Athletes - Committed or Obsessed ?

Updated: Apr 6

As an athlete you are committed, that is assumed, right?

You show up to training in the cold, you show up when you are sore, when you are tired, when you are overloaded with homework, or family commitments. You even train during lockdown when you can’t get to your normal equipment or teammates!

Being an athlete takes commitment, determination, Grit (1) (passion and perseverance, despite adversity)!

Commitment is what it takes to be the best, and being the best is obviously what you want!

But when is "commitment" another word for obsessed, and when does obsession become a problem?

Another term that is used by professionals to explain this complicated issue is, exercise addiction (2). As you can imagine, this is a tricky condition to diagnose, especially when you are working with elite athletes, who are supposed to be dedicated and who are supposed to train to perfection. However, like everything in life, balance is key.

Below is some defining criteria for ‘exercise addiction’ - take a look and consider your own behavior.

  • Tolerance: do you have to increase the amount of exercise you do in order to feel the desired effect, be it a” buzz” or sense of accomplishment;

  • Withdrawal: in the absence of exercise do you experience negative effects such as anxiety, irritability, restlessness, and sleep problems;

  • Lack of control: have you had unsuccessful attempts to reduce exercise level or cease exercising for a certain period of time;

  • Intention effects: are you unable to stick to your intended routine because you are exceeding the amount of time devoted to exercise or consistently going beyond the intended amount;

  • Time: is a great deal of time is spent preparing for, engaging in, and recovering from exercise (over and above your normal training load);

  • Reduction in other activities: due to your exercise routine has social, occupational, and/or recreational activities occur less often or stopped completely;

  • Continuance: are you continuing to exercise despite knowing that this activity is creating or exacerbating physical, psychological, and/or interpersonal problems.

If you struggle with any of these, (particularly the last one, continuance) maybe it’s time to think about the balance in your life?

Some things to do right now to assist with the balance;

  • Inject some downtime in your day - a gentle walk, or a relaxing bath... something that assists with winding down from your usual pace.

  • Take some time to think about your values ... what matters to you? Are you nurturing the things in life that matter to you as much as your exercise or training goals?

  • Check up on your interpersonal relationships, are you in touch with those you care about and how do they feel about your relationship with exercise?

  • Find time to do something other than your sport - maybe study or take up another hobby or a job that isn’t related to exercise? It’s always good to have a “plan B”

  • Check your rest and recovery! Make sure you are prioritizing your sleep and your nutrition if you are under fueled you cannot think clearly, and you may become more unhealthy in your behavior.

  • Remember balance is key!

(1) Duckworth, A. (2016). Grit: The power of passion and perseverance. Scribner/Simon & Schuster.

(2) Clarifying Exercise Addiction: Differential Diagnosis, Co-occurring Disorders, and Phases of Addiction Marilyn Freimuth, Sandy Moniz, Shari R. Kim Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2011 Oct; 8(10): 4069–4081. Published online 2011 Oct 21. doi: 10.3390/ijerph8104069