Last updated:

25 July 2023

Did I ever tell you about the time I took three months off the gym because I felt burned out and bored?

how to beat gym burnout and find fitness motivation

Reading time:

8 min read

Do you ever feel like you’ve let the gym take over your life, and now you’re sick of it?

I can relate to this.

This happened to me back in 2016. Fitness has been a huge part of my life and career, but between working 16 hour days as a personal trainer, and building what is now this vast website of training resources you’re reading, and trying to juggle family life with the kids, I reached a point where I didn’t even want to look at another dumbbell!

I felt tired, worn out, and uninspired.

One of my friends pointed out that I was suffering from burnout.

You see, the big problem for me, and perhaps for you right now, is that my whole life revolved around the gym. I had no hobbies, no social circle, no days off, and even though I was concentrating on something which I believed to be healthy (taking care of my body), it definitely wasn’t healthy.

You know why?

Because there was no balance.

If you’re a regular reader of my website you’ve undoubtedly heard me speak before about the importance of balance. Usually I mean this in terms of having a varied diet, so you can still eat your favourite treats while getting in shape, or changing your training program to unlock better results, but sometimes we must zoom out and look at the big picture, too.

So what did I do when this burn-out caught up with me?

Well, I took the bold step of cancelling my gym membership while I worked on myself.

I’ve been a member of a gym since I was nine years old, so I felt lost for a little while, but it’s easily the best decision I made that year. I ended up taking three months off, giving my mind a much needed break, and I set out to find a bunch of hobbies and interests which did not involve lifting up heavy things and putting them back down again.

And you know that?

It worked.

It turned into the best summer of my adult life. My relationship grew stronger, the time I spent with my kids was so much fun, and the de-stress turned out to be exactly what I needed.

But here’s the thing…

Upon my return to the gym, other gym members asked where the fuck I’d been, so I discussed my situation with them only to find that a lot of them were going through very similar feelings! They felt stressed about their diet, or how many days per week they could train, or if their program was going to get them the results they were after, and the whole thing was causing them to feel exhausted, worn down.. burnt out!

But what saddened me the most about learning this, and it’s the reason I’m writing this today, is that they had all received the stock advice you get in fitness magazines and websites (“Oh, you just gotta want it more, bro!”), so they hadn’t addressed the problem, and were just plodding on regardless, beating themselves up for not being “in the zone”.

Screw that.

Pulling myself away for a while, even though it was hard at first, was exactly what I needed.

That being said, I could understand why people were shocked to hear that I hadn’t trained three months! Most of these folks had lost the balance, like me just a few months earlier, and the gym had become such an important part of their day that even the idea of a break seemed somewhat alien. In order for them to see the value in it, it took for me to go and do it, and then come back all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, back how I used to be, to show them a new perspective.

Anyway, here are the hobbies which I ended up discovering (and I still do them all today!).

Get The Fuck Out

walking for exercise

Not just an awesome Skid Row song, but also pretty sound advice!

One of the biggest causes of my burnout was that my training no longer felt fun. I addressed this by downloading Pokemon GO and hitting the road with the kids, getting in some quality exercise while turning the whole process into a big family game.

The mental health benefits of this one simple step changed my whole outlook, and the kids still talk about the trips we took in our attempts to bag all of those annoying little fuckers.

download Pokemon GO

Moves Like Jagger

moves like Jagger

My girlfriend loves dancing.

The problem is I’ve got all the mobility of a fucking brick, and years of hoisting iron have not helped that situation, so I enrolled in a dance class to see if I could impress her.

It turns out I could not.

However, it was a lot of fun.

And if you need to macho it up, just remember that some activities (like dancing) have cross-over benefits which can help you become a better athlete. For instance, Jean-Claude Van Damme was hugely into ballet before transitioning into martial arts and eventually action movies, and world champion boxer Vasyl Lomachenko was even signed up to folk dancing classes by his coach at just ten years old to help with his footwork!

“You want to be a great boxer? Then you must learn to dance!”, recalled Lomachenko when he told ESPN about his childhood.

Support A Small Team

My eldest son and I are lifelong Newcastle United fans.

Newcastle are a pretty successful side now, but back in 2016 that wasn’t the case at all. NUFC were owned by a guy called Mike Ashley, a man who, when he’s not stapling his tongue to his own forehead, simply used the club as his own personal cash cow. Fuck me, it was depressing.

(Thankfully he was ousted a few years later, and they’re firing on all cylinders now!)

But seeing as NUFC runs in the family, my son decided that it would be pretty cool to do something just for us, while I’m trying to get myself back on track, so he had the bright idea that we should find a tiny local team and start following them, too.

That team was South Shields FC, who were playing in the Northern Football League Division One, which is the ninth tier of English football.

Having something which was just for us, our own little thing, went a long way to rekindling my love of the beautiful game, and we still keep track of this team nowadays. It really helped me build a great non-gym hobby with my son!

Now, we picked our local team because we thought it would be fun to actually go to matches, but you can be as local or as obscure as you wish when choosing your own small team. Websites like Football Scores constantly updates its list of live scores, league tables, and fixture information, so this can actually be a hands-free hobby if you want.

You’ll be surprised by how much fun it is!

South Shields FC

Read All About It

how to beat gym burnout and find fitness motivation

I spent most of my childhood in hospital with a broken hip, so reading became a thing for me.

Most of the books my Grandad would bring for me were related to training and nutrition because he was trying to spark my interest in leading a healthy life, to help me get out of that damn wheelchair.

It’s a hobby which has stood me in good stead over the years, because one of the main things I do on my website is help people get past bullshit fitness information, and those thousands of hours I’ve happily spent with my head in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research means you’ll never be misled by crazy headlines!

However, I didn’t actually read normal books.

That’s something I sought to change back in 2016. The first one I read was Slash’s autobiography. I found it very interesting to learn about somebody else’s life, and in the years which have passed since then I’ve read many, many more.

Returning To The Gym

fat loss diet

When I returned to the weights room I did so feeling fresh, rejuvinated and with a new perspective on things.

Humans are creatures of habit, and it’s quite easy to let those habits (even healthy ones) take over your entire life. I was keen not to get myself into that situation again, so I resumed training with a straightforward full-body training program which had me working out three, sometimes four, days per week. Here it is.

I also dropped my hours working in the gym and focused all of my attention on building this website, so now I just had one full-time job instead of trying to squeeze two into hours that simply weren’t there.

With regards to my nutrition, I wanted to keep things very simple so I used one of the nutrition templates on my website. This one. By focusing on hitting only total calories and eating enough protein per day to support muscle growth, this left enough room to have maximum variety with regards to food, and didn’t feel overwhelming.

In the years since then, I’ve stepped things up a little bit, but the lessons I learned via my burnout are still important, and I will never allow myself to reach that stage again. I hope this article has helped you.

Who Is Russ Howe PTI?


Russ has been a personal trainer in the UK since 2002, and provided both training advice and full programs on this website since 2011.

His work has been featured in Men’s Fitness magazine, and the content on this website led to him being voted one of the world’s top 50 fat loss coaches by HuffPost.

Russ spends his time coaching men and women inside the legendary Powerhouse Gym, South Shields, and writing training tips for the 114,301 members of his popular free training e-mail (join it below).

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