Don’t Let Your Exercise Routine Burn You Out

By Richard Asa @RickAsa
February 19, 2016

More isn’t necessarily better, and it may stop you in your tracks.

Exercise is good for you. You get stronger and improve energy and endurance. You feel better, while reducing your risk of certain diseases. It helps you sleep. It even improves you sex life. 


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Maybe that’s why about two-thirds of American adults who make New Year's resolutions include fitness plans, according to a study by Harris Interactive on behalf of Bodybuilding.com. 

But 73 percent percent give them up, nearly half quitting before they get to six weeks.

Paradoxically, part of the reason they give up is that exercise that’s good for you can also become bad for you. For many people, the benefits of exercise ignite the principle of more is better, and that’s not always true. They want to see results too quickly, find the regimen too difficult, and quit. 

Exercise burnout is a common condition among people who work out regularly, too. Just like your mind, it’s good to use your body, but it also needs rest and some fun. 

Too much exercise can diminish your strength and increase body fat. That’s just one way your body is telling you it needs a break, that it just wants to throw a Frisbee with your dog. The human body needs time to recover from the stress overload of exercise, Corey Stenstrup, performance development trainer at IMG Academies, told U.S. News

Other signs of workout burnout include a drop in performance, less interest in exercise, mood changes, slower recovery time, an elevated resting heart rate, persistent fatigue, trouble sleeping, and a drop in appetite. 

Ways to avoid these problems start with recognizing that burnout is a real phenomenon, certain goals may be unrealistic, beginners can’t jump straight from level A to level C, and you are not forced to subject yourself to grueling training as if it's a pill you have to take every day. 

You have choices, and you need to make them. One big one is doing what you enjoy. If you hate lifting weights, don’t. Maybe your favorite exercise comes from joining a softball league instead. You should enjoy exercise, not employ it as a form of torture. 

“While pursuing a goal won't always be easy, no adult version of a double-dog dare will convince me to pursue a goal I’m not interested in,” writes personal trainer Jen Sickler in Men’s Health

“I believe doing so is a path to failure and burnout. That's why I've stopped doing crap I hate. It's futile and unnecessary, and it never ends well. Why waste your time `toughing it out’ when you could be doing something you actually enjoy? You'll be infinitely more successful if you do.”


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If you’re a beginner, you can easily burn yourself out by going too hard out of the gate. 

Personal trainer Shannon Clark, in her blog for myfitnesspal.com, says you should follow three basic approaches when starting out. These will help you maintain motivation and “sustain” your workout sessions for months or years. 

First, vary the intensity of your workout. “Remember that not every workout you do needs to be done with great intensity,” she writes. “In fact, it’s best to only keep 1 - 2 more intense workouts in your schedule each week until you advance to the intermediate level. For now, keep most sessions at the low to moderate intensity as your body adapts to the stress of exercise,” she says.

Second, you should mix serious exercise sessions with play. It can count as any activity that doesn’t constitute a formal workout in your mind. Kick a football, play catch, or go swimming at the beach. 

Perhaps most importantly, pay attention to your body because it will tell you what you need to know, and when to slow down. 

“Many beginners haven’t mastered the skill of tuning into themselves and adjusting their workout accordingly. There are times when pushing your body through some moderate fatigue is a wise move,” according to Clark. “Then there are times when pushing is only going to land you injured, overly fatigued, and on a downward spiral to burnout.”

Former Rice University director of Student Health Services Mark Jenkins adds that the “prevailing wisdom is that it is better to be undertrained than over-trained. Rest is a vital part of any athlete's training. There is considerable evidence that reduced training (same intensity, lower volume) for up to 21 days will not decrease performance.”

Jenkins goes on to say that a well-planned training program is as much art as it is science and, so, should allow for creative flexibility. You need to heed early warning signs of overtraining and schedule adjustments accordingly, he says. 

“Hard training breaks you down and makes you weaker,” he wrote while still at Rice. “It is rest that makes you stronger. Physiologic improvement in sports only occurs during the rest period following hard training.”


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April 08, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN