Why every workout you do doesn’t have to be so hard

As I was walking down the sidewalk after taking a yoga class this past weekend, a woman who I didn’t know and who was also in the class, came up beside me. She said, “Have you ever taken a class with that instructor before?” No, I said. She continued, “Well I hadn’t either, and I would never take her class again, I feel like I need to go work out now. That was NOT hard enough for me.”

My response to this woman was to say that I felt like the class was the perfect sweat session for a nice Sunday afternoon — perhaps not the hardest power yoga class, but certainly a beneficial practice for the mind and the body. She didn’t seem to agree. She felt underworked. 

While I continued walking to my car, I thought about the fact that that woman and I both took the same one-hour Vinyasa yoga class, yet we walked out with very different views. And that’s likely because of our expectations. I wasn’t there to get totally worked, I was there for stretching, recovery and mobility. She was there to go hard.

Every workout doesn't have to be hard by A Lady Goes West

To tell you a little bit about the class we took that day — the instructor was thoughtful, she started our practice with an inspiring quote, she took our bodies and minds through poses slowly and purposefully, she provided options and even hands-on adjustments, she ended the class with a few minutes in resting position and closed out the hour with a follow-up motivational mantra. How could anyone not feel fantastic when walking out of such an awesome mind/body experience? Yes, we sweat. Yes, we stretched. Yes, we moved. No, we didn’t hit that breathless state of high-intensity interval training, and that’s okay.

Why? Because every workout doesn’t need to be high intensity. Every workout doesn’t need to leave you feeling completely drained. And every workout doesn’t even need to make you sweat through your t-shirt. 

But why would someone like me who teaches nothing but high-intensity group fitness classes be preaching to you that you should be OKAY taking it easy? Because it’s the truth.

If you’ve been reading A Lady Goes West for any length of time, you’ve seen that I am adamant about taking at least one full rest day (off of all activity) and including at least one yoga session in each of my weeks. While many of my workouts are one-hour intense sessions, some of them are shorter and some of them are low impact and low intensity. I try to have variety, and I try to make sure not every session is killer. That doesn’t mean I’m not challenging myself or that I’m just going through the motions when I’m at the gym (or at home), it means I’m consciously doing a workout that’s designed to get me moving, but not make me tap into that “all-out” zone, every single day. You know what I mean?

If you think about it, exercise is “stress.” Yes, it feels good to go hard and get in the zone, but not everyone’s body is designed to do that every single day. We’re all different. While one person can train for three hours a day, work a stressful job, finish everything off their to-do list and wake up at 5 a.m. to do it again the next day, some people can’t. Based on your body type, genes and hormones, you will have a different capacity for stress, both from life and from exercise. Just take it from this list of reasons to be careful not to overtrain. Too many hard workouts can actually cause negative effects. We all need to rest. 

What I’m telling you today is to be kind to yourself and to your body. While I’m not advising that you to sit on your couch rather than get moving, I am saying that choosing to go to barre class instead of a Crossfit session, because you’re in need of a less intense session — well that’s okay. And if you’re in love with super-tough workouts (like I am), it may mean reminding yourself that your muscles actually build on your days off. And light movement on the day after a tough workout actually helps to flush your muscles out as well. So if you take a day to just ride your bike or hit up a yoga class, when you’re back to the gym again, you’ll actually be more prepared for another tough session. 

We all go through plenty of hard stuff each and every single day in our lives, and your workouts don’t always have to be on that list.

Why every workout doesn't need to be hard ... #fitness #FitFluential #SweatPink Click To Tweet

(P.S. Thanks for letting me share my thoughts.)

Questions of the day

What’s your favorite “light” day of exercise?

How many rest days do you take a week?

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72 Comments

    1. Glad to hear it, Dani! If you’re super stressed, no need to add on to that with a stressful sweat session — some steady-state cardio is certainly better than nothing. 🙂

  1. I love this, and I’m a huge fan of taking at least one full day off. Sunday is usually my day to do no workouts, and I love it. It rejuvenates me and I’m ready to hit it hard again on Monday. Great thoughts! xo

  2. my light day usually involves walking or sometimes i will go to a zumba class. i have had similar experience like the lady at your gym..i go to the gym with an expectation thinking its going to be a weight lifting or yoga or whatever the case might be..and if they switch up the class/cancel it – im just bummed 🙁

    1. Well the class wasn’t switched in this case, she just wanted tougher yoga! I wouldn’t want a class changed either. And Zumba sounds like a fun choice!

  3. Great post! I actually look for yoga classes just like the one you took in this post – I love that both my brain and my body get something out of it, plus I get a bit of a rest from my tougher workouts!

  4. My favorite light exercise is walking. I just love walking and love to walk my dogs, too. It’s so peaceful to me to get out in the fresh air, get some movement, and listen to the sounds of nature. I used to have the same mentality of the girl you mentioned, but, as I’ve gotten older, I realize it is just important to move your body daily.

  5. Great post! Everyone needs a few rest days or light exercise. I typically like to go for a run on days I’m not lifting and I try to do one or two days of yoga to help stretch. I always feel so relaxed and flexible when I take these days and know they are much needed!

  6. Now especially since I’m pregnant, I’ve been forced to take it easy- which is ok! I’m still exercising and getting my body moving most days and that’s important. On my easier days, I like going on a walk or doing a gentle yoga session.

  7. It took me a long time to realize a rest day is just as good (if not better on some days) as a high intensity day. Now I’m very diligent about taking 2 rest days each week and I incorporate yoga/pilates 3 times a week. I’ve found this is what’s best for me, my body and my mind too! Your class sounded pretty awesome to me, especially for a Sunday workout; ) Thanks for sharing friend <3

  8. Great post! It’s only in the last year or two that I’ve started to realize how important a lower intensity workout (yoga, barre, Pilates) is for my overall health. I always had super tight muscles (especially my IT bands) and I thought maybe adding a day of lower intensity workouts would help.

    At first I felt like I wasn’t getting in a good workout if I wasn’t sweating. Once I got that thought out of my mind, I’ve started to look forward to these workouts. And I’m really seeing the benefits! My massage therapist has said that my back and IT bands are in the best shape she’s ever seen them in and I no longer suffer from super tight muscles 🙂

    I typically take one full rest day a week and do one lower intensity day.

    I hope that all is well with you! Happy Thursday …. the weekend is almost here!

    1. YES! I’m so happy to hear that you made a change and are getting benefits from it. Yes, all is well! I’m hanging in there with this busy schedule. Thank you, Catherine! 🙂

  9. love this post!! I actually shared my favorite rest day workouts/stretches a couple of weeks ago on my blog. I actually look forward to those lower impact days to stretch out my soreness and get more relaxed! Really well written post!

    1. They sure are! But sometimes they get forced into realizing it. Better sooner than later! Have an awesome day, Susie. I hope you will teach your staff to go LIGHT sometimes. 🙂

  10. I typically take 1 or 2 rest days just depending on how the week is going and what commitments pop up. I usually take an active rest day on Saturday and just go for a long walk with my puppy but I really enjoy doing a tough workout on Sundays. It just kind of makes me feel ready for the week ahead and like I finished out the week strong.

    1. Excellent choice, Megan. It’s great to have a routine that you enjoy and works with your life. 🙂 Walking with the puppy is always a good idea too!

  11. LOVE this Ashley! I just wrote a similar post, but I love that yours (from the perspective of a trainer with lots of knowledge) details the importance of rest for your muscles.
    You’re right that exercise IS stress.
    I’ve been battling a cold this week, so I skipped my BodyPump or boot camp in favor of Pilates. Going into class, I kinda thought “this will be a pretend workout.” In the end, I did sweat a little (the room got hot) but it was my favorite workout I’ve had in a while. Sure, I love the feeling of busting my butt and getting good and sweaty, but my body (and mind) needs the lower key activity of yoga, barre, and just walking. My tense “all-day-at-a-desk” muscles needed Pilates and it made me realize I need more yoga/stretching in my routine, too.
    Thanks for this great reminder!

    1. YES! So glad you made the wise choice to do something less intense when you weren’t feeling well. It’s so important to listen to our bodies. And Pilates is VERY good for you — I wish I did more of it. Thanks for saying hi, Catherine.

  12. I’m a huge fan of rest days, and I’ve actually found that the more of them I take, the better results I get. I only put in a workout 3 or 4 times a week, and I’ve seen way more progress doing that than when I was pushing 5 or 6 days. I don’t think enough people realize how important rest is. Great post, Ashley!

    1. That’s good that you’ve learned the right path/amount for you, Amanda. It’s important to know our own bodies and limitations and strengths!

  13. Oh, Ashley, I LOVE this post!
    As a running coach, I’m adamant about rest days and not running every run hard. Our bodies need time to rest and recovery, and our bodies can’t differentiate between feeling stressed due to a workout and feeling stressed due to other stressors, so it’s up to us to try and manage it.

  14. This is an awesome reminder. It can be hard to go from working out so much and getting in huge sweat fests to not having those and needing that reminder that it’s ok. I have been under tons of stress lately (husband was gone for almost 2 weeks- hello single parenting!) and some days as much as I wanted to work out, I knew that my body did not need that additional stress. We do have to make sure we’re listening and know that we can’t go hard all the time, even if we “feel” like we should!

  15. Thank you for sharing this! It’s so hard trying to find that balance. It took me a long time to learn to listen to my body and do what I could when I could instead of trying to compare my load to others. It’s a balancing act for sure, but we need to give ourselves breaks. I think sometimes people do too much too fast then get injured or burnout too.

    1. You can’t compare yourself to others— that’s one thing I know for sure. We all have our own limits, but it takes time to find them. Thanks for weighing in, Alaina!

  16. Love this post! I think you hit a very important point about expectations. You mentioned your expectations were met but hers were not. I think expectations from a class are extremely important going into group fitness. The same goes for the opposite, someone who is looking for an active rest day isn’t going to get it in a HITT class. You make great points and remind me to value the “Rest Day” as much as a workout. Happy Thursday!

  17. Love this! I’m the type that is constantly battling with needing to tell myself it’s okay to not work out every day, and it’s okay to have a rest day. Though I’m also the one that books no more than one workout a day… if I feel like it was too light or too intense for what I was planning, I definitely compensate the next day.

    Thanks for the reminder – we are all different and are exactly where we are supposed to be at this time in our lives.

    P.S. Yesterday’s post was about my top 5 fitness YouTube channels. Meet my way to compensate, because I know exactly what I should expect, ha!

  18. Fantastic reminders! I think we’ve all been that lady before. I know I’ve noticed improved performance reducing my number of intense workouts a week. Now I do PiYo and Pilates two days of the week in addition to more intense workouts other days. Sunday is usually my rest day with a nice YouTube yoga session at home :).

  19. I love this! Some days just taking my son for a walk in the park is enough for me while others I want to sweat my brains out. In the past I’ve had trouble being okay with that, but especially after having kids, I’ve learned that some days just getting out the and ahving the intention and will to workout is what’s important.

  20. I just can’t do yoga. I’ve tried SO many times over the years and I can’t make myself do it. I much prefer my HIIT and strength workouts and then taking a complete rest day or two rather than fill my rest days with yoga (which is what I consider it). I totally agree with you in this post, but for me it almost leaves me feeling more stressed out and frustrated when I do lower intensity classes haha.

    1. Hi Erin, Of course you should only do what you enjoy. I like to take a full rest day in addition to a yoga day — but I didn’t always do that. And no need to force yoga. It took me a LONG time to like it, but I know plenty of people who just DON’T want to do it. So don’t do it. Do what you like!

  21. This is definitely true. I feel like many times people believe they need to workout hard every single times and that is false. My running saw huge gains when I started running easier. I was able to run my harder workouts harder because I was more rested.

  22. I needed to read this today, thank you <3 exercise addiction is something I struggle with. I'm trying to learn to have a more balanced mindset when it comes to working out because I know it's so unhealthy to overdo it.

  23. Love this! I always need a reminder that sweat doesn’t always equal the best or toughest workouts. Sometimes our bodies and minds can be just as challenged in a light yoga class as it is in a high intensity class and I think our bodies need both! I have started taking more rest days ( I used to do one a week now I am at two) and usually one is an active rest day and one is total rest. I just found working out pretty intensely for 6 days a week was too hard on my system and left little time for anything else. Especially now with a baby I’m finding it fun to try more at home workouts or shorter workouts and trying to switch my mindset to moving any way is better than nothing some days even if my heart isn’t in it. Love this post so much! Thanks for the reminder 🙂

    1. FIONA! Your body did an amazing thing by having a baby, so it deserves those two rest days. It takes us time to realize what’s right for us, and it’s good to hear you’re finding the right balance for you! 🙂

  24. I try to mix up my workouts. Maybe weight training one day, barre the next, walking the following day, yoga the next, followed by the elliptical the next day, etc. Or sometimes I will do a little weight training followed by a little cardio on the same day. I do make sure that I do take at least one or two days off a week. If I didn’t get enough sleep or don’t feel good, then I may skip a workout. It all depends if I think the quality of the workout, my form, or recovery will be affected. Great tips, thanks for sharing!

  25. I have a few clients that are stubborn about this. They want every workout to be hard. They’re coming around to the idea of smarter training. Slowly but surely.

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