Why Your Workout Isn’t Working Out

Exercise generates energy on a cellular level, and research shows physical activity can lessen fatigue by as much as 65 percent. So why does your sweat sesh leave you dead on your feet for hours (even days) later? Five reasons your workout isn’t working out:

1. You’re overtraining. Consistently pushing yourself to the brink of exhaustion, leaves you worn out and weary, not energized. Research links overtraining with persistent fatigue, diminished focus and concentration, low mental stamina. Tame your workout beast. Gradually increase exercise frequency, power and duration so your body has time to adjust. Limit extreme sessions to twice a week, and don’t do two in a row; alternate hard-core action with moderate-intensity movement. And build in rest and recovery days—at least two per week for endurance activities.


2. You’re not eating enough (or eating the wrong things). Skimp on fuel, and you’ll run out of steam mid-workout, end your session depleted and drained. Plus, slashing calories to slim body fat pretty much always backfires; studies show insufficient caloric intake dampens metabolism, thwarting weight loss efforts and triggering post-exercise fatigue. Modestly increase clean calories, especially before demanding workouts; endurance sports call for added carbs. Prioritize protein—research shows active people need significantly more than their sedentary counterparts, and meager levels lead to exhaustion.

3. You’re exercising too close to bedtime. All that workout-induced adrenaline coursing through your veins can disturb restful slumber, so you wake up in a zombie-like daze. And strenuous evening regimens boost stimulating cortisol, further disrupting sleep. Morning workouts capitalize on mood-enhancing endorphins released by exercise to elevate enthusiasm and energy, and studies show a.m. routines amplify alertness and mental vigor. Hitting the gym early also shifts circadian rhythms, so you’re peppy in the morning, naturally drowsy at night, making it easier to doze off.

4. You’re dehydrated. Sweaty exercise depletes fluids, increasing internal temperature and heart rate, hampering blood flow, and seriously sapping stamina and endurance. Electrolytes lost through perspiration reduce brain clarity and muscle strength, leaving you lethargic and out of steam post-workout; studies show even mild dehydration diminishes focus, concentration and vitality. Replenish fluids regularly—8 to 10 ounces every 10 to 20 minutes while exercising, and at least 8 ounces after your sweaty endeavors.

5. You need more rest. Charging into a monster session on too-little sleep decreases endurance, leaves you exhausted when your session ends. Plus, being tired when you’re training heightens the risk for injuries, impacts immunity and stymies the body’s muscle-repair efficiency. Get plenty of shut-eye before workouts; turn off electronics three hours before bedtime, dim the lights, listen to soothing tunes to prep your brain for sleep, hit the hay by 10 p.m. And if you’ve tossed and turned into the wee hours, take a pass on next-day fitness routines.

Make Your Workout Work: speedy routines proven to put more pep in your step

  • Resistance training. Besides building bones, trimming fat and crafting strong, lean muscles: resistance training increases metabolism and brain function, maximizing concentration and sharpening thinking. You don’t need equipment; squats, burpees, pushups, lunges and mountain climbers use your own weight. Do a combo of all five (eight to ten reps each) for an energizing whole-body workout. Add dumbbells, medicine balls, pullup bars or resistance bands to dial up the volume and widen your range of options.
  • Interval sprints. Alternating high-intensity activity with moderate movement gets blood pumping and energy flowing; studies show even a 10-minute routine bolsters stamina. Here’s how: warm up with two minutes of brisk walking. Gradually increase speed and jog for four minutes, then sprint for 30 seconds, giving it all you’ve got. Slow your pace and repeat the jog-sprint cycle. After four reps, decrease speed and cool down with four minutes of leisurely walking.
  • Jumping rope. For instant all-over energy: jumping rope recruits a range of different muscle groups, quickly elevates heart rate and circulation, and nourishes brain cells with blood for focus and clarity. And it’s crazy-efficient; research suggests 10 minutes of daily jumping yields the same benefits as jogging for 30 minutes a day. Stretch or jog in place to warm up, then jump for at least five minutes, modifying tempo as needed. No rope? Do jumping jacks, hop up and down or just bounce on the balls of your feet (easier on the knees).
  • Deep stretching. Full-body stretches relax tight muscles, release stamina-zapping tension and boost blood flow; slow, mindful movements also encourage deep breathing, shown to enhance calm energy, focus and concentration. Check out online yoga classes, or DIY your own stretchy routine: glide through a combo of forward bends, downward dog, sun salutations, warrior pose, twists, backbends. Hold each posture for 20 to 30 seconds, paying attention to your breath. Repeat that stretch three times before you move on to the next and mix up movements to hit all parts of your body.