It often happens often and creeps up quickly — you've skip a workout, then inevitably, two. Before you know it, you've missed a week or two of exercise. Do you simply dive back into your previous routine or should you make up for it by adding extra minutes or even doubling your effort?
The short answer is 'no' and the long answer is, 'it's a little more complicated than that'.
Short Term Misses
When you miss a workout, by a day or two, not much has likely happened to your body. There's really no reason to "double up" and in fact doing so might actually hurt more than it helps.
Significantly more intense or long lasting workouts that are far beyond what your body is used to are much more likely to open up an opportunity for injury. At the very least a significantly longer or extra vigorous workout is going to leave you most sore, and that higher than normal level of soreness might dissuade you from working out the next day - and thus the cycle continues.
What if It's Been A While?
However if you miss a week or more of a workout, your powerful muscle fibers (fast-twist fibers) are likely starting to de-train. To understand this a quick physiology lesson related to the principle of adaptation will help.
Our bodies are designed for efficiency. If you have ever heard the word "use it or lose it" it relates to this principles. Our body will adapt ONLY to the level of stress it needs to and no further. Keeping muscle on the body is energetically inefficient because muscles require calories. Human beings evolved to have innate processes that will prepare the body for long periods of time without food in the event that we couldn't gather or hunt enough to sustain. Detraining and adaptation are terms related to this reality. Our bodies will adapt to the environment and stress introduced to it, and thus after a week or so of inactivity, the muscles will revert back to whatever the current stress level is.
So if you've been gone from your routine for a long time, no only should you not double-up to make up for lost time, but you likely shouldn't simply go back to the level you were used to. Instead allow your first session back to be at a low to mid-range intensity. This will allow you get back into your groove, while minimizing the chance of injury, so that you can continue to build a routine day by day that serves you.
Does that Mean Extra Long Workouts Are Always Bad?
While doubling up after a miss isn't the answers, two-a-day workouts are not necessarily bad. But they aren't necessarily
the same as extra long sessions, either.
Both extra long training sessions, and two-a-day workouts are often necessary for high-level athletes who are training for a specific reason. When done correctly, working out twice a day can increase strength, endurance, and decrease body fat percentage. And while done correctly, extra long sessions 90+ minutes may also be an athlete. But, if you're not an athlete or training for a specific competition, the risk may outweigh the reward. Here's why. Both extra long single sessions and two-a-days put you at risk of overtraining. Most of us aren't working out with a trainer developing our plans and overseeing our every move. And when it comes to extra long sweat sessions that force the body to work intensely for longer than 45-60 minutes, those workouts may actually be producing the exact opposite result that you seek. Unless you are an endurance athlete used to working at high capacity for extended periods of time, overly long sessions signal stress to the brain and your body may react by creating secreting more stress hormones that can have an adverse effect on everything from your energy levels, fat-burning capabilities, blood sugar, sleep and more.
The Final Word
Bottom line: every workout opens you up to potential injury, and every body needs rest. Attempting to ignoring ignoring those signs can result in decreased results or injury. Listening to when your body needs rest is one of the most important skills you can cultivate to ensure that your workout plan is sustainable for the long haul.
So if it's been a short time, like missing only two days, remember it won't have much of an effect on your body. So it's much safer and smarter to just get back on your normal routine. And if it's been a while, your body will need time to adapt to reclaim some of the strength lost, so attempting something extra intense isn't going to yield a positive result.
Though totally understandable, the most useless feeling in all of this is guilt. Dwelling in guilty feelings over a missed workout is not going to produce anything positive. Remember that exercise is a celebration of what your body can do, and should never be used as a punishment. You're awesome as is, right now, no matter how many minutes you have or have not worked out today.
Julia Lopez is a yoga teacher, personal trainer, and Founder of Practice Everywhere.