No one ever really plans to miss a workout — but sometimes life gets in the way. Whether you miss a workout for a fun reason (a weekend getaway, a party, a date) or a not-so-fun reason (an injury, a rough workday, a bad head cold) you may wonder what effect that missed workout will have on your fitness goals.
Here’s what you need to know — and the best way to get back on-track.
What to Do If You Miss One or Two Workouts
We all miss a workout from time to time, so don’t sweat it. “If you’re following a training program and miss a workout or two, just skip them,” says Trevor Thieme, C.S.C.S., Openfit’s senior fitness and nutrition content manager. Simply focus on getting yourself back on schedule as soon as possible.
If you’re trying to shed fat, you may want to eat fewer calories on non-workout days — including days when you miss a workout. “You need less fuel on days off than you do on days you exercise,” says William P. Kelley, D.P.T., A.T.C., C.S.C.S., physical therapist at U.S.A. Sports Therapy.
That said, reducing your caloric intake on non-workout days isn’t critical — especially if your program includes strength training — as your metabolism is likely still higher than normal on those days due to the recovery process. Just continue to eat a healthful, balanced diet, and you’ll keep your progress on-track.
What to Do If You Miss a Week or More
In the grand scheme of things, missing a week or two isn’t that big of a deal. “Research shows that significant declines in strength and overall fitness don’t really start until after about 14 days of inactivity,” Thieme says.
In fact, consistent exercisers might benefit from taking a week off every now and then — especially if they’ve been training hard for a few months. “Taking a week off can help you avoid hitting a plateau by allowing your body to fully recover,” Thieme says.
That said, missing a week’s worth of workouts can be more of an issue for someone who’s just getting started with fitness, since they haven’t built a base of strength and fitness just yet. After all, your body only responds to your healthy new habits (e.g., by losing fat, building muscle, and boosting fitness) when you repeatedly place new or increased stresses on it. Consistency is key, Kelley says — if you’re only working out sporadically, your body won’t adapt.
If you have to miss a week or more of workouts — because of travel, injury, or illness, for example — simply focus on making good food choices. “Take that time to learn how to optimize your eating regimen, and make sure you’re drinking enough water,” says Eliza Nelson, ACE-certified personal trainer and orthopedic exercise specialist. Not only will this make it easier for your body to handle exercise when you’re ready to jump back in, but you’ll lay the groundwork for healthy habits that will help you reach your goals.
How to Get Back Into Your Workout Routine
First and foremost: Don’t beat yourself up when you miss a workout — or even a week’s worth. “Look forward to what’s ahead, and not back to the time you missed,” Kelley says. “Rededicate yourself to your routine and goals that following week.”
And resist the urge to double up your next workout to make up for the day you missed, as doing so can impact your recovery and reduce subsequent workout performance. “A lot of times you feel like you have to make up for lost time, so you go too hard and feel terrible for days,” Nelson says. It’s better to just stick to your program; Thieme recommends simply picking up where you left off.
However, if you fall two or more weeks behind, you’ll need to make some adjustments. “Ease back into your program by temporarily reducing your workout intensity and the amount of weight you lift until you’ve regained what little strength, power, and endurance you’ve lost,” Thieme says.
Easing back into your workouts is also important if you missed a few days because you were sick, Nelson says. If you’re asking your body to recover from sickness and repair your muscles post-workout, chances are it won’t do well at either task.