Here’s How to Take a Breather When You’ve Pushed Yourself Too Hard

Heavier dumbbells? Another set of squats? Burpees—seriously? We’ve all (unfortunately) experienced a mid-workout struggle where we’re left feeling defeated, exhausted and straight-up stressed out.

Even though our shaking leg muscles may tell us otherwise, the instructors that are pushing us to move, lift and strengthen know when enough is enough—even when we don’t. Exercising is a balancing act, where you walk the fine line between staying in your comfort zone and pushing yourself to your limits. How do you know when you’ve had enough, once and for all?

Here, three fitness instructors share the tell-tale signs of overexertion and how you can come back down to your happy (and safe) place.

Go back to square one

We can all get a little carried away, especially when our workouts are concerned. Positive body changes and increases in endurance and strength may motivate you to amp up your fitness regime. But with that, you might take on a little more than your body can actually handle.

If this happens to you, Brittany Grignon, owner of SESSION | pilates, suggests slowing your entire body down. “I slow down their movement, slow down their breath, and hopefully slow down their thoughts,” she says. “This allows them to connect to the body and control how the body is working instead of allowing the exercise to control the body.”

And connecting with your breath is essential if you find yourself in this state of panic. Focus on inhaling and exhaling—yes, elementary stuff. “When breathing, I tell them exactly what muscle they need to draw their attention to and then to try to settle into the exercise instead of forcing the exercise to happen,” she says.

Focus on technique

Strong technique is a must when exercising. Improper form and a lack of technique can have seriously dangerous consequences. According to Chelsea Moore, co-founder of Ro Fitness, technique is the first to go when people are in over their head. If you feel like you are compromising strong form to perform faster or lift heavier weights, take it down a notch. Instructors including Moore agree that they would rather have students moving safely and confidently than struggling to keep up with others.

Check in with your body daily

You know your body like no other. That means it’s your responsibility—yes, you—to know when your body needs a break. If you’re feeling strange aches and pains (but not not typical post-class soreness)  or your body feels physically drained, take a breather from working out.

The fittest people in the world need rest days, and you do too. “It’s important to know the difference between working hard and pushing too hard. Your body is going to let you know when you are in over your head and you should listen to it and respect the signs it gives you,” says Steph Shames, master instructor at Redbike. It can be frustrating to feel like your body can’t perform in the way you want it to. When you’re feeling down on yourself, Shames suggests that you remember that goals take time and aren’t meant to be completed overnight. What would be the fun in that?

Slow it down, but don’t lose your stride

When you’re feeling overworked, it’s important to slow down your moves  and stress. Be careful: You put yourself in a trickier situation if you slow down your body too much. Moore suggests slowing down your workouts so that you feel at ease again without losing sight of why you’re working out in the first place. Exercise isn’t meant to be easy—the challenge is what makes it rewarding after all. By breaking down the exercises, you’ll feel a greater sense of control.

This may feel like you’re dumbing down your workout and that can be disappointing, especially if you have major goals you want to achieve. “In this case, I break the remainder of the piece down into smaller pieces and give them tangible goals that they can feel confident in hitting. Then so they don’t feel stifled, I pick a point in the piece to do a final sprint to come back to that intensity that they were seeking at the beginning of the piece,” says Moore. This step-by-step approach will likely keep your confidence in check while giving your body the time and attention it needs.


Amanda Garrity is a commerce editor and content producer living in New York City. She finds every excuse to go on an adventure, whether it's in her own backyard or across the country. She enjoys hiking, pretending she's a prima ballerina and drinking an abundant amount of coffee. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.