Taking a prolonged break can help you curb that fitness burnout in the long run
Photos by Valery Sysoev/Unsplash
I have a confession to make: I’d been writing all this fitness and active lifestyle content, but I haven’t actually exercised or eaten healthy for a month now.
To get the quick facts out of the way, I’ve felt burned out from the gym and living a somewhat healthy lifestyle. Fitness burnout is a real phenomenon that happens when you go too hard or you’ve been stuck doing the same thing for too long, and when I looked it up I knew it was happening to me.
I was lifting and counting my calories to slim down from my pandemic weight gain, and in the past few months it no longer felt rewarding. I was slowing down my workouts, cutting down my gym time to only half an hour, and simply not feeling it anymore. So I just stopped.
But that didn’t mean I had stopped being active. I switched gears instead, focusing on walking as much as I could. I no longer counted calories and my macros, but I tried to keep my intake at a maintenance level. It was simply a soft reset for my mind—and now that I took that time off, the cycle has come around and I feel ready to step back and lift what I used to lift.
Here are the things I learned in my little break that might help anyone who’s going through their own burnout.
It’s okay to step back, really
The first thing you need to tell yourself is that it’s okay to take a break, especially when your brain isn’t into it—or worse, actively resisting the idea of spending an hour or two in the gym. When it would rather be doing something else, listen to it because you will end up regretting it if you don’t. The important thing to tell yourself is that you’re stepping back because you’ll be coming back later. You’re not actually quitting but resting and it is a lot kinder to acknowledge that.
I learned there was more than one way to stay fit
Spending time in the gym is not the only way to be fit, and it felt relieving to not have to tether my fitness to lifting weights. In fact, focusing on the one to two hours you spend in a day doesn’t really help all that much; there’s always another thing you can do, whether it’s simply getting in as many steps as possible or taking up a sport or martial art. It’s a lot more productive to be as active as possible outside the gym than to just go hard inside it.
It’s also okay for your body to change
When you step away for more than two weeks, your body will naturally change. You could lose some of that muscle definition and cardiovascular endurance. Being kind to yourself at this time entails accepting that this will naturally happen, and because you’re coming back later, you will be able to train yourself back to your pre-break fitness level. The gains you made will never be permanently lost.
But my body didn’t change that much
I did lose some muscle definition but not as much as I was expecting. I also didn’t regain weight, holding steady and hovering around a certain number. It helps that I try to consume close to maintenance calories—what’s important is that you don’t go overboard, so you won’t derail yourself too much when it’s time to come back.
It feels really good to drop everything
I was obsessed with trying to look a certain way, which is why I pressured myself to do as much as I could to be fit. Once I stepped away from all of that, it felt freeing to live again. The clearer headspace also has the benefit of letting you figure out and recalibrate how to approach your exercise. And of course, you’re going to have to make some changes so you can avoid burning out again.