4 Tips to Avoid Exercise Burnout & Stick to Your Plan

24SHARES

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
1/13/2009 8:13 AM   :  51 comments

January is one of the best times to be a fitness professional. My exercise classes are packed with participants, the gym is teeming with energy, and people have high spirits and good intentions to get fit. It's the second full week in January, and you're still going strong as you pursue your resolutions for the year. But one of the biggest mistakes that I see right now—from novice and seasoned exercisers alike—is overdoing it. Too much exercise—especially when combined with too little recovery—can hurt your efforts.

Recovery is just as important as the workout itself. Without proper rest, you will not get stronger, faster, or fitter. Why? Because when you rest, your muscles do two important things: repair (which helps them get stronger) and prepare (for future workouts by storing the food as muscle glycogen). When you skimp on the recovery time, your muscles tear and breakdown from your workouts, but don't have enough time to rebuild. But proper recovery benefits more than your muscles. Sometimes you need a mental break from working out just as much as you need a physical one. Without it, you risk burning out, which can get in the way of you reaching your goals. So how do you know if you're doing too much?

Here are a few common signs that you might be doing too much exercise:

  • Exhaustion instead of energy. Exercise should make you feel better, not worse. If your mood is low or you feel abnormally tired, you could be spending too much time in the gym.
  • Difficulty sleeping. If you work out too much, you could interrupt your sleeping patterns, either making your really tired (see point above), or interfering with your ability to fall and stay asleep.
  • Perpetual muscle soreness. This is a tough one, because most people who are starting a new exercise program will be sore for a couple weeks or so, and that is pretty normal. But if you're sore longer than that, you could be overtraining. For example, once I was sore for more than a month from a heavy load of fitness classes I was teaching. It wasn't until I started to slow down and rest more that my soreness went away.
  • Muscle weakness and fatigue. Over time, exercising should build strength and endurance. So if you notice things going the other way, or that your workouts feel just as difficult or even harder, it's time to take notice.

I know what you're thinking. You're afraid that taking a day off will turn into two or three days off and that you'll lose your motivation. Or that doing a little less exercise will turn into a downward spiral, making your lazier and decreasing your "new year" willpower. Not to worry. You're more likely to fall off the wagon from burnout than you are from following a reasonable and moderate fitness program. Here are my top 4 tips that will aid in recovery and prevent burnout:

  1. Take 1-2 days off each week, especially if you are a beginner. Your body does perceive exercise as a stressor, and like any stressful situation, sometimes you need a break. You don't have to lie on the couch all day to recover, either. You can do active recovery on these days if you prefer.
  2. Recover for 1-2 days after strength training. Again, this usually applies more to beginners who might not know the right way to recover after lifting weights. After a strength training session, wait 1-2 days before lifting weights again. This applies to the specific muscle groups you used, so doing upper body one day and lower body the next is fine. But doing a full body strength routine two days in a row is not. Learn more about the guidelines for strength training here.
  3. Vary your aerobic workout intensity. Find a happy medium between going all out and dawdling, and remember that you don't have to push it to the max to benefit from your gym time. In fact, you shouldn't work out at or close to your max during every workout. Instead, mix up your cardio sessions day-to-day with a combination of intervals (which vary high and low intensity in a single workout), low-intensity endurance efforts (such as a steady pace that you can maintain for 30-60 minutes), and the occasional short but high-intensity workout.
  4. Vary your workout program. Cross-training, trying a variety of fitness activities and exercises, will not only improve your chances of seeing results, but will also bust boredom, prevent burnout, and help you utilize your muscles in a variety of different ways so that they stay surprised. That means you have more fun and see better results.


How to you prevent burnout? Have you ever learned about overtraining or exercise burnout the hard way?


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Comments

  • JEN77-01
    51
    Great Blog! Very imformative!!! - 5/13/2010   5:21:44 PM
  • 50
    My first major exercise attempt I injured my knee (or rather I aggravated an old knee injury) 2nd time around I put my back out.
    This time when I felt weary I stopped! Did not even lift a broom today. Took a long nap.... been vegging here most of today (that wasn't spent sleeping)

    Don't panic... I can now FEEL the recovery and have a major cardio planned for tomorrow and weights planned for Monday. No injuries for me this time around!! - 1/23/2010   4:38:00 PM
  • 49
    As someone just starting to exercise again, I found this article particularly helpful. - 1/6/2010   12:45:23 PM
  • 48
    Good article. Thank you! - 8/2/2009   9:12:54 PM
  • 47
    Unitl I read this article I was wondering what was wrong with me...
    I am burnout, I guess, because I dread the idea of having to do one more video or climb on the elliptical.
    I am going to have some rest and hopefully come back more motivated and rested.
    Thanks for the advise. - 3/11/2009   12:36:04 PM
  • 46
    Wow! This helps alot. I am finally seeing progress and I am starting to push myself harder and harder because I wanna see more progress. But I realize that I could burnout and I don't wanna do that. Great tips! Thanks Nicole! - 1/22/2009   1:45:26 PM
  • 45
    Thanks!! I learned to change up every now & then to keep it interesting!!!.. I love & look forward to getting my workout in & done in the morning.. Gives me more energy throughout the day..PLUS I sleep better too.. - 1/20/2009   8:59:36 AM
  • 44
    Thanks! You know, I have actually been thinking about this topic, as well as injuries that can occur from exercise, the last few days. Here is why: On Tuesday night, I was doing pilates. I have been doing the same pilates exercises for years now, but I was careless on tuesday and did something wrong. When I finished a particular exercise I noticed that my back felt very strange...it felt kinda numb and at the same time itchy and hot along my spine. I went up stairs and looked in the mirror and the skin along my spine was bright red and very inflamed. Luckily, it was not a serious injury (just uncomfortable, sore, and inconvenient). My best guess is that the injury was comparable to a shin splint (where the muscle tears away from the bone on your shins). I am still not exactly sure what I did wrong (there are several factors that may have contributed), but the even taught me a big lesson. As we get familiar with our exercise routines we get careless. Anyway, please be careful and listen to your body so as to prevent exhaustion or injury! Thanks! - 1/17/2009   7:20:02 PM
  • PMP9255
    43
    Thanks, I just really getting motivated again and I wanted to know if I could over do it this answered my questions - 1/15/2009   5:58:53 PM
  • 42
    Thanks Coach Nicole
    I am kind of dealing with a little burnout right now. /This tips are helpful with that. - 1/15/2009   7:06:48 AM
  • 41
    Thanks Nicole and nice blog. Will consider these ideas you posted here. I walk my son's
    dog daily and on the property - 1/14/2009   11:14:44 PM
  • 40
    Hhhhmmm.... the symptoms of burn out are the same symptoms of fibromyalgia (FMS). I have FMS. When I first started exercising last March, I knew that I had to push myself through the first week of total pain and exhaustion and another week that wasn't quite as bad. I've done this before a few years ago. After the first 2 weeks, I was fine. But anytime I slack off, I have to go through another adjustment period. The longer the slacking, the longer the adjustment will be. Gotta stick to the gym.
    I do a few things to prevent overdoing it on a weekly basis. I cross train: yoga, swimming, kickboxing, step classes, the elliptical machine and a few other things. I practice yoga 3 times a week which always helps me recover from the other work out sessions. I rotate the other exercises to prevent bordum.
    Even with FMS, I can and do workout regularly. In fact, exercising minimizes my symptoms, but I have to keep doing it. - 1/14/2009   10:46:11 PM
  • 39
    Well that certainly help me out today. Just met with a PT today. He said I need to cool it with my cardio. I guess I'm working out too hard - upper end of my AT. I guess I'll have to slow down!? :( - 1/14/2009   9:57:13 PM
  • 38
    Hmmm ... burnout? I can't say what I experience is burnout .... it's more like a "flake out!" LOL And yes, one day off can actually turn into weeks and months of flaking out, so I'm employing a combo of your "active recovery" & Dean's BDA (before, during, after) notes on the fitness tracker now that I'm back on track. Hopefully, that will help me with distractions, laziness, and just plain flaking out! Why do we fall victim to this when we know full well that it takes longer to get back into the shape we were in before than it does to get OUT of that shape???? - 1/14/2009   8:33:35 PM
  • 37
    Great blog, Nicole. I definitely get into workout ruts. I workout at home and get on little jags where I do the same type of cardio workout over and over. For a while I was really pushing myself to do something every day of the week and I got burned out. Now I aim for 5-6 days a week but more importantly to alternate workout types.

    Btw, I love the SP Bootcamp workouts. The format keeps things fresh and interesting and is genuinely FUN. - 1/14/2009   3:23:02 PM
  • 36
    GREAT article, Nicole! I especially appreciated the link to the article on Active and Passive Recovery - I learned a lot from that article, too.

    I learned the hard way that not giving myself a break in between strength training and cardio was really overdoing it. I had plateaued after doing the elliptical 5 days a week. My nutritionist recommended adding strength training to kick up my metabolism, so I started to the gym 2 nights a week - but I continued to do the cardio 5 days a week. By the third week, I was so exhausted, I couldn't motivate myself to do the morning elliptical routine! And believe it or not, despite no change in my food program, my weight had started to plateau again!! That's when I realized that I was doing TOO MUCH. I dropped back to doing elliptical 3 days a week, and on the days that I strength train, I use the gym's indoor track to warm up and cool down by walking 15 minutes before my workout, and 15 minutes after my workout. What a difference that made! Now, I have energy to spare, and I am still seeing the weight come down. - 1/14/2009   10:26:23 AM
  • 35
    This was very helpful. Knowing that you need to work out muscles that are sore was very helpful - 1/14/2009   10:23:57 AM
  • 34
    I'm the type of person who will get bored if I have to run on the treadmill day after day, ao I vary my workout and intensity level to keep it interested. I pretty much made a circuit in my basement so that I could go from one to the other with a 1 minute bumper in between where I do jumping jacks, rope or something else like dancing. I also take 1-2 days off a week but try to still do something active like cleaning the house, painting walls running errands and taking a couple laps around the store. - 1/14/2009   9:23:21 AM
  • 33
    I avoid burnout by using your fantastic strength training videos - 2 a day, usually - and walking everywhere I can. Love the new YOU bootcamp, BTW - thanks for all your good work! - 1/14/2009   9:15:42 AM
  • 32
    Very helpful advice. Thanks very much! - 1/14/2009   8:51:31 AM
  • VCLTEACH
    31
    Thanks for the great article- especially for the reminder that it's okay to take a day or two off! - 1/14/2009   6:38:56 AM
  • 30
    This article was informative but for a different reason. I don't over-exercise, so I thought it wouldn't apply to me. But I do think if I don't have a half hour to exercise, I don't exercise that day. I could use that day to do a short high intensity burst instead. Thanks for the ideas! - 1/14/2009   6:25:48 AM
  • KAP4KS
    29
    very informative and motivating, thank you. - 1/14/2009   2:28:09 AM
  • KAP4KS
    28
    very informative and motivating, thank you. - 1/14/2009   2:27:36 AM
  • KAP4KS
    27
    very informative, thank you. - 1/14/2009   2:26:47 AM
  • SECONDCHILD
    26
    Thanks for the motivation! - 1/14/2009   1:19:24 AM
  • 25
    Thank you for the helpful tips - 1/13/2009   10:04:09 PM
  • 24
    Thank you for this helpful information. I am generally one to start and stop something and have for quite sometime. Im looking for a healthy change in habit to accomodate healthy li lifestyle changes. This article reemphasized the need for the body to recover which makes working out much more enjoyable when you do workout and also let the body revitalize itself. AWESOME ARTICLE, THANX NICOLE:) - 1/13/2009   6:38:50 PM
  • MMGOODMAN
    23
    I am glad I have taken the time to know this.I am starting to exercise,well yesterday was my first day of the rest of my life. Today I am going to the YMCA. I know in the past I would end up quitting because I would push myself to much. But I am seeing now I am older and wiser you have to not just work out watch your caloires as well and not push yourself working out. Relax and have fun with it. - 1/13/2009   4:58:02 PM
  • RWEISPARK
    22
    Very helpful - Thanks Nicole! - 1/13/2009   3:35:50 PM
  • RWEISPARK
    21
    Veru helpful - Thanks Nicole! - 1/13/2009   3:35:43 PM
  • 20
    Oh yes... I've had burnout before. It was the first time I went to the gym in years, and I lifted heavy weights for too many reps. I was sore for 3 days. Now I stick to "just enough" reps. ;) - 1/13/2009   3:24:26 PM
  • 19
    I am 59 and I find that starting slow and adding 1 min. a week to my exercise is sufficient for building up to an hour of walking and an hour of riding the bike 5 days a week. It also helps if you have stayed in shape the majority of your life. I have always walked because I've not had a car so it helps with staying in shape so age is not a factor. My mom walks 2 miles a day and she's 87. You just have to work up to it and not rush into it. - 1/13/2009   3:05:45 PM
  • 18
    I work out in the mornings. I set my alarm to 4:30 AM so I make sure I've had a good nights rest. If not it will definitly lead to burnout. No matter what I get up at 4:30 and go to the gym but what good does it do me to be on an elliptical if I'm so tired that I'm not working up a sweat. ZZZzzz are a must!!

    - 1/13/2009   2:58:15 PM
  • 17
    I had torn pecs, achilles tendonitis, inflamed iliotibial band and plantar fascitis. When I woke up one morning and couldn't dress myself, I had to quit exercising and give my body a rest. That led to depression and then weight gain. That was 15 years ago. Now I have SP and hopefully I'm a little smarter. I'm unemployed, so a gym is out of the question. Instead I get variety with the SP online videos. Thanks SP! - 1/13/2009   2:10:54 PM
  • 16
    Now that I am over the age of 60, I find that I cannot exercise as long or as strenuously as I used to. My body will ache if I do. I really enjoy the Curves workout because it is 3 times a week for 30 minutes and I can do other things like walk other days of the week. I have to go at my own speed and stop trying to keep up with others on my teams that are younger or more in shape than I am. I am doing this for me, not for someone else. - 1/13/2009   1:02:21 PM
  • 15
    It is sooo important to listen to your body. If I am over doing it on the exercising, the first thing that happens is I usually get sick. Interesting that there is this fine line between too little and too much. - 1/13/2009   12:40:59 PM
  • 14
    I gave my daughter a gym membership for Christmas this year and I have a Lifetime Membership, so we will be hitting the gym at least 2 times (hopefully more) per week. I can't wait! - 1/13/2009   12:10:04 PM
  • 13
    This is a great article that couldn't have come to me on a better day! I'm famous for going all in hard and strong right off the bat and get very easily burned out. This was a good reminder that I need to pace myself and give my muscles time to repair. I don't like that this proved my boyfriend right in an argument we had a couple of nights ago about the very same thing though haha :D But yea, great read! - 1/13/2009   12:07:41 PM
  • 12
    This is a very informative article. I also find that when I do go full throttle and over do it working out I tend to feel guilty if I don't maintain that same stamina and pace. Those feelings are counter productive to what I'm trying to achieve. - 1/13/2009   11:59:04 AM
  • 11
    It's important for me to have a 5 minute warm up before exercise and a 5 minute cooldown. In my cooldown I do stretching. Walking on a paved trail along the river is pretty slow the first five minutes then I really give it my all. Summer months I can be found with a damp towel around my neck. it does help. - 1/13/2009   11:53:32 AM
  • 10
    I had a friend that gave me a year to the gym.. We are going to go to start at going 2-3 times a week.. this is the year for me to do this.. - 1/13/2009   11:00:10 AM
  • 9
    I'm that person who give's 110 % while working out every time. I know I'm suppose to have a day where I go easy but I forget. So it's good to have this article as a reminder. Plus since I had surgery Dec 11th I think I'm learning what it means to slow down. When I get back to working out I will have to vary my intensity just a little more closely. I do rest my muscles inbetween strength training and I have learned how to vary different types of gym equipment so I dont get bored, I just need to know how to slow down and not go all out. I usually have my heart rate monitor on and it reads somewhere between 85%-95%...so someday's I just need to get it between 75%-85%.... - 1/13/2009   10:35:25 AM
  • 8
    I prevent burnout by knowing when to push myself. On "bad" days I try to do the minimum but don't force myself to exhaustion.

    On my "good" days I try to maximize my efforts.

    Keeping true to myself keeps me going. - 1/13/2009   10:30:17 AM
  • 7
    Thanks for the reminder!!! - 1/13/2009   10:08:19 AM
  • 6
    I tend to be this way if I don't keep myself under control... I am too impatient
    and I have learned the hard way that overtraining is not safe... Still needs a reminder from time to time though... [grin]
    Thank you for this great article Coach Nicole! ♥ - 1/13/2009   9:23:41 AM
  • 5
    The last time I worked out I experienced burnout. I was doing full body strength training almost everyday. I was exercising hard and seeing results and one day I took a break and never started back. Trying to do differently this time but I have noticed an inability to sleep since I've been working out this time. Since I'm doing the New You Bootcamp I can't take a day off. Once the bootcamp is over I will start taking two days out of the week to rest but right now I need to jumpstart my fitness goals for the year and begin building endurance because I am horribly out of shape. - 1/13/2009   9:20:41 AM
  • 4
    Nicole... You're in a magazine? Cool... This is great advise for the newbies. I think that my success this time in weight loss has been largely due to the fact that I insist that I move some every day but I don't try to push myself too hard. I'll never win a race but it has become more important to me to be able to run for months on end than to win...

    Writing another column about soreness for long time exercisers would be helpful to me. I would like to figure out how to avoid being sore most of the time while still building that necessary endurance, and strength. I'm doing yoga, ice hockey, and snowboarding (1-2 hours a session) this time of the year as well as have an active outdoor job, get about three days of rest a week, but still fight the soreness. - 1/13/2009   9:10:46 AM
  • 3
    Burn out is a big problem for group exercise instructors. I too had to learn the hard way to rest my body or I did end up exhausted. Fitness instructors have to take care of themselves every bit as much as the person taking the class.

    It's tough for instructors to follow their own advice and that's because we're always doing what we can to stay in shape. And well, that means we are prone to over-doing it.

    I know there are days when I do too much and that's not good. That's why I try to take at least one day off a week from intense cardio. Otherwise, I do risk burn out and it can happen before you even know it.

    I've become a big believer in the importance of rest and recovery. It has made a difference.

    - 1/13/2009   9:04:35 AM
  • 2
    I've had to learn these lessons the hard way. Thankfully, now I listen, rest, and adjust my program accordingly. Once you move beyond the stage of GOTTA DO (as in gotta exercise because I'm supposed to in order to drop 10 #s in 2 weeks) to really enjoying the full benefits of exercise in mind, body and spirit, it means the world to have this level of understanding. I hope a lot of the newbies really listen to the message here. It will save so much frustration during the early stages on the wellness walk. - 1/13/2009   8:28:57 AM

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