Exercise Should Be Hard…Sometimes

I have a split personality when it comes to exercise.

I’m the first one to advocate for rest days and taking it easy when it comes to workouts. I savor lazy mornings that don’t involve waking up before the sun to run. I love leisurely bike rides. I enjoy a simple, non-heated yoga class.

But at the same time, I like challenging my body. Nothing makes me happier than finishing a Saturday morning long run. I love sprints on a hill during a Spin class (yes, I’m odd). My favorite yoga studio earned it’s title for the many hot power vinyasa classes.

yoga mat

I suppose this is a good problem to have, as I’m not on either extreme, and I’m grateful for this so-called balanced perspective that I’ve gained (trust me it wasn’t easy). However, this does not mean that I don’t occasionally lean toward one side of the spectrum.

When I get into any sort of routine, it’s hard for me to break it. (Any new readers out there…just know that routine and I have a love-hate relationship). Take last week for example: I didn’t run or do any cardio, I preferred easier, low-impact workouts and was lazy at home mostly every day (truth). When the break ended I decided to ease back into cardio with a slow, un-timed run.

It. was. hard. But the good type of hard. The kind that we need sometimes, in exercise and life. 

Body pump

It made me think of two types of people: 1) Those who are just starting to workout and 2) Those who workout every day.

Group 1 might think exercising is hard and give up. Group 2 might be thinking exercising is so easy and not want to slow down/do less.

Here’s my opinion: Workouts should be hard some days. But they should also be easy (or non-existent) some days. I don’t think you should be sore after every workout. I don’t think you need to be sweaty or sore for it to qualify as a workout.

We can’t be completely on either side. Sure the endorphins and aesthetic benefits are great, but hard workouts are taxing on our bodies…even if we can’t feel it. On the other hand, we need a challenge sometimes. We need to get our heart rate up, for health purposes and, let’s face it, getting faster/lifting heavier/nailing inversions/etc. doesn’t happen in our comfort zones. We need to learn when to push ourselves and and when to back it off.

Exercise should be hard...sometimes

Where does this leave us? Since there’s no magical formula, I think if we attempt (because we aren’t perfect), to balance the hard days with the easy/restful days, we can maintain a longterm, healthy relationship with exercise. In turn, we can maintain a longterm, healthy relationship with our bodies.

Because that’s why we exercise, right?

As always, thanks to Amanda (who’s a lucky duck in Hawaii) for letting me Think Out Loud!

P.S. This probably isn’t the last you’ve heard from me on this topic….

No questions, just thoughts today. 


  1. Lisa @ Running Out Of Wine says

    Very true! Finding a balance is so important. I have found that I need to have at least one full rest day a week along with 2 easy days in order to feel my best. That allows me to push harder on the other days without burning out. On the other hand, if I take it too easy every day I get bored and don’t feel as satisfied by my workouts.
    Lisa @ Running Out Of Wine recently posted…Trying New Things And The Recipe For SuccessMy Profile

    • says

      I need at least one full rest day as well. The day of the week always varies but I agree, having one day off prevents mental and physical burnout.

  2. Rebecca @ Strength and Sunshine says

    Totally! I usually go hard one week and then back off a tad the next and so forth. It is all about finding that right balance (which is hard), but if you don’t you won’t progress either way and that’s disheartening. But I 100% agree here!
    Rebecca @ Strength and Sunshine recently posted…What To Avoid With A Soy AllergyMy Profile

    • says

      I tend to do the same with my workouts. During spring break I didn’t do “hard” workouts but this week I incorporated a few in. Finding the balance between burnout and progress is much easier said than done.

  3. Liv @ Healthy Liv says

    I agree that a mix of hard + easy is so important to challenge yourself but also give yourself the rest your body needs to recover and not get burned out. Great post, Emily!!
    Liv @ Healthy Liv recently posted…Running & Low Iron/AnemiaMy Profile

    • says

      Thanks, Liv! I’m trying to find that hard + easy balance within a week instead of randomly having one “hard” week followed by one lighter week. Though I’m not sure that’s entirely bad. Just figuring it out :)

  4. Sarah @ Sarah's on the Run says

    I completely agree with this post, even if it is hard for me some weeks to find that balance! I’m like you and love pushing my body but gosh, it’s hard not to feel guilty on rest days! That being said, I know I need them and my workouts are always better after!
    Sarah @ Sarah’s on the Run recently posted…Thinking Out LoudMy Profile

    • says

      I used to think I had to “earn” rest days and if my week of workouts wasn’t up to par with my standards then I didn’t deserve a day off. CRAZINESS. I’m glad I’m past that. Still, I do find that I feel guilty some rest days. They are few and far between now.

  5. Emily @ Sweets and Beets says

    You’re so right! I think there is a certain threshold of “just challenging enough” that is the sweet spot. I want to feel like I’m working hard, but not killing myself, so to speak. And like you said, light/rest days are just as important to a good regimen!

    PS- love that last shot of you! :)
    Emily @ Sweets and Beets recently posted…Thinking Out Loud~My Profile

    • says

      Yes, that sweet spot is where I try to be! Some workouts should leave me out of breath while others should be low intensity.

      Lol thank you! It’s my running glamour shot ;)

  6. Sarah @pickyrunner says

    I really admire your balance. It’s not an easy thing to do. I have a hard time holding myself back a lot of times but other times i Just need a break. It’s refreshing to see someone in the blog world that actually gives herself a chance to relax and recover instead of pushing yourself to the limit 100% of the time!
    Sarah @pickyrunner recently posted…Today’s the day!My Profile

    • says

      I’m so flattered by your comment. I really admire you and how you’ve recovered/are recovering from your injury. We can’t be in training all the time, even if it seems like everyone else is.

  7. Julia @ Lord Still Loves Me says

    As someone who is recovering from an eating disorder and a past obsession with exercise, finding that balance between too much and just enough is so vital for me. I think this is a great topic to focus on, and I loved hearing your thoughts, Emily!
    Julia @ Lord Still Loves Me recently posted…Thinking Out Loud: March 19, 2015My Profile

    • says

      Hi Julia! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. I think there are a lot of people (myself included, as you’ve read) who struggle with the balance. I think it needs to be discussed more because exercise should not be “all or nothing.” There’s room for rest and relaxation in life!

  8. Jo @ Living Mint Green says

    I completely agree – sometimes I like to zone out with my ipod while doing mindless “light” cardio (on the eliptical) or simply going for a walk.
    Other times, I love destroying my legs (hello, Bodypump!) to the point where I can’t walk straight for three days post-pump.
    Jo @ Living Mint Green recently posted…Thinking Out Loud: the language of my heartMy Profile

    • says

      Exactly! I went for a long walk yesterday and it was perfect…and it “counted” as my exercise for the day. But it just so happened to come after a day of both running and yoga so it was needed. Ah I miss Body Pump – it’s the BEST class.

  9. Georgie says

    I really love this! I definitely go through phases of wanting and needing different types of fitness in my life. Being able to separate what my brain wants from what my body wants can be tough. I think once I stopped looking at fitness as a way to just burn calories or look a certain way, fitness became more meaningful and I was better able to tune into what I needed.
    Great thoughts, well articulated <3 0h and I agree with Emily, love that last pick of you!
    Georgie recently posted…What I Ate Wednesday: The Power of CommunityMy Profile

    • says

      YOU hit the nail on the head. Once we realize that exercise is for more than aesthetics we become more in sync with our bodies and what they need. Sometimes we workout for the mental benefits and other times we want to push and see progress in our body. Varying the workouts is key to sustained motivation I think!

  10. Rebecca @ MyEagerFeet says

    It seems like you’ve done a great job striking a balance. I find it hard to step back for awhile, because I worry I won’t want to start again if I stop! I do sometimes wish I could make time for non-running workouts, like hiking, though.
    Rebecca @ MyEagerFeet recently posted…Weekly Training Recap: 3/2-3/8My Profile

    • says

      I’ve started to think about my workouts in “seasons.” A running season, rest season, do-whatever-I-feel-like season. Because I do enjoy many types of workouts I physically can’t do everything and give it 100% all the time. As it gets hotter in FL my running is decreasing even more, but I know I will pick it back up for fall races.

  11. Ellen @ My Uncommon Everyday says

    I’d love to hear more about this! I know how important a balance is, but when I work out, I tend to push myself/want it to be hard. Sometimes I should probably take it a little easier, and that’s something I’m working on, for sure.
    Ellen @ My Uncommon Everyday recently posted…What I’m Looking Forward ToMy Profile

    • says

      Thanks, Ellen! It’s something I’m constantly learning more about through successes and failures so it will definitely come up as a blog topic again :) When I feel guilty for rest/easy days I remind myself that I’m giving my body the rest it needs now so I can push it during a hard workout.

  12. Marissa says

    How do you like your Lululemon yoga mat? They look awesome so I was just wondering :)

    I agree with you–it’s also good to mix stuff up every once in a while!
    Marissa recently posted…Thinking Out Loud Thursday #2My Profile


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