I was doing some research to get some inspiration for future blog posts, and, along with questions about the best workout to lose weight, a question that I saw come up a lot on various platforms was some iteration of “is it okay to miss a workout?”
Initially, my response to this question was “seriously, people are asking this?” When I took a step back and thought about it, though, it made total sense why people are worried about missing a workout.
In the social media age, we see a lot of people’s highlight reels. When it comes to health and fitness, it’s easy to look at athletes and influencers and assume that they never miss a workout or eat something unhealthy. Some people even lean into these assumptions and claim that they never miss a workout or eat something unhealthy, even though they totally do.
If you’re inundated with these kinds of messages day in and day out, it’s easy to convince yourself that you’re doing something wrong or that you’re a failure if you have days when a workout doesn’t fit into your schedule or when you go off track with your nutrition goals.
In this post, I’m not really going to touch on the nutrition aspect of things (that deserves its own post), but I do want to address a few things with regards to missing a workout.
First, I’m going to state what should be obvious but really isn’t for a lot of people — it’s okay to miss a workout. I’m also going to go into detail about why it’s okay to miss a workout and what you should do if you find yourself missing tons of workouts back to back.
Why It’s Okay to Miss a Workout
There are a few reasons why it’s not a big deal if you miss a workout here and there.
You’re a Human
First of all, you’re a human being. You’re not a robot. Shit happens, and there are stages of life in which working out on a consistent basis six days a week (or however many days you want to work out) simply isn’t a top priority.
That’s okay. You’re not a failure if you have to reevaluate your goals and put fitness on the back burner.
There’s nothing wrong with saying “I’m in a busy, high-stress stage of life right now and I can only manage to workout two days per week.” Two workouts per week are way better than zero. It doesn’t matter if Sally on Instagram does six workouts per week. She’s in a different stage of life than you.
You Can Audit Your Routine
Second, missing a workout gives you an opportunity to audit your current routine and figure out whether or not it’s working for you.
A while ago, I went through a period where I kept skipping the workout I had scheduled for myself on Tuesdays. Stuff would always come up and I wouldn’t be able to make it to the gym.
After a few consecutive weeks of missing this workout, I sat down and asked myself why I wasn’t making Tuesday workouts work. In my case, it was because I was scheduling too many things for myself on Tuesdays and, by the time I got to the point where I was supposed to do my workout, I was exhausted and couldn’t work up the energy to do it.
Instead of continuing to try and follow a schedule that wasn’t working for me, I used the situation as a lesson and rearranged my workout schedule so that it made more sense with the other things I was trying to get done.
You Can Get More Rest
Third, missing a workout gives your body a chance to recover.
When you’re working out, you’re breaking down your muscle. When you take your rest days and when you sleep at night (that’s when most of your growth hormone gets secreted), that’s when your body has a chance to rebuild that muscle.
If you’re not getting enough rest, your body’s not going to be able to recover properly. This, in turn, will hinder your progress and may make you more susceptible to injuries.
Sometimes, you need an extra rest day to help you recover from a tough workout. Even if you didn’t have that rest day programmed into your schedule, it might still be beneficial for you to take it.
If you find yourself missing a workout one week, consider it an opportunity to let your body get some extra R&R. You’ll be able to come back to the gym or your home workouts with more energy because you gave your body a little additional time to recover, and you might find that you perform better as a result.
What Happens When You Miss a Workout?
I think a lot of people worry that missing one workout will cause all their progress to go down the drain. That’s not the way it works, though.
It didn’t take you one workout to get in the shape you’re in at the moment, right? Unless you’re superhuman, it probably took a lot of consistent workouts over a long period of time.
By that same logic, missing one workout isn’t going to cause you to backslide and go back to the shape you were in before.
It’s just like healthy eating. Eating one salad isn’t going to make you fit and healthy, and eating one cheeseburger isn’t going to make you unfit and unhealthy.
How Long Does it Take to Lose Progress?
If you find that you continue to miss workouts over and over again, that’s when you might start to see a cessation of progress or when you might begin to backslide a bit.
As far as muscle mass is concerned, research shows that it takes about three weeks for you to start losing it and losing strength. For cardiovascular fitness and stamina, it takes about 7-14 days of no exercise for losses to occur.
If you take 1-3 full weeks off of working out, you might see some deficits when you go back to training. That doesn’t mean you’ll be starting over from zero, though. Muscle memory is a powerful thing, and you’ll likely get back to the level you were at when you were training on a consistent basis faster than it took you to get there the first time.
I don’t want to get too far in the weeds as far as numbers go. There are outliers everywhere and everyone’s different. Some people might be able to go a month without working out and not see a change in their strength or stamina. Others might experience deficits after five days. The point I’m trying to make is that one missed workout will not stunt your progress in any significant way.
What to Do if You Keep Missing Workouts
If you find that you’re missing workout after workout and are taking several weeks off from training at a time, this might be a sign that you need to reevaluate your workout regimen.
Maybe you’re asking too much of yourself during this stage of life. Maybe you need to starting exercising at home or doing a different type of workout so that you don’t have excuses to miss your workout or enjoy what you’re doing.
If you’re missing a lot of workouts in a row, or if you’ve taken a prolonged break from exercising, you shouldn’t beat yourself up or spend a lot of time focusing on all the progress you may or may not have lost.
Instead, I’d rather you spend that time coming up with a plan to help you get back to working out and being consistent with it. Check out this post for some ideas on how you can exercise on a more consistent basis.
You Have My Permission to Miss a Workout
All this being said, it’s perfectly okay to miss a workout here and there.
Unless you’re a high-level athlete training for a bodybuilding or powerlifting competition, you really don’t need to panic or beat yourself up if you can’t fit a workout into your schedule every once in a while.
If you find yourself consistently missing workouts and never making it happen, that’s a different issue. If you’re generally consistent, though, cut yourself some slack and just get right back to your routine the day after you missed a workout.
I promise you, you will survive. You will not lose all your gains. You will not instantly gain 20 pounds. Everything will be okay. You don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and you don’t have to give up on your goals altogether.
Remember, the journey to reaching your goals might be a long one, but giving up or beating yourself up won’t help you get there any faster.