As a cycle instructor, I’ve learned one of the best things I can do for my students is to be one myself. Over the weekend, I was chatting with Kari Carpenter of RINSE CYCLE (who I am very excited to announce I'll be training with starting this week!) about different drills and riding styles when she mentioned that she wasn’t a big fan of deep-hill sprints. “All they really do,” she said, “is burnout your quads.” As someone who has been known to max out her wattage on a hill sprint from time to time, I had to admit that she wasn't wrong. And for what? Does the act of pushing my legs to utter exhaustion in a single song bring more results than gradually building strength and endurance over a number of drills? Was I just insisting on burning out to prove that I could? And in that moment, I was a student. I leaned that even if I once loved a drill or thought it was what I should be doing, I don't have to like it forever or continue teaching it to my students – especially if it isn't adding anything to my class.
Because what does the burnout really bring you?
How many times have you heard a fitness instructor or yoga teacher tell you they’d rather see good form than more reps or they’d rather you respect your limits than fully express a pose? How many times have you, sweaty and tired, completely ignored that advice and tried for another rep of squat jumps only to find yourself totally spent? You need twice the amount of time everyone else needs during the water break and even then you’re still only able to give about 70% effort for the rest of the workout. Or worse: you hurt yourself.
You burnt out. You ignored the blinking warning lights of your body pleading for rest, and now you’re empty.
I recently skimmed over an article that encouraged pushing past exhaustion in a workout. The article said that doing so would be the difference between a “six pack and a SIXPACK" and honestly I'm still over here with my face two inches from the screen trying to spot the differences in these Google image results for 'six pack' and 'SIXPACK.' Spoiler: they look VERY MUCH the same.
In weightlifting, there are actually “burnout” drills that involve repping a movement until muscle failure and then reducing the weight and tapering back down. The key to these drills is reducing the weight once fatigue sets in. You don’t just ignore fatigue and keep pushing the same weight. Even still, plenty of trainers don't like this method because there's not much gained through the activity that can't be gained from a safer method.
Because what does the burnout really bring you?
When you ignore the need for rest, you put yourself in danger. There is a difference between pushing the limits and pushing through pain. Exercise fatigue, resulting from excessive exercise and lack of recovery time, can lead to sleep loss, injury, exhaustion, and moodiness. Performing specific exercises beyond the point of form breakdown encourages injury and increases the required recovery time.
And to what end? For that capital letter “SIXPACK”?
Not one for exercise? Burning out in life has pretty similar effects; it leaves you feeling exhausted, uninspired and irritable.
Whether it's in the gym or in the office, we have a tendency to tread dangerously close to the verge of martyrdom. We push ourselves far past the point of exhaustion and insist on claiming our continued pain as the reward. Often times we don't realize the harm we're doing until it's already done. There is strength in restraint. While it’s tempting to hit every rep – is it worth risking your ability to rep two days from now? Your strength will increase, your PR’s will continue to get higher, and your goals will be met – you’ll just have some energy left to enjoy it!
Because what doe the burnout really bring you?
Signs of A Burnout (fitness or otherwise)
General fatigue and lack of motivation
Excessive sleeping or inability to sleep
Dealing With and Preventing Burnout (fitness or otherwise)
Seek out or cross-train with less intense activity (walking, non-heated yoga, swimming)
Set boundaries: How many workout classes can you handle? Are you going on a vacation this year? What’s your recovery day? Be unapologetic with your need for rest and recovery.
Take time off: your progress, at work and in the gym, will not be undone by taking a few recovery days. You'll return to your routine with more energy and be able to commit all of yourself.
Reassess your goals: What were you pushing to hard for? Often times, you'll find that the work that burnt you out wasn't even the most efficient way of getting to where you want to be. You can get in great shape without going overboard. You can be healthy and balanced. You can be successful without being stressed. Start focusing on how you want to feel on your way to the end goal!
Shameless self promotion time! Want to come ride with me? I teach four classes every week at Body Alive in Cincinnati, OH! It will be a few weeks before I'm in the instructor saddle at Rinse Cycle in Dayton, OH, but come check out one of Kari or Kelsey's rides in the meantime!