Let’s be honest: While virtual workouts can be a convenient way to get in a workout without the hassle, time commitment, or social stress of going to the gym, it’s pretty easy to get distracted. You might have started a 20-minute video with the best of intentions. But before you know it, you’re answering a text, wrangling your dog off of your exercise mat, or stepping away for a minute to sign for a package when the doorbell rings.
“People may not feel as accountable to the instructor or other participants as they would in a live class, which can make it easier to lose focus,” says personal trainer Michael Hamlin, a strength and conditioning specialist, and the founder of EverFlex Fitness. “The convenience of being able to work out at home can make it tempting to multitask or check your phone.”
So, is it okay to pause a workout you’re taking online? What really is the impact of taking short, unplanned breaks?
How breaks can impact your results
According to Hamlin, taking a brief break here or there during virtual workouts is unlikely to have a significant impact on your overall results. However, once you start taking numerous breaks or longer breaks, you may be short-changing yourself.
“Taking too many breaks or allowing distractions to take over can make it harder to maintain intensity or complete the full workout,” explains Hamlin. “The bigger problem with answering a short text is that it can be very easy to continue answering every notification that pops up on your phone.”
The other downside of answering your phone during a virtual class is that the distraction shifts your focus. “If you get annoying news via a text, how likely are you to be thinking about good form for your next exercise?” cautions Hamlin.
Are there certain kinds of workouts where you really shouldn’t—or should—take a break?
A solid cardio session requires getting your heart rate up to a certain intensity—which breaks could detract from. “If you are answering a text, you aren’t likely to be pushing yourself very hard, which may prevent you from reaching your cardio goals,” says Hamlin.
On the other hand, breaks during strength training workouts are typically much less problematic and sometimes even deliberate. “For strength training, you may need short breaks depending on your program in order to recover for your next set,” shares Hamlin. “Many lifters will jump onto their phone in between sets knowing that they have a minute or two between sets.”
That said, you don’t want the breaks to get too long. (And we all know how easy it is to get lost in our phones.)
“We all need rest periods during our workouts but phones are designed to pull you in and make you forget what you were doing beforehand. The risk is that you will extend your rest period and not provide the body with its optimal stimulus for improvement (cardio or muscular),” cautions Hamlin.
Rather than hopping on TikTok, or responding to a text, Hamlin recommends using your phone to input data on your reps and the weight you lifted so that you can have a record to refer back to.
And remember that breaks can have a strategic place in any workout, if used thoughtfully. Particularly if you are rebuilding your fitness or trying a new type of exercise, pausing to take a break can help you get through the workout at your own pace.
“Quick rest breaks can be useful for managing fatigue or staying motivated during longer workouts. Sometimes, the best workout is one that you finish even though you didn’t hit any of your goals that day,” notes Hamlin. “Using longer rest periods when you don’t perform as expected is a great way to increase the chances of you finishing your workouts.”
Tips to avoid distractions during virtual workouts
Even when you’re at home, treat yourself to focused workout time. Set your phone to ping you with only the most important notifications, and put on headphones so your roommates or family members know not to interrupt you.
Hamlin suggests you use whatever breaks you need to take during the workout to record your progress, pay attention to what’s next, drink some water, and focus on the movements you have to do.
But don’t forget the reason you turned on a virtual workout in the first place. “A phone is an amazing tool for a virtual workout and gives us so much,” he says, “but we need to be cognizant that phones can pull us away from why we are working out in the first place.”
Ready to give a distraction-free online workout a try? Here’s a low-impact HIIT session: