4 Ways to Avoid Burnout With Your Exercise Routine

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Getting in shape is all about consistency with your exercise. Here are 4 ways to avoid burnout and stay on top of your game.

With over a decade as a personal trainer, I’ve come across a lot of quick fixes. Boot camps, 30 day challenges – you name it. These things all promise overnight success; the idea being that if you just work your tail off for a few weeks you’ll be in tip top shape for the rest of your life. I take no joy in bursting your bubble, but these extreme methods tend to over promise and under deliver.

For one, the word ‘extreme’ doesn’t mesh well with everyday life. Chances are you have deadlines, duties, and responsibilities, and trying to do a lifestyle overhaul in 21 days becomes more a wish than a reality. There’s also the chance of injury, which isn’t fun, along with suffering from burnout.

Burnout is where most clients suffer. I see it all too often: people bust their humps and throw everything, including the kitchen sink, at their workouts. Then comes the soreness, the fatigue, and then apathy. Even without the extreme approach, very little thought is given to how to balance things out to steer clear of feeling exhausted.

A meta-analysis tracked subject’s weight loss and weight regain over a year, and what they found was not promising. Most people have trouble sticking with exercise: even in a controlled setting with supervision, the average drop-out rate was 20% (1). None of these studies lasted a year; in fact, one was only 3 months. At that rate, you’re 80% likely to give up by the end of the year.

Here’s an interesting tidbit from that study: the average weight regain was at 50% (1). That means that subjects dropped some pounds, and then regained half of the weight by years end (even with regular check ins).

So sticking with this exercise thing is tough business. Quick fixes aren’t going to work – you need a plan that’s smart and something you’ll stick to. That old adage of “you don’t use it, you lose it” sums up the science. Plan on exercising as long as you’re breathing. That could mean a few more decades of working out. I know that sounds like quite a commitment, and it is, but you just need to implement strategies to make sure you’re avoiding the dreaded burn out. Here’s how.

  1. Use a deload

A deload is when you take a planned break from training (usually 1 week). This means you’re giving your body a rest while not totally ditching on this whole fitness thing. The easiest way to do it is to simply cut your training volume in half. If you run 20 miles a week, bring it down to 10. Perform 4 sets of each exercise in the weight room? Just do two.

You’re workouts will be very brief but that’s the point: you’re basically recharging your batteries to prevent a total breakdown.

  1. Sleep!

Sometimes it’s not the training that gets you, but life in general. The most overlooked aspect of health is that of good sleep hygiene. It’s pretty easy to skip workouts when you’re running on three hours of sleep. A meta-analysis examined the sleep habits of subjects aged 2 to 105 years and found a consistent pattern: those who slept 5 hours or less a night had a considerable risk for becoming obese (2).

I’ve talked to great lengths about how to get good sleep, but the best tip I can give you is to just go to bed. Shut off the TV, ignore your phone, and actually go to bed.

  1. Set a PR Each Workout

One of the best ways to stick with exercise is to see results. Sure, you’d love nothing more than to see washboard abs staring at you in the mirror after just one workout, but that’s not reasonable. What is sensible is the idea that you can accomplish just a little bit more than you did with your last trip to the gym.

It’s called the 2% rule: do one more rep or shave 3 seconds off that mile time. Focus on the smallest progress possible. Little things add up to big changes.

  1. Less is More

Things can go a little haywire when people try to workout on their own. No, you don’t need to spend hours a day on the treadmill to lose weight. Trying to gain muscle doesn’t require five different bench press variations.

There’s a concept in sports medicine called training economy; this basically means picking the most bang for your buck things and nothing else. In all honesty, most people need three to five 45 minute workouts spread throughout the week. Yes, some need more, but those are the exceptions, not the rule.

The next time you workout, set a timer for 30 minutes. That’s all you get for your session. Take note of how much time you spend on the phone (hopefully very little). You’ll also be surprised at how much effort you put into what you’re doing, since you don’t have time to screw around. After thirty minutes, you’ll probably come to a revelation: 30 minutes of a no nonsense approach to your workouts will give you far more results, while leaving you feeling fresh for your next session, than marathon long sessions on the bench press.


1.Curioni, CC. Lourenco, PM. “Long Term Weight Loss After Diet and Exercise: A Systematic Review” (2005) International Journal of Obesity. 29, 1168-1174

  1. Capuccio, FP, et al. “Meta-Analysis of Short Sleep Duration and Obesity in Children and Adults” (2008) Sleep Vol 31;5. 619-626
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