On Burnout as an Opportunity

A few days ago, I had one of those soul-crushing workouts where you end up on the floor, dripping sweat, about five minutes after everyone else is finished. The WOD was 15-12-9 handstand pushups and box jump overs, two movements I usually enjoy.

For whatever reason, my shoulders weren’t up for the challenge that day. Halfway into my first set of HSPUs, I failed a rep, and then another rep.

I normally don’t have an issue with HSPUs, so I gave my coach a “WTF?” stare and asked for his help. He shrugged, raised his hands, and said, “Do doubles.” (Pro tip - two reps at a time.)

So, I did doubles. And then singles. Which meant I was still finishing up my round of 12 when everyone else was done and dusted.

It’s called burnout, and it happens more often than I’d like. It happens in the gym, and in the office. Luckily, I’ve learned some valuable lessons as I slog through the ashes.

Whether you’re dealing with creative block or a training cycle that just isn’t clicking, use moments of burnout as a learning opportunity, a coaching opportunity, and a chance to do things differently next time.

 

Burnout is a chance to show what you’re made of

Remember when I talked about training objectively? The way you handle moments of adversity defines your approach to training. When you hit that level of muscle fatigue, where you just can’t do another rep, you have a few options.

The smartest one is to take a breath, shake out your arms and legs, and reevaluate your plan. If you thought you’d do sets of ten, cut it down to fives or triples. There’s nothing wrong with adjusting on the spot; in fact, your ability to do so makes you a more flexible, and better athlete.

 

Recognize the opportunity

I’m definitely guilty of getting worked up in the middle of a tough workout - I’ve even cried in a competition (#thestruggleisreal). As I quickly learned... That solves nothing.

For me, that emotional outburst didn’t stem from fatigue or physical pain. It came from embarrassment.

I didn’t want to “lose” the workout. I didn’t want to be last. I’m a coach now, and as I struggled through my single HSPUs, I started feeling like a failure for not being as fast and as strong as I want to be.

In that same moment, though, I realized that this was a both a learning opportunity, and a coaching opportunity.

Learning opportunity: Don’t give in to frustration or embarrassment. Put your head down and do the work, for however long it takes you.

Then, analyze - objectively. Why did my shoulders give out? Well, I had overloaded on clean and jerks the day before, and worked on push presses immediately prior to the WOD. Of course my shoulders were tired. I should’ve started with smaller sets, and quick breaks. Now I know - so I let it go, and moved on.

Coaching opportunity: What kind of example would I set if I quit the workout, or cried, or made a big deal out of having a hard day? No one can be amazing at every workout. It’s okay to be last and it’s okay to have weaknesses. CrossFit is about virtuosity; it’s not about perfection.

Plus, I got to experience this really cool moment of having all my peers around me cheering me on, helping me finish the WOD. It reminded me how wonderful the community aspect of CrossFit is. And it reminded me that we’re all in this together - no one left the gym before I finished every rep.

 

Fundamentally, CrossFit teaches you to show up and put in the work. As long as we’re doing that, we’re not failing - whether we’re first to finish or not.