Do You Recognize The Five Early Warning Signs Of Exercise Burnout?



Yes, you can workout too much.  Particularly when combined with the typical demands of modern society – long commutes, stressful jobs, financial pressures, family obligations, subpar nutrition, and inadequate sleep patterns.  A taxing exercise program can actually be a detriment unless it is complemented with intermittent recovery periods.  Which of the following early warning signs of exercise burnout do you recognize in yourself?

Do You Recognize The Signs Of Exercise Burnout?

#1 Your Numbers Have Not Only Plateaued, They Have Gone DOWN!

If you are lifting less weight or less reps than you used to, you might be looking at burnout.  If you are taking longer to complete specific drills (you are slower) then you might be looking at burnout.  This is why keeping a workout journal is crucial.  You can always look back at previous performance and make an educated guess about what it affecting your training.

#2 You Are Irritable AFTER Your Training

I notice this one in myself more than any of the other warning signs.  We all go into a workout stressed on occasion.  But when after the workout you feel just as irritable as when you started, or worse – MORE irritable, you might be headed for burnout.

#3 You Cannot Focus On The Task At Hand

Sure we all can get distracted from time to time in even the best of conditions (attractive members of our preferred gender in tight workout clothes tend to do that to us).  But when you can’t separate your deadlift from your dry cleaning, you have a problem.  Not only will your workout be complete shit, you are running the risk of injuring yourself.  Speaking of injury. . .

#4 You Injure Yourself Doing A Routine Movement

You’ve been squatting for years without any problems and then one day on a warm up set you tweak your back.  And you tweak it bad.  Injuring yourself on a lift you’ve done hundreds if not thousands of times with sub-maximal loads is a sure sign that you are approaching burnout.  Hell, let’s face it, you are burnt out at that point.

#5 Your Motivation Is In The Toilet

You have zero desire to exercise.  You do it only because years of being in the gym have it ingrained into your very being.  And worse yet, you don’t want to take the time off to get the rest you need.  Just thinking about being away from the gym makes you feel guilty.  As hard as it may seem, you need rest more than you need the training.  Take a week off and see how refreshed you feel.

Ebbs and flows are part of the natural cycles of all life.  Whether it’s the rise and fall of the tides or the wax and wane of the moon, periods of effort are always complimented by recovery in nature.  Despite all of our technological advances, we humans are no different.  Yes, train hard but compliment that training with appropriate recovery periods.

What are some things you notice when approaching training overload?  What do you do about it?  Let me know in the comments below.

Do You Recognize The Five Early Warning Signs Of Exercise Burnout?
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Do You Recognize The Five Early Warning Signs Of Exercise Burnout?
Yes, you can workout too much. Particularly when combined with the typical demands of modern society – long commutes, stressful jobs, financial pressures, family obligations, subpar nutrition, and inadequate sleep patterns.
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Gym Junkies
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  1. Another one you might add (not really as number 6, more like 4.2 or 4.b) You get sick easier. If you’re the type of person who never really gets sick easily, and suddenly you catch a cold, it might be a sign you’ve pushed your body a little too far and need to pump the brakes, at least until the cold passes. (Besides, don’t get everyone else sick.)

  2. Vic, good article and great points. I experienced #2 pretty bad last year at the end of a very intense 60 day HIIT-like program. I was grouchy all day, quick to snap, and my girlfriend complained that I was being neglectful as I just couldn’t get in the mood. When I finished I had to take 2 full weeks off with zero exercise before I finally felt fresh enough to work again.

  3. totally agree you should push yourself, but not too hard!

    If your body says rest, then rest!

    It’s nice to be given permission tho, so reading your comments made me nod and smile 😉

    Tusc 🙂

  4. Really like this post, dude!

    I think many people just aren’t in touch with their own physiology …

    Giving them some simple, easy to detect, preliminary signs for burnout is a good way to help them start to re-connect with their bodies.

    I NEVER have any of the problems you’ve listed. And I think that’s because I sense them WAY in advance and take steps to prevent them before they have a measurable effect.


  5. I do plan “active rests” after a 6 week program. I drop my sets and reps, but keep the weight the same. Training becomes more fun.

    HOWEVER, my diet and nutrition is where I battle the feelings of overtraining and even what Brandon talked about: getting sick easy. I combat this with a secret weapon –> 1 Tables spoon of Black Strap Molasses prep and a Table spoon of Cod Liver Oil. If the training is hard, I do it 5 times per week. If I’m backing off, only 2 or 3.

    Diet plays a big role in overtraining. Nothing wrong with just OVEREATING for 2 or 3 days to just let the body/mind/spirit heal from extreme dedication.


  6. hi Vic, I’d like to play devil’s advocate and point something out – burnout almost always becomes an excuse for us not exercising. some days are harder than others, and we should not back out of those days. if you can’t lift as heavy, then by all means, please drop the weight down! we need to listen to our bodies when it comes to lifting and pushing ourselves, but you can’t always attribute a niggling – or huge – sense of lethargy and unwillingness to exercise to burnout. very few people actually overtrain, and I’d recommend people make sure they’re eating enough and, more importantly, sleeping enough to fuel their exercise and training!

    yes, burnout may occur. but I see much misdiagnosis nowadays. CNS fatigue, overtraining, tiredness… sometimes, these may just be made up to more than what they are. if it’s really burnout and you find yourself lethargic all day, then by all means, take a break! but very few people actually push themselves enough to experience anything close to burnout! proper quality rest and nutrition should be prioritized and you might find yourself actually zipping around as good as new!

  7. This really hits home for me. Thanks for sharing the list. The biggest one for me would be #1 with the numbers leveling off.

  8. Hey Vic,

    A very important message here – thanks!

    I have to agree that number 2 being irritable AFTER your training is my primary indicator too – I usually feel on top of the world post workout, so it’s so obvious when things are going slightly wrong.

    I also think that WHEN you decide to exercise can impact your post workout feeling and we all have unique peak times depending on our lifestyles. I wrote about the pros and cons of morning/night sessions:

    Hope others find the ideas useful…


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