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Shifting Gears – Avoiding Burnout

We’ve all experienced burnout in our workout routines. You keep doing the same workouts the same way you’ve been doing them but you don’t feel like you are improving. In fact, it just feels like a chore.

It sucks.

This is were I was a few weeks ago, going into the Texas State Road Race Championships. My numbers were still solid, but the workouts were hard and I felt like I was always sore and tired. Add to that an increasingly busy work schedule and I could tell I was operating near the fringes of what I could take without breaking down, getting sick, or getting hurt. Fortunately, my training plan took this into account with a light final week (thanks @bgspeed), allowing me to recover enough to feel really strong on race day. Here’s a condensed replay of the race from one of the other guys who finished in the top 10 (I jump out to the right at about 10:28).

This is where it’s easy to go off the rails and head straight for burnout and why I’m a big fan of periodically shifting gears with your training. I could keep going with the bike, but all of the signs around me are telling me not to. One, it takes a lot of time away from everything else (family/friends, work, other training, etc). Two, I’ve lost muscle mass (not good for my psyche). Three, I’ve lost strength, speed, agility, and a lot of other capacities that are important to me. So it ends up being pretty simple. Keep doing the bike all the time and everything else suffers. Back off to a maintenance level of ~2 bike hours/week and all of the sudden there’s a lot more time and energy available for other things.

All that said, having a plan makes a huge difference when you’re suffering from the low motivation that accompanies burnout. That plan could range from the specific to intentionally unspecific, depending on where you’re at and what you need. My plan is a little of both. Here are my top goals for the next 6 weeks, ranked in terms of how challenging they are going to be.

Meditate Daily

So this is a hard one for me. I’ve been talking about it for a long time. Years, probably. You hear about it all the time – many highly successful people swear by it. My wife, who is AWESOME, is one of these people. Intriguing to me are the many potential physical and mental benefits that meditation may bring. From a physical perspective, anything that helps shift the autonomic nervous system away from the fight or flight sympathetic response to the rest and recover parasympathetic response is a good thing for me. On a mental level, it is supposed to help increase focus and clarity, and being a business owner, father, husband and athlete I feel like I am often trying to juggle a lot balls (and sometimes drop a few).

So far I’ve made it through a half dozen 10-minute sessions, and although I struggled to keep my mind from wandering for very long, I have felt a bit more engaged, focused, and big picture oriented on those days. So that’s enough for me to warrant giving it a legitimate go on a daily basis for a while. I will keep you updated.

Spend at least 15 minutes walking daily

It’s easy to be in the gym all day. There’s never a shortage of things to do, whether it’s training, reading, or other business related tasks. It’s not uncommon for me to never see the sun or breathe fresh air in a whole day. In a few weeks, it will be pitch black by the time I leave for the day. Plus, I often do my best thinking when I’m out on a walk generally feel better afterward, especially when it’s not summertime in Austin and I need an ice bath and a change of clothes.

Get Strong

I have spent a lot of time on the bike over the last 6 weeks and as a result my lifting has suffered. In terms of absolute strength, I think I’ve maintained ~90% of my 1RM strength, but I have done virtually no volume so my work capacity is pitiful. I’ve also lost about 5lbs of muscle, so I’d like to get that back and then some.

In terms of specifics, I’m going to be hitting a lot of the fundamentals – Squat, Deadlift, Power Clean, Bench Press, Pullups, etc. The power clean is of particular interest to me. It’s been more than 5 years since I’ve done it with any sort of weight, so I’m curious to see how that goes. The plan is to be smart about it – hammer the technique over the next few weeks prior to really digging in and going heavy.

Reintroduce Impact Training (Jump rope, agility, running, basketball)

This is the stuff that I miss the most when I get into heavy bike periods because it tends to take a lot out of the legs, so I do very little of it. This will be my primary means of training my cardiovascular system with the exception of the 1 day/week on the bike (see below). My brief foray into basketball in early august got me hooked – I just love the game and want to get back into it. It combines so many important athletic skills – sprinting, jumping, warding patterns, hand-eye coordination, spatial awareness, and teamwork in an authentic and fun way. Plus, it scratches that competitive itch.

Focus on Recovery

In the past, I’ve tended to organize my training around a one week schedule. Mondays were strength, Tuesdays were cardio/interval training, etc. While it was easy and predictable, my body often didn’t feel recovered between sessions. My focus for this next 6 weeks will be to increase my number of recovery days and allow myself to take days off here and there. Since the primary focus is regaining strength, having adequate time off is going to be important.

How about you?

Where’s your training taking you right now? Do yourself a favor and take a few minutes to map out a plan. It doesn’t have to be detailed or sport specific – something as simple as getting two strength and two cardiovascular workouts each week is a great start. Treat it like a priority and you’ll be much more likely to get it done. Then we can talk again once the holidays ramp up…..