Fitness burnout is real – here's how to spot the signs
Fitness burnout can be different for everyone who experiences it – but it should always be taken really seriously.
Burnout is sneaky – it can be hard to notice the signs. When you workout a lot it’s normal to feel tired, right? It’s normal for your body to ache, right? It’s normal to cry after a session… right?
We have already written about the dangers of over-exercising and how to spot the signs. But severe exhaustion, emotional volatility and a sudden apathy towards fitness are all red flags that you could be heading towards burnout.
But if it’s different for everyone, how do you know what’s a normal level of tired and what’s burnout? We asked fitness lovers who had been through it to tell us exactly how it felt for them.
‘It happens to me in stages,’ explains personal trainer Temi.
‘First I notice that I’m not so bothered about going to the gym. I really love the gym and training, and it’s a big hobby of mine, but when I’m suffering from burnout I start to slack – and that’s different from feeling low or sick.
‘The next stage is when I do workout, I don’t enjoy it. I slack off or skip exercises in my workout. And I don’t feel good after. I feel fatigued, irritable.
‘The final stage of burnout for me is active avoidance of the gym. I become unbothered about missing multiple sessions – either at the gym or at home.
‘I don’t want to go, and I tend to want to do something completely opposite to my usual training style — I’m a weight lifter, so my main training style is resistance with medium/heavy compound lifts for 8-10 reps.
‘When I’ve got burnout I’ll switch to higher amounts of cardio than is typical for me, or nothing at all.
‘To recover, I usually continue with the cardio and time off until I feel that drive and energy to get back into the gym.
‘Sometimes I’ll speak to other PT friends of mine and get them to write me a program. Removing myself from my own training and just being able to follow something also helps.’
And it isn’t only gym bunnies who are affected by burnout – runners can experience it too. Even season runners who are used to the rigours of long-distance training.
‘When I was training for my fifth marathon in 2017 I know I had burnout,’ explains Joanne.
‘I had trained up to about 16/17 miles from January to March, and then suddenly my body and mind just wasn’t in it anymore.
‘My love for running turned into a hatred – despite needing it for my mental health. I was getting upset whenever I went out running, and my body just shut down.
‘I just felt like I couldn’t run any more. My legs felt heavy and my mind was foggy.
‘Every run stopped being enjoyable, I was crying on a lot of them – even the long runs which I’m normally okay with, and I resented putting my trainers on. I even went and brought new trainers to see if that would help.
‘I remember I was about to set off to do a long run (17 miles or so) and I just burst into tears to my now husband, and said I can’t do it anymore. I couldn’t believe I was giving up.
‘Normally he would talk me out of it and say you can do it, knowing a run would help, but he knew this time I had to stop and told me I shouldn’t do the race.
‘I hate giving up, but he could see I wasn’t happy at all, with my running or mentally. I wanted to run again and feel like me, not like a zombie. I think I almost over-trained my body because I wanted to beat my marathon time way too much, I became obsessed with it.
‘I ended up deferring my marathon entry to the following year and completing it. I’m sure it was because my mental health was just so bad but also me putting too much pressure on my body to do the miles and to beat my time.’
How to spot the signs of burnout
You’re sore for days after the workout. We all expect a little of muscle pain after an intense workout, but normal pain lasts two to three days. If the pain lasts beyond the three days, it’s a good sign you are burnt out.
You’re moody. We are less tolerant of everything when we are tired. Even small thing can make us angrier then normal.
You can’t lift as heavy as usual or maintain a steady pace of cardio.
You can’t stop eating or you are constantly wanting to refuel. We don’t listen to our bodies when they are telling us it’s just too much.
Dorota Maslewska, master trainer at Virgin Active
‘I burnt out about four years ago,’ says Mel, a personal trainer and fitness instructor.
‘I was teaching six classes a week, working with a PT twice a week and getting up first thing in the morning to get additional workouts in.
‘I wasn’t resting enough between workouts, my sleep pattern was poor and my diet was all over the place so I had no energy.
‘This all boiled down to lack of experience – thank god I became a PT the following year – and pressure to look good because of my job.
‘How could I train others if I wasn’t in the “right shape” for a fitness professional? Thank god I educated myself through continuous education
‘For me, burnout felt like a combination of insomnia, low self esteem and pure exhaustion!
‘I lost the ability to focus and when I found out I couldn’t train due to an injury, I felt very low and for someone who suffers from depression, that wasn’t good at all.’
If these stories sound familiar – it might mean you have have burnout, or you’re close to it. There are ways to help yourself before you get to that lowest point – it’s all about spotting the signs and listening to your body.
We asked Dorota Maslewska, master trainer at Virgin Active for her advice on how overcome fitness burnout.
‘Burnout happens to the best of us. I know plenty of people who have hit a similar wall,’ explains Dorota.
How to deal with fitness burnout
Try something new to switch up routine or get a workout buddy. If you still want to get your heart rate up – go for a long walk or ride a bike through the park. Low intensity workouts are still very effective.
Figure out why it happened and look at the goal you are currently trying to achieve.
It will help you to find the solution if you take a detailed look at your activities over the past four weeks and assess how it can be tweaked. Is your goal realistic? Seek some professional help from a personal trainer or other fitness professional.
Monitor your progress. Every improvement matters. Whether It’s small or big, slow progress is better than no progress and you can understand how your training regime is impacting on these changes to your body.
Balance is the key. If you cancel all social events just so you can train , most likely you will experience burnout.
Rest is part of the program. It is one of the most important days. Your muscles need time to repair themselves and get stronger.
Make sure you sleep enough. It is recommended that you have eight hours sleep a day. Sleep helps keep your mind and body healthy and allows your body to repair.
Look at your diet. Are you fuelling your body in the right ways to maintain your training?
I am Team GB
Toyota has teamed up with Team GB to re-launch the hugely successful participation campaign ‘I am Team GB’.
Inspired by the achievements of Team GB athletes and the amazing efforts of local community heroes, Team GB has created ‘The Nation’s Biggest Sports Day’, which will take place on the 24thAugust.
Over the weekend, there will be hundreds of free and fun activities across the country, put on by an army of volunteers; the ‘I am Team GB Games Makers’.
To Join the Team and be part of The Nation’s Biggest Sports Day sign up at: www.IAmTeamGB.com
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