Workout burnout is more common than we think, but there are steps we can take to avoid it or pull ourselves out of a slump
Photo courtesy of Jaymes Shrimski
I will be honest here and admit that I’ve learned this the hard way—numerous times.
As with almost everything, my fitness motivation churns in cycles. While most months, I’m incredibly motivated to skip across the pavement and engage in Madman-esque indoor HIIT, there are months in which the joy of working out is sapped away.
In a second show of honesty, I will admit that I write to you here in such a slump.
Here’s how I know (and how you can check for yourself)
I’m disinterested in working out.
My athletic performance has decreased.
I’ve grown anxious about my flailing performance.
- Leveling off or diminished performance or conditioning
- Physiological signs such as having a higher resting heart rate and blood pressure
- Difficulty concentrating
- Illness as a result of suppressed immunity
- Emotional signs such as disinterest, moodiness, irritability
- Low self-esteem and increased anxiety
I’d add that the best barometer of how you are feeling is wielded by you alone, but by rule of thumb, if you are feeling two to three of the above symptoms, you may very well be experiencing workout burnout.
Welcome to the club.
Can I just blast through it?
This is the first question shooting into my mind the minute I’m feeling glum during a workout. And my body responds by just hammering away at whatever I’m doing. When it comes to working out, the voice of ego tends to whisper, “yes, you can lift that,” “yes, you can speed up,” “sure, you can handle another 10 kilometers.” But, ego isn’t always your friend.
To cite a fairly recent struggle, I was on one of my usual runs when the sudden gloominess washed over me. I’d been running at a slower pace, and was feeling quite displeased as I glanced at my watch to realize that fact. And I simply stopped running.
I walked home, now certain that all my previous attempts to tough it out had culminated in this complete halt.
So we’ve admitted we’re burnt out. Now what?
The chances are high that we’ve landed in this shared predicament because of overtraining or under-recovery, so says wellness expert and fitness trainer Jillian Michaels to one interviewer from Forbes. But we can only be so hard on ourselves. Given that we’re over a year into a pandemic that has had us locked indoors and circling around the same fitness routines—growing bored and overworking the same muscles—the risk of burnout has grown markedly.
If only we could sit in a lotus position, concentrate on feeling it again, and go.
While most of us don’t have bodies with such a reset feature, we can certainly try the following strategies to both overcome and avoid workout burnout.
Go easy and forget the numbers
Every now and again, and especially when burnt out, chuck the fitness watches and pace monitors. Relax the notion that you have to lift so much. Engage in a series of easy sessions, giving your body time to recover while slowly rebuilding your performance.
Take two rest days per week
“Think of exercise as the architect and recovery as the contractor,” suggests Michaels. Focus on giving yourself time to recover after your regular sessions and you will keep the risk of burnout at bay.
Get enough sleep
The National Athletic Trainer’s Association recommends that we should be getting seven to eight hours of sleep per night. With sleep playing important roles in both immunity and muscle cell repair, it is immediately clear that weary, burnt out bodies require just a bit more of it. So aim for at least seven hours a night.
Eat your way to recovery
Be sure to keep your body well nourished with protein-rich and vitamin-packed food. My own tendencies have me reaching for as many green vegetables as I can when I’m feeling off. There is merit to this as these dark green vegetables are typically rich sources of beta-carotene and vitamin A, which protect against free radicals and help in collagen formation respectively.
The big one: Take one week off every year
Yes, I know this is a massive commitment. This is not me urging you to have a week-long commitment to the couch. Rather, I am here suggesting you take a week to walk, stretch, foam-roll and engage in less demanding physical activity for a week. Los Angeles-based certified trainer Juliet Kaska on overcoming workout burnout writes, “I see it again and again: A client goes on vacation, they don’t work out for a week, and they return to me strong, clear-eyed and rejuvenated”.
We will get over this
I know a week off is difficult to fathom, but think of it as a step back preceding a big leap forward. Your body is a wondrous structure that you are working on brick by brick. You need rest to let the putty set and to keep what you’ve built strong.
As we trudge on in our various routines, we must take adequate time to heal, every now and then taking that step back to evaluate where we are and how we can get even better. To be physically able these days is, more poignantly now than in our lifetimes, a blessing.
So cherish the body you have, and allow yourself the rest.
I know I’m trying to.