4 Stages of Exercise Burnout — And How to Avoid Them

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Classic sign: You're determined to slip into a size 6 by Valentine's Day, so you never miss a workout.

Burnout buster: Take a less-is-more approach. Burnout happens when you expect too much too soon. "Balance your excitement with the big picture," says Rob DeStefano, D.C., author of Muscle Medicine. "Even with the smartest, most effective workout program, you still can't force your body to become stronger or slimmer any faster than it physiologically can." Start with the lowest reps, sets, and weights. "It's better to do too little in the beginning than too much, so you don't exceed your ability to recover mentally or physically," he says.


Classic sign: Your excitement fades when you don't see results right away. You stop looking forward to gym time and start skipping workouts.

Burnout buster: Set mini goals. "One major reason for dropping out is the failure to meet goals and expectations, especially within the first six months of starting an exercise program," says Mark H. Anshel, Ph.D., professor of health and human performance at Middle Tennessee State University. Short-term goals that focus on the process (like time spent exercising) are more likely to boost your confidence and keep you on track than longterm outcome goals (say, total number of pounds lost).


Classic sign: Boredom and apathy override your commitment and motivation. You'll use almost anything — work, family, stress, the weather — as an excuse to skip exercise.

Burnout buster: Make a change. Use a different piece of cardio equipment or work out in a different part of the gym. "I don't let myself get bored," says Beverly Ratcliff, a private trainer in New York City and London. "I may incorporate plyometrics into my workouts, then in three weeks I'll change to endurance runs or high-repetition work with free weights. I always give my body something new so that it never has a chance to adapt."

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Classic sign: Exercise slides from your list of top priorities. You want to throw in the towel (there's always next year).

Burnout buster: Make a schedule and stick to it for at least five weeks. A study in Health Psychology reports that it takes new exercisers that long to make their sessions a habit. Or make a date — with a trainer, your guy, or your best friend. "Peer pressure can be a great motivator," says Ratcliff. "You're more likely to stay on track when someone is holding you accountable."