Burnout

It’s spring and you’ve been training (or at least exercising) since January. You get up every day, go into the gym, bust through the workout. The problem is, you’re just not that psyched to train right now. Plus, it’s getting so nice out…

Burnout. It’s not a pretty word is it? Brings to mind glassy-eyed, nappy-haired, poorly-dressed, disaffected hippies living in vans who try to bilk honest folk like you and me out of a free cup of coffee. This could be you if you don’t get it together.

Building lasting motivation is a tall order. We’re used to having things come to us easily and in short intervals. Think about it. You’re hungry. How long would it take you to find a snack? 3 minutes? 2? How about a sweatshirt? How long would it take you to find something warm to put on if you were a little chilly? When something takes a long time or a lot of work, it’s hard for most of us to saddle up.

The #1 cause of burnout is a lack of discernible progress toward a goal. I always like to equate training to saving money – we don’t care nearly as much about our health as our wallets, so the examples are better. Until you’ve saved and invested money for a long time, you don’t really see the payoffs. It can be 20 or 25 years before you start seeing the magic of compounding interest. And unless you see beyond the short term pain of not spending every dime when it comes into your hand, you’ll never even get to worry about your interest actually making you substantial funds.

Exercise is much the same way. We have athletes that work weeks and weeks to get one second faster in a 10k. Or how about the guy that spent over a year trying to eek out just one more pull-up? Sometimes, the small gains take the most work. And keep in mind that beating back burnout is usually a huge key to making progress.

Here are a few handy little tips to keep you from jumping on the burnout wagon this summer:

1. Set smaller goals. Big goals are fun to think about, but they can be pretty overwhelming when you’re only getting there 1% at a time. Say you’re trying to lose 50 pounds. That’s a whole lot of weight (mentally) to carry around. So instead of fixating on that number, try for a pound a week. This smaller chunk is easier to believe in.

2. Halve your training volume for a few weeks. Don’t stop exercising! Plan to lift just as hard, run just as fast, and  keep up the intensity of your exercise in all other respects. Just cut each workout straight in half time-wise. You’ll be surprised how much fitness you don’t lose.

3. Set divergent goals. Back to your 50 pounds; what if you had some completely different goals to focus on? Maybe you could aim to learn a new recipe each week. Try to get to where you can ride your bike for an hour without stopping. Do one new exercise each day. It doesn’t matter what you choose, as long as it supports your big goal.

4. Turn your routine upside-down. That’s right, do it backward. Do the last exercises first. Do ten sets of three instead of three sets of ten. Run in the evenings instead of the mornings. You get the idea. The bottom line is that you’ve got to keep the ball rolling, but you don’t have to (nor should you) stick to the same thing.

The worst thing you can do is quit. Going back to money – sometimes you don’t have much and sometimes you have enough, but you never just quit using the stuff. You have got to keep earning it. Fitness is just the same.

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