Burned Out But Not Broken

By: Jed Blanton

Bored? Not getting the results you want? Thinking about throwing away your training shoes? You could be facing a psychological state known as burnout. With a few twists, you can get recharged and avoid leaving your exercise routine behind.

Burnout is generally related to a particular part of our routine and tends to emerge when we experience more stress than we bargained for, or when the results don’t seem worth the effort. This state of mind is characterized by feeling unmotivated, dreading your workout, and feelings of “I must” or “I should” rather than “I want” when it comes to a certain task. I like to think of burnout as realizing your bicycle isn’t working quite right, and instantly assuming it’s not worth fixing when all it really needs is some chain lube and maybe a set of new tires. Burnout is the mental state in which everything seems to be going wrong, and the idea of working on a task at hand seems boring, without value or purpose, or just plain painful.

We may not know when we are “burned out”, but most people can recognize the warning signs. If you are really exhausted, a little bored, or if even the thought of hitting the trail or gym is immediately followed by fatigue and dread, you could be entering a state of burnout—but don’t worry. To a certain extent, most people experience some form of burnout with many things, and the feeling can come and go. What’s most important is to identify the markers of burnout and then implement changes to avoid completely succumbing to burnout and giving up on your exercise.

Tips for working past burnout:

  1. Take a break! If you want to reach your best, take a rest. Fighting through will only make it worse.
  2. Find a new workout partner who is not as fit as you—focusing your attention on helping a friend can make the workout experience entirely about them rather than you, but you’ll still get a decent workout in.
  3. Accept a new challenge—attempt to work out with someone who you think is in much better shape, enter a race with obstacles (such as the Tough Mudder or Warrior Dash), or enter your first triathlon—remember that the results don’t matter, it’s all about the process.
  4. Change your routine—try a new fitness class, trade your road wheels for some fat tires and hit the trails, rent a kayak, drive out of town and cruise a new route, or even join a new gym. My favorite: start a running club from your favorite pub and meet for drinks after an evening run.
  5. Become a child—when we were young, sports were games, and they were fun. As adults, we have matured and now think that our behaviors need to lead us to some goal, losing focus on having fun for the sake of fun itself. Our goals become law, and we fret about failing, which makes the entire experience stressful.
  6. Reward yourself—I’m not suggesting that you eat a pint of ice cream after EVERY workout, but a little dose of something sweet at the end of a tough week can help you to keep moving. Schedule a massage or go out for a steak dinner if you get all your workouts in this week, without consequences for how “well” you think you did them.

What it all boils down to is the need for some level of change. Burnout is caused by stress associated with a behavior, and all too often, we force that stress upon ourselves when it comes to our workouts. Whether it’s a change of scenery, goals, or taking a little break to re-adjust our focus, the most important thing is to focus on the process of our activity, and not the results. Feel good about just getting out the door, take pride in the effort, and let the results come as they may. Burnout is not the end of the world, just a bike in need of a new tire or two.

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  1. […] great staff over at Outdoor Athlete has been helping me to reach endurance sport athletes in the Michigan area. Recently they published […]



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