Recovery and tapering down is part of the process we need in our work out schedule in order to achieve optimal physical performance. We have been told the importance of taking a rest day instead of hitting hard in our training countless times by our coaches or fitness advisory. Yet some of us feel a cloud of guilt haning over our heads whispering into our heads, “maybe I shouldn’t slack off”, “maybe I shouldn’t get carried away over the holidays and ate so much!”, “maybe I shouldn’t skip this session”, “I feel tired, but my race is coming up so I should just go for my training”.  Are these confessions and expressions familiar to you? if so, keep in mind this is rather common. Hence, the purpose of this post is to address the issue and hopefully give you something to reflect on this. 

Guilt is described in psychology literature as a self-conscious emotion that is produced when individuals perceive themselves to have provoked “a negaitve outcome by acts of commision or omisson” (Fontaine, 2009). In other words, we feel guilty when we are doing the “wrong” thing or failing to do the “right” thing. When it comes to exercise-related guilt, those feelings have a familiar tinge to them. I have done the wrong thing: I skipped my training today or I should have pushed myself harder in my session.  

Interestingly, guilt can play a large part in motivating us to take up and keep exercising. We can use this exercise related guilt to our advantage as it makes us more likely to keep to our promises to exericise. However, not managing this well can, guilt can be a “destroyer of emotional enery” which leaves us feeling paralyzed and immobelized in the present by something that has already occured (Maud Purcell, 2012). It may leaves us with a recurring perception of constantly falling short, not doing enough or underperforming, which consumes a significant amount of emotional energy. In the long run, a cumulative of this unhealthy guilt will make you feel a sense of helplessness and want to quit. In short, guilt is unhealthy when it persist without justification (Nel Noddings, 2002).

Telling someone to stop feeling guilty can only make one feel more guilty. One way to deal with this is by critiquing the source of the guilt or reflecting on signals from your body telling you that you’ve overtrained (see Shift your mental focus on the improvements or goals you’ve achieved in a week instead of focusing on how to get rid of the guilty feeling as this will just amplify the feeling. For a review of how rest days are benefiical, see 


Adapted from Pirkko Markula Ph. D. 



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