Training Q & A: How to Avoid Burnout

If you're regularly feeling unmotivated to train, it's time to assess if you're close to burnout.

Q: I'm a competitive, self-coached athlete and I'd like to be able to carry more of my high-intensity fitness over from year to year, but it seems that I rarely make it through a season without getting some burned-out period. This year I tried a different approach that seemed to help. There were some days that I would go out to do a particular interval and would not want to do the intervals at all. Sometimes I would skip the intervals or instead of skipping the intervals that day, I would do a different type of interval that would be shorter (more intense) or longer (less intense) than the one I had planned. What do you think of my strategy and how can I prevent burnout?



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A: It is tough to push your personal performance to the edge without risking some sort of burnout. Good for you for backing off and going easy, or taking the day off when you just don't feel like doing the workout.

You asked about your strategy for changing the intervals. If the intervals you do as substitutes for others are still aligned with your goals, the strategy is fine. If you are changing just to change, you may not get the performance results you planned for when you designed the workout.

If you are a self-coached athlete that tends to do the same workouts over and over again, you may be bored rather than burned out. Look for new workouts that are designed to help you achieve your goals.

More: On the Verge of Cycling Burnout?

Feeling burned out or not having the desire to train is a signal that you are heading for trouble. It's important to watch for clues to avoid negating all the training you've already put in. One clue can be found in assessing your desire to train. Rate your motivation on a scale of 1 to 10—with 10 being "highly motivated." If the honest answer is no, consider taking a day or two off.

More clues lie in tracking the time you spend in various heart-rate zones—as related to pace or power output. Just tracking time in power zones or at particular paces may not indicate when you are heading for trouble, but witnessing a power drop during a given heart rate is a clue you may need some rest.

More: 4 Stages of Exercise Burnout and How to Avoid Them

I think the trickiest clues are associated with non-training related activities, making it important to track how "real life" affects training. Elements like stress, family, work, holidays, money and friends all have an effect on your energy levels. If life is draining your energy bank account, you may have to back off your training. I often find that people under a lot of stress can handle less hours and fewer stressful workouts than people that have relatively stress-free lives.

For some people, getting low-level injuries or illnesses are messages from the body that it's carrying too much stress. An ill or injured athlete will never reach his or her full potential.

Keep an eye on your workout paces, power, heart rate, stress levels, motivation to train and your overall health. These key areas can warn you when you're heading for trouble.

More: 9 Post-Ride Recovery Rituals

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