Do you find yourself frustrated with the gym, unable to get into a routine?
If you burn out on fitness after a while, you’re not alone.
I recently started working with a new client. He’s a cool guy, fun to work with, does what’s asked, and genuinely wants to improve his fitness. He’s going to do great.
But he’s making one major mistake with his fitness.
It’s a mistake a lot of people make when they join a gym.
In his zeal to get healthy and fit, he’s jumping the gun, diving in head-first, guns blazing. First thing after a two week long illness, he showed up at the gym for a one-hour boot camp class.
As his coach, it’s my job to temper his expectations; as a fitness writer, I must also temper your expectations.
You will not lose weight or drop to single-digit body fat levels over night. Whatever your physique goal, big or small, it will take time to achieve. Embrace the process.
My new client is so amped to get back to training that he’s ignoring the process. After two weeks of being ill, his body simply isn’t ready for a high intensity workout like boot camp. Coming off an illness, his recovery mechanisms are already running at full speed. An intense workout further taxes those mechanisms, making post-workout recovery take longer than usual.
If you go all-in at the gym after an illness, you could be shooting yourself in the foot.
You’re taking one step forward with your workout, and two steps backward when you fail to fully recover.
My advice is to ease back into your usual routine:
- Make time for a thorough warm up,
- Add extra mobility work,
- Lift lighter weights than usual,
- Focus on your lifting technique,
- Increase rest periods between exercises,
- Stick to lower-intensity cardio.
Listen to your body. If you feel amazing the day after your workout, take it up a notch at your next session. But you shouldn’t try to go full-blast when coming off an illness or absence from the gym.
This also applies to the “New Year resolution” crowd that floods the gym every January. They have the best intentions to work out 5-6 times each week, but usually burn out before February.
It’s easy to get discouraged if you cannot stick to the “ideal” target you set yourself.
Set reasonable expectations (ones you’re 99-100% confident you can achieve) and build from there. Two or three workouts are more manageable. And if you stick with a smaller goal, you’ll find it easier to build up to five or six workouts over time.
Some people are all or nothing. They go big or go home.
And I get that mentality – I’ve often approached my own fitness that way.
But I’ve learned from experience that slow and steady wins the fitness race.
There’s no prize for the person who gets out of the gate fastest but burns out before the finish line.
Here’s what to do instead.
- If you’re heading back to the gym after an extended absence: Commit to 2-3 sessions per week. I recommend going every other day (or every third day) so that your body has time to recover. Schedule those days in your calendar and stick to the scheduled appointments. After a month, increase your weekly exercise commitment by one day. Repeat until you’re satisfied with the number of workouts in your routine. This reinforces your exercise habit, allows time for recovery, and avoids burnout.
- If you were sick and took a couple days off: Wait until you’ve fully recovered before hitting the gym. Use your first workout to test the waters. Just get moving. Use lower weights and intensities, and focus on using proper technique. Drink plenty of fluids throughout the workout and get a full night of sleep afterward. Your body recently fought off an infection, it doesn’t need more stress right now.
- If injury forced you to take a break from training: Speak with a personal trainer or physical therapist. Most gym trainers offer free consultation sessions, and therapists will often give free evaluations. Ask a professional which exercises they recommend and learn how to properly perform those exercises. It’s worth your time (and money) to learn how to safely get back to the gym. There’s nothing worse than aggravating an old injury and having to take another break from exercise.
When it comes to fitness, remember to play the long game.
One workout won’t accomplish all your goals. Thinking you can power through by crushing yourself in the gym before you’re ready can backfire. Avoid temptation to “go so hard” on day one and fall into the “one step forward, two steps back” pattern. Build positive momentum one day at a time, and embrace the process.
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