Dreading going to the gym lately? If you feel constantly rundown, have zero motivation to sweat or hit a fitness wall, you might be having a bout of exercise burnout. Like workplace burnout, exercise burnout happens when you're consistently overextending yourself working out.
So, what are the signs? Physically, you might feel weaker, have increased muscle soreness or decreased performance, says Erin Oprea, celebrity fitness trainer and author of The 4x4 Diet. That's not all, though. Mentally, you're zonked too.
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You might be moodier and more irritable than usual and have no interest in leaving your couch. When you're feeling emotionally drained and working with an empty energy tank, you won't release as many endorphins or reap their feel-good effects during your workouts, explains Oprea. In other words, it's a vicious cycle.
Exercise burnout is a bummer, but it doesn't have to last forever. Here are seven simple strategies to help you beat fitness burnout.
1. Rest and Recover
Exercise stresses your body. That's because working out causes microscopic damage to your muscles, says Oprea, adding that rest is crucial for repairing, growing, and strengthening your guns. When you're feeling burnt out, it's your body's way of begging for a break.
Heed your body's messages. If you feel tired and weak, you can't perform your best, and you're more likely to hurt yourself. Pushing too hard all the time can result in overuse injuries like tendinitis or stress fractures, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Read more: Top 10 Moves to Help You Recover From Your Workout
So, slow down. Give yourself a day or two to relax or substitute some of your harder workout routines with light, low-impact exercise.
2. Fuel Your Body Properly
Just like a car, if you don't give your body good fuel, it won't run well and will eventually break down, says Oprea. Proper nutrition is key if you want to stay energized and stave off burnout. Eating a clean, well-balanced diet of lean protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables will help you feel your best and perform at your max potential.
Also, don't forget that hydration goes hand in hand with proper fuel, says Oprea. A half-hour before you hit the gym, drink about eight ounces of water. Then, sip 7 to 10 ounces every 10 to 20 minutes while you work out, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
3. Reward Yourself
Lack of motivation is a common sign of burnout, but a little inspo may be all you need to get excited about exercising again. "Setting small, attainable goals is an awesome way to motivate yourself," says Oprea. That way you have something to strive for and a reason to keep on track. Start simple, like making it your mission to move in some way every single day. Then, think bigger from there.
Once you achieve your goal, you can celebrate. Treat yourself to something a little indulgent like a nice glass of wine, some dark chocolate or a pedicure. Better yet? Book a massage, which can can do wonders for your recovery. A February 2012 study published in Science Translational Medicine found that massage therapy reduces inflammation and spurs the growth of new mitochondria, which are crucial for producing energy in your muscles.
4. Switch Up Your Workouts
Over time, your daily exercise routine can become repetitive. It's hard to get pumped when you're faced with the same stale snoozefest every day.
Read more: 4 Workout Mash-Ups and Why You Should Mix it up
Luckily, there's an easy fix — mixing things up! Spice up your playlist, try an entirely different form of fitness or change your scenery. "By switching up your workout, you engage different muscle groups in different ways," says Oprea. Working your body in new and unexpected ways can also help you overcome a plateau in workout performance, according to ACE.
5. Have Fun
Who wants to spend an hour a day doing something that isn't enjoyable? "Exercise should be playtime for you," says Oprea, who suggests trying different workouts until you find one that fits your personal sweat style.
If the gym isn't your thing, that's no problem. There are tons of creative ways to get moving, from walking outdoors and hopping on your bike to hiking your city or swimming at the beach. In fact, spending time in nature can be good for the body and soul. According to a June 2019 study published in Scientific Reports, spending just two hours a week in the open air makes people happier and healthier.
6. Exercise With a Friend
Best way to beat burnout? Get a workout buddy. "If you find yourself making excuses to skip your workout, having a workout buddy can really help keep you on track," says Oprea. In fact, people with sufficient social support are less likely to bail on the gym, according to a September 2014 study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health.
Plus, you can challenge each other. One November 2012 study from Kansas State University found that those who exercised with someone whom they perceived to be better increased their intensity and workout time by as much as 200 percent.
7. Remember Your “Why”
"Keeping your eye on the prize is a great way to fight burnout," according to Oprea. When you're feeling drained and down about working out, remember why you exercise in the first place. Getting back to the heart of your motivation could be just the thing to reenergize you. "By reminding yourself why you're working out, you can stay on track," she says.
- Mayo Clinic: Overuse injury: How to prevent training injuries
- American Council on Exercise: "How Hydration Affects Performance"
- Kansas State University: "Motivational Losing"
- Journal of Physical Activity & Health: "Predicting adherence of adults to a 12-month exercise intervention"
- Scientific Reports: "Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing"
- American Council on Exercise: "Why is it important to vary my workout routines?"
- Science Translational Medicine: "Massage Therapy Attenuates Inflammatory Signaling After Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage"
- American Council on Exercise: “How Hydration Affects Performance”
- Mayo Clinic: “Overuse injury: How to prevent training injuries”
- Science Translational Medicine: “Massage Therapy Attenuates Inflammatory Signaling After Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage”
- Scientific Reports: “Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing”
- Journal of Physical Activity and Health: “Predicting adherence of adults to a 12-month exercise intervention”
- Kansas State University: “Motivational losing: Being the weak link in team activities may lead to longer, more intense workouts”
- Biology Letters: ‘Rowers' high: Behavioural synchrony is correlated with elevated pain thresholds”
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.