Avoiding Fitness Burnout: A 2-Step Approach That Will Get You Lasting Results


Most of us are pretty impatient. When we decide that we want something, we tend to want it now and are ready to do whatever it takes.

This can be a good thing since a little impatience can be a great motivator to take action. However, it can also lead to taking on too much, which is often what happens when it comes to getting in shape.

Many people are motivated to see big changes happen quickly so they dive in with grueling workouts every single day. “No pain, no gain!”

While their intentions are in the right place, this sort of “all in” attitude isn’t sustainable and often leads to burnout, then quitting altogether. Here is a 2-step approach that will help you avoid fitness burnout and will keep you on track for better long-term results.

Step 1. Set Goals That Allow You to Become a Master

An “all in” approach often leads to setting unrealistic goals. Many of the clients I’ve worked with do this when it comes to exercise: “I haven’t exercised in 5 years but I’m ready to start going to the gym every day.”

Aggressive goal setting like this often leads to failure. Someone who hasn’t exercised in years is almost certainly not going to be able to sustain a 7-day-per-week workout routine. Then, when they fail to stay on-track it can be easy to feel discouraged: “Maybe I’m just not cut out to be in shape? This exercise stuff doesn’t work for me.”

It is much more effective to set goals that allow for mastery. Mastery is the knowledge or ability to do something very well. It feels good to master something and it can be motivating to want even more.

That’s why a goal like, “I haven’t exercised in a while so I commit to doing it twice every week for the next month” can be so helpful. This goal is achievable, and when it is reached it signifies that exercise is possible. Mastery just happened!

Think about your long-term fitness goals. What smaller goal can you set to achieve within the next 4 weeks that gives you an opportunity for mastery?

Once you achieve success in this one area you can choose a new stepping-stone to aim for. After reaching several of these mastery goals, you will have made tremendous progress towards your long-term goal. You will become a master!

Step 2. Prioritize Your Own Enjoyment In the Process

Earlier I mentioned the “No pain, no gain” motto that many people believe to be true. Yes, some “pain” during exercise might indicate that you’re working hard, but is pain what you’re really hoping to achieve?

Avoiding pain is much more appealing and is actually hard-wired into our brains. Instinctively we want to survive, be safe, and feel comfortable. The idea that getting in shape requires complete sacrifice and so much discomfort is a recipe for failure.

I often get asked what workout is best for someone who wants to burn fat. My answer is always the same: “The one that you will actually do.”

You could have the best workout routine prepared by the world’s greatest fitness expert, but if it is something that you dread doing, how long do you think you’ll last on the program? (I wouldn’t last more than a week!)

In contrast, when you find a form of exercise that you actually look forward to doing, this is when compliance sets in and new habits are formed. When you like doing something, you do it.

For example, many people find that exercise is too time-consuming. This might be true if their definition of exercise is an hour-long workout at the gym. Add in commuting time, getting changed, and then traveling back home afterwards and the whole process might be close to 2 hours. This time commitment could quickly lead to exercise burnout.

That’s fine – Why not try doing 15-minute workouts at home? The benefits of quick bursts of exercise have been proven many times, and if this quick workout format is something you enjoy, it is much more likely to actually happen.

Or maybe it’s the type of exercise that has gotten you down in the past. Lifting weights or going for a run just isn’t your cup of tea.

Again, that’s okay – What would you like to do instead? Cycling, swimming, rock climbing, dancing, playing sports, or doing any other physical activity is perfect. When you enjoy the activity there is much less chance of burnout and much greater chance that you will start seeing long-term results!

Dave Smith
Dave Smith is a certified personal trainer who was chosen as “Canada’s Top Fitness Professional” in 2013. He works with clients worldwide using the Total Coaching training platform, and also writes, speaks, and podcasts regarding all things health-related. Learn more or connect with Dave at makeyourbodywork.com.