Everyone at one time or another has experienced lack of motivation in their fitness routine—sometimes you just don’t feel like working out and that’s completely okay. However, fitness burnout is a deeper problem that refers to long-term loss of motivation, increased fatigue, and diminished performance or productivity. Burnout is a problem that can plague even the most hardcore exercisers and athletes, having a negative impact on both mental and physical well-being. But the good news is that proactive steps can be taken to fight exercise burnout before it happens! Even if you are currently experiencing exercise burnout, these strategies can be implemented to get you back on track and enjoying your exercise routine again in no time.
How do I Know if I am Experiencing Burnout?
There are several warning signs that indicate you may be headed for burnout. Listen to your body and be mindful of what it might be telling you. Some things to watch out for include(1):
- Decreased performance/progress within your exercise routine: you notice you have not been performing at your usual level during your workouts. You are unable to progress yourself as you normally would.
- Slow recovery: It takes longer than usual to recover after a workout. You notice your muscles are unusually sore, even though you haven’t increased your exercise workloads.
- Excessive fatigue: You constantly feel tired during your workout and throughout your day.
- Loss of enthusiasm: You just don’t feel excited about your workouts lately.
- Increased anxiety and irritability.
- Difficulty concentrating both in your workouts and your daily tasks.
- Decrease in immune function: You notice you are getting sick more often than usual.
If you are experiencing more than one of these warning signs, it may be a time to re-evaluate your workout routine and make some changes.
What Should I do if I am Feeling Burnout?
If you checked off a number of warning signs from the above list, don’t despair. There are many steps you can take to combat feelings of burnout and get you back to a healthy place both mentally and physically. This is not to say you need to do ALL the things on this list but pick 3 or 4 that resonate with you the most and start there. You can slowly change more aspects of your routine, as needed.
1. Make Sure You are Getting Enough Rest
If you are currently experiencing exercise burnout, take some time away from your fitness routine. This will give your body time to physically recover, as well as allow you the space to recover mentally. If you are feeling less than enthused about working out, a recovery period can help you feel refreshed and ready to get back to crushing your workouts in no time.
Exercise is a physical stress imposed upon your body, and rest will help you recover down to the molecular level. Recovery time allows your muscles to rebuild and become stronger as your body adapts to the physical demand exercise places on it. It is important you practice regularly implementing recovery days into your training plan, taking at least one recovery day every 7-10 days.(2) Depending on how fatigued you are, this could be a complete rest day where you do not exercise at all, or it could look like an active recovery day where you do some light walking and stretching.
2. Get Plenty of Sleep
Similar to building recovery/rest days into your training plan, it is important to regularly get enough sleep. This is the time when your body recovers from the activity you’ve done during the day. More sleep allows your muscle tissue to regenerate and grow, reaping the benefits from all the hard work you put in during your exercise session. Additionally, your body takes this time to replenish your muscle glycogen stores, the fuel source used during muscle contraction. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, and therefore sub-optimal recovery, it may lead to prolonged fatigue and eventual burnout. Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night for peak benefits.(3)
3. Check in with Your Diet
Monitor what you are eating, and make sure you are not majorly deficient in any of your macronutrients (i.e., carbohydrates, fats, and protein). Carbohydrates and fats are responsible for maintaining energy, while protein takes care of muscle recovery and regeneration. If you are lacking in any one of these nutrient categories, it may be a contributing culprit to your burnout. Depending on your fitness goals and dietary preferences, you should be shooting for about 45-65% of your daily intake to be carbohydrates, 10-35% protein, and 20-35% fats.(4)
4. Set Manageable Goals for Yourself
If you feel like you are going through the motions in your workouts just to get it done, setting a goal might be helpful for you. When you have a specific goal to work towards, it gives you a ‘why’. Why are you waking up early to practice yoga, go for a run, or lift weights? Your workouts will feel more meaningful, and you are likely to feel more inspired. Your goal can be as simple as getting at least 10 minutes of movement in per day, or as complex as chasing a PR in the marathon. Choose a practical goal that speaks to you the most, and then go for it!
5. Mix it Up
Variety is the spice of life, as they say! If you have been doing the same type of workout for some time now, trying a new exercise style might be just the thing you need to re-engage. If you have been running 5 miles on the treadmill every day for the past few months, try some cardio-inspired group exercise classes. If you have been doing the same weightlifting routine for as long as you can remember, swap out your usual strength routine and join in on a yoga class. The exercise type and intensity are entirely up to you, just make sure it is different than your usual routine.
Changing your scenery is another great way to switch things up. If you typically exercise at the gym, take your workouts to your living room. If you are always working out at home, head outside for some fresh air. Something as easy as changing your workout setting can give you the refresh you need to feel more motivated.
You also might consider shifting what time of day you are doing your workouts. Not a morning person but dragging yourself out of bed at the crack of dawn to exercise before work? Try sleeping in and waiting until the end of the day before you hit the gym or press play on your workout video. Feeling exhausted and unmotivated to exercise after work? Set your alarm a bit earlier so you can knock out your sweat session before work. Figure out what works best for your body and stick with it.
6. Do What You Love
The best workout plan out there is one that you enjoy! You are far more likely to stick with an activity and make a habit of working out if you like what you do. Does it feel like a huge chore to complete your workout every day? Evaluate your current routine and ask yourself if there is a different activity you might like better. Does running feel like a complete drag? Don’t force yourself to keep pounding the pavement! Instead, try a dance fitness class to check off one of your weekly cardio sessions. Challenge yourself to try different types of exercise until you find the right routine for you.
7. Progress Makes Perfect
There is nothing worse than doing the same thing repeatedly yet still expecting to see results. If your daily workouts are feeling a little like Groundhog Day, consider taking a deeper look at your workout schedule and make sure you are progressing yourself appropriately. When exercising, you are providing your body with a stimulus to encourage your muscles to become stronger or to have more endurance. Once your body becomes used to this stimulus it will need a new, more challenging stimulus to encourage further adaptation to exercise (i.e., fitness results!). This concept is called progressive overload, where you challenge exercise capacity in some way every 4-6 weeks.(5) Some different ways you can progress your workout plan include:
- Exercise variation—pick different exercise variations that still work the same muscle groups.
- Exercise frequency—increase the number of days per week you are exercising.
- Exercise duration and intensity—having longer exercise sessions or upping the difficulty level of your training session.
- Load—how much weight you are lifting for any give exercise.
- The beauty of this concept is that it gives you flexibility within your fitness routine, while also continually progressing you toward your goals. Get creative and challenge yourself in the way that feels best to your body!
8. Avoid Overtraining
On the flipside of the coin, make sure you aren’t overdoing it with your training plan. If you’ve done HIIT classes for the last two weeks straight, it's probably time to take a breather. Not only can this approach lead to burnout, but it also increases the probability of injury and illness. Be sure to consistently challenge yourself but do it safely and gradually overtime.
9. Use a Fitness App
If you don’t feel like having to come up with yet another workout, try out a fitness app or stream a class on YouTube! This option is also budget friendly, as many fitness apps are less expensive than a gym membership and sometimes completely free of charge. There are a myriad of apps out there to choose from, but we think the SunnyFit® app is pretty great.
Download the SunnyFit® App Now
10. Workout with Friends
Having an accountability partner is a great way to get motivated. You will be more likely to show up to your workout and exercise harder when you are doing it with someone else. Get a group together to try a new exercise class, meet for a hike, or go for a run. Not to mention, exercising with friends makes working out fun and keeps you from getting bored!
Putting it All Together
Exercising is such an important part of our health and wellbeing, so taking the time to set ourselves up for success is worth the time and effort. Use these tips to make sure your exercise routine is leaving you feeling energized, excited, happy, and fit! Continually check in with your mind and body and make any adjustments that will better serve you as an individual. Happy training!
1. “Burnout” in Dance: The Physiological Viewpoint, Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 2000. Koutedakis Burnout.p65 (openrepository.com) Accessed 5 December 2022
2. Enhancing Your Muscular Fitness, ACSM’s Complete Guide to Fitness and Health, 2017. Accessed 5 December 2022
3. 7 Benefits of Sleep for Exercise Recovery, ACE Fitness Blog, 7 Benefits of Sleep for Exercise Recovery (acefitness.org) Accessed 5 December 2022
4. How to Determine the Best Macronutrient Ration for Your Goals, ACE Fitness Blog, Macronutrient Ratio Based on Goals | How to Determine Your Macros (acefitness.org) Accessed 5 December 2022
5. The Role of Progressive Overload in Sports Training, Conditioning Fundamentals. untitled (teachfitnessconcepts.com) Accessed 13 December 2022