When Exercise Burnout Sets In, Here's How to Get Motivated Again

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Whether you've been a regular exerciser for three weeks or three years, motivation levels tend to ebb and flow. You go through periods where it feels empowering to get off the couch and head to the gym because you're seeing fitness gains and feeling strong; then there are other times when it's a challenge to drag yourself out of bed and working out feels like a chore. It's normal to have those lazy days here and there, but what if low motivation becomes a pattern you can't seem to shake?

If you're fairly new to exercise and feelings of burnout are tempting you to quit, consider first whether or not you're doing too much too soon. If your workouts are too frequent or too long, they can leave you feeling physically drained. No one likes feeling run down all the time, and regularly experiencing this can allow thoughts of quitting to start infiltrating your brain. Also consider whether or not you enjoy the activities you're doing. If you don't, you're not likely to stick with them long-term. Don't be afraid to try new things until you find activities that you like and seem to be a good fit.

If you've been a regular exerciser for years, feelings of burnout can be more difficult to understand. You likely know your limits and have found things you enjoy doing, which is why you've stuck with them for so long in the first place. It can be difficult and even frustrating to pinpoint what has changed and why, suddenly, your workout just isn't working for you.

Extinguish the Burnout Before It Burns You

When JAXNSAM came to the SparkPeople Community to ask for help with her exercise motivation issues, she was met with a variety of suggestions to help her get back on the right track.

"For almost 30 years I have worked out faithfully [for] five to six days a week. I have done a variety of things: walking, weights, kickboxing. PIYO, T25, yoga. Within the last two weeks, I am forcing myself to work out and I hate it. I switch things up, I try new workouts and [the feelings remain.] I want to take a short [three to five day] break, [but] then the guilt sets in. What do you do?"

Try something new. "What's something you've absolutely never done that you might want to try? A person is never too old to do anything," suggests SparkPeople member ARCHIMDESII.  "If you have bad joints like me, you [can] modify the exercises where needed. In order to get your fitness mojo back, you need to find an activity to be passionate about. You should look forward to exercising, not dread it. If you're dreading it, you're burned out."

Consider working toward a new goal if you still enjoy your current exercise routine. For instance, if you like walking or running, train for a 5K in your area. MLAN613 believes setting a new goal can add purpose to your workouts. "If you enjoy strength training, [consider working] toward a body building competition. If you enjoy yoga, [could you] become a certified instructor?" she asks.   

Take a break. "This has happened to me before, [and] you're not going to like the answer," says KYRELYSE. "When I was completely burned out and exhausted and went from loving to hating the gym, I made a scary decision: I stopped exercising. I would go on short walks just to keep myself busy, but I needed time off from structured exercise. I took off a whole two months, but you may need more or less time off. It's personal. Trust me, I'm back in a much healthier mindset with exercise than ever before, and my workouts have gotten better, too."

If you aren't comfortable taking a complete break from all activity, find other activities you enjoy doing that might not be considered traditional exercise. LULUBELLE65 has some go-to activities she suggests, such as going for a walk or putting on some music and dancing around the living room. "Try to find active things you enjoy or that need to be done, such as shoveling snow.  Don't beat yourself up over not working out, [and instead just] figure out what it is that you want to do," she says.

BECCABOO27 says she takes breaks every once in a while. "Do something different that you enjoy, whether it be a hobby or whatever. Work on the guilt issue—guilt never gets anyone anywhere, except miserable," she advises.

Remind yourself how far you've come. "I talk sternly to myself, reminding me that it took over six months to lose all that weight," says ALUKOWSKY. "Do I really want to go back there again? I tell myself that I would be letting down all those people—husband, co-workers, sisters, parents, SparkFriends—who have supported me during my journey and are proud of my accomplishment. Stepping on the scale and seeing that the needle has moved in the wrong direction also helps. Once I start doing exercise again, it doesn't take long to re-establish the habit, as long as the lapse hasn't been too long."

Even if it feels like you're going through a rough patch, that doesn't mean you're destined to end up back at square one. Remember all of the hard work that got to you to this place and be prepared to re-focus and keep working toward your goals.

5 Signs You Could Be Experiencing Burnout

It can be challenging to recognize the symptoms of burnout, especially if you tend to ignore the signals your body is giving you. You might assume you've been extra lazy lately or reprimand yourself for not just pushing through. But what if something bigger is going on? Learn to identify the signs of burnout so that you can make changes to help you feel better, both physically and mentally.
  1. You're experiencing excessive fatigue. If you've been neglecting incorporating rest into your routine, you might find that physical or mental exhaustion starts setting in. Your performance can suffer and motivation dips when it's a struggle to complete the workout and energy is still lacking after you're done. Try taking a few days of rest or light activity, such as a gentle yoga class or a walk around the block. If it seems to help, focus on incorporating a mix of higher intensity, lower intensity and rest days into your routine regularly.
  2. You're easily distracted. Now is the time you've scheduled to work out, but instead you find a million other things to keep you busy. "I can't work out right now because that kitchen cabinet has to be reorganized!" Sound familiar? If you find yourself stalling instead of getting started, take a look at why you keep putting it off. Perhaps you need to find something new that gets you excited about working out again.
  3. You're not sleeping well. A regular exercise routine can help you sleep better, but too much exercise can make sleep a challenge. If you feel like eight to nine hours a night is never enough, or the quality of your sleep is not what it used to be, you might be pushing yourself too hard. Adequate rest and recovery are important for proper shut-eye.
  4. You're a crabby pants. When your routine isn't giving you the good feelings it once was, it can leave you feeling short-tempered and irritated. Think back to a time when exercise was the boost you needed to get through the day on a high note. What has changed since then and how can you help those good feelings return?
  5. You aren't seeing progress. Everyone needs a positive sign now and then that they are headed in the right direction. Improved muscle definition, increased strength, better cardio endurance or weight loss are all ways to know you are getting healthier and doing something good for your body. When you don't see changes, it's easy to get down about your sweat sessions. Evaluate your routine to figure out if your plateau is a case of not pushing yourself enough, not changing things up regularly or something else altogether.
Most of the time you can avoid burnout by listening to your body and the little voice in your head telling you it's time for a change. It's important to be flexible and explore your options so that when that dip in motivation does inevitably occur, you can easily make adjustments and keep moving forward toward your goals.

Have you experienced exercise burnout? How did you handle it?

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KHALIA2 3/23/2019
Thanks! Report
KHALIA2 3/23/2019
Thank you for this great info! Report
DEEEBEE 3/19/2019
I was getting an average of over 10,000 steps every day for the month. I was very consistent about it. This month, however, I have been clearing out my cousin's apartment. He died and no one else in the family is able to do it. I am happy I have the energy to get it done, but it has changed my exercise routine. I have been working very hard but it's a different kind of exercise. It will have to do this month. Report
_CYNDY55_ 3/19/2019
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PICKIE98 3/19/2019
Good tips. Report
LIS193 3/19/2019
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SPINECCO 3/19/2019
Thanks for sharing. Report
KITTYHAWK1949 3/19/2019
I am getting a little tired of the water aerobics but haven't found anything else I really like... Report
SHOAPIE 3/19/2019
Needed this. Report
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DREAM247 3/19/2019
I have incorporated many different workouts into my routine so I don't get bored, but cloudy, cold days are very uninspiring for me. Seems like a couple days off really helps at times. A couple days off are really insignificant in my lifelong pursuit of staying healthy. Now that spring is springing, though, I'm looking forward to getting out of the gym and going outside and enjoying the sunshine! Report
NEPTUNE1939 3/19/2019
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CECTARR 3/19/2019
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EMGERBER 3/19/2019
I really need to read this article today. I it is time to change my workout plan. Report
AZMOMXTWO 3/19/2019
thank you Report
JAH1264 3/19/2019
Didn't realize that what I could be experiencing is burnout. I had been faithfully walking every morning on my commute & then -22 hit Chicago and I stopped. I'd still do my sessions with my trainer andctry to incorporate more movementcother ways but I notice sleeping and just general fatigue are getting me down couple that with a bad cold and I'm just out of whack.. I'm hoping that as it warms up walking with my crappy knees won't be so bad and the endorphins I get from my walks will get me back on track.

Thanks for this article it helps pitcthings into perspective for me. Report
ARTMICHELE 3/19/2019
I'm in my 60's now & I ex exercise for my labs, bone density & general overall health. I was a competitive bodybuilder in my 30's. Now it's all about my senior upcoming health. Report
PINKGLOW9 3/19/2019
great blog Report
FERRETLOVER1 3/19/2019
I'm back on track with my exercise - I just got frustrated with myself for not doing it. Report
SXB990 3/18/2019
Great article Report
JIMA681 3/14/2019
wish I knew ways to make my treadmill walks more fun. Report
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KHALIA2 3/14/2019
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JIACOLO 3/13/2019
I needed this article! Thanks.
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