Love CrossFit? 5 Tips to Avoid CrossFit Burnout

At the start, it seems like the trajectory can only ever be up. Then we hit a wall. It’s called burnout.

Is it possible to be sick of CrossFit? Them’s fightin’ words, to be sure, but think about it. CrossFit is so engaging and addicting that we often go at it so hard and fast right from the start that memes have arisen about how we can’t shut up about it. Tosh.0 joked about it:

And this College Humor video has been burning up the Internet:

From the first WOD, we live it, inhale it, love it. CrossFit has such an amazing impact on our bodies, minds, strength, and skills, that we just want more. More of the addictive tonic that CrossFit becomes. We love the box, our friends, making gains, hitting goals, and getting on the leaderboard.

RELATED: The CrossFit Games Open: Let Go of the Leaderboard

Early on, everything is a personal record. It seems like the trajectory can only ever be up. Then we hit a wall. We level out on progress, so we adopt some new goals (competitions, a muscle up, ten muscle ups, the CrossFit Games). You tinker with nutrition, you place well in a few local throwdowns, you make the top 200 for the Master’s qualifier or make your regionals team.

But then one day, you realize you have been doing this for years and, ultimately, doing pretty much the same thing.

Going Through the Motions

Does it seem like every year, year after year, your training consists of: winter, WOD WOD WOD, CrossFit Games Open, spring, WOD WOD Murph, WOD WOD WOD, summer, WOD WOD, competition, WOD, fall, Barbells for Boobs, Halloween party, WOD, Twelve Days of Christmas WOD, repeat?

Perhaps you have been stuck at a 125lb snatch for two solid years or you’ve gotten your “Fran” time down as far as you can possibly get it. You’re achy, you’re busy, and your hands always hurt. And so help me if you drag yourself into the box and see the “Filthy Fifty” one more time on the whiteboard, you may just eviscerate your coach in full view of the kid’s class.

It’s called burnout. It happens with any activity after enough high-intensity exposure. It can be tantamount to putting a piece of wood on a lathe and letting it spin at high speed for too long. You initially create some pretty spectacular woodwork, but eventually, you just whittle it down to a nub. And if you’re not careful, you may end up dreading the thing you love the most: CrossFit.

5 Tips to Avoid CrossFit Burnout

1. Talk to Your Coach About Switching Up Your Programming

If you are attending the classes, perhaps you’re ready to move on to individualized programming that targets your specific goals. If you have been going to the 10:00am class day after day, year after year, then it may be time to change up your game.

Unless the programming is spectacular, years of the same thing can result in plateau and burnout, so moving into a different track may be what you need. There are a number of online sources for quality daily programming such as CrossFit Invictus, OPT, and more, so this may be the shot in the arm you need. Do this in consultation with your coach.

“[I]f you’re not careful, you may end up dreading the thing you love the most: CrossFit.”

2. Develop One-, Two-, and Five-Year Plans

One of the ways I see burnout flaring up the most is when athletes hop from goal to goal but never really accomplish any of them. Step back and really ask yourself, “Why do I do this?” Write the answer down. If it’s, “To be healthy and viable when I am 85,” then by all means continue (in which case you are likely not experiencing burnout anyway). But if you answer, “I am not really sure,” then perhaps it’s time to figure it out.

Do you have competition goals? Local or national? Do you have specific strength-related goals? Do you want to make it onto an NPGL team? Lose weight? Get a muscle up? Whatever your goals, define them, then lay out a course by which to achieve them. Again, this should be done in conjunction with your coach. Develop a process by which to achieve those goals. SMART goals are all well and good but they don’t create a process. That’s what your coach is for.

crossfit, burnout, plateau, Programming, goals, competition, specialist

3. Choose Competitions Wisely

Seriously guys. Stop doing every weekend competition that comes along. You should do, at most, two or three competitions in a year, and that assumes you are not on a regionals team or going to the CrossFit Games. Competitions not only throw off your programming for a couple weeks (a week leading up and a week of recovery), but they beat you up. If you are doing one a month, you are doing too damn many. If you are doing more than one a month, then you are never recovering and it’s no wonder you’re feeling burnt out. You are, literally, burned out.

“Stop doing every weekend competition that comes along. You should do, at most, two or three competitions in a year, and that assumes you are not on a regionals team or going to the CrossFit Games.”

4. Consider an Even Bigger Change

Here comes the blasphemy. It’s perfectly okay to consider moving out of CrossFIt and into a completely different realm. There are a lot of people who started in CrossFit and moved on to a more specific discipline. Gillian Ward moved out of a fairly high-profile CrossFit presence into powerlifting and physique competitions. Tamara Reynolds did the same with weightlifting and coaching. Mark Nelson, a member of the second-place-in-the-world CrossFit Conjugate Black team has now dedicated himself to weightlifting.

The fact is, the landscape is dotted with thousands of athletes who started in CrossFit and as a result found weightlifting, powerlifting, bodybuilding, or some other specialty and have left the CrossFit world altogether. There is nothing wrong with that. There is also nothing wrong with devoting a year or more to such a specialty. If you are burned out on CrossFit, think about weightlifting for a full year. You can always come back.

crossfit, burnout, plateau, Programming, goals, competition, specialist

5. Take a Break

I have read a number of similar “avoiding burnout” articles online and they suggest you can take a break but not a very long one or you’ll never come back. I disagree. There are a lot of people who try CrossFit and stop coming, and never come back.

Those people are not burned out CrossFitters. They are merely people who didn’t like CrossFit. If you are the type of person who loves CrossFit so much that you became burned out because you ground yourself to a stump, then there is little danger you will not have the motivation to return.

RELATED: Just Love the Bleep Out of It

Talk with your coach (notice a trend?). If you feel you need a month off to travel, see the world, veg on the couch and watch TV, eat donuts and reset, then I am sure your coach can work with you to plan a reentry process after your break. After all, don’t people who are injured do pretty much that same thing? It’s a forced break, but they always come back.

Have you experienced CrossFit burnout? How did you handle it? Did you move to another sport or take a break? Share your thoughts and experiences to the comments below.

Photos courtesy of Jorge Huerta Photography.

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