Workout burnout is a common problem for the avid exerciser. Effects can be as simple as lethargy or not seeing results and as serious as severe injury and organ failure.
In other words, we should not take burnout lightly—and we should take the warning signs seriously. So, let's chat.
What is workout burnout?
All physical activity can lead to burnout. Burnouts can appear in different forms: physical or emotional, routine/fitness plateau, and adrenal gland fatigue.
Some of the more high-intensity methods that are popular in the fitness arena today—such as HIIT, SoulCycle, and CrossFit—tend to lead to burnout because of the intensity level and because many consumers make it their only outlet.
These styles do have many wonderful benefits, but when done daily—or most days of the week—burnout can occur with risk of injury, adrenal fatigue, or a more serious condition called rhabdomyolysis.
How do I know whether I'm suffering from workout burnout?
Because our minds and bodies process stress differently, there isn't an easy answer.
So start by asking yourself these questions:
- Do I train too much?
- Do I train hard every time I exercise?
- Have I been more moody or irritable than usual?
- Have I been injured, or remained injured, for the last few months (three or more)?
- Have I been working out hard but not getting the results I would expect for the effort I have put in?
- Have I been feeling less hungry lately?
- Do I often I have an excessively dry mouth?
- Have I been feeling less confident?
- Have I been unusually tired lately?
- Am I as excited about my workout as I once was?
If you want to get more serious about it, there are also medical tests you can ask your doctor to conduct. For example, take a blood for creatine kinase (to detect muscle inflammation), potassium levels, and kidney and liver function. You can also take your own resting heart rate first thing in the morning, before getting out of bed, to see if it is elevated.
Yeah, I'm suffering from workout burnout. What are the consequences?
To understand the consequences of workout burnout, think of someone with career-related burnout. What comes to mind when you think of them? They're probably lethargic and sad. They go to work every day, but they're no longer growing or improving in their position. They may even be depressed.
Workout burnout has similar consequences. You may become tired and/or uninterested in working out, which causes you to fall off your plan. You may keep training at this level or style, and your body plateaus.
Therefore, it stops producing significant results. Training at a high intensity without breaks could lead to various levels of injuries and take an extra-long time to heal. Worse yet, kidney failure and cardiac arrest are extreme effects of burnout.
So, what should I do? And how can I avoid future burnout?
As a trainer for over a decade, it has been my job to keep my clients fit and healthy to help them avoid the burnout pitfall. This is not an easy task, especially when one finds oneself addicted to the high of working out.
When it comes to recovering from burnout and preventing it in the future, the first step is to take an active recovery day. In order to help muscles heal, I like to encourage light activities that encourage blood flow in sore areas.
I recently teamed up with integrative medicine practitioner Dr. Jim Nicolai to launch the ZenFitness30 Method, a 30-minute invigorating workout created to energize, and engage, the mind, body, and spirit through a series of movements derived from yoga, Pilates, and active meditation techniques.
This program complements any existing fitness routine and serves as an accessible starting point for those interested in developing a more active, healthy lifestyle. The beauty of the practice is that it can be done anywhere—on a busy street, on your way to work, even in a crowded mall. You don't need tools, just a few tips and tricks the method provides.
Next, make sure to mix it up. The body plateaus at between 6 and 12 weeks, which is why I advise clients to change up their routine every three months. If you have a die-hard workout you love, I'm not saying you should give that up! Just change up your cross-training modality. Add in yoga, hiking, or a martial arts class two or three days a week. This will shock your system and you will continue to see physical improvements in your body/
Last but not least, please rest. Try to take off one or two days per week, and take a full week off once to twice a year, especially if you have that one workout you absolutely love, such as running. You will come back so much stronger. I see it again and again: A client goes on vacation, they don't work out for a week, and they return to me strong, clear-eyed, and rejuvenated.
Juliet Kaska is a Los Angeles-based NASM-certified personal trainer, fitness expert, and wellness coach. Her studios have been a favorite of the Hollywood elite for over a decade; including Karlie Kloss, Madonna, Jessica Alba, Pink and more. Juliet is also a brand spokesperson for Vionic Footwear.