Hey! I've been training in all kinds of places, with all kinds of equipment for the best part of 30 years. I love training with my weights at home and writing about new products and training methods online. Well, with a name like Armstrong, I would have to be into training, right?

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