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Mind over matter or listen to your body?

When sometimes it's best to rest.


‘Mind over matter’. It’s a saying we’ve all probably heard from time to time during our lives, and a saying that can usefully be applied to almost everything we do.


Most of us will have, at some stage, heard this saying applied to exercise and working out. However, most of us have also probably heard how important it is that we ‘listen to our bodies’ and ‘know when to stop’. So how much really is too much? Where should the limits lie? When should we stop and evaluate, and when should we push on through the pain?


Sometimes it really is best to rest. Exercise is best avoided when:


  • You’ve totally overdone it. Whilst we generally accept that results require hard work, too many intense workouts and not enough rest can lead to overtraining syndrome. Manifesting itself in many ways (including but not limited to long term muscle soreness, a lingering cold, insomnia and prolonged periods of fatigue and heart rate fluctuations), overtraining is at best unpleasant and at worst harmful to your body. Get some rest days, trial a heart rate monitor to monitor the condition, eat a nutritious diet to replenish what you’ve lost and spend some time building a realistic training schedule and keep a training diary to avoid falling foul in the future.
  • You’re injured. Chances are that if you’ve got an injury that you’re wondering whether to push through, you probably shouldn’t. Was the injury alerting you with some warning signs a few weeks / months beforehand that you ignored and kept quiet about so that you could carry on? Continuing to workout on an injury simply doesn’t help it to get better, and can cause you other (and sometimes more serious) injuries as our bodies adapt and try to compensate during training. Get the injury seen to by a professional and get started with rehab. Find some exercise that you can safely do whilst you’re injured to fill the gap (think low / non impact workouts or using body parts that aren’t injured).
  • You’re sick. Sometimes it’s ok to work out with a bit of a bug (see below), however if you have an achy, painful body, are feeling exceptionally weak or a congested chest then working out should be put on the back burner. And exercising with a fever should be a no go, due to the rise in the body’s core temperature. Remember to make sure you’re well hydrated.
  • You’re sleeping (consistently) badly. We’re not just talking about a one off night, but consistently poor sleep and continuing to push yourself into challenging workouts won’t lead to the results you’re striving so hard for. More often than not continuing to push yourself on a tired body can just drive you into the ground and cause problems both mentally and physically further down the line. Give yourself a couple of days off; if you workout early in the morning then switch off that alarm, or if you train at night then get an early night instead, and use the saved hours to concentrate on eating well and setting yourself a better / healthier night time routine.


But sometimes, it’s better for us to get up and get out. It’s ok to exercise when:


  • When you can distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ pain. You’ll have to learn how it feels for your heart to pound and your legs to burn simply because you’re working hard. The best way to do this is to start including some high intensity workouts in your programme. Gradually push yourself harder each time until you feel confident that your legs aren’t falling off, and that the burning feeling does go away. When you know the difference between the types of discomfort you’ll experience during exercise then it’s easier to know when it’s ok to push on through.
  • When you’ve been resting but you still feel tired. You can’t be over trained because you’re not training, but you’re struggling to find the motivation to get up and go, but generally the first steps out of the door are the hardest ones to make. It might help to get together with a training buddy. Once it’s done you’ll almost always feel better for it. (If feelings of lethargy are on-going it might be a good idea to book some blood tests to discount any deficiencies).
  • When you’re depressed. Depression won’t exactly help you spring out of the door to workout, however studies have repeatedly proven exercise to be useful in treatment, particularly for people suffering with mild to moderate depression. A workout doesn’t need to be hard-core to be effective. More gentle and relaxing exercise can provide the mind with a sense of calm.
  • When you’re sick (sometimes). With some illnesses it’s ok to work out lightly, if you’re suffering from a common cold and symptoms like a runny / blocked nose, then it’s generally accepted that working out won’t hurt, and could actually help recovery from the cold.


As always, there are going to be exceptions to the rules. Sometimes athletes will have to push themselves to the point of exhaustion in training in order to prepare their minds and bodies accurately for the exhaustion of competition. The athlete’s training programmes will have been built to accommodate such demanding sessions with rest days scheduled in according.

And sometimes on the day of a competition, an athlete may choose to ignore pain or injury in order to get results. Remember that its’ their job and they most likely have access to a team of professionals who will be able to help them rehab after a tough event. They more than likely won’t be back in the gym the next week.


As always we’d love to hear your feedback and any comments that you might like to share at emma@markwellfitness.com

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