Why the Bootcamp Mentality Works... and Then Ultimately Burns Out.
What is Bootcamp Burnout?
What IS the Bootcamp Mentality, or Bootcamp Burnout? Essentially, I define it as a short, focused, and intensive burst of activity. I find this can be applied to training, weight loss, or working on a project- basically any time you become dedicated to learning new habits or a new skill.
Bootcamp Burnout In Real Life
I just got back from Canada and have been reflecting about my time out west. Not only was it amazing to see family for the first time in a year, but it was also relaxing and surprisingly, super productive.
I was kind of worried about the 2 week quarantine. I grew up as an only child, so I’m pretty good at entertaining myself, but I did wonder if I would become stir-crazy. Before I committed to the quarantine, I asked my dad for 2 favours: 1) to please borrow a trainer from a friend so I could have my bike set up for indoor cycling sessions, and 2) have working wifi. The bike worked great, and the wifi was iffy, but usable.
I found that the two weeks flew by. I was at the beginning stages of launching a 6-week program, so I was working on my computer for up to 12 hours a day. I took breaks only to train, eat, or teach classes/clients. I had planned on bingeing This Is Us on Netflix, but to my surprise, I only watched a couple episodes total!
The really weird thing? I loved it. I was so dialed in and motivated. My parents couldn’t believe I wasn’t knocking on their door, bugging them for snacks or entertainment.
This quarantine period coincided with the first two weeks of a 6-week training & nutrition challenge that I was, and am still currently running. All the participants were extremely motivated, active on the chat, and off to a terrific start.
After about 2 weeks, I noticed something. I was making excellent progress with my work, but my sleep was becoming worse and worse. I’d often wake up in the middle of the night with ideas and hastily jot them down, sometimes unable to get back to sleep for hours. I had dark circles under my eyes, and my training was beginning to suffer.
Meanwhile, in Squashlete, the participants were also losing a little steam. I noticed food logs had started to drop off slightly, and a lower overall workout attendance.
I had anticipated a slow-down in the program, but found it eerily interesting that my own “decline” had coincided with that same timeline.
During the mid-program 1:1 check-in’s, I spoke with a participant about her mentality the first two weeks. She told me she was so incredibly motivated to excel, that she did “more” than what I had set out in the program. I explained that I understood how she felt, but it was set out in a certain fashion for a reason. Consistency over the 6 weeks is crucial to seeing and feeling progress, as opposed 2 weeks of intensity followed by 4 weeks of “hanging on”.
Training Intensity or Consistency?
This conversation got me thinking about the relationship between training intensity and progress. Both the program participants and I were extremely motivated for a good 2 week period, going above and beyond what we’d normally accomplish. And then, almost suddenly, the performance dropped across the board. This reminded me all too much of patterns in my own training. I’d train like a maniac (I could use a stronger word here, but I’ll keep it PG) for a week, or however long I could keep it up, desperately trying to hang on to my initial intensity and quality. I was seeing progress quickly, so why wouldn’t I keep up that level of intensity?
It’s funny how your body knows you better than you know yourself.
Your body only has so much energy to expend. It needs energy to keep you alive, deal with physical & mental stress, and recover/adapt. Guess what’s the first thing to go out the window when you expend too much mental or physical energy? Recovery and adaptation!
If you start asking too much of your body, it’s going to respond, but perhaps not in the way you expected. You might find yourself becoming irritable, craving more food, getting injured, or run down. These are all symptoms that I have personally experienced, and although everyone will respond to stressors differently, make no mistake that there WILL be a response from your body!
So, the next time you want to “push a little more” at the risk of burnout, ask yourself- can this wait? Can I come back and do it tomorrow?
Results happen and goals are achieved when you work consistently, not by having a flash of intensity and burning out.