From Workout Burnout to Workout Churn-out

Friends, I am a runner.  What’s more, I am one of those annoying runner-people who everyone loves to hate – someone who genuinely loves to lace up her shoes and hit the pavement or trail, and who loves to talk about it with anyone and everyone who will listen (sorry I’m not sorry).  I typically get excited about going for a run right about 20 minutes after I’ve finished my last run.  I love running fast.  I understand the need to run slow.  And I will run through all the elements – sun, rain, snow, humidity, sweltering heat and even subzero temperatures, though I definitely wouldn’t recommend that last one.  For me, there’s something magical, even spiritual, about moving my body and exploring the beauty of the outdoors on foot.  I guess you can say that running is my happy place.

But friends, can I get real with you for a minute?

Lately, bringing myself to exercise is straight-up hard work.

After a few solid years of consistently training and running road races, something has shifted and I find myself really struggling to stay motivated in my fitness routine.  It’s like I’ve completely burned out on fitness.

I think this kind of thing happens to a lot of us – at least I hope I’m not alone – and for a whole host of different reasons.  Maybe you’ve been incredibly busy with a project at work, and getting to the gym after a long day requires more energy than you have left to give.  Maybe you started a new fitness regimen a few months back but you’ve since plateaued, and now you’re struggling to decide what to try next.  Or maybe you’re a new mom, and the thought of dragging your exhausted mommy-self to the gym feels both intimidating and unrealistic.

For me, it was a perfect storm of striving for perfection in too many areas – my job, my running, my relationships, and even my yoga practice – that completely burned me out and threw me into a fitness rut.

So here I am, a girl who loves to run, who has been active in some form of athletics since she was about 4 years old, struggling to fight off my inner couch potato.  I need to pull myself out of this and rediscover the joy of exercising again.  But how?

How do we pull ourselves out of a fitness rut?

For me, exercise is largely about joy.  Like I said, I genuinely LOVE to run.  But somewhere in the middle of all the training schedules and nutrition strategies and races, running stopped being about joy and started being about achievement.  It’s still a balance I struggle to maintain, but I have found that the best way to get myself moving again has been to bring the joy back to my workouts.  I’ve done that in a few key ways.

Exercise with friends.  Some of my best workouts have less to do with intensity and more to do with company.  I have a coworker who loves to run in the morning, which is a practice I generally avoid, but every time I meet her for a morning run before work, I’m always glad I did.  Her company makes the run enjoyable, she encourages me to run faster and farther than I would have otherwise, and I’m always thrilled by the freedom that I find in my schedule later in the evening.  Working out with friends always brings the joy of running back to me.

So call up some friends!  Ask them to meet you for a workout.  It could be for a sweat session at the gym, a fitness class you’ve been meaning to try, or maybe even a pick-up soccer game at your local park.  Regardless of what you choose, find yourself a community of like-minded people and leverage them.  Not only will working out with a group add some fun to your routine, but it may also provide encouragement and accountability to show up, which might just get you off the couch and back on your feet.

Make your workouts feel like playtime.  That’s right, playtime is for adults, too.  Whenever I’m really struggling to find the energy and motivation to exercise, I tend to rely on workouts that I know are fun, playful, and even challenging.  Sometimes that means adding an abs workout challenge at the end of a short run to engage my competitive side.  I’ll turn on an upbeat song and challenge myself to complete mountain climbers or bicycles until the song ends.  With a favorite song playing in the background, it often feels more like a dance party than an ab workout.  On days when I have less energy or plan on completing a longer run, I might choose a less intense challenge, like practicing headstand in my kitchen or a few sun salutations in my living room.

What you choose doesn’t need to be elaborate.  You just need to change it up enough to get yourself excited about working out again.  Find those things that work best for you – that make you feel like a little kid at playtime again – and use them to draw yourself back into a fitness routine that may be lacking in luster.

Crank up the tunes.  I’ve mentioned it briefly already, but music can be a powerful motivator.  You know how you feel when you’re driving in the car and your favorite song comes on the radio?  We’ve all been there, and we all know how good it can feel – how the right song at the right time can completely elevate your mood.  Why not recreate that feeling during your workout?

I use a variety of playlists depending on the type of workout I need.  I have a go-to playlist for long, slow runs and a super upbeat playlist for tempo runs or speedwork.  I have a quiet, grounding playlist for restorative yoga, but use a very different playlist for my power practice.  Worried that you don’t have the time to make your own playlist?  There’s an app for that!  If you don’t have it already, you can download Spotify for free on your phone, tablet, or computer.  You can use Spotify to create your own playlists, or choose one of the many playlists that they’ve created already.  And a bonus for all the runners out there – Spotify just launched a new running feature that automatically selects music for you based on your running pace.  It’s the perfect combination of tunes to keep you motivated and moving consistently on your run.  And in case you’re wondering, it’s awesome.

Stay strong, friends.

If you’re struggling with your fitness routine right now, I just want to encourage you not to give up.  Even the strongest athletes struggle with burnout.  Try to remember how good exercising makes you feel, then try one of my strategies above, or develop a system that works best for you.  But no matter what you do, remember that exercise is about making positive choices to enhance your overall health and well being.  Know that some days, the best choice for your overall health and well being may actually be rest.  And if that’s the case, I encourage you to do exactly that.

Working out should never be a punishment.

Working out should be fun and exciting; it shouldn’t feel like a chore.  With the right balance, exercise can become another tool to help you become your happiest, healthiest self.  Look for the joy in your workouts.  Find out what works for you, then go to that.

Have you experienced workout burnout but managed to bounce back?  Leave a comment below and share how you lost and rekindled your love for fitness.

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About the author


    I’m a country girl at heart, navigating life in the city with my amazing husband. With a passion for learning and teaching, I can’t wait to share my experiences in health, wellness, and life with you.

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