When does exercise stop making me want to crawl into the grave?
December 28, 2017 10:41 AM   Subscribe

If you're one of those people who can't wait to go to the gym because it makes you feel so damn great, go live your happy life and don't read this question.

I am trying to go to the gym regularly. I say trying because I have a tendency to quit after a couple of weeks. I have a tendency to quit because exercising makes me feel tired and broken and weak.

I don't think I'm doing too much. I've started with the bar pretty low. Still, I feel markedly worse when I come out than when I went in. Last night I went at 7 and got home and seriously considered going to bed at 8.

For others who have felt this way, was there a point at which it started sucking less? And how long did that take?
posted by Smearcase to Health & Fitness (34 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
A big part of this is exactly what kind of exercise you are doing there now, now intensely you are doing it, and whether there's a different kind of exercise you can do that isn't as awful for you personally.

I'd seriously rather get punched in the face than do more than five minutes of cardio and I feel like shit for hours after if I do, but I can lift heavyish weights for longer than is generally recommended and feel fine afterward. Other people I know are the opposite.
posted by griphus at 10:44 AM on December 28, 2017 [17 favorites]

Two things:

1. How long has it been? The first week or two you start any new exercise program, you’ll feel like shit. You’ll be tired, sore, and generally miserable. That’s your body getting used to the new demands you’re putting on it, and it is (within reason) a good sign, it means you’re actually working hard enough to have an effect. Also it’ll go away soon, and only come back (and then in much smaller doses) when you work yourself particularly hard on a given workout. Getting enough sleep will help, as will warm baths.

2. Like griphus said, try a bunch of stuff and find an activity you actually enjoy. I despise running, and I want to die after like twenty minutes of it, but I can do martial arts at an equivalent level of exertion for hours and feel great. Doing something you actually find interesting does a ton towards reducing perceived exertion, in my experience.
posted by Itaxpica at 10:54 AM on December 28, 2017 [4 favorites]

I'm not as much a gym person as an outdoor fitness person, but from that kind of training, it sounds like you are doing too much, too soon. It's OK to slack off some in a fitness class. Push yourself to stay just out of breath enough to talk. You'll get fitter and be able to push a little harder next time.

This isn't going to do you any good if you push too hard and then quit.
posted by advicepig at 11:00 AM on December 28, 2017 [5 favorites]

I know you say you're not, but I vote you are doing to much.

If you haven't been working out regularly, it's fine to start by walking. It's fine to start by lifing 1/3rd of what fit you lifts.

Listen to your body at the gym or on your walk. After ten minutes, do you feel good? If not slooooow down. If you still feel bad, a couple minutes after slowing down, stop.

Ideally you will start to feel good and slowly increase your workout time by like five minutes a week. If you are stuck at 15 minutes, it's time for a visit to the doctor.

Listen to your body and go as light as it needs.
posted by Kalmya at 11:01 AM on December 28, 2017 [15 favorites]

If you're that exhausted you're probably doing too much too fast; it's amazing how fast you get deconditioned, particularly if you have anything at all like a sedentary job. I hate the gym, and generally have periods where I do more outside stuff (hiking, skiing, mountaineering) than indoors stuff, but I know I need to keep active more for the mental benefits than the physical ones.

I know that it takes me about 5-6 weeks of going the gym regularly (3x a week) to see any physical results and for me to not actively hate it. I get the mental benefit after about 2 weeks (less depressed, less angry at everyone, calmer/less neurotic). The physical pain goes away after about 1.5-2 weeks for legs, my lungs never stop hurting (but I'm asthmatic, I hear most folks don't have this issue)

I go to the gym semi-regularly year round (so at least 1x a week) and I HATE IT. it is hands down my least favorite activity no matter if I'm doing cardio, classes, weights etc. I will literally count down seconds on the treadmill. (I can con myself into running 15 seconds more, but not 30 seconds apparently). when I haven't been running, I have this idea that of course I can run an 8mintue mile no big deal, but realistically, when I haven't run in over a month the fastest I can do is a 13-14min mile and that involves walking. You don't want to hurt yourself, it's frustratingly slow and argh it sucks, but you need to be gentle to yourself.

Regular "light" exercise is WAY better for you than intense exercise that hurts or causes you to quit.
posted by larthegreat at 11:06 AM on December 28, 2017 [5 favorites]

The thing I didn't get for a long while is that GOING to the gym is the thing. Like, unless you're an Olympic athlete, what you DO there is mostly not as important as the fact that you are *there* doing *something*. So here's another vote to do less. And focus on the achievement of having gone to the gym and done *something* vs. the achievement of having run for so long or lifted so much. If that comes later, fine. If it doesn't, also fine.
posted by veggieboy at 11:08 AM on December 28, 2017 [5 favorites]

It depends on what I'm doing. Fitness classes I enjoy right away mentally, but physically it takes about 3 weeks (assuming 2 classes/week) for my body to adjust, because it's a big change in the amount of movement I'm doing.

Gym equipment (cardio and weight machines) takes a few weeks, and there's usually a re-adjustment period after about a month where I'm like, "nevermind, this is awful, I'll just be weak forever instead." Sometimes I push through that and sometimes I just quit.

Like larthegreat, I'm asthmatic so this might just be a consequence of that, but running never gets better, I never like it, and my tolerance never increases much. I've eliminated it and just go for walks. I get my cardio other ways, and have accepted running is not a Thing I Do.

I agree you are doing too much. When I start a new activity, I start with 30 minutes (or, if it's a class, I just do what I can and give myself permission to do take the easier modification). Too much, too fast will lead you to get frustrated and your tendency will be to give up. If you're falling asleep after an hour workout, you're going too hard and should pull back a little for a few weeks.
posted by assenav at 11:12 AM on December 28, 2017

When I was going to the gym I had a couple experiences early on where my body went past "this is hard" to a full-on physical panic mode (racing heart, extremely red face, onset of nausea). With the elliptical machine, I just had to dial the load waaaaay back for a couple weeks to build up a systemic tolerance to that particular workout, and then I was able to increase the load without triggering the response again. I could do the treadmill, the bike, or even a rowing machine without any sort of issue, though. It was weird.

The worst incident happened on an assisted pull-up machine and the trainers at the gym were very nice when they said "maybe just don't do that machine at all for a while. You can work out those muscle groups with other exercises in your routine."
posted by fedward at 11:17 AM on December 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've experienced this. One thing that helped was to follow a graded exercise program that slowly ramped up my workouts. For weight training, I found Fitbod really helpful, as it keeps track of which muscles are still recovering, and uses algorithms to slowly increase your weights and reps at a safe pace, based on what you were able to lift in previous workouts. I found that I'm just not good at judging what "enough" is - for me, I tend to give up sooner than I should with cardio, but with weights I can easily overdo it and not realise until the soreness and fatigue kicks in the next day. I do better when I let an app make the decisions for me. (A really good personal trainer might also help, but the ones I've encountered tend to be shouty and big on pushing people past their limits, which isn't a good fit for me).

Another thing that helped was to dramatically increase my protein intake. This is probably only an issue because I'm vegetarian - most people eating a western diet eat too much protein, and over-supplementing with protein powders can cause health problems. But for me - on a dietitian's advice - upping my protein really helped me to recover from exercise more quickly. The dietitian recommended some simple changes - a couple of eggs on toast for breakfast, or added to an evening meal. A glass of chocolate milk after a workout. Regular snacks of cheese and crackers, raw nuts, or yoghurt and fruit. Your nutritional needs may be different, and if it's feasible for you I would recommend seeing a dietician for personalised advice. Check their qualifications - it probably varies from country to country, but in Australia, dietitians are university-trained allied health professionals who specialise in using diet to address health concerns, whereas pretty much anyone can call themselves a "nutritionist", regardless of skill or training.

Finally, one type of exercise that can trigger the "runner's high" is high intensity interval training. It may take weeks or months to build up to longer durations of exercise, but while you're building your stamina, consider including some 30-second bursts of high intensity cardio which really gets your heart rate up. This could be as simple as running up a couple of flights of stairs, or doing burpees. You might find that these high energy bursts bring on the endorphins in ways that other forms of exercise don't, at least at first.
posted by embrangled at 11:18 AM on December 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

Exercise is booooring and makes me miserable. But I love dancing, including energetic dancing to good music, and it's a decent cardio workout. Add music to your exercise time, at least. I have never, ever, felt any runner's high from exercise, but dancing does it. I also add small components of exercise to my day by taking the stairs. When I worked on the 6th floor I'd take the elevator to 5 and do 1 flight, then added flights until I could do the whole set. I park farther away from the store except when it's 2F like today. I'd like to get a fitbit to get positive reinforcement for the various activities I do in the course of my day.

Going to the gym and getting at least some exercise is a great step. Keep it up, even at a reduced level.
posted by theora55 at 11:25 AM on December 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

I would tend to agree that you may be overdoing it, but also - are you going to the gym on an empty stomach (bad)? Are you hydrating enough?

I had a serious vitamin D deficiency once that made every gentle workout turn into a bonk for a while, and it was very noticeable to me because I've exercised regularly for years. So get that checked.
posted by Dashy at 11:28 AM on December 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

In my experience, never. Going to the gym has never made me feel good--physically or emotionally. Sometimes yoga class makes me feel less tense in the immediate aftermath, but the weight machines, the stationary bike (or stairmaseter or whatever), even doing laps in the pool (and I like swimming)--it all makes me feel like crap and be grumpy for hours.

But when I am going to the gym regularly, I feel overall better--less stiff, less drained at the end of the day, less tense. Just not within hours of being at the gym. My bike commute sometimes makes me feel happy. Skiing always makes me feel great. But any kind of repetitive exercise routine just leaves me gritting my teeth.

My point is--you may never like it. You may never not hate it. So my advice? Find a gym routine that is least hateful; accept that you'll hate it; and take it easy. Pick an activity, stick with it and try to notice how much better you feel generally.5tart connecting your exercise routine not with the unpleasant grind of the gym and its nasty hangover, but with whatever overall improvement you start to notice in your body over time.
posted by crush at 11:31 AM on December 28, 2017 [7 favorites]

Starting from near zero in terms of fitness and doing a twice a week routine with a personal trainer, it took me about a year and a half to get to the point where it stopped wrecking me. 2+ years in and I am into the phase where I'm noticing all kinds of activities are just easier and more fun but even still I am sometimes wiped out by a session.
posted by feloniousmonk at 11:44 AM on December 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have felt like you at times, and for me the key was two-fold:
a) Hydration -- if I'm not drinking enough water, I will feel like crap no matter how "good" of shape I am in.
b) Finding stuff I actually like doing. Running and stationary bike = have never liked, no matter how long I keep trying at them. For gym-based stuff, I've found elliptical and weight machines to be much more tolerable. But for actually LIKING what I'm doing and feeling good about it, hiking in nature and Pilates videos I can do at home (with an instructor I like) have been the winners. I say this not because those will be the things you like/don't like, but just that experimenting may help. Maybe you just hate gyms and the whole gym environment, but something like classes at a studio or something that gets you outside or something you can do from home would feel better?
posted by rainbowbrite at 11:48 AM on December 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

I hear you. When I first started out, exercising literally felt like dying. I do not get that runner's high or whatever magical endorphins other people are awash in. I also don't get any mental satisfaction in setting and meeting a physical goal. Exercise is boring and at its worst feels deeply unpleasant - not because I was overexerting myself, but just because I do not like the feeling of being even remotely out of breath or having my heart rate elevated or feeling that weird weak feeling after you work out your muscles.

That said, when I finally stuck with it for about three or four months, it stopped sucking as much. At that point, I had made enough progress that my workouts stopped feeling so rigorous, and I think my body just got the message that exercise was a short-term activity that it didn't need to get all freaked out and exhausted about. That was also the point where I actually started feeling shitty when I stopped working out for too long, which was good motivation to keep it up from that point on.
posted by haruspicina at 12:30 PM on December 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

It does sound like you're doing too much, too soon!

I dunno about enjoying exercise - I'm not sure I ever really do enjoy it while I'm doing it (except for yin yoga and walking). It's always hard work! But I have finally found the right activity to get that post exercise high happening (barre class, in case you're interested), and now it seems that my body knows what to do and I get a semi-regular high after running now too, which definitely encourages me to do more. Your mileage may vary - I also get the occasional pre-exercise high too...
posted by eloeth-starr at 12:51 PM on December 28, 2017

I agree with most of the other answers here, but here’s another idea: can you think of other benefits you get from going to the gym and focus on those when you need extra motivation? It might sound silly, but many of the reasons I go to the gym are things like, “I like having something else to rush to after work”, “it keeps me from going straight to the couch for three hours of netflix”, “spinning class is an activity that makes my life more interesting and makes me a more interesting person”, and “i can eat more junk food if i burn off more calories.” I also try to think of the real-world payoffs, like, “i go to my core workout class so if i have an opportunity to go kayaking on my next vacation, I can keep up” and “I can worry a little less about my inherited cardiac history if I make sure my heart gets it’s exercise every week.”

Anyway, my point is that sometimes I have to look outside the box for motivation! But also I definitely agree that starting super easy and progressing super slow is key to making it stick. I started going to the gym to just sit in the hot tub for a few minutes, and THEN i added exercise eventually. :)
posted by carlypennylane at 1:07 PM on December 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Do you actually like the gym? I personally don’t like them one bit, so the depressing aspect of being in there would contribute to my feeling drained. Walking, hiking, going dancing, gardening would leave me physically tired, but in a satisfied, accomplished way.
posted by Vaike at 1:43 PM on December 28, 2017 [9 favorites]

I have been an exercise lover and an exercise hater. Based on my experience, and after you've made sure you're eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, not anemic, etc, I'd suggest you try to make exercise easier/more motivating/more fun with one of these "hacks":

1. Get a trainer or coach. Maybe your gym has a promotion to do a few sessions with someone. Maybe you can join a boxing gym (usually a very cheap way to get more one:one training and an ass-kicking workout.)

2. Do a dance-based social exercise class liked Zumba - or there are tons of other options for this (African Dance based, salsa based, belly dance based, etc). This gives you a social motivator, and it's hard to hate dancing.

3. Do a fight-based exercise like the aforementioned boxing, kickboxing, MMA, etc. Just make sure it has a good dose of cardio. For some reason kicking, punching and choking people is really fun and motivating. Go figure.

4. Find a buddy to exercise with: you can chat with each other and keep each other motivated.

5. Make a goal: Couch to 5K works for a lot of people I think because you're working toward something specific, not just sitting mindlessly on the elliptical for half an hour. Or your goal could be you want to be able to do 100 push ups, or you want to be able to get through the whole Zumba class without taking a break. Or you want to earn a certain belt in martial arts. Anything.

Once you've chosen a "hack" or two, commit to 3 - 5 days a week of your chosen exercise every week for a certain period of time. Something achievable, let's say six weeks.

I would be very surprised if at the end of that six weeks you still come home feeling depleted and exhausted. You need time to get into good enough shape to start getting that good feeling, and you need tricks to get yourself through that time. Personally, I find the elliptical at the gym makes me want to die. Right now it's all I can squeeze in, and that's probably why I'm not getting enough exercise right now! My plan is to get into a new fighting art in the next couple months because previously I really liked boxing. Everyone has different tastes - find what you enjoy.

Good luck!
posted by latkes at 2:13 PM on December 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Is it possible that it would be appropriate for you to go to sleep at 8 PM? I feel benefits from regular exercise, but if I'm skating by in life with poor habits -- not sleeping enough, not drinking enough water, eating poorly -- it doesn't make me feel like utter shit unless I try to exercise.

Exercise is literally good for you because it's a stimulus that pushes you, even slightly, out of your physical comfort zone, so it makes sense that it makes you feel especially bad if you're not taking care of yourself. It's something worth taking inventory of.
posted by telegraph at 3:22 PM on December 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

I agree with Vaike and others. The “going to the gym “ is what kills me, not exercise. Now I walk 30 min a day (I vary my route coming home so it’s different each day) and lift weights and do yoga at home. It is the same stuff I did Out At The Gym, but blissfully alone.
posted by holyrood at 3:25 PM on December 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

Things that I have found helpful:

1. Absolute commitment. This is what I do monday and weds after work (or whatever). It's just routine/habit, and non-negotiable. I've used this with gym and also with dance groups/classes (though it was more fun with the latter :) )
2. A workout buddy. The commitment to another person. I've done this in the gym and with a walking buddy - both have been helpful.
3. A trainer (they are not all drill sergeant types by any means) - mine has helped me know what to do, and pushed me past what I thought I could do but never past what I actually could do.

Without knowing what you're doing, it is entirely possible that it is too much even if you think it's not. When I haven't been exercising - hell, even when I have - even classes or hikes designated as "beginner" or "easy" have often been too hard for me, and that can be depressing.

It's also possible, as telegraph said, that you really do just need more rest/to go to bed earlier.

I also agree with the various comments above about trying different kinds of exercise to see what you really enjoy.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 4:03 PM on December 28, 2017

Any way you could go to the gym first thing in the morning? Like get up an hour earlier and go. Going after working all day just does not work for some people, it definitely doesn't work for me.

Could you get up earlier and exercise without going to the gym? Like couch to 5 as someone mentioned above, or just walking for 45 minutes-which is what I do-, or doing an exercise video?
posted by mareli at 5:01 PM on December 28, 2017

The difference between misery and non-misery for me was changing over from "couch potato" nutrition to "I get a lot of exercise" nutrition. Which is to say, making sure I was eating enough protein/carbs beforehand so I had calories to burn (some people can exercise on an empty stomach, I could not) and then making sure I hydrated during and after my workout and had something to eat afterwards (nothing huge but at least something otherwise you "bonk" and feel like death.
posted by jessamyn at 5:10 PM on December 28, 2017

I just want to provide a slightly different viewpoint: as a soldier, I worked out every weekday for nearly ten years and never stopped fucking hating it. However, there are ways to make you feel less tired and broken and weak, as you put it.

First, I'd start exercising in the morning, when you have the most energy, not at the end of the day when you're already tired and don't want to do much. I don't know why exercising in the morning tends to give you a boost and exercising in the evening makes you sleep like the dead, it just is the way it is, so take advantage of it.

Exercising outdoors is better than exercising indoors. I don't know if it's technically better for you or not, but you are breathing fresh air and not gross gym sweat, and since there's no one around you are more likely to stop when you are naturally tired rather than pushing yourself to fit the machine's idea of when you should stop.

Also, there is no reason you need to be miserable while you work out, it does not make you one bit better. Put Netflix on your phone and watch a show while you're on the elliptical, or play Run Zombies Run, or something you actually like doing. The bribe will take the sting out of the sucky bit.
posted by corb at 5:33 PM on December 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

The most important thing is to get into the habit of entering the building. Once you're in there, do whatever--walk slowly on a treadmill for 30 minutes and watch a Seinfeld rerun on your phone. Take the sleepiest yoga class they offer. Sauna then get a smoothie. Anything, as long as you train yourself to enter the gym a certain number of days. Don't worry about weight machines or anything fancy, just do any kind of cardio at the pace you're comfortable with.

I also find that focusing on stretching stuff, yoga and pilates-type workouts, feel more wholesome and healthy than the ache-y exhaustion of weights or running. Play around until something makes you feel better, not worse!
posted by queen_mob at 5:52 PM on December 28, 2017

I enjoy going to the gym, but when I wake up the next morning I feel like my legs have detached from my body and don't want to move. They're not even sore yet -- I work out in the evenings, so I don't really feel it until early afternoon the next day, but they feel departed, somehow.

Foam rolling helps a little, but after a while I get tired of feeling legbereft in the mornings and just stop going. In a few weeks, I start worrying that some acquaintance of mine can squat more than me and I decide to go back to make sure I can still do my respectable amount; the cycle continues.
posted by batter_my_heart at 6:39 PM on December 28, 2017

I hate excercise and even when I commit and develop greater endurance I still hate it. My normal routine, when I'm engaged, is gradually increasing runs of up to five miles. I carefully track my metrics: mileage, before-and-after BP/HR, diet, days off, etc. I just hate it and it never feels good, nor do I obtain a sense of accomplishment from it. I do it anyway because I have a responsibility to those around me with whom I have relationships to try to stay in shape in order to not die early. I actually find this sometimes leass me to resent my relationships. I just try to ignore it and continue to do the right thing. It is something like doing household accounting.

Watching carefully selected television series via streaming services while running (on a treadmill) that I would never make time to watch otherwise helps the time pass, and *that* activity provides a sense of accomplishment. YMMV.
posted by mwhybark at 7:06 PM on December 28, 2017

I had been doing yoga for several months and enjoying it. All of a sudden, I was getting up in the morning to do my routine, and could barely make it through 20 minutes. I'd sit down and fall asleep on the couch. I hurt all over, all the time. I quit exercising.
My doctor had started mucking about with my thyroid meds, and got them too low. It took quite some time to find a doctor who would listen to me, not the medically recommended minimum numbers, and prescribe enough thyroxin to feel well again.
If any of these symptoms sound like you, get your thyroid levels checked. Don't fall for 'they're in the normal range' - low normal is hell. Good luck.
posted by Enid Lareg at 8:52 PM on December 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

I came to say basically what Enid Lareg said--if this keeps happening, and it never seems to get easier, please talk to a doctor. For years, I'd intermittently tell myself, "Ok! This is the year I take up [jogging, yoga, etc]," and every year, I'd stick with it for a while and be so unrelentingly miserable afterwards that I'd eventually give it up.

Turns out that I have an autoimmune disorder and the vast majority of exercise, including both anything weight bearing and anything involving stretching, is wildly inappropriate for me. I felt miserable because I was actively destroying my joints. I feel like if you're asking this question, you have reason enough to suspect something might be wrong, and it's worth investigating.
posted by mishafletch at 9:39 PM on December 28, 2017

All good advice so far, especially being checked out by a doctor. I have hypermobility syndrome and most exercise makes me feel awful. I have found, recently, that swimming makes me feel pretty good, though. So maybe you'll find something you don't hate.
posted by greermahoney at 11:06 PM on December 28, 2017

Also, this is not a socially acceptable answer in our artificially-lit lives, but have you considered you might need more sleep? Going to bed at 8 isn't crazy if you are tired. If you are routinely getting 7-8hrs a night feel free to ignore me, but all exercise will be painful if you are sleep-deprived at baseline.
posted by eglenner at 12:29 AM on December 29, 2017

if this is at all possible, one of the things that really helped me get started on my now 8 year long regular-exercise habit was having friends who were willing to work out with you. they keep you accountable and having someone else there will make being at the gym much less of a stressful, anxiety-inducing endeavor where you feel like you have to compete with strangers about your relative fitness

another thing that helps is being mindful of how much it improves not just your physical health but your mental health too. if that's an incentive that will carry meaning for you then I recommend holding fast to it - it's what gets my clinically depressed butt to the gym four days a week
posted by runt at 11:01 AM on December 29, 2017

I know someone who did not enjoy cardio exercise in any form. She phrased it as "I literally felt like I was dying every time." She was surprised to be diagnosed with asthma in her fifties. Apparently adult-onset asthma is a thing, and feeling abnormally fatigued during/after a workout can be an asthma symptom.

These days, she's still not one to go to the gym, but if she's taken her inhaler ahead of time, she can walk briskly up a hill and not have to stop and pant at the top.

So that's something you could ask a doctor about.
posted by beandip at 1:06 PM on January 2, 2018

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