Home Exercise 101 Q&A Wednesday: Avoiding Workout Burnout

Q&A Wednesday: Avoiding Workout Burnout

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Burning out too soon could turn a sanctuary into a nightmare...

Q: I have been going through the back and forth of working out then falling off and I feel I am ready to begin again and be dedicated to it.When I read your “story” I sat and my desk and cried. I am 200lbs and 5’3 how much time a day or a week should I dedicate to working out? Should I do more cardio? You always hear people warn of doing too much and then burning out. So what is you recommendation? 1 hour per day  or every other day?

First, don’t cry! [insert huggy warm and fuzzy moment]

Second, burn out happens. It happens to everyone. It happens to me.

To me, burn out always comes whenever I’m first embracing something new… like, right before I get used to making it a habit. I think it’s all in the attitude with which we approach something. It’s new, it’s exciting, I’m going to go all in every day and see how far I can go in it. That kind of energy can only take you so far. It can only last for so long. Before you know it, it’s no longer new, it’s no longer exciting, it no longer has its spark and (remember this part!) that “new new” energy has run out.

The point at which working out has lost its spark for you needs to be the point where you are compelled to continue going because it has become a regular part of your daily routine. You don’t question it… you just do it. (Sorry, Nike.) When I wake up in the morning, I brush my teeth, take my dog out, put on my work out clothes and hit the gym. I don’t even think twice about it. There was a point where it had a spark, and I was excited about burning the hell out of my arms and abs… let me tell you. That “spark” has long gone.

It’s actually become so regular in my day to day habit that I could sleepwalk my way through my morning routine. I always know that I just get up and between taking out the dog and waking up the little one, I get in my work out. Doing it this way means that I don’t get lost in the “Oh, I’ll do it later” game. I’m familiar with that game and since I always lose… I’d rather not play.

Maybe because I let that “it takes 30 days to develop a new habit” thing kick in, I don’t deal with it as much. Maybe it’s because I’m not in the gym lifting weights for two hours (for now.) Who knows.

So, to the first question… how much time a week should you spend working out? I’d have to answer, how much do you think you can stand? What are your goals?

I work out 7 days a week. I have some form of activity (or four) scheduled for every day. Even if it’s just running or just yoga (or Shimmy!)… I’m still doing something every day. I know myself well enough to know that I need that, or otherwise I’ll skip a day. (Yes, I manipulate myself like that. It’s all bad.)

For someone who’s just beginning, I say start out slow. Only you can know what “slow” means for you. If slow means three days a week, then stick to that “Monday/Wednesday/Friday” routine and never let up on it. Never skip. Never give yourself a reason to set it aside for anything. If you’ve had a long day, that work out better be something you look forward to or otherwise, you’ll skip it.

People always want to set a specific amount of cardio for “too much” and “not enough,” but I don’t think it’s that simple. If I run 7 miles every other morning (I don’t… yet), that’s going to seem excessive to some people but to the marathon runners… they know the deal. When I could only stand to do 15 minutes of cardio, someone who runs 7 miles a day might not understand that. However,when I was doing 15 minutes of cardio each day, it was because I was a beginner. 15 minutes was all I could take. I wasn’t ashamed of that… I just stuck it out and listened to my body. I dealt with what I knew I could do, pushed myself to what I believed to be my limit, then tried to do that much plus an extra inch each time.

I could give you a timeline and a schedule and all that other great stuff, but the reality is that a generic timeline is not made specifically for you… and you deserve (and your body demands) that much. It wouldn’t take into account your specific needs, your problems and your goals. It wouldn’t account for your scheduling conflicts and your roadblocks. So… it all rests on your shoulders to figure that stuff out. It’s not the glamorous and easy answer you were hoping for, I bet.

If you want to create a routine that will keep you active without the burnout, I do have three simple tips for you:

1) Do a different workout each day – If you have a gym and you’re on that 3-day plan, make Monday your “arm/chest/back” day, Wednesday your “core” day and Friday your “leg/booty” day. I know some people love circuit training (that’s where you hit as many machines as possible in one rotation), but if you go to the gym every day hitting that same monotonous routine… you will bore yourself to death… and that’s just as bad as – if not worse than – a burn out. Keep switching it up!

2) Pay very close attention to your body – when you work out, pay attention to the muscles you’re using. When I do squats, I watch my legs and booty when I do them. I’m excited by my progress to come, and the progress I’ve experienced. That excitement carries through to the next time I work out, because I’ve got new body parts to stare at– I mean… new body parts to work on.

3) Do not ignore your body’s basic signals — If you’re going to be doing those marathon cardio sessions… don’t be silly and do them on an empty stomach. You will get dizzy, you will faint and you will do more damage than good. Don’t do them every day, either. There are experienced cardio lovers who may get away with that (whether or not that’s a good thing is for another post), but that’s not ideal for someone who’s trying to avoid burning out. Sure, you want to work yourself out, but you want to get yourself to the point where working out is a regular thing first. Going that hard in the paint can come later.

All that to say… all the answers to the questions you asked can be found if you listen closely enough to your own body: don’t push yourself too hard, respect your position as a beginner and look forward to the time you’ll be spending with your body! This’ll make it much more enjoyable, and you’ll avoid your basic burn outs!

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26 comments

"Mira Luma" November 17, 2010 - 3:53 PM

GREAT info, Erika! I recently experienced workout burnout myself, and found myself working out about 4 times a week to once a week down to nothing! I started back the workouts again and have been alternating my workout schedule doing both Walk Away The Pounds (WATP) and Tae-Bo, but I know I need to do something else to mix it up or I’ll get bored again. I am thinking of either joining a gym or investing in weights and perhaps an elliptical machine. Winter in Minnesota is not an ideal time to walk/run outdoors necessarily, so working out for now will be indoors. Thanks, again, for the great tips!

Erika November 18, 2010 - 6:19 AM

I can DEFINITELY understand that cold weather, because I know that if I can stand it… I’ll NEVER deal with cold weather again, LOL!

Luckily, there are tons of ways to get in a good amount of cardio indoors, and the weights’ll help with fat maintenance… before you know it, once the spring hits you’ll be ready to jump right back into everything!

monica November 17, 2010 - 7:50 PM

this post is right on time! i’m suffering from some serious burnout right now and it sux 🙁

Erika November 18, 2010 - 6:15 AM

Yep. Give yourself a day or two to recharge, and then dive right back into it. Take your time, don’t rush, and you’ll be fine! 🙂

freda November 18, 2010 - 11:09 AM

Womderful post!

Eboni November 18, 2010 - 12:12 PM

Thank You! While you may not acknowledge it you are a great inspiration! I already started, but with food…I’m eating my raw carrots and broccoli now! MmmmMmmm! ;-)Kepp up the excellent work!

Erika November 18, 2010 - 12:18 PM

🙂

Madame: The Journey November 19, 2010 - 1:31 PM

I’m so glad that you pointed out that essentially, there is no singular road map for fitness or working out, for all. It takes true self-assessment, time, education and devotion to discover what works for us individually. And even if one does decide to enlist the help of someone already in a routine or even a fitness professional, actively participating in designing a personalized plan – is going to be the best way to manage your fitness life. Great post!

Erika November 19, 2010 - 1:47 PM

Oh, you and I both know – you more so than me, now – we are all different with different needs and different goals, and trying to follow a catch all would do nothing but harm and bring nothing but disappointment. No sense in letting people who genuinely care believe the wrong thing, ya know?

Green Afro Diva January 19, 2011 - 11:00 PM

I posted something similar to this on my own blog http://greenafrodiva.wordpress.com/2011/01/04/tips-on-how-to-decrease-your-ass-mass/ I know that sometimes even I slip up and miss a day or so and end up going back to square one. One thing that helps me is to remember to do pushups and situps everynight starting with 10 and working you way up. I used to be in the army and this was what we would do to build muscle especially if we miss a run day. Great post and helpful tips!

Kaycee June 8, 2011 - 12:48 AM

I am fortunate to have a great gym membership on a college campus. There are a million classes and as many pieces of equipment and weights. So boredom is never an issue for me.

My campus allows people not affiliated with the gym to buy a membership. Maybe that could be a remedy for variety?

Loretta November 30, 2011 - 10:47 PM

Brilliant post. I couldn’t agree more. Thanks!!

Starry January 29, 2012 - 7:12 AM

Hey, this was a great post! I am getting into an exercise routine and was wondering when I would get bored of it – I have a bad habit of starting up something and really enjoying it… then *poof!* the enjoyment disappears and so does the exercising. So, this time, I’m starting slow and taking your advice on turning it into a habit. Currently, I do 15mins of pilates-style exercise and 5 minutes on an exercise bike every day. Eh, writing it down makes it sound a bit pathetic :-/ BUT! It is what I can do right now and I’m working on increasing my exercising ability.

Sabina March 26, 2012 - 12:31 PM

Hi!. I recently started zumba and nia dance and hip hop dance. all three available at a studio I go to. I bought a one month package and since I am usually super cheap i am going to make the most of it and I go 5 times a week. I started doing doubles on weekends, zumba and hiphop back to back, but we will see how long that lasts. I never get bored, each instructor brings something new and by the end of a one hr class I am dripping with sweat. its a tough work out!! check it out.

Kacee April 30, 2012 - 11:57 PM

I needed this post…I just started back on my my workout and food journal regime and it is hard!! I hate I stopped because I was able to do planks a little better than now. But, I have to keep on pushing. I am excited that I will be taking two new classes this summer so I can keep fitness fun: swimming and kickboxing. I am so excited. Hopefully, I can start jogging and eventually… *gasps* run!! wait for it. LOL!

Violets Mommy May 1, 2012 - 10:36 AM

This is exactly my issue. I try to mix it up so I don’t get bored. Running, the gym, and a TRX class. Thanks for this blog, it keeps me on track and its good to see others so dedicated to getting and keeping in shape and good health. Also your body will tell you when you need to ramp it up, and when you need to be gentle. I work out 3 days a week. I want to do 4 days but I’m not ready and I’m being gentle with myself so I don’t totally hate exercise. Thanks for the blog!!

Annette May 1, 2012 - 4:41 PM

Very good advice listen to your body. Only you know, it is a change in lifestyle. I know I overdid it on the cardio training I was getting fast results but I was tired, sleepy and weak. Overdid it and didn’t give my body time to recover. Probably need to supplement my meals and rest more.

Erica I noticed that when I worked out the burn stayed with me a long time. It was uncomfortable what is a way to reduce the inflammation from working out so that I can sleep easily at night.

Erika Nicole Kendall May 1, 2012 - 8:17 PM

You gotta streeeeetch that out, baby. LOL

Whitney June 4, 2012 - 2:24 PM

I’m struggling to get my routine started again.

Chells October 10, 2012 - 3:02 PM

Thanks for this Erika! I stopped my routine for awhile because of a change in work responsibilities and immediately began to feel the affects of my old habits (tired and dragging around, not so great attitude, abnormal breathing, headaches, etc..). All the while I was thinking ‘This idleness must end.’ As soon as my eyes opened this morning I jumped out of bed and into my gym clothes and headed right to the living room for my 1 mile walk(I use the Sports and Fitness channel On Demand). This is my beginning place and I look forward to walking -and maybe running – more miles very soon.

Rooo May 26, 2013 - 1:09 PM

“When I could only stand to do 15 minutes of cardio, someone who runs 7 miles a day might not understand that. “

See, even as a now-daily gym girl (except for when I’ve done one of those 2-hour sessions one day & need the next day to recover) I have a really hard time understanding this.

Don’t people remember when they were beginners? Don’t they remember struggling trying to get to the next level — from beginner to intermediate, from intermediate to expert?
Don’t they remember the first days of injury rehab, when they struggled to do what they’d once done effortlessly?

Maybe it’s a mid-21st-century-tech-related thing or whatever, but I really just … don’t understand what seems to have happened to people’s senses of memory, patience … of empathy, generally. Especially for pees struggling with really big challenges like this.

(It’s even worse when you see it in a trainer/instructor, that lack of patience, but that’s a different, though related, mini-rant.)

/mini-rant over

Rooo May 26, 2013 - 1:10 PM

*peeps*

LOL

🙂

Erika Nicole Kendall May 27, 2013 - 8:49 AM

You seem to be really sad about your trainer leaving. How long were you two working together?

Maybe I need to ask this question to the readers, stories of their favorite trainers.

Rooo May 27, 2013 - 10:55 AM

In privates since this past October. In class it would have been a year this July. I even remember my first class (long story).

I’d been working out at that particular studio for about a year and change before that, fairly seriously in the method for about a year before that, and … sort of semi-randomly in the method, with props, for awhile before that (at this point it’s a little blurry. I’m one of those who sings “get the proper instruction first”, one because I didn’t really “get it” in the body till I got that — I remember my first home DVD experience; not only did I really not get it, but I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t — and/but I also think had some instructor/mentor recced good instruction for me either as a dance or martial arts adjunct, because of things like being congenitally knock-kneed, there’s a good possibility I might not have gotten hurt the first couple go-rounds at all. But you know how it is — even if you perform well, if you don’t look like the ideal star – petite, 100lbs, preferably blonde – they’re not going to take too much notice of your issues in the first place … and I’m sure you know a lil’ sumn sumn about how a lot of them also “don’t think we’ll do the work”. So I think part of what leaves the big hole is that it was somebody who just blew right by all that, took me seriously about wanting to get better, didn’t cling too much to traditional notions of how things “should” go (though that has its other ramifications, clearly, some of them coming to fruition now), and wasn’t trying to hear me fuss the next day about how sore I was in the muscles, since it wasn’t in the joints, since I was getting precisely what I’d requested).

Interesting that you’d put that question here after *this* ^^ particular mini-rant Guess my stuff is really showing, LOLsigh.

/long version

Erika Nicole Kendall May 27, 2013 - 11:22 AM

*sad face*

Also, this gives me an idea…

Rooo May 29, 2013 - 3:13 PM

*waits*
*tries to do so patiently*

🙂

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