Everyone has days when they feel invincible and ready to crush a workout. These days are great, you hit PB’s on lifts, get a good pump, and get the endorphin rush and dopamine hit that comes with a good workout.
Unfortunately, as good as it would be if every day was like this that’s just not the case. Regardless of your training level or experience.
The human body works in waves, and for every day when you feel pumped for the gym, you’re also likely to have days when you’re just going to go through the motions and then days when you really don’t want to lift weights because you’re too tired.
Should you lift weights when tired? You should lift weights even when you’re tired because you won’t see results if you only train on days when you feel “good”. Tiredness can be a sign of fatigue, sleep deprivation, nutrient deficiency, stress, and other factors that will affect your workout so train with lighter weights when tired.
Tiredness is a difficult topic to combat when it comes to lifting weights because it’s subjective. You can have the “no pain, no gain” attitude or be someone that is looking for any excuse not to lift weights on a given day.
It’s subjective and different factors could mean tiredness for one person is a small decrease in energy whereas someone else needs to be on the edge of exhaustion before admitting they are tired. Therefore, in this article, I’ll cover whether you should lift weights when tired, regardless of your definition.
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Should You Lift Weights When Tired
As a very basic rule of thumb, even when you feel tired, you should still lift weights and workout to some degree. I mentioned this above as a summary but if people only did stuff when they were in the mood to do it, the world would be a very unproductive and different place.
I can’t remember exactly where I saw this sentence first (likely T-Nation) but it’s always stuck with me. A coach basically said that you won’t feel good every session, in fact, you are likely to have more bad days than good when it comes to lifting weights because of a varied number of factors:
- Not enough sleep or poor quality sleep
- Not hit your calories and/or macros
- The central nervous system and/or muscles have not recovered from previous sessions in the week
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Broken routine (having to train at night if you usually train first thing, etc…)
- Simply not in the mood to lift weights
The list can go on but chances are, most days you’ll either be in no mood to lift weights or you’ll have a meh session where you just go through the motions.
The advice however was that everyone will have these days, the key is to not be chasing a PR every session and to be aware of your mood but not let it dictate the session. If you feel tired, just get a solid workout in the books, and on days when you feel good, really put everything into the session.
Feeling good and fresh when lifting weights is when you should look to take advantage, the rest of the time you shouldn’t necessarily take your foot off the gas but if you can only get 5-6 reps on the bench when you usually hit 8, the 5-6 is still better than 0.
Therefore, just from a viewpoint and plan to make progress for years to come, you need to detach yourself from emotions and feelings and simply show up at the gym. Usually, you’ll find that showing up alone is enough to get a good workout in and these can even be some of your best sessions.
You should still lift weights when tired as any form of workout is better than nothing in most cases. The exceptions are of course when tiredness is not an excuse but rather you are physically/mentally run down.
Is It Ok To Workout When Tired
While I’ll stand by the fact that not only is it ok to workout when tired, it’s almost essential (for the reason that we can’t just wait for good days to reach our goals), there are going to be times when you need to give your body a break.
Overtraining is a word used frequently but when I talk about being tired in this article. If you are overtrained it means you’ve been lifting max weights, with no form of periodization (heavy, moderate, light weeks) and you also haven’t had a deload or taken a week off from training in a long time.
Most average gym goers will not train with enough intensity to overtrain. That’s not an insult but people training too hard are those that are doing complex movements that fatigue the nervous system as well as the skeletal muscles.
Heavy and frequent deadlifts/squats alongside technical movements like Olympic lifts are those most likely to cause fatigue. Too many bicep curls and leg extensions will still lead to fatigue but not necessarily overtraining.
With that said, most people will be tired for reasons outside of the gym and training. Stress, work, managing a family, financial responsibilities or burdens, sleep deprivation, no meal prep…
These are all factors that lead to being tired in the more general sense of the term. You reason I’ve differentiated the two is that when an individual is overtrained, you should not be lifting any sort of weight and it can take weeks and even months (3-4 months in some cases) to recover from overtraining.
When you are tired, you can still lift weights and workout and in most cases, you’ll feel significantly better than you did prior to the sessions once you get blood flowing, raise your heart rate and feel the endorphin release!
Is It Ok To Skip a Workout if You’re Tired
While there’s a good chance you’ll feel better after a workout, even when you feel tired, it’s still ok to skip the occasional workout when needed. You’ll rarely find that to be the advice as the “skipping” or “I’ll start on Monday” attitude is usually why people do not progress with their physique the way they’d like to.
The truth is that you need to be honest enough with yourself to know when you are truly too tired to lift the weight or if you just want an excuse to miss the gym. If it’s the excuse category, then you should 100% still workout and feel all the better afterward for it.
If you are actually physically and mentally tired though, it’s definitely better to take a break and allow your body to recover. Working out when you’re not fully recovered from previous sessions can mean you are still sore and tired could mean you can fully contract your muscles with force.
In this scenario, you are not skipping a workout but genuinely taking a needed rest day. Just because you have programmed to go to the gym 5 times per week doesn’t mean you can hit this goal if you don’t recover fully in between sessions.
In which case an extra day’s rest will just mean that you get more from your next sessions. Some DOM’s are ok but if you are too tired to lift in the 70% – 80% of your 1 rep maximum range or get any sort of muscle pump, chances are you need that extra rest day.
Again, you’d need to be honest with yourself here again because soreness and tiredness can soon be alleviated after a few warm up sets but if you are too tired to train effectively, these are times when even light training won’t be beneficial and rest will be the best option.
How Tired Should You Be After a Workout
How tired you are after a workout will depend on your goals and type of workout.
For weight training, if you train for power, you should feel stimulated but not have muscle fatigue. If you are training for muscle hypertrophy, you should have a lactic acid buildup, be moderately breathless, perspiring, and have a raised heart rate.
For cardio, it will depend on whether you do HIIT or LISS (or both on the same day). You should have a raised heart rate (60%-90%) for 10-15 minutes post-workout while you cool down. Perspiration will depend on the individual and muscles should feel stimulated but not fatigued unless training for endurance.
These are just rough guidelines for a general workout. When building muscle, the key is always stimulation but not annihilation as you need to be able to recover in between sessions. If you hit a leg session hard but then have such severe DOM’s that you can’t train legs again for a week, there is no benefit to this.
You should train with intensity each workout but this doesn’t mean endless sets with high volume and training to failure every set. These are characteristics that will soon lead to burnout from training. You should manage load and training frequency and not be exhausted after any workout.
The only people that can handle being run into the ground through training sessions and train to exhaustion are those with superior genetics (the top 0.1% of the population) and those that are taking performance-enhancing aids.
For everyone else, you want to feel like you’ve worked out but the progress will come through rest and recovery, lifting weights is purely the stimulation so being tired (to the point of exhaustion) after the workout is not beneficial and shouldn’t be the goal.
Being tired is a subjective term. Most people are not overtrained and most forms of tiredness will come from everyday life and are usually not something that will negatively impact a workout, in fact, you’ll see more benefit by going ahead and doing the workout even when tired.
It’s fine to lift weights when tired and if you are not feeling 100%, just lighten the load for the day and give your CNS a break.
If, however, you are tired to the point that you can’t get full muscular contractions and you physically can’t lift a moderate-heavy weight, you likely will need a rest, and taking the day off to recover should not be seen as a sign of weakness but something necessary to continue to progress.
No one can get good results skipping workouts all the time but you can also do too much and have the same issue. That’s why it’s important to know when to listen to your body and know when you need a rest or when you are just looking for an excuse to skip a workout.