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Roughly 26% of people feel burned out at work. (1) This makes work stress and burnout a major concern for professionals in the fitness industry—especially when their livelihoods rely on their ability to stay energized and motivational when working with clients. If you’re a fitness instructor looking for ways to prevent burnout, the first step in this process is to understand what burnout is, its causes and consequences, and signs to watch for.
While burnout is not a medical condition, it is included in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) as a formal diagnosis. In the ICD, burnout is defined as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It is characterized by feelings of exhaustion, a negative attitude, and reduced efficacy in one’s professional role. (2)
Several factors can lead to feelings of burnout. For personal trainers and other fitness professionals, they include:
Engaging in exercise every day all day, which contributes to overtraining and physical exhaustion
Feeling a lack of control at work, such as offering ways to improve a group fitness class only to have your ideas ignored
Taking client success personally, feeling as if you’ve failed them if they don’t hit all their fitness goals
Packing your training schedule so full that you have poor work-life balance
Being so intent on building your client list that you don’t look after your own health and mental wellness
Working with clients you’re not as passionate about, like training elite athletes because you can earn more when you really want to train new moms
Not only is trainer burnout real but it can result in several negative impacts if it is ignored. The Mayo Clinic reports that burnout can lead to excessive stress. (3) Stress is associated with many major health risks. Among them are heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. Stress can also cause people to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as using alcohol or drugs in an attempt to relieve the tension.
Another consequence of burnout is fatigue. This can be especially problematic for fitness professionals. Personal training is a very physical job. If you have low energy due to feeling burnt out, this affects your training sessions. You may find it harder to garner the physical energy needed to train clients all day. Fatigue can also lower your motivation. This makes it hard to motivate your clients to engage in regular physical activity.
Research further connects burnout with higher levels of job dissatisfaction and absenteeism. Workers with burnout also have a higher risk of experiencing musculoskeletal pain and headaches. They may also deal with gastrointestinal issues. Most importantly, burnout can reduce life expectancy to below 45 years of age. (4)
Feeling burnt out can affect every area of a fitness professional’s life. This makes it critical to recognize when burnout exists. Signs to watch for include:
Having a cynical attitude
Being overly critical of yourself, co-workers, or clients
Increased feelings of anger or irritability
Struggling to keep up with your own fitness routine
Forcing yourself to show up at clients’ workout sessions versus wanting to go
Having a general lack of motivation
Trouble focusing or concentrating
Not having a sense of achievement or accomplishment in your work
Coping with stress in unhealthy ways, such as relying on alcohol daily to relieve the tension
Not being able to sleep or sleeping too much
Feeling poor physically (headaches or body pain) with no real cause
In short, burnout can show up in the form of physical or emotional exhaustion. No one wants to live in an exhausted state. Fortunately, you don’t have to.
Quite a few strategies are effective for avoiding burnout. This enables you to be the best version of yourself possible when training fitness clients. Here are several to try:
Make self-care a regular practice. Some people consider taking care of themselves more of a luxury than a priority. This type of belief can quickly lead to trainer burnout. Just as your clients benefit from a regular workout routine, you benefit from regular self-care. Do something each day to look after yourself. Good self-care practices to consider adding to your schedule include meditation and getting a massage each month. It’s also helpful to keep in touch with loved ones and spend time in nature. (5)
Limit the size of your client list. Personal trainers need clients to make a living. But there is a point at which your client list can become so long that it does more harm than good. Consider how many training clients you can have while still retaining some level of work-life balance. Don’t go over this amount to protect your physical and mental health.
Set realistic goals for your fitness business. It’s often suggested that if you want to be successful, you need to aim high. Yes, lofty goals are good, but goals also need to be achievable. If they’re not, they only add to higher stress levels. How do you know if a goal is realistic? Ask yourself whether others have hit that same goal. Also consider whether you have the skills or abilities needed to make it happen within your desired timeframe. If the answer is no, work on setting a more reasonable goal. Having a measurable win can do wonders for your motivation levels.
Get sufficient sleep. Being sleep-deprived can only worsen feelings of burnout. Sleep is also important for mental and physical recovery. Set a regular bedtime and stick to it. It’s also beneficial to develop a bedtime routine that promotes good sleep. This includes engaging in relaxing activities such as reading or listening to soothing music. At the same time, avoid things that can affect sleep quality. Drinking alcohol, eating a spicy nighttime snack, and consuming too much caffeine midday can all keep you from falling and staying asleep.
Aim for variety. One of the best ways to avoid burnout as a personal trainer is to not do the same thing day after day. Think like your clients for a moment. If you never change their workout, what happens? They lose their passion and zest for their exercise sessions. Soon, they’re calling and canceling. They’re burnt out with their fitness routine. Trainers can become bored and burnt out too. Fortunately, this type of burnout can easily be solved by changing things regularly. If you typically work as a strength training instructor, for instance, consider leading a group exercise class. Of course, switching the type of physical activity you train clients with may require learning a new skill. However, learning that skill is worth it if it makes you feel better mentally and physically.
Personal trainers aren’t the only ones who can feel burnt out. Clients can also face workout burnout. This hinders their ability to hit their fitness goals. It also has the same physical consequences, such as an increased risk of disease.
Finding ways to help clients avoid fitness burnout keeps them showing up for their exercise sessions. This helps you build a stronger fitness business. It also establishes you as a personal trainer who gets results.
Several of the strategies that work for you as a fitness trainer can also be used to help prevent athlete burnout. Talk to them about the importance of regular self-care and setting realistic goals. Ask about their sleep schedule and quality.
From a training standpoint, change their workout regularly. Check in often to see if they feel satisfied with your exercise choices. Also, give them adequate recovery time between sessions, enabling them to fully recharge mentally and physically.
Preventing burnout is great. But what do you do if you’re past the point of prevention and already feeling the weight of workplace stress?
The same actions used for avoiding burnout can also help relieve it. Do things to create better work-life balance. Work on finding ways to effectively reduce your stress levels.
If the feelings of burnout won’t go away, reach out to a mental health professional. They can help provide effective ways to cope with stressors. The more “tools in your toolbox,” the greater your ability to overcome job burnout.
If your burnout is caused or enhanced by poor client results, a certification course can teach the skills needed to improve their success rates. You learn effective motivation strategies, for example. This type of course also teaches you how to build and grow your fitness business more efficiently.
You can become a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) with ISSA. In addition to providing certification, this online course includes access to a free professional website and unlimited support.
Want to help others manage stress and develop healthier habits? Become an ISSA Certified Transformation Specialist. Master the techniques to effectively coach and influence behavioral patterns for improved physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Help your clients achieve long-lasting lifestyle changes.
Start your dream career completely online! Take the course, pass the certification final exam, and be guaranteed a job - or your money back!
Marín-Farrona, M. J., León-Jiménez, M., García-Unanue, J., Gallardo, L., Liguori, G., & López-Fernández, J. (2021). Influence of non-occupational physical activity on burnout syndrome, job satisfaction, stress and recovery in fitness professionals. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(18), 9489. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18189489
Burn-out an “Occupational phenomenon”: International Classification of Diseases. World Health Organization. (2019, May 28). https://www.who.int/news/item/28-05-2019-burn-out-an-occupational-phenomenon-international-classification-of-diseases
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2021, June 5). Know the signs of Job Burnout. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/burnout/art-20046642
Salvagioni, D. A., Melanda, F. N., Mesas, A. E., González, A. D., Gabani, F. L., & Andrade, S. M. (2017). Physical, psychological and occupational consequences of job burnout: A systematic review of prospective studies. PLOS ONE, 12(10). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0185781
60 healthy self-care ideas to feel better than ever. Health Coach Institute. (2022, May 19). https://www.healthcoachinstitute.com/articles/60-healthy-self-care-ideas-to-feel-better-than-ever/