Last updated on September 19th, 2022 at 11:10 am
It’s a question I see asked all the time, “Should I Workout on My Cheat Day?”
I’m sure I’m not the only one who plans out my cheat day with military precision.
This typically means I know exactly what I’m going to eat, and I know how many excess calories I’m going to consume as well.
However, it’s difficult to know whether you should workout on your cheat day, and if so, what you should be doing.
So, allow me to explain the workout side of enjoying a cheat day.
Should I Workout on My Cheat Day?
Whether you workout on cheat day is a matter of personal preference. The most important factor to consider is that one single day won’t make any significant changes to your physique. With that being said, if you do choose to workout on your cheat day then do your training as early in the day as possible. Plus, aim to perform the big compound exercises, e.g. squat, deadlift, bench press, bent-over rows, overhead press. This will improve your muscles’ ability to absorb the carbs you will typically eat throughout the day.
1. One Cheat Day Won’t Make or Break You
I honestly believe that most of us overthink cheat days.
For me, it’s a day to eat what I want (within reason), while replenishing my glycogen stores and boosting my metabolism.
Plus, it’s a great way to give me a mental break if I happen to be following a strict diet for the other 6 days a week.
I will say that I typically eat slightly less on the remaining 6 days a week just so I can enjoy my cheat day without any guilt.
However, as long as I keep to just one cheat day a week, and I’m sensible on the other days, I can pretty much get away with what I want.
So, when it comes to whether you should workout or not, I think this is a matter of personal preference.
In all honesty, if you’re being fairly sensible for the remainder of the week then one day won’t make or break you.
Here’s another way to look at it and to put things into perspective.
Let’s say that you live an extremely sedentary lifestyle, you don’t look after your health, and you eat like crap all the time.
However, for one day a week you work out and eat well.
Do you honestly believe that you’ll see any positive changes in your physique and health from having one “good” day a week?
Quite clearly the answer is no, and you can say the exact same for just one cheat day a week.
In the grand scheme of things, as long as you remain healthy, active, and eat well the rest of time it’s not going to make a huge difference.
This is why I say that whether you should workout or not is completely up to you.
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2. Workout Early on Cheat Day
If you do choose to workout on your cheat day then I suggest you do so as early as possible.
Plus, I would also aim to workout fasted.
Basically, by working out first thing in the morning, before you’ve eaten anything, your muscles will use your carbohydrate (glycogen) stores for energy.
Remember, I spoke of a cheat day being a day to replenish your glycogen stores, so it makes sense to deplete these through exercise before you start eating.
Additionally, if you’re going to workout then go big.
By this, I mean that you’ll want to hit the big compound moves.
You could even just concentrate on the 5 big barbell exercises, namely the squat, deadlift, bench press, bent-over row, and overhead press.
This means that you’re hitting all the major muscle groups and doing so by using the heaviest weight possible.
This will ensure that you improve the muscles’ ability to absorb carbs throughout the day.
And less face facts, a cheat day typically involves a lot of additional carbs.
If you work a specific split, e.g. bro-split, push/pull/legs, or upper body and lower body, then aim to train legs on your cheat day.
Once again, this will ensure that you’re working the largest muscles in the body and training with the heaviest weights.
You’ll also find that the heaviest and biggest workouts will increase your metabolic rate, thus allowing you to burn more calories throughout the day.
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3. The Day After Cheat Day
There is another way to look at working out and cheat days.
By this I mean that you could simply take the worry away about what and when you’re going to train on your cheat day by taking a rest day.
I’ve already mentioned that one day won’t make or break you, as long as you remain consistent the rest of the time.
Plus, as you’re likely to consume more carbs than usual on your cheat day, your glycogen stores will be pretty well topped up.
This should mean that you have plenty of energy to hit a great workout the day after cheat day.
In fact, it’s not unheard-of to have your best workout of the week, and even to hit some PRs.
Plus, there’s also the mental aspect of the day after cheat day (more on this in a moment).
There can often be a sense of guilt following cheat day, and more often than not you’ll typically try much harder with both your training and eating.
Once again, I’ll repeat that one day won’t make or break you, but it can’t hurt to have that extra motivation the following day and lift some seriously heavy weights.
4. Increase Your Activity
Something else that I think is a great idea is to increase your overall activity on a cheat day.
And you can do this whether you decide to workout or not.
So, clearly I’m not talking about hitting the weights twice in a day, or doing an extra cardio session.
When I talk about increasing your activity I simply mean make sure you’re not sitting around doing nothing all day.
Personally, I prefer to get some extra steps in for the day (if you’re someone who counts steps).
So, whereas I aim to walk 10,000 steps most days, on a cheat day I typically increase this to 15,000-20,000 steps.
This could involve getting up and going for a short walk a few times during the day.
Perhaps going for a long walk in the morning and another walk in the evening.
It could even mean that if I’m working at my desk that I ensure that I get up every 30 minutes and walk a couple of hundred steps.
In fact, it’s not unheard-of for me to hit some push ups and pull ups whenever I go upstairs and walk past my pull up bar.
The choice is entirely yours, but just look to get some more activity in throughout the day.
Trust me, it all helps.
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5. The Mental Side of Cheat Day
I’ve alluded to this a couple of times already, but I wouldn’t overly stress out over what I’m doing on a cheat day.
The whole point of a cheat day is to enjoy some of the foods that you love, but generally have to avoid.
Plus, it provides a perfect mental break if you have been following a strict diet.
Therefore, the last thing you want to do is to start stressing out about what you should or should not be doing on a cheat day.
In fact, stress can actually lead to weight gain just as much as abusing food does.
So, from a personal perspective, don’t sweat it.
I’ve mentioned enough times that if you’re sensible and consistent for the remainder of the week then one day isn’t going to make a huge difference.
Additionally, I always view a cheat day as a “happy day”.
So, the last thing I want to do is ruin both my mood and my motivation by constantly worrying about insignificant things.
So, I’ll repeat, workout if you want to, don’t bother if you don’t feel like it.
But above all, enjoy your cheat day (within reason), safe in the knowledge that you’ll be back to sensible training and eating the next day
So, I hope you understand that there are no real “rules” as to whether you should workout on your cheat day.
This is simply down to a matter of personal preference.
As long as you are consistent with your eating and training the rest of the time then one single day won’t make much difference in the grand scheme of things.
If you really want to workout on your cheat day then I would suggest that you train early in the morning and aim to hit the big compound exercises.
You can also increase your activity throughout the day, which is easily done by just walking around a bit more.
All-in-all, just enjoy your cheat day and stop stressing out about insignificant things.
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Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.