Speaking from experience, fitness burnout is real.
I’ve had plenty of days where I’ve woken up and not been feeling it (usually squat days).
Other times, after spending months maintaining my discipline and mental fortitude, I get to the gym and struggle big time with my lifts.
Some days, you’ve just got no gas left in the tank. Don’t worry, it happens to all of us.
It’s crucial to rest and let your body recharge when you hit that wall. Persevering in the face of burnout is noble but can ultimately do more harm than good.
In this article, we’ll look at the causes of burnout, four rules for dealing with it, and two advanced strategies to use if you can’t get over the wall you’re facing.
Cause #1: Are You Getting Enough Sleep?
The first cause of burnout is a lack of sleep.
As we covered in this piece last month, sleep is the #1 fitness hack.
If you’re a caffeine-fueled entrepreneur burning the candle at both ends (like myself) and you’re not getting the proper amount of rest each night, you’re inevitably going to burn out.
Cause #2: Have Your Lifts Hit a Plateau?
The second cause of burnout is that you’ve hit a plateau with your lifts.
Not being able to progress past a certain weight week after week causes you to doubt yourself (“why am I not breaking through?”) and negatively impacts your mentality.
Since the mind and the body are interconnected, mental struggles can manifest physically.
Cause #3: Are You Bored with Your Workouts?
The third cause of burnout is boredom.
Some people need fitness to be a fun, social experience. If their friends stop coming to the gym with them, or they get tired of doing the same workout, these people get bored and burn out.
I don’t need the social aspect of fitness to work out regularly, but a lot of people depend on it.
Now that we know what causes burnout, let’s look at some rules for overcoming it.
Rule #1: Respect Your Body
When you’re facing burnout, respect your body. Don’t chalk it up to a bad day and move on.
Step back and figure out what’s going on at a deeper level.
The reason the Hack Your Fitness program entails three workouts a week is that four rest days give your body’s central nervous system the time it needs to recover after each workout.
Nobody is handing out awards for cranking through seven CrossFit workouts in a week. There’s a reason CrossFit promotes three-and-one, or three days of work followed by a rest day.
Respecting your body starts with allowing it to rest between workouts.
Rule #2: Rest Your Injuries
You can deal with burnout—or avoid it altogether—by resting your injuries.
Stupid injuries are frustrating when you’re trying to make strength gains in the gym. I’ve rolled my ankle walking downstairs before, and tweaked my back picking up a suitcase.
Even something superficial such as a paper cut in your deadlift grip should be rested.
(Yep, that one happened to me, too. It was terrible, but I rested it.)
When it comes to injury, it’s black and white: If you’re injured, stay out of the gym.
Get plenty of rest, and if you need some extra help, go see a physical therapist.
When you try to be a hero, you sabotage your results. A few years ago, I had a lingering shoulder issue that held me back for 18 months. After a two-week vacation, it was totally healed.
Had I rested up when the shoulder started hurting, my suffering would’ve been shorter.
Rule #3: Get Plenty of Sleep
Adequate sleep is vital to fitness success for several reasons:
- Sleep makes us feel more alert.
- Muscles regenerate and recover during sleep.
- Sleep deprivation actively undermines your fitness.
Like many entrepreneurs, I’ll often neglect sleep in pursuit of my work.
But I’ve come to realize the important link between sleep and fitness, and how the lack of adequate rest every night can lead to burnout.
Knowing that, I schedule at least one or two days a week where I can get more sleep.
Rule #4: Track Your Lifts
One overlooked way to prevent burnout is to track your lifts.
If you’re not tracking, you need to start immediately. As we’ve covered on the blog before, this is the one thing keeping most people from making progress at the gym.
As it relates to burnout, you could be overtraining if you’re not tracking.
This only happens with a small number of people, but overtraining is a serious impediment to your progress and can only be remedied if you’re tracking every lift.
Advanced Strategy #1: Deloading
If you’ve examined the reasons behind your burnout and determined you need rest, the first advanced strategy you can try is deloading (also called a back-off or easy week).
To deload is to take a planned break from all exercise. During this time, you allow your body and mind to rest and recover so you come out the other side feeling refreshed.
If you’re going to deload, don’t jog or scale back your lifts. Go all in and commit to rest.
Making this commitment can be difficult if fitness is a fixture of your weekly routine, but the mental and physical benefits you’ll get outweigh the benefit of doing half-ass workouts.
Some people recommend deloading every four to eight weeks, which I think is insane.
If you’re doing everything right, you should only need to deload once or twice a year. I like to schedule these weeks to coincide with my vacations so I can truly relax.
Advanced Strategy #2: Cheat Meal
When you’ve hit a plateau, or you’re mentally drained, one of the best remedies I’ve found is a taking a night to unplug and indulge in a cheat meal.
When I’m completely burned out, I’ll go out and reset with a nice dinner and some drinks.
The next day I feel focused and ready to go.
You have to earn this night, but if you’re working hard and hit a wall, you deserve to splurge.
A cheat meal, when combined with the other rules and strategies we’ve discussed, can be all it takes to rekindle your fitness fire and get you over the wall.