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Science and Psychology of Skip Days

The Science and Psychology of Skip Days

There’s a lot to be said for sticking to a diet or routine but if you think that skip days are for cheaters, you might be oversimplifying things.

Here, we’re going to look at skip days for diets and workout routines. We’re going to look at how taking a day off every now and then helps scientifically and psychologically. We’re also going to look at how you can manage and even plan for skip days effectively.

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What’s a Skip Day?

We can be generous and pretend that “skip day” isn’t even in your vocabulary. 

“Skip days” are days when you go off of your diet or when you don’t do the exercise that you had planned.

Some people will go to the mat to stick to their routine, even if it means watching carbs on a holiday or scheduling work meetings around their gym schedule. And, that’s fine. But, not everyone can (or wants to) be that dedicated. 

“Skip day” can refer to your diet or your workout plan. Both have different psychology and science behind them and they work or don’t work in different ways. So, we’ll handle them both separately. Let’s start with diet.

Exercise Diet

The Diet Skip Day

If you’re serious about muscle building, you probably have a diet that you stick to in order to keep the fat off and the muscle on. There’s a lot to be said for keeping to these diets. But, what about when you don’t?


The psychology is easy, so let’s start there.

Diets are hard. The stricter the diet, the harder it is to stick to.

So, what happens when your diet is too hard.That’s easy: you don’t stick to it. And if you don’t stick to a diet, you don’t get the benefits from it.

So, think of a diet like a bad habit. When you’re trying to break a bad habit, do you just give up the first time you slip? Hopefully not. It’s the same with dieting.

Letting yourself take a skip day every now and then allows you to take it easy on yourself so that you can stick to it longer and reap those benefits.

Further, eating is social. There are events and situations in which we’re expected to eat – in some cases, specifically things that are bad for us. Trying to keep a diet on these days is particularly difficult. So, cut yourself some slack.

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Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to the science of skip days. It has to do with your stupid, stupid body.

Most diets are calorie restrictive. And, that’s good. After all, when you take in more calories than you use, your body stores that energy as fat.

However, your body can also accidentally self-sabotage this simple math.

If you cut your calories too severely for too long, your body panics. Your brain assumes that you are in some kind of food desert and that your body can only possibly persevere by storing as many calories as it can find.

That’s why – or part of why – many people see their weight “plateau” after they’ve been on a diet for a while. It’s also why – or part of why – research has shown that having a skip day helps people lose weight.

How Many Skip Days?

Day off From work

So, how many skip days should you allow yourself?

Most of the literature that researching this article turned up focused on one each week. So, if you hang out with your friends on Fridays, or go out for dinner with the family on Sundays, that might be a good day to lighten up.

If that’s too lenient for you, consider taking a skip day once each month as a reward for sticking to your diet the rest of the time. Or, save them for actual holidays.

Another option is to consider scattering two or three “skip meals” throughout your week, rather than blocking whole days.

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The Workout Skip Day

If you’re serious about weight loss and muscle gain chances are your workout routine is similar to your diet – strict, and scheduled for a week in advance.

In fact, the pro option for muscle building is to give each major muscle group a day of the week. So, where’s the room for skip days? First, let’s talk about why you should find room for them at all.


The psychology behind skip days in your workout routine is similar to that in your diet: if your routine is too tight, you won’t stick with it. The first time that you slip up, you’ll call it game over. 

Plus, finding time to workout every day is hard. Particularly if you go to the gym. Combine a busy schedule with an inflexible routine, and you’re on a crash-course for failure, not gains.


Just like there’s hard biology behind leaving room for skip days in your diet, there’s hard biology behind leaving room for them in your workout routine

For one thing, your muscles need to recover. This is one of the reasons that it’s good to target one muscle group each day rather than working out your whole body everyday. Doing arms once/week lets your arms recover while you workout legs, back, core, chest, etc. 

Still, having one day each week that you take it easy doesn’t hurt. If that sounds too soft for you, consider doing aerobic exercise like running or stretching and strengthening with yoga on your “skip day.” 

Leaving room to throw off your routine is a good thing for another reason: monotony isn’t good for your muscles. Just like sticking to a diet for too long can lead to a weight loss plateau, doing the same exercises all the time can lead to a fitness plateau.

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Making it Work for You

Just like there are a couple of ways that you can incorporate skip days or skip meals into your diet, there are a couple of ways that you can work this philosophy into your workout routine.’

One is to give yourself one day each week where you don’t exercise, but not to pin it to a particular day of the week. That way, if something comes up and you need to skip a day, just count that as your day off and shift everything else.

Another is to give yourself one skip day each week that you just write off, but don’t let it be the same day two weeks in a row. In other words, don’t just chronically use them to skip leg day.

Don’t Skip Skip Days

You don’t need to use skip days. Just make sure that your diet or workout routine aren’t so strict and unforgiving that you can’t work with them or they can’t work with you.

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