Suddenly, Cortana says it's time to snag some shut-eye and you haven't made it to the gym. Again.
But is skipping the gym — for days in a row — really that big of a deal? Here's what the pros have to say about falling off the fitness wagon for a month (or more), and whether it has that drastic of an effect on your health.
1. Your heart ticks differently.
"After four days of zero aerobic exercise, your heart becomes less efficient, so you may notice shortness of breath sooner," says Michele Olson, Ph.D., professor of exercise science and lead researcher at Auburn University Montgomery's Scharff-Olson Kinesiology Lab. Too busy to hit spin class? Counteract this by incorporating more activity into your everyday tasks, Olson suggests. "Walk as much as you can, with your pets or up and down the stairs, and clean like a boss. You don't even need to leave your house because you have a built-in home gym if you try to be a neat freak," she says.
2. Your muscles get a little lazy.
Muscle cells generally keep their strength for seven to 14 days, Olson says, which means you have about one to two weeks of wiggle room before you really start to lose any progress you made. That said, you don't have to worry too much: Spanish researchers found that the average person maintains a relatively constant amount of strength despite four weeks of inactivity. Your muscles may not fire as energetically as they would had you not taken a timeout (so those 10-pound dumbbells may feel a little heavier than they did last month), but you won't be starting off at square one when you come back from your month-long hiatus.
3. The skills you worked hardest for disappear.
"As a general rule, the fitness activities that take the most effort to master and maintain will be the first things to go when you ease up," says Mark Schneider, a personal trainer at Movement Minneapolis. On the contrary, for something that comes naturally, it usually takes more then 30 days to recognize a difference. So if you're able to run a 5K with no sweat, try busting out those miles again to ease yourself back into a routine. If you struggled to complete a push-up before, it's likely it'll happen again — so save that for later when you're feeling confident again.
4. Your motivation starts to wane.
While it's likely that your body will change — at least a little bit — during a month-long hiatus, the real concern is how your motivation will be affected, says Schneider. Generally, the longer you skip out on your workouts, the more difficult it becomes to feel inspired to get back in there. To counteract it, don't force yourself to go 110 percent as soon as you step in front of those free weights. Instead, "start by doing about 70 percent of what you had been doing before your break, both in time and intensity," Olson says. And if you took a break because you couldn't imagine slogging away for one more mile on the treadmill, she suggests trying something new to infuse some excitement back into your routine. You'll probably experience some soreness either way, but "it shouldn't take longer than two weeks to adapt again," says Schneider. "As long as it's not painful, take that as a sign that you're coming alive again."
5. Your body will crave some type of movement.
Between high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and speedy circuit work, there's no longer a need to spend hours in the gym in order to score health benefits — this is a concept that still holds true even if you saw your manicurist more often than your trainer the last few weeks. In fact, if you were fairly fit before your break, establishing a streamlined workout schedule may be all you need to maintain your endurance base for several months, which is pretty much perfect if you're still struggling to squeeze it all in. So cut your usual exercise time by two-thirds while maintaining the same intensity level as before — research shows that if you do, you won't feel much of a decline in your VO2 max (how much oxygen your body needs to perform a function). That way when you are ready to get back to it with full-force, you won't be backtracking because you won't have lost anything.