4 Tips to Avoid Exercise Burnout & Stick to Your Plan

By , SparkPeople Blogger
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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ELRIDDICK 3/21/2021
Thanks for sharing Report
BIKE4HEALTH 3/13/2021
thanks Report
PLCHAPPELL 2/14/2021
Good tips Report
JAMER123 11/21/2020
Great. Thanks for sharing. Report
RAPUNZEL53 11/11/2020
Great Report
VHAYES04 10/24/2020
Ty Report
NEPTUNE1939 9/28/2020
ty Report
PATRICIA-CR 9/24/2020
I like this article. Report
YMWONG22 9/19/2020
Thanks for the advice. Report
Music is a huge motivator for me. Report
helpful advice Report
great advice Report
Great tips!!! Report
Thanks for sharing. I needed this informaotin Report
Very helpful article Report
Absolutely great Report
thanks Report
Fantastic article!!! Report
Great article Report
Helpful tips to keep in mind so I can identify burnout, or hopefully, avoid it altogether. Thanks. Report
Great Article--- Report
thank you Report
Muscle soreness is the worst, but I push through & work a different set of muscles.
Great Blog! Very imformative!!! Report
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!! Report
As someone just starting to exercise again, I found this article particularly helpful. Report
Good article. Thank you! Report
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. Report
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! Report
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.. Report
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! Report
Thanks, I just really getting motivated again and I wanted to know if I could over do it this answered my questions Report
Thanks Coach Nicole
I am kind of dealing with a little burnout right now. /This tips are helpful with that. Report
Thanks Nicole and nice blog. Will consider these ideas you posted here. I walk my son's
dog daily and on the property Report
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. Report
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!? :( Report
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???? Report
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. Report
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. Report
This was very helpful. Knowing that you need to work out muscles that are sore was very helpful Report
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. Report
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! Report
Very helpful advice. Thanks very much! Report
Thanks for the great article- especially for the reminder that it's okay to take a day or two off! Report
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! Report
very informative and motivating, thank you. Report
very informative and motivating, thank you. Report
very informative, thank you. Report
Thanks for the motivation! Report
Thank you for the helpful tips Report