7 Common Fitness Conundrums, Solved!

What to do when you feel stuck between a rock and a hard place

No matter how well you plan your weekly meals and workouts, a late meeting, an unusually crowded yoga class, or simple forgetfulness can foil your intentions and require quick decision making. Other times your body may react oddly to a routine you've done before: Your heart rate speeds up for no reason or your knee makes a funny noise. Should you skip your workout or make do? Experts chime in on what to do when you feel stuck between a rock and a hard place.

You're late! Should you skip breakfast completely or grab a donut on your way to the gym?


The rock: Skip breakfast

The hard place: Grab a sugary donut

The best advice: In the morning, hydrating is first priority, says Dawn Weatherwax, RD, CSSD, sports nutritionist and author of The Official Snack Guide for Beleaguered Sports Parents. Drink 10 to 20 ounces of water on your way to your workout to help boost metabolism, burn fat, and build muscle.

"As for food, a piece of fruit is best if you've gone longer than 12 hours without eating-or have half a donut if it's your only choice," Weatherwax says.

When you do have time to plan, healthy pre-workout snacks include an apple with peanut butter, low-fat yogurt, or whole grain toast with peanut butter.

You Brought the Wrong Shoes


The rock: Wear the inappropriate shoes

The hard place: Go barefoot

The best advice: It really depends on the class, says Irv Rubenstein, PhD, exercise physiologist and founder of S.T.E.P.S., a fitness facility in Nashville, TN. "If it's a high-impact class, you may be better off sitting it out."

Going barefoot is fine if it's a toning, stretching, or body weight/calisthenics class. Otherwise, look for an alternative class that doesn't require shoes such as Pilates, yoga, tai chi, or stretching, he suggests.

Your heart rate is oddly high yet you feel fine. Should you stop or keep going?


The rock: Keep going

The hard place: Stop and go home

The best advice: Your decision really depends on how much higher the rate is, and how you are feeling, says Andrew Freeman, MD, cardiologist with National Jewish Health, Boulder, CO. "Heart rate typically increases as the exercise demands increase, so that your heart rate will be faster on an uphill run then one that is level."

Heart rate also increases if you're at a high altitude when you haven't yet acclimated, thanks to less available oxygen. Illness and fever, dehydration, and anemia (low blood count) can also cause a higher-than-normal heart rate. If you've been exercising all along and your heart rate is much higher than usual (15 percent or more) at the same level of exercise a few weeks ago, and you're not feeling as well, see your doctor, Freeman says.

Your knee starts to twinge, but it's not actually painful. Should you stop?


The rock: Skip it

The hard place: Keep going and hope it stops

The best advice: Try reducing the depth of your squats, lunges, or stepups and see if those still bother your knee, Rubenstein says. "If not, then continue. If it still twinges, stop."

If the twinges occur after performing rotational movements such as those typically done during group exercise classes like step aerobics or kickboxing, try to find an alternative exercise. "Try punching instead, for example," Rubenstein says.

To strengthen knees, practice leg raises: sit up against a wall, one leg straight out in front, the other bent with your foot flat on the floor. Slowly raise the straight leg to 45 degrees, pause, lower slowly. Repeat for 15 reps and switch sides.

It's hot and humid and you've run out of water halfway through your 60-minute walk. Do you turn around?


The rock: Turn around and walk back

The hard place: Tough it out to the end

The best advice: If you were well hydrated prior to your workout, you could go entirely without water for 60 minutes in hot humid weather, Rubenstein says. "So if you ran out of water 30 minutes into your walk, don't worry about getting more until the end. Besides, you'd still have to walk back the same distance from where you started."

Note: The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) recommends drinking a pint (two cups) of water two hours prior to exercise for optimal hydration.

Your favorite instructor is out and you've heard mixed reviews about the substitute.


The rock: Skip the class

The hard place: Try it, what could it hurt?

The best advice: The best answer depends on your skills and experience as well as any limitations or contraindications you may have, Rubenstein says. "If you know the moves well enough and know your body well enough, you can modify moves without the known skills of the instructor you know and like. You can also ask the substitute instructor about specific modifications for your issues (e.g. knee pain while performing squats, etc.)," he says. "You can still choose to participate but avoid any moves in which you're not comfortable."

You're starving, but you promised a friend you'd meet her at the gym after work. Do you hit the vending machine or go without?


The rock: Go hungry

The hard place: Grab a vending machine snack

The best advice: You don't want to be so hungry you feel like you can eat your shoes during your workout, Weatherwax says. "If the vending machine is all the time you have, grab the trail mix, or some peanut butter crackers to sustain energy levels."

Other relatively healthy choices include sunflower kernels, mini pretzels, Fig Newtons, and peanut M&Ms. But be careful, Weatherwax warns, as some snacks may cause GI issues. Experiment with small portions and look for healthier options next time, such as Greek yogurt or fresh fruit.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles