Sometimes taking a day off of training is the smart—not lazy—decision. 

Sometimes taking a day off of training is the smart—not lazy—decision. 

When is it time to take a rest day? I’m talking about an unplanned one that’s not written into your schedule. When are we truly in need of rest and recovery? And when are we just creating excuses?

I have discovered a fool-proof method of knowing when to take the day off. It’s called recognizing the “true tired.” When the True Tired hits—it’s time to sleep in, lay on the couch, blow off a workout, and chill.

I came to learn about true tired the hard way. I have had three workouts to date where I remember feeling really, really worn out and fatigued before tackling them. Mentally, I was also shot—but physically, I was having a super hard time. I was beyond sore—it was different. My body hurt to the core. Even my hands and fingers.

I remember these times because in each case the resulting workout was catastrophic.

On one, I crashed my bike on a stupid, curb-jumping move. On another, I was running intervals when my body just would not move. I pushed and pushed and pushed for over eight miles in the blazing sun on a concrete trail. Later that day, I had a sharp, persistent pain in my shin. Ten days later, I had an MRI confirming a stress-fracture. Finally, a few weeks later, I did a speed-set swim when my neck and shoulder was already screaming at me to rest (I was over-swimming because I had a stress fracture in my leg… duh). On the last few 1000 meters (yes, “few thousand” meters), I felt something give in my shoulder. Injury. And well, my shoulder has never been the same since that day.

What is memorable about these workouts?

Well, I had an injury or incident surrounding them, yes. But also, I distinctly remember that before these workouts, I had a feeling in my gut that I should take the day off. My body was talking. The tired was more than sore, more than slacking, more than anything else. It was crying, UNCLE.

The true tired speaks to us from deep within. It’s not the surface-level sore quads or a want-to-hit-the-snooze laziness. The true tired speaks from our bones, deep in our muscles and tendons. The tired is deep, strong, and is beating a dull, but steady drum: take today off.

After these three instances, when I hear that familiar true tired drum, I take a rest day. Because I have, over the years, become so disciplined, I know (also deep within me) that I am not making excuses—I am truly listening to what is best for me.

As long as you know that, for the most part, you are well-disciplined, giving your best and not just creating excuses—then listening for the voice of the true tired becomes easy. You feel it. You hear it, and it makes saying, “today is a rest day” less guilty, more sane, and perfect. Because you trust your instincts, you are able to know when true tired is speaking—and also know when it’s the imposter cousin, true slacker, flapping her jaw.

Meredith Atwood (@SwimBikeMom) is a recovering attorney, motivational speaker and author of Triathlon for the Every Woman: You Can Be a Triathlete. Yes. You., being re-released in 2019. She is the host of the podcast, The Same 24 Hours, a show which interviews interesting people who make the best of the 24 hours in each day. You can download a free triathlon race day checklist here. Meredith lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children and writes about all things at MeredithAtwood.com. In addition to Triathlon, she has another book due out Fall 2019.