Reebok CrossFit Games star Patrick Vellner—the bronze medalist from last years' Games—said many high-level CrossFit athletes he knows seem to think more, more, more training is always better.
“It has almost become sort of a pissing contest between a few athletes to see who can do more volume,” Vellner said of many elite exercisers.
Truth is, though, you don’t need to be an elite athlete to be addicted to working out. In fact, I would argue it’s just as likely for a lifestyle worker-outer to be addicted to exercise as it for an Olympic athlete.
A 2013 article in the Sports Medicine Journal said there’s a fine line between a healthy commitment to working out and full-blown unhealthy addiction. It said:
“The findings suggest that an individual who is addicted to exercise will continue exercising regardless of physical injury, personal inconvenience or disruption to other areas of life including marital strain, interference with work and lack of time for other activities. 'Addicted' exercisers are more likely to exercise for intrinsic rewards and experience disturbing deprivation sensations when unable to exercise. In contrast, 'committed' exercisers engage in physical activity for extrinsic rewards and do not suffer severe withdrawal symptoms when they cannot exercise. Exercisers must acquire a sense of life-balance while embracing an attitude conducive to sustainable long-term physical, psychological and social health outcomes.”
So which one are you? A healthy exerciser or an unhealthy addicted one?
5 signs and symptoms of exercise addiction
You sneak in extra workouts
Do you leave a training session and feel like you need more? Do you often say things like, “That’s it? That’s all we’re doing today?” After 5 x 5 heavy back squats and a 1,000-m full-effort row in class, do you sneak off and go for a 2-hour run down the Vernon Rail Trail?
You can’t remember your last rest day
Do you enjoy your rest days? Or do you not think you need them? Do you feel guilty when you do take a day off? Do you still show up to the gym to train even when you have serious DOMs? (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness)
I am definitely guilty myself of not enjoying my rest days. As I'm writing this, I'm taking an entire week off training after my CrossFit Games Regional competition. Something I wish I didn't have to do, but I know it will be good for both my mind and body.
You work through sickness and injury
Do you continue to train when you have a bad cold, chills and a fever? You pretend you’re feeling fine, but everyone around you is telling you to go home? Do you show up and work through pain when you’re visibly injured?
Do you find yourself in a bad mood when you haven’t gotten your workout in yet? Do you find yourself angry, stressed or anxious before you’ve had a good sweat?
Vacations are avoided
Do you avoid planning vacations because you’re worried you’ll get out of shape? Or choosing vacations that will allow you to keep training each day you’re there? Or having an anxiety attack wondering if the hotel you’re staying at has a gym? And the moment your plane lands, is your first priority finding a gym?
If you can relate to the above situations, you just might have an addiction on your hands.
5 Coping Strategies to Combat your Addiction
Talk to your coach for life
One of the reasons you have a coach for life when you train with us is to help you through, not just your physical limitations, but also your emotional ones. And also, to educate you about the why behind training.
So if you find yourself questioning whether you’re training enough, or are feeling anxiety because you did two relatively light training days in a row, ask your coach why the programming has been the way it has. Chances are there’s a method behind the alleged madness: Maybe your coach is purposely giving you a deload week because he has big plans next week and doesn’t want you overtrained heading into a heavier volume week next week.
The point is it’s important to communicate with your coach so you can feel good about, and understand, the path you’re on.
Listen to your body
Sometimes your body knows best, so let it be your guide.
If you’re incredibly sore, or are feeling depleted, for example, take a guilt-free rest day, even if it wasn’t in your planned schedule for the week. Your performance will thank you for it.
Go for a walk or a swim
If you have trouble taking rest days, at least take an active recovery day. This can mean going for a walk, doing a yoga class, or going for a light bike or swim—anything that won’t contribute to beating you down more, but might still fulfill your need to exercise.
Learn the science
If you don’t believe you have problem, or you know you’re addicted but you justify it by telling yourself it’s better to be addicted to exercise than booze, research the topic.
You’ll discover there’s science behind the importance of rest and recovery, and science to back up the dangers of training too much. When you read and absorb the science, you might be more likely to buy into the importance of developing a healthy relationship with your training.
Here are a couple articles about overtraining and exercise addiction to start:
Write it down
Writing down your goals, as well as a training and recovery plan, is a great way to keep you accountable.
Keeping track of your performance numbers, as well as how your body feels, goes a long way, too. You’ll realize training more, more, more doesn’t always mean better performance, and often even has the reverse effect on the way you feel and the way you perform.
The best tip of all, though, might be to be gentle on yourself. If you mess up and succumb to your addiction here and there, that’s OK. If you’re truly addicted, it will take a while to fix your relationship with exercise. Be patient with yourself and appreciate the small wins along the way, like learning to love your #RestDays.