Unlike many other sports, endurance athletes have the idea that if they take an off day (I mean completely off) will lose fitness and slow performance improvement. For this reason endurance athletes have become accustomed to pushing through fatigue and avoiding rest days. While it some circumstances which will be discussed in great detail below this may be a necessary part of training, but you could very well be doing more harm than good by pushing through a workout.
Use the following information as a guide to determine if you should take the day completely off, start but don’t finish a workout, or push through fatigue.
TAKE THE DAY OFF
If you’re sick, tired, sore or haven’t taken a day completely off in a while, then I recommend skipping your workout for the day and relaxing. If your planned workout is a really important or a “break through” workout then either have your coach arrange to do it at another time, or arrange your move of workout to another day yourself.
If you’re like a lot of triathletes and it’s painful to sit still for more than a few minutes, do some stretching, easy yoga, or a 45min walk outside. Remember the focus of this day should now shift from getting in a workout to getting the best recovery you can so you feel ready to go tomorrow.
WHEN YOU SHOULD START BUT DON’T FINISH
Say you wake up or get off work with no motivation. You might feel ok but would rather stay home than get outside or to gym to workout. In this situation the decision to workout or not needs to be made in the warm-up of a workout. Find that motivation to get on the bike, get to the gym, in the pool, etc. Slowly start your warm-up then after 5-10min if you’re feeling good, continue with your workout as planned (often times the best workouts are the ones that start off sluggish).
If your technique is off, you have no energy, or something just feels “off”, etc. Take the day off and refer to the day off recommendations above. I can’t count the number of times I have gone out for run then had to take the walk of shame home after realizing my body was fatigued and not ready to train.
PUSH THROUGH FATIGUE
Lastly there is a fine line between thinking that you need to rest and pushing through fatigue. Using myself as a case study, I will explain: after work, one of my favorite workouts is hill sprints. They are short in duration yet very effective for improving performance. After a warm-up I often don’t know whether to continue with the workout or just walk home and rest. The first 2 hill sprints I run don’t go well; my technique is poor, cadence low, etc. But as I continue, suddenly the speed gets back in my legs and I’m feeling great. So what happened? In cases like this, many variables could cause the slow start. But more often than not it’s due to end of the day mental fatigue that fogs your mind which affects you physically as this study explains. In other words, you think you’re tired when in reality just your mind is tired.
Remember to listen to your body and don’t be afraid to play it safe if you’re unsure on whether to push through or not. As the greatest coaches say “It’s better to be 10% under-trained than 1% over-trained”.