When to Quit

Justin Lind


Kettlebells, Gymnastics, CrossFit


You probably come to Breaking Muscle for information, guidance, and motivation. This article would seem a complete deviation from our typical fare. However, you will come away disappointed if you clicked on this piece expecting to find this coach giving you license to quit. No, this isn’t permission to throw in the towel when things get a little tough.


Giving up is counter-productive. Let's examine when quitting is actually the most productive option, and how to determine the difference between productive quitting and simply hanging it up.



I walk a thin line to even suggest that “quitting” might actually be a viable, dare I say, positive option. Lack of motivation, commitment, and follow-through is the primary reason that most people fail to achieve their fitness goals. But the reciprocal problems of bullheaded commitment, tunnel-vision, and overreaching bring up a very close second place.


These latter issues manifest in myriad ways. Hyperfocus on strength or performance goals can easily overshadow the holistic needs for rest and recovery and obscure the otherwise clearly visible signs of a pending injury. Imitating the routines of your favorite Instagram fitness guru is often an exercise in frustration. Continuing a program or style of training that is ineffective or contrary to your goals simply from a perceived sense of commitment is the fastest way to come to resent your training.


When to Quit - Fitness, rest and recovery, goals, lifestyle, mindset, stress management, daily practice

Photo by Bev Childress


To be fair, high-end athletic goals often require tunnel-visioned focus for success. New styles of training might not feel like a great fit until you’ve had a change to acclimate to the new demands. Many programs require drudging through the middle phases to arrive at the conclusion before you finally see a pay-off.


Far too many suffer diminished motivation, lack of progress, and struggle with happiness simply from being stuck in a rut. Worse, it’s a rut of their own creation, dug unintentionally because they do not understand when or why to “quit.”




When Quitting Is Good Option

A telling personal example of sticking to an ill-conceived sense of commitment came during a sunset walk. I used to live near a nature preserve on a cliff overlooking the ocean. It was the perfect setting to take a stroll, slow down, and shake off the effects of a stressful day. One evening, while taking advantage of just such a use, I began to feel too tired to walk my usual course. The sun had already set, I already felt better, yet I was compelled to reach the end of the path before turning around to walk home.


My entire reason for taking a walk was to break the cycle of hard-charging, purposed-driven, focus that we all bring to our work and fitness. Even while actively trying to switch modes and actively trying to relax, I found myself attempting to override my desire for relaxation. The way to de-stress was to walk with no objective, yet I was unconsciously transforming my stress-relief activity into an exercise that was precisely the contrary.


I imposed the arbitrary purpose of reaching the end. While this might seem reasonable through the lens of productivity and a goal-driven mentality, it actually continued a stressful trend rather break it.


Ask yourself, what parts of your fitness routine are arbitrary, self-imposed demands that do not actually serve your stated goals. Worse, which aspects actually detract from your aim?


The key to sustainable fitness and happiness along the way is to understand the difference between the commitments that are requisite for success on your path and those that are entirely self-contrived. If you are in the middle of a barbell strength cycle and do not feel motivated to continue, take a deep look into why. If your knees are beginning to hurt from squatting too often or the percentages are increasing quicker than you can handle, stop, re-assess, then either modify things to fit your body and your goals or stop altogether. Do not simply continue for sake of reaching the end. However, if you are sore and fatigued from the volume of heavy loading, welcome to getting stronger. Suck it up, eat larger meals, and go to bed earlier.


Knowing When to Quit

Every athlete in the history of training, regardless of the goals or their level, has faced this dance between necessary and self-imposed, arbitrary commitments. Knowing the difference is a critical key to success. There is no definitive answer except to continually check-in with yourself with enough humility to get an honest sense of your emotions and enough courage to alter course when necessary.


One factor that I find to be extremely telling is how often, if ever, your goals fill your attention. If you regularly think about losing x-amount of pounds, hitting that 5k PR, achieving a full split or doing a bodyweight strict press, you are on the right track. Simply put, if you cannot stop thinking about your goals you are pursuing the right things for the right reasons. If you continue down a road or toward some objective because you think you should, it’s time for a serious, introspective chat with yourself.

See more about: , , , , ,
Breaking Muscle Newsletter

Breaking Muscle Newsletter

Get updates and special offers delivered directly to your inbox.