Knowing When to Rest

Last week, I came to a big personal decision. I’m taking a break from Crossfit.

I’ve been dealing with some injuries on and off since late December. Despite throwing a bunch of medical modalities at them, my body still isn’t feeling right.

Since December, I’ve been dealing with patellar tendonitis, a jammed thumb joint, a jammed elbow, and a wrist impingement. It’s a lot.

While I’m not in pain on a day-to-day basis, all of my trainings are painful in some capacity. I’ve been working with a physical therapist to help correct the movement patterns behind the injuries. I’ve also been going to an acupuncturist to help release the tiny little muscles that seem to be holding on for dear life. I’m also working with a chiropractor to make sure the bones underlying everything are doing what they need.

In spite of all that, I still don’t feel well. I feel better, but I don’t feel well.

How do you decide?

From a cultural perspective, we have an unhealthy relationship with the gym. At least, many of us do. It’s common for folks to believe that going to the gym is a punishment. It’s something we have to do in order to be “able” to eat tasty things like pizza or donuts.

For athletes, who would also seem to have a healthy-er relationship with the gym, we often still see an unhealthy attitude towards rest. It takes discipline to improve in a sport. So how do you decide whether you need to grind through it or take a break?

The realization came to me when I was listening to the She Thrives podcast. On it, the host was talking about a wrist injury she had two years ago. Despite modifying and scaling her workouts, it was still a problem. Because she never truly let it rest.

I heard so much of myself in what she was saying.

Not only have I been overtraining, but I’m also dealing with just a few life stressors outside of the gym, as well. Immigration is no walk in the park and I often wake up early in the morning panicked that something won’t go through. I’m holding my breath that our future interview date doesn’t conflict with any of my work travel over the next three months. I’m constantly uprooted from my routine and support system. It’s been a year already.

That’s when it hit me that it’s been enough.

I need to slow down. I need to rest. I need to give my body the space to let it recover. I’m never going to get better taking half measures. I need to take care of myself.

In fact, that’s the smartest thing I can do for my training, let alone my own physical and mental health.

Replacement therapy

I walked out of my Crossfit box the other day sobbing. Our “gym dog” was there and it hit me that I wouldn’t be seeing him for a while, let alone the coaches and my fellow students. I told my husband it felt like a bad breakup.

I’m in the middle of thinking of all the things I won’t be able to do for now. I knew I needed to cancel my membership because I’d still keep going, if I had the option. In class, I’d stand around pouting, knowing I couldn’t put weight on the bar like everyone else. Knowing that today was not the day for me to PR like everyone else.

Instead, I’m actively working to find a better routine that works for me. Part of that includes asking myself if I feel up to working any of the muscles that have been in pain or if I’d rather just have another “active rest” day. Those days can add up into weeks or months, for all I care. If I only feel like doing active rest, so be it.

Right now that means maybe doing the elliptical trainer, walking, rowing, and yoga. I’d like to incorporate some dance classes as well. Taking dance classes is something that I have missed quite a bit since I started training more intensely.

When one door closes, another one opens. Turning down one opportunity means making space for another.

What’s next

I don’t have a timeline in mind for how long I want to take a break. It scares me. My routine centers around my training, so to stop abruptly makes me feel disoriented. Not only is it removing my day-to-day habits, but also a large part of my social interactions.

That said, I don’t want to give myself a timeline. Over time, it won’t feel so terrible. I’ll have new routines. I’ll visit my friends, especially when I’m visiting Brazil. It’s been a while since I’ve been to my box there and I appreciate that there’s space for me to do whatever I need in the meantime.

I’m going to accept the discomfort and embrace the calm. By resting, I’m opening myself up to other opportunities that I would’ve otherwise passed on. Whether that’s dance, bodybuilding, more acupuncture, or simply sleeping more, I’m in. The goal is to let it be what it needs to be.

58 thoughts on “Knowing When to Rest

  1. Nowhere Tribune says:

    When your training becomes part of your life, and often the best part of your day, taking a break is very hard, as you note when you said, “It feels like a breakup.” I’ve had to adjust a lot of times, and more so the older I get. Good luck with everything.

  2. ivyrunnergirl says:

    I definitely understand this. I’m currently going through a tough injury as well and it really sucks to not be able to take part in what you love to do. I’ve been trying biking as a substitute and yoga but It’s not the same. Best of luck to you!

  3. bewelladvocate says:

    I have a really hard time knowing when it’s time to rest, and often my rest day is still active in some capacity.
    Good for you for taking care if you! And hoping everything goes as expected with immigration.

  4. itsmayurremember says:

    My flatmate and friend also had a shoulder injury around last year. She was sad that she would have stop circus and any activity which may injure her shoulder more.

    Now, she picked herself again. She is at dance classes, gym, running and everything else she has been meaning to do for a while. She even signed me up for a pilates class and I don’t even work out.

    What I think I am getting at is: you already know what other things you want to try. You will enjoy them.

    Good luck!!

  5. AvecBongo says:

    I appreciate this post. As an athlete, I forget that rest is an essential part of your rest. It’s important that we listen to our bodies and give it what it needs

  6. Denise Smith says:

    Wise words it’s essential to tune in to your bodies needs. I have found as I grow older I need to adapt my fitness programme to minimise risk of injury etc. In this way I hope to be able to maintain a fitness programme for many more years to come

  7. Peter Kanelis says:

    Yeah….take a break for sure. I probably need to follow that advice myself at times. I don’t do CrossFit, but I can lift more than I should sometimes. I am getting at that point where stuff doesn’t feel quite right too. However I am still going to be hitting the gym to do something. If only I could get that diet under control…

  8. Vikki Lou says:

    Exercise, although good for you, still has the potential to become an addiction. It can be taken to the extreme and we justify it by telling ourselves ‘it’s good for us, so how can too much be bad for you?’ I also find it hard to see that line, when to push through and when to take a step back. The psychology of health and fitness is rarely touched upon, especially for your average gym-goer.
    Great post, more people need to be this honest with themselves. Taking a break is NOT weakness.

  9. rachelssorrynotsorry says:

    This is really very important! You’re right, we tend to live our lives in extremes, especially when it comes to our bodies. We either go too hard or don’t go hard at all. It’s great that you’re listening to your body and taking a break. I’ve found an app called Workouts for Women. It’s guided workouts you can do from home. A lot of them are really intense ( for a fitness beginner, like me) but, there are also some stretching exercises that are great for recovery. It’s helped me a lot.

  10. Samantha Whitney says:

    Wow this really resonated with me; recently had to come to terms with a career ending injury from ballet and after dancing with pain for almost a year, it’s a different mindset to take on. Thank you for sharing, I know this will help others in similar situations!

  11. Eat and Fly says:

    I went through the same last week! Finding the right balance between work and rest is key for doing well what you do. And sometimes that means to rest a lot. It will be interesting what comes next. It’s spring (in the north)!

  12. Sunny says:

    I wish that I had not read this but at the same time, I’m glad that I did. I’m dealing with an injury (tendinitis on the ulnar side of my wrist) and it has been repeated to me several times to rest. So reading this confirmed that I need to take a break from lifting because I can actually continue to injure myself. I appreciate this post.

  13. pdash13 says:

    You’ll come back stronger ! Think about that. Rest is as important as training, and I’m glad you took this decision. Lots of love, strength and recovery to you! 🙂

  14. Leslie Cooprider says:

    Hey Erica! I recently quit CrossFit as well to focus on weaker areas and get back into a better routine after moving 3 times, starting a new job, and a load of other things. While I have been going to the gym, sometimes a week or so rest is very much needed and I’m so glad you’re talking about this in relation to injuries, overall wellness, and recovery. Not enough people are talking about this, so kudos to you for shedding light on such an important subject!

  15. mamahealthy1 says:

    I can truly relate to this. Giving up something you love for the sake of your health is so hard. But it has to be done. You are so brave, I wish you the best of luck on your journey & a great recovery.

  16. Aldene Zeno says:

    I’m so glad you’re listening to your body. I can absolutely relate and am recovering from an injury as a result of not listening to my body. I’m also considering how I can change things up as an avid CrossFit athlete. Best of luck to you!

  17. Richard says:

    Thank you, I can really relate to what you are going through and the struggles we put our selves through. A few years ago, I was preparing for a film I had been cast in; to get ready I needed to lose nearly 30KG in six months to look the part. Which meant I was going to the gym twice a day. To fit that into my schedule, I was forced to put my mental health on the back burner, after about three months of this routine the toll it took was extreme, I was constantly tired, sore and needed desperately to rest… I ended up burning out badly and fell really deeply into the mental illness I fight against.
    So good on you, be proud you recognising you needed time and taking it.

    • Erica Varlese says:

      I’m glad it spoke to you, and I appreciate you sharing your experience, too – it’s so helpful for people to share their stories so others can learn and realize they’re not alone, too!

      • Richard says:

        That’s so true, a lot of the content I post I have no idea if I speaks to anyone, and my numbers show that’s the case. But the idea that maybe someone will stumble onto my work and that might just move them is enough to continue working on 1 view a post. Lol

  18. Shira says:

    Listening to our own body really makes a difference, Erica. It doesn’t only give space physically but also mentally.
    Cheering to what comes next for you. 🙂

  19. Martin Edic says:

    Crossfit is an anomaly- it is allegedly healthy yet it has the highest chronic injury rate of any fitness fad. And many of these injuries impact users for many years. Exercise can be addictive but extreme anything is almost never a good idea long term. Glad you’re breaking away from the cult and taking care of yourself…try just doing a light free weight program every couple of days. You’ll be fitter in the long term.

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