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Exercise Addiction Part II: 3 Ways it May be Hurting Your Life

Exercise Addiction Part II: 3 Ways it May be Hurting Your Life


Think you may be addicted to exercise? Click here to read Part 1 of this series: 5 sign’s you’re suffering from exercise addiction

Hyper-competitiveness in CrossFit: Rudy Nielson and Patrick Vellner’s takes on exercise addiction.

The Outlaw Way’s Rudy Nielson, the well-known coach of many of the top names in CrossFit, thinks a CrossFit athlete’s inability to rest has to do with being hyper-competitive.

Rudy Nielson weighing in on hot topics during a panel discussion at The Cascade Classic. 

“The hard part for lots of athletes is they really want to win. So you’ll get an athlete who is really really good, and they push themselves too hard sometimes. Let’s say it’s the Open and the athlete is sitting 4th in her region, and she still wants to do the workout again. ‘Why? You’re going to Regionals!’ But it’s just so hard for that person to just sit down and (accept) her score,” he said during a panel discussion at the Cascade Classic in Seattle in September.

Similarly, Patrick Vellner, who was 3rd place in his rookie season at the CrossFit Games last summer explained our whole CrossFit culture glorifies volume, believing that more, more, more is somehow always better.

“It has almost become sort of a pissing contest between a few athletes to see who can do more volume,” he said.

When you combine the twisted desire to suffer with an intensely competitive personality, it’s easy for an addiction to form, one that can become counterproductive and even harmful.

The fine line between healthy exercise and exercise addiction

A 2013 article in the Sports Medicine Journal explained there’s a fine line between a healthy commitment to fitness and being addicted in an unhealthy way. It states:

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.

Mel Doss, exercise addiction via the Blonyx Blog

Click here to see 5 signs to look out for if you think you may be an exercise addict… 

3 ways your exercise addiction might be hurting your life

3. Physical

We all claim to understand the following equation...

Successful training = Exercise + rest.

However, in exercise addiction, the incessant need to exercise, sometimes more than your body can handle, can upset this training equation and slow your performance gains.

Exercise physiologist and founder of Blonyx Rowan Minnion considers exercise addiction to be the start of a downward spiral toward health risks that are much more serious than just declining performance numbers. It begins with training stagnation and progresses from there.

“Stagnation in training is when you simply stop seeing any progress regardless of what you do,” Minnion said, adding that it happens when you don’t give yourself enough time to recover.

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“It has a bad impact on the competitive athlete as their automatic response is to increase volume. ‘I’m not training enough’ is the perception. In reality, this is the worst response. We forget that high intensity exercise is a shock to the body; we need to recover from it, not add to it,” he said.

If this cycle continues, your body will start producing more stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, which can cause imbalances in your immune system and endocrine (hormonal) system.

“Loss of menstrual cycle, development of osteoporosis, depression, mood swings—the list of symptoms goes on,” he said.

“Overtraining isn’t fun. It’s also really difficult to recover from: Athletes often require months of inactivity to come back from clinical overtraining.”

Check out this Breaking Muscle article on the topic of overtraining.


If you’re truly addicted, the gym will eventually become a place to escape, as opposed to a place you want to be. Check out this story about confessions of an exercise addict.

“You begin avoiding other ways to manage icky emotions, feel okay about yourself, or find the motivation to work towards non-fitness goals,” the author explained of her emotional state as an exercise addict.

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When working out—and in this case CrossFit—becomes a problematic addiction, then it will feel like nothing else in the world matters except becoming more fit. It consumes your every thought, determines your happiness and self-worth, and takes away from you living a happy, balanced life. It’s not a great place to be emotionally.


The incessant need to prioritize your workout before anything, or anyone else, can place a huge toll on your relationships (unless, of course, both you and your significant other are addicts, who enable each other). In the endurance world, they actually call it “divorce by triathlon.”

It’s not just intimate relationships that take a hit. So do your relationships with the rest of your family and circle of friends, and even with your job. Even if you still make time for them, you’re probably so tunnel-visioned that your friends can’t help but wonder if you have the ability to talk about something other than fitness.

Do you want your tombstone to say, “They were a loving person, who made those around them better,” or, “They could do fast burpees?"

Tune back for Part 3, where we get into exercise addiction coping strategies.



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