As a general rule, it is forbidden to exercise on Shabbat.1 Exercise is defined in halachic literature as “exerting the body in order to sweat.”2 Among the reasons for the ban is that exercise is deemed to be uvdin d’chol, a weekday activity not in keeping with the spirit of Shabbat.3 This is closely related to the decree of the prophet Isaiah that one’s conduct, behavior and even movement should be different and more relaxed on Shabbat than during the week.4
Exercise is also deemed to be a form of refuah, medical therapy and health care, that is forbidden on Shabbat. This is because the prohibition against taking medicine on Shabbat includes a ban on any treatment or procedure that often includes the use of medication, even if no medicine is actually being used. One such example of this is sweating. It was once believed that sweating was a remedy for many illnesses. When sweating was prescribed, it would be induced by either medication or exercise.5 Therefore, although exercise today is essentially unrelated to the use of medication, the sweating that results from exercise is deemed reminiscent of the ancient practice of sweating through medication and this association renders it forbidden. This is true even if one has no intention of breaking out in a sweat.6
Running is especially forbidden on Shabbat unless it is for a mitzvah.7 It is also forbidden to use exercise machines or engage in any muscle-building activities on Shabbat.8 Physiotherapy and related exercises are also frowned upon unless one’s level of illness truly requires it.9 On a related note, we are told that one should avoid taking large strides when walking on Shabbat, as doing so is said to weaken one’s eyesight.10 Gazing at the Shabbat candles during the Friday night Kiddush, as well as glancing at the wine in the Kiddush cup, is said to remedy any eyesight damage caused by taking long strides.11
Nevertheless, it is permitted to engage in routine activities or movements even if one’s intention might be for the exercise. For example, it is permitted to take a long walk on Shabbat even if one’s hidden intention is to exercise or to work up an appetite,12 though some authorities disagree with this leniency.13 So too, one may engage in running or jumping that is clearly being done for enjoyment and recreation rather than exercise.14 One is also permitted to run in order to escape rain or danger.15 Very light physical activity is permitted even if one’s intention in doing so is for therapeutic purposes.16
According to the rulings of the Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata:17
- One may not do strenuous physical exercises on Shabbat.
- One may not engage in muscle-building exercises with the aid of a spring-fitted, physical-training apparatus.
- One may do simple exercises with one’s hand, even if one’s purpose in so doing is to relieve or alleviate pains.
According to the rulings of The Concise Code of Jewish Law:18
- One is permitted to go walking, but not running or jogging.
- Youngsters who enjoy jumping and running may do so on Shabbat, as it is considered a pleasurable activity for them.
- One is not permitted to do exercises on Shabbat that involve physical exertion and are intended to work up a sweat and cause one to become tired.
- Some authorities permit one to maintain a daily routine of calisthenics intended to maintain physical fitness.
- One may do breathing exercises to correct impairment.19
- One may use a small hand exerciser to strengthen the hand and the fingers.
- Shabbat 147a; Tosefta, Shabbat 17:16; Rambam, Hilchot Shabbat 21:28; OC 328:42.
- OC 328:42.
- Rashi, Shabbat 147a, s.v. “Aval lo.”
- Yeshayahu 58:13; Mishna Berura 301:1.
- Rambam, Hilchot Shabbat 21:28; Mishna Berura 328:130.
- Mishna Berura 328:130.
- Berachot 6b; OC 301:1. See also Az Nidberu 7:38; Shevet Halevi 1:58; Devar Chevron 2:275.
- Tzitz Eliezer 6:4, 12:45.
- Mishna Berura 328:130; Yeshuot Moshe 3:35.
- Shabbat 113b; Rema, OC 301:1. As to what exactly is defined as “long strides” see Devar Chevron 2:274.
- Mishna Berura 271:48.
- Magen Avraham 301:5; Shoneh Halachot, OC 328:33.
- Taz, OC 301:1.
- OC 301:2, Shulchan Shlomo 328:66, n. 110.
- Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 29:4.
- Ibid., 34:22; Ketzot Hashulchan 138:10.
- Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 34:22.
- The Concise Code of Jewish Law (Appel), vol. 2, p. 351, n. 3.
- See also Tzitz Eliezer 12:45.