This article is Part 1 of a 3-Part series about exercise addiction. For more details, and to be notified when Part 2 and Part 3 go live, subscribe below.
Misfit Athletics athletes driving it home on Assualt bikes. img via: Misfit Athletics Facebook
“We all have exercise addiction,” said Page, referring to much of the CrossFit community. “We’re neurologically trained to crave that hormone dump from working out. It’s our vice. It’s a straight-up addiction.”
“It’s one of the main causes of stagnation and overtraining I have seen in CrossFit athletes. It’s everywhere” said a concerned Minnion.
Is this sounding familiar? Are you one of these athletes? Let's dive in...
5 Signs You Might Be Addicted
1) You lie to your coach about your secret 6-mile morning jogs
Alex Parker shared this photo of herself on Instagram as a throwback to when she focused on running: "Throwback to when running was easy...because I wasn't stopping every 400m to lift weights!... #notallowedtorunanymore"
True story: 2015 CrossFit Games athlete Alex Parker, a former endurance athlete, admitted when she first started working with her coach Michael FitzGerald she used to sneak in 6-mile runs at 6 a.m. five days a week and didn’t tell him about them.
Eventually, the perceptive FitzGerald grew suspicious:
“My squat wasn’t going up. Then one day, he asked me, “Are you by chance running?’” Parker said.
Today, she refrains from her early morning runs and follows exactly what FitzGerald programs. Her exercise addiction was resulting in overtraining.
2) You don’t really ever take a rest day
Blonyx Crew member Joe Scali recently put his fitness to work outside of the gym by completing the 200-km (120-mile) Ride to Conquer Cancer! Exercise outside of the gym isn't a general concern, but when athletes claim work like this is a 'rest day,' there might be a problem.
If you can’t find a way to relax enough to enjoy your rest day, or you can’t even remember a day where your heart rate stayed close to a resting level for an entire 24 hours, then this is you.
Sometimes you really do plan to take a rest day, but you find yourself feeling anxious and antsy so you head out for a four-hour hike, a long bike ride, or a 45-minute jog, row or swim. You justify it with thoughts like, ‘I just wanted to get out in nature,’ ‘It was basically a rest day because I wasn’t moving at a high intensity,' or the commonly-used, ‘Active recovery.’
One scroll through social media will tell you you’re not alone. It doesn’t take long to find a high-level CrossFit athlete hitting a 60-minute steady state row or run. Right next to the photo evidence is #restday.
“Lots of people find it very difficult to take a day off,” affirmed Page.
“Not letting your body take a 100% timeout can really hamper your recovery and adaptation mechanisms," Minnion added.
3) You suffer from the fear of not doing enough volume
You often find yourself filled with self-doubt, constantly questioning whether you’re doing enough volume in your training program. It’s not that you don’t trust your coach; it’s just that you can’t seem to fend off the peer pressure. Sometimes it’s a friend who ropes you into doing an additional 20-minute AMRAP at the end of your program, and sometimes it’s Instagram’s fault: You see a competitor’s muscle-up post and realize she is better than you, so you stick around and work on some additional upper-body strength work and then bang out a couple dozen muscle-ups just to be sure.
Central Regional and Blonyx athlete Melissa Doss admits it’s hard not to start to question herself.
“Sometimes I’ll look at other’s social media and [it seems] they’re doing so much more work than me…It’s hard not to compare, sometimes,” she said.
Even perennial Games star Lucas Parker, a man who has always beaten to his own drum has moments of self-doubt.
“Like any athlete, I have my doubts about what I am doing, and my fears that others are progressing faster. But I was always told that consistency is key, and that trust in your program trumps almost anything,” he said.
Generally speaking, though, Parker finds he can naturally push away peer pressure he knows won’t help him.
“I have always been good at avoiding peer pressure. I was probably the only kid in school who actually listened to the grown-ups and their educational videos when they said cigarettes were bad."
4) Your mood sucks until you’ve had your fix
You’re the person who feels anxious and stressed and just not quite yourself until you have been to the gym for your daily fix. After the gym, you always feel better, but after a few hours your mood starts to slip again and start thinking about what other workout you could do today.
I admit it, I myself am a culprit. When I workout in the morning, I feel happier and am more productive the rest of the day, but then my mood deteriorates by 5 p.m. And when I workout in the early evening, I feel high all night, but at the expense of having had a less productive day. Often the only solution feels like embarking on the two-a-day training day = Admittedly Addicted.
“Swings in mood, alertness and energy levels are classic warning sign of overtraining.” Says Minnion. “Unfortunately the positive impact of exercise on these attributes also compounds the desire to get back in the gym. I see this a lot with highly competitive CrossFit athletes.The gym becomes their ‘happy place’”
5) You lose the ability to vacation
"Wait, what did we come here for again?"
You’re headed on vacation. As your flight lands, your first priority is to head to the CrossFit gym you scoped out beforehand. And then 50 percent of your vacation is spent at the gym because you’re so excited how much free time you have. When you fly home, you realize you barely got to see Hawaii (again, I might be talking about myself).
Where to draw the line?
Mild exercise addiction is one thing. As Page pointed out, it’s something a large percentage of CrossFit athletes deal with and it’s probably not that big of a deal, as generally speaking, working out helps our lives more than it hurts them. But if and when it truly starts to take over your life—or if your fitness level and body image starts to become the source of your happiness and the way you define yourself—then the joy starts to diminish, as well as your training outcomes or even your health. That’s what we want to avoid.
Sign up below for Part 2 and Part 3, where we go into how the addiction can hurt your life, and coping strategies from top-level CrossFit athletes and coaches!