Three questions to ask yourself when you don't feel like doing your scheduled workout

If, like me, you believe that you should get regular exercise, you probably have some kind of intention, or better yet, a concrete plan and schedule, for achieving it. However, if you are like me, you are human and fallible, and also deal with unpredictable periods of stress or overwork or fatigue or laziness.

This post is about three questions I ask myself when I am supposed to be doing a workout, but don’t feel like it. I hope this checklist will be helpful to you as it is to me.

Franklin after two reps up the Cathedral of Learning

My Cathedral of Learning stair climb plan

One week ago, a Monday, I reported on the last time I did the 36-floor stair climb up the Cathedral of Learning at Pitt. My expectation was to continue doing the stair climb twice a week, ramping up the difficulty each time in a suitable way.

It turned out that last Thursday, I was “supposed to” do the stair climb.

I didn’t.

Then I was going to do it Friday.

I didn’t.

Then I was going to do it Saturday.

I didn’t.

Then I was going to do it Sunday.

I didn’t.

I did it today, Monday, finally. But let’s examine why I didn’t do it earlier, and why I did it today.

The three questions

The questions I ask myself honestly, when skipping a planned workout, are the following:

Different answers every day?

On Thursday, I really was exhausted. I’d done a lot of programming all day, and had made a commitment to attend the very first Pittsburgh Scala meetup gathering. I’d also done a really intense workout on Wednesday at the CMU gym, including rowing, weights, and treadmill running. So it was easy for me to justify taking a rest day: recovery is a very important component of an exercise program.

On Friday, I should have been OK, except that I ran out of time and energy because I was very busy with various things, and had an early evening commitment to attend to. It is important to note that I had every intention of getting in the stair climb in the morning on Friday, and failed only because I lost a couple of hours in the morning as a result of completely unexpected things that came my way. As a result, I really was too tired. Also, I had not in fact fully recovered from my monster workout on Wednesday.

On Saturday, I recovered and would have gone for the Cathedral climb, but as you can guess, the loss of momentum started catching up with me. It was very warm outside, near 70F, and so I decided I should take advantage of the weather and go for a run outside instead of doing an indoor stair climb. This was a great decision to make, so I don’t regret it at all. Call it “productive procrastination”: I didn’t make progress on the Cathedral stair climb plan, but did get in a beneficial substitute; if you’re going to procrastinate on something, you might as well do something genuinely useful.

On Sunday, I had an excuse again. My legs were actually quite sore from the road run I suddenly went and did on Saturday. I judged that I could do the stair climb, but that it would probably be more beneficial to me if I delayed it. Here I made a judgment call, remembering the purpose of my exercise program: it is to make me stronger, not tear me down.


Today, Monday, I ran out of excuses. Was I physically able to do the climb? Yes. Was I way too tired or busy? No. OK, I am always busy, but some kinds of busy are different from other kinds. What was left? Sheer laziness. I recognized that the only excuse I had left was that I don’t actually particularly like climbing the 36 floors of the Cathedral twice. Some people seem to love doing this sort of thing, but I don’t really like it. I’ve learned to be mindful and present while doing it, just as with treadmill running, but it’s not my favorite thing to do.

So after work, I dutifully trudged over to the Cathedral and made up my mind to enjoy the task. I planned to do two reps as I had done a week ago, with a goal of shortening the time for each rep as well as shortening the recovery between the two reps. As with last week, I went in my work clothing and backpack, stuffing my jacket and my shoes and socks (I only do the stair climb barefoot now), and proceeding.

First rep

During my first rep, my legs quickly felt like they were burning, and I felt discouraged and frustrated, but I kept going, attempting to find a rhythm. There were a couple of other people, all wearing actual athletic shorts and shoes, in the stairways, but we were all pretty spread out, mostly, so I didn’t have to deal with passing anyone.

I finished in 8:47 (last week my first rep was in 9:07).


I was really beat after the first rep. My quads and calves were burning and I was gasping for air. I rested for a while looking out the window.

Floor 36 panoramic view

I waited till my breathing was back under control and my leg muscles were no longer completely burning.

Last week, I took a break of 10:42, but this week, my recovery break was 8:39.


During the second rep, somehow I felt more peaceful, less anxious, and although I felt the burn, I accepted it. I even perceived that I had acquired a rhythm and was almost dancing up the steps. I experienced a kind of joy, a oneness with the stairway, with its unique changes in the height and number of steps, the turns, and the number of turns.

I finished in 8:21, a surprise (last week I did the second rep in 8:54 after a recover period of two minutes longer).

Strangely, after I finished the second rep, I found that I felt pretty good. After several seconds, I was able to walk around normally. I don’t know exactly how to explain that after the second rep, I felt in much better condition than after the first rep. Maybe my body warmed up. Or maybe I simply became more efficient during the second time up, using less energy. Or maybe my mind was playing tricks on me because of endorphins?

In any case, I finished the workout feeling energized and really glad that I didn’t give into laziness, and that I actually in the end had a fascinating, stimulating experience.

Sorry, this does not mean I am going to do three reps the next time! The thought of that still frightens me. I plan to stick with just two reps for a bit longer.


We all have moments when we don’t feel like doing what we planned to do and had good reasons for the original plan. When that happens, it is useful to ask three questions, rather than thoughtlessly make assumptions and go to an extreme of either being too lazy or too driven. In the end, the point is not to be able to boast of having followed some schedule, but to actually make sustainable progress. So far, I have been happy with how my Cathedral of Learning stair climbing has gone, despite the irregularities in following the plan.

What are you doing this year that frustrates you even though you want to see it through? What are your personal strategies for dealing with wanting to slack off?

comments powered by Disqus