Understanding with Physical and Mental Symptoms of Burnout

Exercise Burnout

Never Use the Same Exercise Day after Day

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So you want to be a bodybuilder? A physique virtuoso? This is a tall order, my friend, and not a lot of people ever achieve what they set out to do in this sport. If injury, arrest or the acting bug doesn't get to them first, eventually sport burnout will take everyone down. Knowing what it looks like and how to avoid it are the topics I want to deal with in this column.

Burnout of any kind isn't pleasant. Not only does it mean you've reached the end of your rope and want to quit, but it also means you're likely exceedingly fatigued, stressed and perhaps even have a complex about some element of bodybuilding - whether training or competing. Burnout is self-imposed most of the time, but detecting enthusiasm gone wrong or fanaticism and obsession gone too far isn't easy until it's too late. Spiraling out of the sport of bodybuilding is common because of the intensity and dedication involved in it. The higher the intensity, and the more commitment required to sustain involvement, the higher the chance that burnout will occur eventually.

Burnout occurs when people who have previously been highly committed to a sport lose interest and motivation. It is especially common in people who are driven already. Obsessive-compulsive types, conscientious, overly responsible people, and those easily hooked by emotion and reward are good candidates. Bodybuilding has always been teeming with obsessive-compulsive sorts.

In most sports burnout normally occurs over a long period of time. However, with bodybuilding, because of the intensity and the higher physical and emotional stakes, the burnout cycle is much more rapid and steep. Often burnout will express itself in a lack of , motivation, or actual performance will suffer as a result of reduced interest. Ironically those who are most susceptible are the highly motivated, hard-driven perfectionists. In fact, the people who succumb first are the sorts who make a big splash, and are never heard from again. So if you see some dedicated dude in your gym spend two hours a day on the stationary cycle and see him train for periods of up to two hours at a stretch, he's likely holding a one-way ticket to the land of burnout.


Physical Burnout

Intense fatigue despite rest and recuperation time, vulnerability to viral infections, total immune breakdown and chronic fatigue or illness.

Mental Burnout

Feeling of being overwhelmed and a loss of control over responsibilities and obligations, a skewed perception that you are achieving less, a propensity for negativity and negative self-talk, loss of a sense of purpose and reduced energy level, detachment from relationships that causes conflict and stress.


If you are training and performing hard, you should take great care not to burn out. Avoid physical burnout by keeping bodybuilding fun. Combine intense, difficult training sessions that significantly improve technique with lighter, enjoyable sessions that use new skills to good advantage. Build up slowly from off-seasons so as not to put your body under excessive stress. Respect feelings of intense physical fatigue and rest when you feel you need to.

Most people who are seriously obsessive about building their physique don't equate heavy training with fun. After all, it isn't like going out and playing some leisurely sets of tennis. Keep in mind that, with bodybuilding, as with anything, as you get better and better, people will want more and more of your time, whether to ask training advice or ogle your physique and tell you how great you are. Time and resources (your precious mental or physical energy) can easily vanish. Believe me, people are happy to consume your energy and pick your brain without thinking how the intrusion is affecting you.

Bottom line: Learn to say no! Don't take on people to prepare for a competition. You have enough to worry about on your own without having to babysit others. The more overburdened you feel with gym time and posing-room time, the unhappier you will become because you are seeing those places all day long, day in and day out. Involvement in a sport has to be at least enjoyable and rewarding. Otherwise, why do it?


If you feel you are in danger of burning out, or are not enjoying bodybuilding any more, the following tips can help you to correct the situation:

» Look at your goals and decide which ones are realistic and which are not. Prioritize time to include activities that ensure balance in your life.

» Evaluate the demands placed on you and see how they fit in with your goals. Get rid of dead weight in your life that pulls you in contrary directions.

» Be honest about how capable you are to meet your goals and daily demands and re-align from there.

» If people demand too much emotional energy, become less approachable and less sympathetic.

» Take a break from training every now and then. Reward yourself at least one to two weeks after each competition and at least one week off per year that has nothing to do with a competition.

» Learn stress-management skills.

» Examine other areas in your life that cause stress, such as work or family. Try to understand the source of the stress and what you can do to minimize it for all.

» Get the support of your friends and family. Their backing goes a long way in combating stress.


» Get adequate sleep each night and take naps if your situation allows. Even 15 minutes can restore and refresh you immeasurably.

» Food shouldn't be just a means to an end, a way to win a competition. Keep a good, healthful diet all year. Your body will have less fat to shed at contest time and you'll feel much more prepared to train.

» Do some form of regular aerobic exercise -in the off-season too!

» Limit your caffeine, alcohol and recreational drug intake. I don't think I need to say why. These substances are counterproductive to bodybuilding and can fatigue you to the point of exhaustion, as well as dehydrating a fluid-balanced physique.

» Take up a hobby to occupy time you might be tempted to devote to more training, believing more time spent is better. It's not. You can train only so long during one day.

» Acknowledge your own limitations. You have a right to an interruption-free workout and time off to relax.


The end of your rope isn't a fun place to be. I've been there, as I'm sure we all have with some aspect of our lives. You feel almost burdened to walk into a gym, let alone pick up a weight and consider actually training. That can be a pretty scary, uncertain feeling because you probably thought you had your future in bodybuilding all mapped out and planned. Now what? Well, do yourself a huge favor and don't stress over that. Stress is what got you there in the first place, along with too much compulsive focus on training. You probably just need a good solid break to remember why you got involved in the first place. Even if you drop a sport with the intention of never returning, you always have the option to come back. Look at George Foreman or Michael Jordan. Your muscles have memory, so they aren't going to totally forget your history with bodybuilding.

You must get yourself back to enjoying going to the gym and lifting weights. Maybe the second time around, after having had time to consider what went wrong, you'll approach the sport with an entirely different attitude and find your new priorities and ideas work much better. Likely that change of attitude will be the result of setting good boundaries and limits for yourself, such as training once a day or competing only once a year. Your relationship with bodybuilding is just like a relationship with a person in that it requires setting limits and rules and a basis for respect - in this case, self-respect.

I highly recommend burning out to anyone in the sport. Sounds odd, I know, but I really mean it. See, if you keep going gung-ho and move through those periods of stress, doubt and hatred for the sport and the gym, you'll likely never come back from a prolonged burnout. I can think of two people right off the top of my head - top pros - who recently left bodybuilding because they never took time out to reassess and care for their concerns and well-being. As a result the sport has lost some incredible talent.

Just remember, pushing ahead or pulling back is always within your power. Some-times a balance between the two is the best route.

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