How to Break Out of a Rut

Posted On By Todd
rut

Feeling stuck? You’re not alone. Here’s how to break out of a rut – at the gym, at work or just with life in general.

Winter is coming, but as you emerge bleary-eyed from summer, you may be left with the feeling that you’ve hit a dead-end, that you’re stuck. It could be your enthusiasm for exercise. It could be your job. Or maybe you just feel like your life has no meaning. But you don’t have to feel like this – whatever rut you’ve found yourself stuck in, there are ways to clamber your way out, and it’s all about getting back to basics and focusing on what truly matters to you. Here’s how to break out of rut, any rut.

“It’s quite a common problem to be stuck – most people I come across in my line of work I would describe as stuck in one way or another,” says Dr Jeremy Adams, performance psychologist and director of Eclectic Consulting in Hobart. “Maybe they’re stuck in their heads or in their feelings, or maybe they’re stuck in a job or a relationship, or they just feel ‘stuck’ – that nothing has any meaning. And usually, even with a complication like anxiety or depression – we can find something that matters, and find a way of getting a little closer to that in one way or another.”

How to Break Out of a Rut with exercise

Exercise is supposed to make you feel good, but somehow the thought of dragging yourself to the gym again fills you full of dread. But you don’t have to throw away all your fitness goals – you just need to re-evaluate them.

“Ask yourself – what do you actually enjoy about exercise? Is it just the gym?” Dr Adams asks.  “A lot of people think they need to go to the gym, but there are other ways that they can reengage with training. Get out of the house and enjoy the spring, learn some new skills in another sport.”

If you want to keep going to the gym, take a step back and look at what you’ve been doing – is it the same routine you’ve done for the past six months?

“Ideally you should be changing your gym routine every three months or so, from a neurophysiological perspective,” Dr Adams says. “Also, doing the same thing all the time is going to get really boring – you need variety! I’d also be looking for some of the other things that make it dull, for example, going to the gym by yourself can get boring, but having a training partner can make things a lot more interesting – and challenging.”

Another option is to set yourself a goal, although you need to be careful that you’re not just setting yourself up for disappointment.

“There can be a problem with goals like ‘I want to lose this much weight’,” Dr Adams says. “The downside is that you might not reach your goal, and often people set themselves goals that are too high. A better idea is to set a goal that’s more about something that’s tied to what matters to you – something that you value – being able to get to a level of fitness or strength that enhances other areas in your life, or being able to engage with your training in a way that you find a lot more enjoyable.

If you want to keep going to the gym, take a step back and look at what you’ve been doing – is it the same routine you’ve done for the past six months?

“A lot of my clients will say I want to lose weight and that’s fine, but why? To do that is going to require some effort and some suffering, or at least some discomfort. If you don’t have something underneath that, that’s tied to the reason why you would put yourself through that level of discomfort, then it’s not going to be sustainable. So if it’s about wanting to lose weight because you want to be a healthy person, you want to have more energy, you want to able to live longer for your kids or perform better at your work, then it’s tied to something that’s more important, and that’s going to make it a lot easier.”

Another option is to simply take a break – an idea that might not be as horrifying as it sounds.

“Sometimes a break can be brilliant,” Dr Adams says. “A lot of physiologists will actually recommend taking a seven to 10 day break every 12 weeks anyway, just to give your body a chance to recover. Psychologically it can be great as well – it can give you an opportunity to rest up, to reengage. Because it can become very same-same. Especially if you’re doing a lot of long, hard training sessions that require a lot of your time.”

You don’t need to give up exercise altogether. Just try taking a break from the gym and switching to something else for a while. “I’d also recommend getting some professional advice from a good trainer,” Dr Adams says. “Try a completely different type of program, learn a whole load of new routines – that sort of thing can be really interesting. You want something that will pique your interest.”

How to Break Out of a Rut with your job

We’ve all been there. Waking up in the morning filled with dread at the thought of another day at a job that you loathe. Just like being bored with the gym, being bored at work can really drain your motivation and suck the joy out of life.

“This happens a lot with my clients,” Dr Adams says. “What I usually do is take it back to values – what actually matters in your life. It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily grind, but you need to ask yourself, ‘why am I there in the first place?’ For some people it is literally for the pay cheque, and that’s it. But for a lot of people it’s more than that. Maybe you’ve got some good friends at work, or at least colleagues who you enjoy hanging out with. Or maybe the work that you’re doing has the opportunity for some change or challenge or some new skills.”

Guy bored

If meaningful work to you is learning new things, being challenged or takin gon new responsibilities, speak to employer about whether they might offer you some training. It’s a win-win situation, as doing so will not only re-motivate you, it will also make you a more valuable employee. Or if it’s about being able to get out of there at 4:30 so that you can do other things, maybe learning some time management skills will allow you to do that.

“For most people, when it comes down to what matters, it’s more than just a pay cheque,” Dr Adams says. “You can usually come up with something that helps you to engage with your work and find some meaning in it. Doing meaningless work – something that you find boring as hell and unengaging – that’s extremely unpleasant for most people. But unless you’re doing something incredibly, menial, most work can be modified in some way to find some meaning or some connection to it.”

Of course, if there really are no options, leaving is always a possibility.

“If you can leave, why don’t you?” Dr Adams asks. “Look for something new! But at the same time, why not look in the rest of your life – if things are missing for you at work, how can you find those things that matter to you in other areas in your life?”

Consider how you might be able to enrich your life outside of work. Perhaps you could enrol in a course to learn a new skill or study a subject you’re passionate about? Or maybe some sort of community engagement or volunteering role might bring you a sense of meaning.

“It’s about what matters to you and how you can get more if it in your life,” Dr Adams says.  

Get off the lounge

Even if your job is ace and you’re kicking goals at the gym, you might still find yourself stuck – in that bum-shaped dent in the lounge. Sometimes it can feel that your life outside of work has no meaning, and it can be hard to know what to do about it or where to start. The important thing is to not get overwhelmed.

guy sleeping on lounge

“Learn how to be a little more tolerant of your experiences and your emotions and not get caught up in the small things,” Dr Adams says. “At the same, learn how to be more mindful of your experiences so you can actually be in the present moment and take some value from it.”

Once again, you need to ask yourself – what matters in your life?  What do you find meaningful or engaging? What do you stand for? What do you admire in others and what would you like to do more of?

“This can be broken down into all sorts of areas,” Dr Adams says. “It can be relationships, it can be work, it can be play, it can be health and fitness, community and environment, ethics, spirituality, personal growth – you name it. Unless you’re in a situation where life genuinely is really awful, there is usually something you can engage with that is in your control.”

Consider what you can act upon – what you can do here and now, as in right now, today tomorrow or this week – that takes you a little closer to becoming the sort of person you want to be. Also think about the things you’re doing that consistently take away from the person you want to be – sitting on the lounge all weekend, or doing the same thing over and over again.

“You shouldn’t feel like a failure if you feel stuck, as it’s quite common,” Dr Adams says. “Everyone feels like it’s just them – they see other people’s Facebook feeds and everyone seems to be having a great time, but actually it isn’t the case.

“The biggest story that people tell themselves in their own head is the ‘I’m not good enough’ story; the ‘my life isn’t good enough’ story. And that’s almost universal – pretty much everybody tells themselves a version of that story – it’s incredibly common. Most people are a lot less motivated or connected with their lives than they appear.”

Social media is a major cause of this, because things like Facebook give most people a very unrealistic idea of how other people are living their life.

“People only tend to post the good stuff on Facebook, but that’s probably only about five percent of their life!” Dr Adams says. “They don’t post all the other crappy things, so you get a really unrealistic idea – that this person’s life must be amazing compared to yours. So if you are going to use Facebook, don’t use it to gauge reality. Use it to connect with other people and do the things that matter to you.”

7 ways how to break out of a rut with training

Despite your best efforts in the gym, nothing seems to be happening anymore. What’s the deal? The answer can be summed up in one simple word… variation!

Most people tend to fall into one specific way of training early on, and then rarely break the pattern as the years pass. As more time elapses, such a “one dimensional” system will bring about progressively diminishing returns as far as hypertrophy is concerned. The human body is an incredibly adaptable machine and thus will quickly cease to respond to stimuli that it’s exposed to time and again.

Here are a few ways you can vary your program to kick-start your strength and muscle gains.

1. Rep scheme

Unique motor unit pools are brought into play, and different muscle fibres are affected when you train with sets in the lower (4-7), medium (8-11), high (12-15) and very high (16+) rep range. For maximum development it’s best to vary your rep scheme every few weeks, or even try hitting each of these ranges within the same workout.

2. Rest periods

If you generally rest 2-3 minutes between sets, try cutting your rest period to a minute or less for a while and experience how much more intense your workouts feel. On the other hand, if you tend to move very quickly from set to set then try slowing down your pace and enjoy how much more weight you’re able to move.

3. Rep tempo

One of the biggest mistakes trainees make is moving weights too quickly through the range of motion. While “speed reps” do have their place at times, especially when looking to increase power, it’s far better to slow your reps down and keep the muscle under tension for longer periods. Especially important is controlling the negative portion of each rep, taking a good 3-5 seconds to lower the weight.

4. Exercises

It’s very easy to get stuck doing the same exercises over and over in your program, as we’re all creatures of habit. But when it comes to bodybuilding, this is not the best strategy for continued muscle growth. When your central nervous system gets overly “acquainted” with a movement, fewer muscle fibres are forced to fire to move the weight from point A to B. Make sure to cycle certain exercises in and out of your program on a regular basis in order to keep your body responding optimally to your training.

5. Exercise order

If you’re working with limited equipment, changing exercises may not be an option — but what you can do is keep your mind, muscles and nervous system guessing by constantly switching up the order of your movements. If you always start your workouts with a compound lift, try leading off with an isolation movement instead. If you generally train your anterior delts first on shoulder day, then try hitting lateral or posterior delts first and the front heads at the end of the routine. There are many ways to mix things up and make the same old program feel totally different.

6. Intensity technique

Perhaps your body has become stagnant because you need to up the intensity for a few weeks and shock your muscles into growth. Try throwing in some beyond failure techniques like forced reps, drop sets, partials or rest pause into your workouts. Instead of always doing straight sets, wreak some havoc on your body with super sets, tri sets, or even giant sets. You can even try altering how you do your actual reps on some sets, such as  1½ reps, which is performing a ½ rep in between each full rep. 

7. Body part split

Have you been training chest and biceps together for years now? Have you always hit quads and hams on the same day? Sometimes all it takes to kickstart new gains is to alter your split by combining different sets of muscle groups on each training day. Try altering your split every eight weeks or so, and basing how you group muscles (as well as on which days) by prioritising body parts that are lagging behind others.

To find out more about Eclectic Consulting, go to eclectic-consult.com. Check out Dr Adams’ blog at eclectic-moose.com.