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Should You Exercise If You’re Tired? The Top 6 Tips To Keep You Motivated

December 01 2023 5 min read

If you’re exercising regularly, there’s a good chance you’ve skipped an early morning workout or evening trip to the gym because you’re just too tired. 

But should you skip the workout or power through your routine?

In this Fitness First guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know, including how exercise and sleep affect each other, what happens to your body when you’re tired, as well as some low-impact exercises you can take on.

Should you exercise if you’re tired?

Essentially, it’s all down to your personal preference and your specific goals. Like many other things, sleep and exercise go hand in hand. 

However, it’s also important to look at the extent of the tiredness that you’re facing and whether this is something you feel you could overcome. 

How do exercise and sleep affect each other?

When you’re tired, it’s so much easier to talk yourself out of that early morning workout and instead shift the time to later in the day. This is because your body and your mental state aren’t in the right mindset to move.

When you sleep, your body works to repair muscle tissue and synthesises proteins, processes that are essential after a workout. This helps in better performance and recovery, as well as helping to reduce the risk of injury. Sleep also provides the energy that’s necessary for you to feel motivated to stick to your exercise routine.

Exercise, on the other hand, helps to expend the energy that you’ve built up while you’ve slept and also helps in reducing stress and improving your mood, all of which go hand in hand with better sleep. Exercise can also help regulate your body’s natural circadian rhythm, which is the internal clock that dictates when you feel awake and when you feel tired. 

Because of this, it’s essential that you time your workouts right; exercising too close to bedtime can be too stimulating and may interfere with your ability to fall asleep. A good rule of thumb is to finish a moderate to vigorous workout — such as HIIT — a few hours before bed, allowing your body enough time to wind down and prepare for a restful night's sleep!

What are the different states of being tired?

Essentially, there are two broad ways we can split out the meaning of tiredness:

  • Tiredness
  • Chronic fatigue

Tiredness is a state of temporary sensation experienced by people that indicates it’s time for rest or sleep. Physical tiredness occurs when muscles have been heavily used, or the body has been active for an extended period without adequate rest. This form of tiredness often comes with a decreased ability to perform physical tasks and may include muscle soreness or weakness.

However, chronic fatigue is a lack of energy and motivation to do absolutely anything — some people also describe this as feeling ‘burnt out’. Drowsiness and apathy — a feeling of not really caring about what is happening to and around you — can be two of the main symptoms of fatigue. 

Everyone experiences tiredness at different levels, and it’s a natural signal from the body indicating that it's time to rest, recuperate, and allow for necessary bodily functions to take place to maintain health and well-being.

What happens to your body when you’re tired?

When you’re tired, your body can show this in a number of ways, from low energy levels to hormonal changes. 

  • Energy depletion — Your body has expended energy through physical or mental activity and needs to replenish your energy stores. Glycogen, the body's primary energy storage molecule, may be depleted, especially in muscle tissues.
  • Muscle fatigue — Muscle fatigue occurs due to the depletion of energy stores as well as the accumulation of metabolites like lactic acid, which can interfere with muscle contraction. This can leave your muscles in a state of fatigue, where they aren’t able to generate enough force. 
  • Sleep pressures — The longer you’re awake, the more a chemical called adenosine builds up in your brain, promoting the onset of sleep, which is often described as "sleep pressure." The accumulation of adenosine and other neurochemical changes promotes the desire to sleep.
  • Decreased cognitive function — When you're tired, your cognitive function diminishes. This can manifest as slower reaction times, reduced attention, impaired memory and decision-making, as well as mood changes like irritability, all of which aren’t good when you’re trying to exercise.
  • Hormonal changes — When you’re tired, and you begin to transition into sleep, your body will go through hormonal changes. You’ll find differences in your cortisol levels (stress hormone) as well as others. 
  • Reduced metabolic rate — Your metabolic rate slows down to conserve energy when you're tired.

Can being tired affect your performance?

Absolutely. A study published by the National Library of Medicine showed that male team sport athletes who were sleep-deprived had a decrease in their average and total sprint times

Another study found that in a group of male runners and volleyball players, both groups of athletes exhausted faster after sleep deprivation. 

What are some low-impact workouts you can do when you’re tired?

Even on days when you’re feeling tired, it’s great to get some movements in. Here are some low-impact workouts you can do to get your body moving (even if you don’t want to!): 

1. Walking

Walking can be very therapeutic and is a natural movement for the body. It’s a simple yet effective low-impact exercise that can be done anywhere, at any pace and for any duration. 

It also helps to improve cardiovascular health, enhance your mood, and maintain a healthy weight. 

Try walking in a natural setting like a park or along a waterfront to give your mental health a bit of a boost, too! 

2. Yoga

Yoga combines physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation to promote physical and mental wellness. It can help increase flexibility, strength, and balance while also promoting relaxation and stress reduction. Different styles can offer more or less intensity, so choose a gentle or restorative class if you're feeling tired.

Check out one of our yoga classes today and feel refreshed and re-energised after a session. 

3. Pilates

Pilates focuses on core strength, flexibility, and overall muscle toning without adding bulk. It emphasises proper postural alignment, core strength, and muscle balance. Pilates is usually a controlled and precise form of exercise with a focus on breath, which can also help with relaxation.

There are six principles of pilates:

  • Concentration
  • Control
  • Centre
  • Flow
  • Precision
  • Breathing

These principles are all designed to work the body and improve your state of mind. Discover our pilates classes today and book at a time that suits you. 

4. Stretching 

Stretching is essential to keep your muscles flexible, strong, and healthy. A gentle stretching routine can help maintain the range of motion in your joints and prevent stiffness. It also promotes relaxation and can help ease the tension in your muscles.

Discover our Total Stretch class at Fitness First to leave you feeling refreshed and restored.

5. Swimming

Swimming is a gentle way to build cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength without stressing your joints. The water provides resistance for your muscles while also supporting your body. Swimming can also be very calming and a refreshing workout to take on (especially if you’re tired). 

6. Cycling

Cycling, either on a stationary bike or outdoors, is a low-impact way to improve cardiovascular health and lower body strength. Adjust the pace and resistance to match your energy levels on a tired day.

Discover the exhilarating world of spin classes, where pedal power meets pulsating beats at Fitness First. 

Tips to keep you motivated to workout if you’re tired

Staying motivated to work out, especially when you’re not feeling it, can be a challenge. But we’ve got some simple tips and tricks to help maintain that motivation and make exercising that little bit easier:

1. Set realistic goals

Define what you want to achieve with your workout routine, whether it's losing weight, building muscle, or improving endurance. Make sure your goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound (SMART). Having a clear vision in mind can help keep you motivated and provide a sense of purpose, even on tired days.

2. Start small

Begin with shorter, less intense workouts, especially on days when you’re motivation might be lacking. Achieving these smaller milestones can provide a sense of accomplishment and motivate you to progress over time.

3. Schedule your workouts

Incorporate workout sessions into your daily or weekly schedule. Treat them as non-negotiable appointments. If possible, work out at the time of day when you feel most energetic.

4. Listen to your body

It’s important to acknowledge when you’re feeling tired and adjust your workout intensity accordingly. Overexerting can lead to burnout or injury. Sometimes, a gentle stretch or restorative yoga session might be more beneficial.

5. Focus on how you’ll feel afterwards

Remember the feelings of accomplishment and the endorphin rush post-workout. Keeping in mind the positive outcomes can be motivating when you're contemplating whether to work out.

6. Mindfulness and visualisation

Practice mindfulness to stay present and reduce stress, making it easier to motivate yourself to work out. Visualisation techniques can also help — such as creating a clear mental picture of where you want to see yourself this time next year — imagine yourself completing the workout and reaching your goals.

Get ready to take on any workout with Fitness First

At Fitness First, we have a wide range of fitness classes, personal training sessions and more to help you reach your fitness goals. 

Book a club visit to come and experience our facilities for free. Or, for more helpful tips and advice on fitness and nutrition, check out our blog.