Why does this happen to so many people and so often? What causes people to reach the point of such profound burnout? I believe it stems from the lack of understanding the importance of two concepts: diversity and rest. The first of the two, diversity in exercise, is crucial to practice in order to avoid burnout, boredom, and injury. Most people get into a routine at the gym: they come in, use certain machines [because they know and feel comfortable with them] and then leave. They do this day in and day out. While ANY exercise/activity will initially produce change and results, eventually the body gets used to the same repetitive motion/action [our bodies are so much smarter than we give them credit for!!] and the benefits begin to diminish. What once produced significant calorie burn and muscle hypertrophy will, over time, no longer be challenging. Exercise is meant to be progressive, that is changing and becoming more challenging as a person’s fitness level increases. Without progression a person’s fitness level becomes “stuck”. The elliptical machine might still say you’re burning X number of calories every time you get on it, but the calorie counters on cardio machines are rarely accurate and do not take into account enough information to make a precise assessment of what’s going on during the workout.
In order to maximize the benefits of exercise, you MUST change it up!!! Don’t get comfortable using that one specific machine [3rd elliptical from the left, right by the TV that always plays BRAVO], instead discover something new! Give your body and your mind a new challenge. Hop on a machine that you’ve never used before. Its okay, it won’t bite! And if you don’t know how to use it, just start pedaling and something will happen! All else fails, ask a staff member at your gym to show you how to properly use it! If that doesn’t sound appealing, find an activity outdoors that piques your interest: rollerblading, biking, swimming, hiking, walking, running. If you’ve never done it before, try it!! The key is to always change it up. Instead of spinning 5 days a week, try using the stair master, treadmill or ARC trainer. If you’re a hard-core runner, try spin on one of your cardio days! Something else to consider is group fitness classes; many gyms offer a wide variety of classes that are different from what goes on out on the cardio/weight room floor. This also applies to strength training; if you are simply lifting barbells and dumbbells, try a body weight circuit or a Bootcamp class. Increase sets, reps, and try doing unilateral exercises instead of bilateral. Throwing a change into the mix will confuse your body and produce greater results. And not only will this keep you from getting bored, but it will prevent you from getting injured. Because exercise diversity forces you to work different muscles in different ways, it strengthens the body from different angles and gives all body parts a chance to work. No single muscle (or muscle group) will be overused or over trained, and no muscle will be left under trained or ignored.
The second factor I believe contributes to exercise burnout is lack of rest. When people get serious about working out and get into a groove, they rarely give themselves time to rest and repair. They are so caught up with and focused on their goal [losing weight, gaining muscle, training for an event, transforming their bodies and minds, etc] that they may start to believe a day of rest will put them behind schedule and a day further away from reaching their goal. Let me say: REST IS A MUST!!! Exercise puts the body through the wringer: muscle fibers rip and tear apart during strength training, and we take a beating moving around during cardio exercise. The work does not happen when we are in the gym, on the court, track or street. The work- the lean muscle repair and growth, and fat loss- happen when we are asleep and otherwise at rest. One day of FULL rest from exercise per week is recommended for people working out at a moderate intensity on a regular basis. I personally believe that of the 7 days in a week, one day should be full rest and another should be an “Active Recovery” day. Active Recovery can be anything that is LOW impact, does not raise the heart rate to its maximal levels, and is considered fun! For my active rest, I enjoy going for a walk, taking a yoga class, or doing the elliptical for 15-20 minutes on a low setting. Other folks enjoy doing Zumba or other dance classes for active recovery. The remaining 5 days can be devoted to training well and training hard.
Exercise burnout can cause people to abandon their workout routine all together. This can lead to further deviation from a healthy lifestyle- becoming inactive, abandoning healthy eating habits, and allowing the mental muscle to weaken considerably. In extreme cases, focus and determination become lost to apathy and self-loathing. Don’t let yourself get to that point!! If you feel yourself getting there, stop and check the nature of your routine. Are you bored? Do you need to diversify your workout? Go ahead, try something new TODAY! Are you letting yourself rest? Or have you been exercising hard every day for the past 2+ weeks?? Take a day of rest; it will do you a world of good!
Have you ever experienced exercise burnout? What caused it? And how did you combat it?