Part 1 and 2 of this series looked at signs that you’re addicted to exercise, and how the addiction can harm your life. This final part offers ways to cope with the addiction so fitness can remain a healthy part of your life.
Whether you suffer from a truly concerning addiction, or you’re just slightly more obsessed with your fitness than you know is healthy, you have probably made decisions that you know aren’t what’s best for your performance. Or your life, for that matter.
Maybe you often find yourself getting peer-pressured into doing additional workouts that your coach wouldn’t condone, or maybe you get caught up with what everyone else is doing on social media and you find yourself constantly questioning whether you’re doing enough. And maybe you’re so obsessive that you don’t ever take rest days or vacations because you’re scared of losing your fitness.
Here are 5 coping strategies to help turn this ship around:
5. When in doubt, ask your coach
If you’re questioning whether you’re doing enough volume, or feeling anxiety over why your coach programmed two light days in a row, instead of taking matters into your own hands and doubling your workload, ask your coach why.
Simple as this: “Why have my sessions only been one-hour each the last three days?”
Maybe your coach has you on a deload week. Or maybe you looked neurotically fatigued last week and he wants to get you back on track. Or maybe he has big plans for you the following week so he doesn’t want to overtrain you leading into next week.
Whatever his reasons, if you work with a coach you trust understands how to best prepare you to reach your goals, think about how insulting it is for him or her if you’re always going behind their back and adding more volume to your program.
In fact, both James FitzGerald of Opex Fitness and Seth Page, founder of MisFit Athletics, admit they have chosen to stop working with uncoachable, exercise-addicted clients who refuse to take a day off, or are constantly doing additional training outside of their program.
“There have been situations where I can’t get through to an athlete about the importance of taking a rest day, and I have let them go,” Page admitted.
One way FitzGerald has discovered helps him get through to his athletes is by creating a plan that “aligns their recovery with their goals,” he said.
Your coach should be your partner, so work with them on your programming instead of going it alone.
4. Ditch your phone in the gym with Emily Abbott
Three-time CrossFit Games and Blonyx athlete Emily Abbott admits she used to workout with her phone. In between sets of squats, sometimes she would hit up the Instagram world. What she would see often led her to question her own program—whether she was doing enough and doing the right things. Instagram would display an athlete doing something she hadn’t done in a while, or movements she couldn’t do very well, and Abbott would add additional pieces to her training day, she said, in an effort to play catch-up.
(Interestingly, this brings up another type of addiction: iPhone addiction. “I can't even wait in line anymore without pulling out my phone,” Abbott admitted. But we’ll save that for another story).
Abbott realized last year that having her phone with her during training just aggravated her temptation to do more, more, more. It ultimately wasn’t helping her as an athlete, so today she puts her phone in “phone prison” during training.
Emily Abbott stays focussed by keeping her eyes on the prize and her phone in the locker room.
3. Remind yourself you’re more than a CrossFit athlete
If all you do is CrossFit, then there’s a good chance the obsession—or addiction—will become less and less healthy.
Central Regional and Blonyx athlete Mel Doss—who works full-time as a family lawyer—admits it’s hard sometimes not to let fitness take over her life. Having a career she loves helps her not get too carried away, she said. But even so, she admits she constantly has to remind herself of why she does CrossFit. She does it for fun, she said.
Having a supportive husband to remind her that CrossFit isn’t the most important thing in the world also helps, she said.
“He’ll say, ‘Melissa, you’re doing this for fun. You have a career. You’re old,’” she said with a laugh. “Well, maybe he doesn’t say old, but I am. I’m 30. I’m not 22.”
She added: “Having him remind me and support me helps me keep things in perspective and not get carried away. It’s important to have people around you who keep you grounded.”
"It's important to have people around you who keep you grounded" - Mel Doss, Blonyx Athlete
2. Stick to your own personal quest
Perennial Games athlete Lucas Parker thinks part of what leads people to overdo it in the gym is because they aren’t focusing on their own pursuit. Instead, they let themselves get pulled in all sorts of directions, often to their detriment, he said.
“They're doing something that seems perfectly fine, but as soon as a shiny new program, or even a spicy workout gets mentioned by another athlete, they flip flop all over the place,” Parker said.
What helps him avoid the temptations to flip flop all over the place is committing to keeping fitness a personal quest, he explained.
“I can't say that I've found the best methods or the perfect workouts. But I can say that I'm always trying to adapt to the landscape of the sport and the evolution of my own athleticism—a very personal process that won't be helped much by peeking over your neighbour's fence,” he said.
Staying focussed on yourself, your program and your progress is key to developing a consistent, effective, and manageable program.
1. Do your own research
Google exercise addiction and/or overtraining, and you’ll find a plethora of scientific information sure to help convince you that taking your love for fitness and turning it into an all-consuming obsession or an addiction isn’t going to help your performance.
Here are three relevant articles:
Parker’s formal education and knowledge of exercise physiology helps him stay on point with his goals.
“I guess you could say I have a more classical background when it comes to strength and conditioning. I'm very familiar with sports seasons and have studied a little bit of program design and periodization,” he said.
Obviously he’s doing something right: He has managed to peak at the right time every year, which has helped him qualify for the last 6 CrossFit Games.
A quick Google search of 'exercise addiction' or 'overtraining' will reveal a wealth of information that can help convince you of the dangers of overtraining.