Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Training As Escape - When Habit Becomes Addiction

...a book I've never read 
(Does he look like an exercise junky to you?)

The discipline of regular training has always been a time to catch my breath and clear the mind, a "fortress of solitude" so to speak. In this way, time in the gym can be like a steam valve - a healthy outlet for the body and mind to reset.

BUT, for many of the most dedicated gym-rats, training can become more than a healthy habit. You see it a lot in gyms, bootcamps, and affiliates: the training addict. They use physical exercise as a way to escape loneliness and emotional chaos. They use a combination of endorphins and subsequent fatigue to keep their thoughts and emotions in check. Training becomes an obsession in AND out of the gym... marathon gym sessions, conversations on and off-line about exercise, programming, and tools, tools, tools.  And here's the kicker: ALL OF THIS WORKS... for a while... until you need more (and addicts will always need more)... until you can't train... until it doesn't. Believe it or not, the SAID (specific adaptations to imposed demands) principle applies here as well; if you lift weights to forget your problems, you get better at lifting weights to forget your problems. Unfortunately, the problems do not dissappear and your other strategies and means to deal with and eliminate stress may atrophy.

Sadly, all of the training logs, food logs, pedometers, heart monitors, magazines, forums, blogs, journals, and body bugs in the world will not fill the psychic void, nor unroot the underlying anger and sadness. None of these address the core issues and is the equivalent of someone putting a lid that is too small on a garbage can of fermenting thought patterns.

There is no easy solution. Yes, weight training can be just the catalyst to turn your entire life around, but it can just as easily become another avoidance strategy. I've seen a lot of both. When exercise becomes a substitute for dealing with life issues, those issues may simply wait it out and come knocking again when you least expect it and are least able to deal with them. They want and need your attention.

Related Posts:
Redemption Center Diaries (Squat Rx blog post)
Managing Depression With Weightlifting. Or, How You Feel Is A Lie (Nick Horton's blog post)
Doing Nothing (Squat Rx blog post about meditation)


Esteban said...

Unfortunately, this describes me too well. I'm a man of many acquaintances but very few friends and find myself alone and bored after work hours if I don't go to the gym. I had to bench myself for two weeks a few months ago to give some nagging injuries a little bit of time to heal up and I felt depressed and anxious the whole time. Ugh.

Anonymous said...

Guilty, your honor. I am absolutely riddled with anxiety when I don't/can't train.

Boris said...

I'd be lying if I said this wasn't one of those "reminder-to-self" posts... The important thing is not to let training be our only coping strategy and not let training become our excuse to not deal with those issues.