When Your Workouts Aren’t Working…

Training has been an interesting affair recently.  I’ve started changing things up a bit when I realized I was on the verge of burning out.  Burnout is, in my case, usually a result of some combination of the following:

  • too much stress – physical, mental, or otherwise
  • too little/poor quality rest – including sleep and restorative practices such as prayer, meditation, etc.
  • boredom or lack of “fire” – when I’ve lost interest in or become frustrated with my workouts due to lack of engagement, lack of progress, or both

All of the above, along with a couple of physical issues (hey there, granny-knees), gave me good reason to change up my training.  I did this kind of crazy thing were I stopped planning so much and just did whatever I felt like in the gym.

I went swimming, did bodyweight workouts, used TRX, practiced burpees and ladder drills and planks. I slept more and foam-rolled more, and I worked out a little less. Heck, I even tried some yoga.


And after a coule weeks like this, I feel so much better physically, mentally, and emotionally.  Taking the pressure off of myself to stick with a specific training program (when I’m not obligated to; I’m not training for an event, after all) was incredibly freeing. That alone took a lot of stress out of my life.  As for the physical stuff, I didn’t gain weight. I didn’t lose strength. I don’t feel or look any “fluffier.” This whole experiment also forced me to look at my training and ask myself, “Why?”

Why do I train?

Why do I train the way I do?

Why do I spend so much damn time and mental energy on all this?

I realized…I train because I want to be healthy and I want to lean out.  But I spend (or spent) the hours that I do in the I do in the gym because…well, it’s what I’ve done for years, and if I ever stopped or changed what I was doing, I’d blow up like a pufferfish at a buffet dinner.  Except, when I finally changed things up, I didn’t blow up.

This is nuts.

I think that general mindset is probably pretty common among fitness enthusiasts: Do as much as possible in the gym, because it’s good for you, and constantly be increasing your training intensity/frequency/volume.   That was my idea.  And it was stupid.  

Many of us are training for health – not for a competition, not for an event, not for a race, not for a sport – but we act like the Olympic gold is at stake.  I’ll be the first one to say that exercise is necessary and that our bodies require healthy movement and physical challenges (and rest!)…but that “healthy movement” (training) doesn’t necessarily look the same.  Think of professionals: Peyton Manning trains differently than Patrick Willis who trains differently than Richard Sherman, and they all train differently than Kobe and LeBron and Garnett and Nowitzki (and none of their training styles are exactly the same).  They train differently because their training serves their needs.  And I think sometimes we get caught up trying to match our training to other people’s needs.  I know my training had stopped matching my needs long ago (I just took my sweet time doing something about it).

Training is supposed to serve us.  You should not be a slave to your training program.   Your goals and health needs should dictate how you work out and the specific exercises you employ and how much time you dedicate to the gym.  In a culture that is obsessed with increasing productivity (which is not a bad thing!), it’s easy to forget that there is a definite point of diminishing returns in fitness.  After awhile, the extra time spent at the gym becomes a waste rather than an investment.

In my case, it took yet another case of burnout for me to not just scale things back a bit, but also to reexamine my priorities and goals.  I’m no longer the obsessive 17 year-old who was convinced she need to put in 2+ hours each day at the gym to keep from getting fat.  Not only are my goals different (Kate-Moss-level-skinny isn’t really my thing these days…), I know better.  As much as I enjoy my workouts -and I do consider health a major priority – I know that my fitness goals don’t require what I’ve been putting in. Moreover, I have more important things in my life than exercise.  If I can achieve the same level of health and fitness while freeing up more time for other priorities, why wouldn’t I do that?

I’ve been spending a lot of time reevaluating what my specific fitness goals are, and what type of enjoyable training will help me to achieve that…and I’m not done yet.   I’d encourage yall to do the same.  Many of you are probably in the same boat I was/am in – we’re spending more time at the gym than we need to, and that’s costing us precious hours that could be dedicated to other goals: making professional advances, investing in relationships, developing hobbies, serving other people, going on adventures, writing, reading, hiking, traveling, cooking, studying, laughing, photographing, singing, dancing, surfing, relaxing, playing….

rainy run

After a 3 mile run in the pouring rain. It was a bit of good for my heart, but my SOUL needed it even more.

You are not a slave to your workouts.  Put your current training program to a performance review, and make whatever changes need to be made.  Your time is precious, so make sure that every minute you spend training is serving your goals.  Make your training serve you.  Life is too short to be spend most of it in the gym.


4 thoughts on “When Your Workouts Aren’t Working…

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