The most common word (ok, it’s totally not a word, but bear with me here) to come out of my mouth lately has been, and I quote, “Uuuuuuuuugh.”
There was last week’s Great Internal Organ Rebellion of 2012, followed by some serious sleep deprivation this week.
All this has me groaning like an old ship in a Nor’easter.
It also has me thinking about rest days, especially since I’ve recently read posts on this very issue from the lovely ladies at ChasingChels and the Athletarian.
I’ve traditionally had a fraught relationship with rest days. It’s been kind of a love-hate thing: I love the idea of it, but in practice I’ll relentlessly kick myself for actually implementing the oh-so-lovely idea.
When I take an unscheduled day off, I tend to run through every self-inflicted insult in the book: slacker, failure, weakling, blah blah blah…the list goes on.
I think of all the hard-core, more committed people who I see on other fitness blogs — the ones who practically have “NO EXCUSES” tattooed on their foreheads, might actually eat steel wool for breakfast, and seem like they only sleep standing up — and then I feel like crap about needing to rest.
But here’s the thing: amidst the general uuuuugh-ness (oooh, I made a new adjective!) of the last week, I’ve reconsidered my relationship with rest days.
I touched on this the other day, and the more I think about it, the more I feel like rest days are a crucial element to self-care and overall health. Taking care of myself involves that one word — care — that I’ve often withheld from the woman I see in the mirror. I care about, and I care for, other people, but rarely do I do the same for myself.
This is partly the result of my perfectionism and raging Type A tendencies (I believe the technical term for it is “Type A on steroids”): I’ve always held myself to largely unattainable standards, and I’ve long been harder on myself than anyone else could ever be. I’ve gotten much, much better about that over the course of the last year, especially after I made a conscious decision to address this problem. Since then, things have improved by leaps and bounds.
The rest days.
Although the “Type A on ‘roids” motif is obviously part of the equation, I also lay some of the blame at the feet of the fitness industry (for lack of a better description). I feel like I’m constantly being bombarded with messages about the importance of never making excuses, having no mercy, leaving it all on the gym floor, being an Ironwoman-worthy fitness warrior, etc. Frankly, all that insanity has made me lose perspective.
For example, the issue of “no excuses”: first of all, there’s a lot of room for interpretation on what constitutes an excuse. Where does one draw the line between a legit reason to take a day off and a BS excuse? Similarly, where do you draw the line between enabling laziness and pushing yourself too hard? How tired or achy do you have to be before it’s ok to sit out a workout?
Realizing this, I’m trying to come up with a set of benchmarks (pun intended) that I can use to gauge whether or not it’s worth powering through a rough patch or taking a rest day. If I had any graphic design skills (or, um, software), I’d totally make a flowchart for this, but failing that, I’ll do it in bullet points:
- Am I in pain? If yes, is it just an issue of muscle soreness, or is it something (i.e., bones, ligaments, tendons, joints) that could turn into an injury if I push it too hard? If it’s the latter, every doctor worth their board certification — and, as a bonus for those of us (*sheepishly raises hand*) who come hard-wired with a ferocious case of Catholic guilt, the Baby Jesus — would totally approve of rest.
- Did I sleep more than 6 hours last night? If no, permission is granted to abandon the gym and, instead, commune with a pillow.
- Do I feel like I’m coming down with something? If yes, go directly to the couch. Do not pass go, and do not collect $300. Go directly to the couch.
- Am I just plain exhausted? Am I mentally/physically/emotionally worn out? Unless I feel like a workout will help me deal with whatever has me feeling so drained, pushing myself through bone-crushing exhaustion is likely to work out as well as Kim Kardashian’s marriages.
I’m going to try to implement these in real life, and I hope that by doing so I can improve how I care for myself. After all: I wouldn’t withhold rest, relaxation, or rejuvenation from anyone I care about, so I don’t want to withhold it from myself either.
Self-care, my friends, is where it’s at.*
*And now I’m all twitchy about having ended that sentence with a preposition. I’m going to force myself to not edit it. Aaaaaack!