When To Quit Exercising

Quit Lifting

It can be a fine line between pushing yourself and hurting yourself. That's the razor's edge of the gym and a question not everyone knows how to answer; when to quit exercising.


SHIT. There it goes again.”

This was Alan’s third attempt on a squat. We had rolled, stretched, performed a custom dynamic warm up, lowered the working weight, and still Alan’s knee was screaming at him.

Alan is one of the most driven people I’ve ever coached. If you write a set/rep/weight in his program he completes it or dies trying. It makes him an absolute beast in the gym - when everything is going well.

Today things were not going well. A runner earlier in life, Alan’s knees could be touchy. I designed a warm up specifically to get his knees ready to lift, but every once in a blue moon his knees refused to cooperate. There’s nothing wrong with that, but pushing it could lead to much more serious injury.

Alan wanted to barrel through his squats and tell his knee to shut up. He didn’t want to miss a chance to make progress. He was mentally tough and unafraid of physical discomfort.

So, I told him to go home. I made Alan quit.

Stop Working Out

Quitting Doesn’t Mean You’re Weak

Nope. Not even a little bit.

Quitting is sometimes necessary. Here's an article on how quitting may be beneficial to your health

The problem most people have, is that they don’t know when to quit exercising.

In Seth Godin’s book The Dip, he argues that quitting is an under-utilized skill. There is a criteria to knowing when to quit exercising that the average person doesn’t think through.

Time to Quit

In a gym context, an average gym-goer decides they want abs so they go to the gym. The workouts for fat loss are usually grueling and by mid-workout, fatigue sets in. Muscles burn, lungs gasp for air, and the body gives all the signs of being in distress. It’s the same feeling I get when I’m forced to watch The Bachelor.

Most folks decide that must be good enough for a day. The workout was tough, they got grossly sweaty, and they can probably quit and head home.

That is bad quitting.

How to Quit

Knowing when to quit isn't all physical if your unclear 

The trick is to decide your quitting criteria before you begin. Don’t wait until you’re under the stress of your workout, know when to quit exercising. 

Before you start on a new goal, sit down and write out what criteria will result in your quitting.

For example:

“I will only quit during a workout if:

  1. I throw up (Ew. No one needs that.)
  2. I become dizzy or light headed and can’t recover
  3. I can no longer keep good form and lift safely
  4. I suffer an injury or get sharp pains in a joint or muscle
  5. There is an emergency
  6. Charlize Theron shows up and asks if I’d like to go get a drink”
Fitness Sickness

Now you know when to pack it in.

Let’s say you get into your fourth round of your circuit training and you’re very tired. Everything burns. You’re uncomfortable and don’t enjoy this anymore. Too bad. You haven’t met the criteria that allows you to quit, so you keep going.

Conversely, let’s say after your third round you are very dizzy and after resting for several minutes you try to start your fourth round and the dizziness immediately comes back in full force.

It could be you didn’t eat enough carbs pre-workout. Maybe your baby kept you up all night and you’re sleep deprived. You may just not be conditioned enough for four rounds of your circuit.

It doesn’t matter why in the moment. You’ve met your criteria for when to quit exercising. Go home. If you still want to accomplish something in the way of physical fitness that day check out one of my many blogs here

You may not feel the burn but you will become more educated with nutrition and fitness which is invaluable to your health.

Why Knowing When to Quit Exercising

Alan couldn’t get his knee to fall in line so he went home. He put a little ice on his knee and stretched his quads a bit that evening. He came back for his next session two days later and attempted the squat workout again.

He knocked it out of the freakin’ park. His form was impeccable, he lifted heavier weight than we projected, and his knees felt bulletproof. His knees just needed the rest.

Knowing when to quit exercising was the best thing we did for his progress that week.

In the immortal words of Q; “007, I’ve always taught you two things: Never let them see you bleed, and always have an escape plan.”

If James Bond has a criteria for quitting, you should too. Forcing a bad situation doesn’t benefit anyone.

If things go south, be smart and quit.

Download a PDF of The Art of Quitting Worksheet

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