Endorphins Feel Acutely Euphoric, Just Like Opioids

In fact, those Friday and Saturday nights were false points of pride for myself, because I felt I was somehow morally superior for exercising rather than having fun.

Our world is rife with polarity. From the fundamental building blocks of our physical world to the abstract opinions dominating our political landscape, and the foundations of morality; polarity is woven into the fabric of life. When looking at language, we can look at the words we use and quickly identify which of them hold negative and positive connotations. Where does addiction fall within our connotative spectrum?

Our world is rife with polarity. From the fundamental building blocks of our physical world to the abstract opinions dominating our political landscape, and the foundations of morality; polarity is woven into the fabric of life. When looking at language, we can look at the words we use and quickly identify which of them hold negative and positive connotations. Where does addiction fall within our connotative spectrum?

Addiction on Our Connotative Spectrum

Of course, connotations are a subjective concept, and are interpreted through the individual’s lens; a lens composed of their life’s experience. Generally, I’d venture to state the track record of addiction as largely a negative one, with sparse positive outcomes sprinkled throughout each individual’s struggle with their addictions. I, too, have struggled with addiction during my life, and I would say the current tally of negative versus positive outcomes leans in favor of the negative.

This article is going to lay out some of the profoundly negative consequences of addiction, as well as point out the occasional positive nuances that addiction can provide (depending on the type of addiction). I lay out my struggle with exercise addiction, where it has taken me, and the many positive outcomes I’ve gleaned from it.

From this experience, I’d like to posit: The positive ramifications of exercise addiction can balance the negatives when the individual is astute in his/her search for opportunity. First, let’s take a look at a substance that has created profoundly negative outcomes for millions of people in the United States: opioids.

I would argue that most of the time, maximizing your modes of wellness such as exercise, nutrition, sleep, and mental health is the best way to avoid chronic illness. Of course, sometimes people are simply dealt a bad hand. An accident occurs and prescription medication is deemed the best option for pain relief. A lot of the time, the patient takes their medication until they’ve healed, and they’re done with it. For chronic pain patients, this is often not the case.

Doctors Prescribe Opioids at Record Rates

The opioid epidemic has been all over the news for the past several years, gaining more coverage as of late. The epidemic killed 630,000 people1 between 1999 and 2016. In that time, there were three waves, in particular, that have spurred the issue forward.

The first was in 1999 when prescription opioids gained popularity in the medical community. The second started in 2010 and manifested through a five-fold rise in heroin overdoses until 2016. The third wave came to crest in 2013 when synthetic opioid medications, such as fentanyl,2 were being prescribed at record rates. As of 2016, 66% of overdose deaths involved an opioid.

The CDC offers an overdose prevention program for all 50 states, which provides clinicians with tools and information on how not to get their clients addicted to their medications.

Step one to avoiding prescription opioid addiction is, of course, to avoid ever needing to use one.

When the Cure Becomes the Addiction

Three of the most important factors for living well are:

  1. Exercise
  2. Nutrition
  3. Sleep

What happens when preventative measures like exercise and nutrition cross the border between healthy habit and detrimental disorder? Can the ramifications be as serious as opioid addictions? Yes. Yes, they can.

Let’s face it: Exercise is an incredibly engaging activity. There are unlimited levels of skill and development, across dozens of disciplines. The traditional iron sports are:

Martial arts are also a common form of exercise, discipline, and lifestyle. Running, biking, and swimming compose the triathlete’s three modes of exercise/competition. Each one of these sports contains endless opportunities to have fun and achieve personal goals.

“Research on highly engaging behavior shows that it shares three common features with addiction: frequent thoughts about the behavior, positive feelings in response to the behavior, and tolerance.” (Freimuth, M., et al, 2011).

Setting aside the feeling of goal achievement, getting stronger, and watching yourself become more physically attractive, what makes us feel so acutely euphoric during a great workout? On the hormonal scale, we can boil it down to one thing: endorphins.

What Is an Endorphin?

Well, what is an endorphin? A quick search in the ole’ Google machine reveals quickly,

“any of a group of hormones secreted within the brain and nervous system and having a number of physiological functions. They are peptides that activate the body’s opiate receptors, causing an analgesic effect.”

What’s the origin of the literal word endorphin? It is a combination of the words endogenous and morphine. Endogenous means to have an internal cause or origin. Morphine is a common and powerful opiate used to reduce pain in medical patients. Basically, endorphins are internally caused opiates that reduce pain during intense physical activity.

According to WebMD, endorphins are not physically addictive, however, people who exhibit compulsive behavior do not need an addictive substance to feel compelled to do something. How about psychological addiction?

Psychological Addiction Defined

According to Rehab.com,3 a psychological addiction is defined as “…a compulsion or perceived need to use.” The article continues to use marijuana as an example, saying that a user may perceive the need to use before bed. If they do not do so, they will not experience withdrawal symptoms because weed is not physically addictive, however, they may allow the substance to hold dominion over their life.

Exercise addiction in a psychological sense is an absolutely real phenomenon that alters the lives of those who suffer from it. While it may not be physically addictive, those with compulsive behavior patterns are susceptible to it.

Ironically, exercise is often used as a medium to improve discipline in individuals who seek such a virtue. For some, exercise can become the bad habit in need of discipline. Below, I’ve outlined what led to my unhealthy compulsive behavior and where the addiction led me over the last eight years.

Good Athletes Adapt to Competitive Conditions

From when I started playing football at ten years old, it became my dream to play football in college. My dad knew about this dream, so he got me into football camps and strength and conditioning. At 13 years old, I began exercising three or more days per week, year-round, with the occasional week off. It was a healthy amount of training and I loved doing it.

By the time I was in high school, I could barely contain my excitement for bringing my skills to the big stage: Friday night football. At 5’9” 165 lbs going into my junior year, I didn’t have a typical quarterback build. I could throw the ball well from the pocket and on the move. I could avoid pressure, scramble, and deliver accurate passes. My junior year we had two running backs who would be recruited by Division I universities and the biggest offensive line in the state, so the head coach decided to run a Wing T offense.

For my entire football career, we ran a pro-style offense and mixed-in the shotgun spread. This kind of offense was more balanced between running and passing. The quarterback would throw 10-20 passes per game depending on what was working against the defense. The Wing T and the Pro-Spread are very different from one another.

That being said, a good athlete adapts to whatever competitive conditions he’s presented with and overcomes them. A good quarterback does the same while using the team’s needs to motivate his actions. I had the physical skills to rise to the occasion, but I did not have the mental skills to adjust to what my team needed at that point.

I choked during my junior year. I couldn’t take care of the ball, fumbled too many times. My coach was big on negative reinforcement, which didn’t work for me because I’m very hard on myself naturally. I lost the starting quarterback position halfway through the season.

The dream of playing college football was gone after six years of training. Our team, despite so much talent, fell apart early in the playoffs. I had never felt such shame and disappointment in myself before. Thus began my downward spiral of mental insecurity, and a compulsive addiction to exercise.

More Physical Activity

My senior year of high school I engaged in a BUD/s (Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL training) preparation program that I pulled from the Navy’s website. It had been my dream to become a Navy SEAL since I was old enough to understand what a SEAL was. It was clear to me that a college football career was now out of the question, so this became my focus. During the program:

  • I ran 3-4 miles – for time – every other day
  • Performed calisthenics 6-7 days/week
  • Lifted weights 3 days/week to prepare for SEAL training.

I performed this program during football season, where I was the backup quarterback and utility player on both sides of the ball. If that wasn’t enough physical activity, I started training at a local boxing gym twice a week. This was all done on a restricted diet of fewer than 2,000 calories per day. I should’ve been consuming north of 3,500 calories per day based on the amount of physical activity I was doing.

*I’d like to add a note here that when I mention my preparation for BUD/s, I realize it may come across as seeking an association with that group. I’m not trying to do that. I never enlisted in the Navy. What I was preparing for was the first 13 weeks of BUD/s training which includes indoctrination (pre-training) and basic conditioning. The first phase includes the infamous Hell Week, which pushes trainees to their absolute limits. Whenever I trained, I kept Hell Week in mind. To be clear, I’m not associated with these men and I have the utmost respect for them.

I lost about 20 lbs in less than six months. Periodically, I would test my body fat, which ranged from 3-5%. This is about the threshold when your body will start to consume internal organ fat tissue for energy. It’s dangerously low.

Occasional stress fractures popped up in my feet from all the running, but mentally I couldn’t stop, so I reduced my mileage to 1-2 miles every other day until my injuries healed. It got to the point where if I wasn’t sore or in physical discomfort, I would get anxious and irritable.

Fitness Photography by Bev Childress

After a lot of thought, I decided I should give college a one-year try before deciding on joining the Navy. I carried on with this training regimen until I finished my first year of college at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, minus the team sports training.

Slowly, I started eating more but continued counting calories every day. I never exceeded 3,000 calories in a day without feeling extremely guilty. In fact, I can’t remember even one day during that time where I consciously ate that many calories and did not subsequently train my ass off to balance it out.

  • I loved the pride that came with training that hard.
  • I loved having my friends ask me for tips and secrets as to how I stayed in such great shape.
  • I loved having girls notice me when my shirt was off.
  • I loved watching myself transform and learning about the body.
  • Most of all, I loved the competition against my own mental fortitude.

Identify Unhealthy Behaviors

Luckily, I was studying health and sports science for my undergraduate degree, so I gradually began to identify how unhealthy my behavior was. On one particular day, my professor lectured about eating disorders. Anorexia Athletica4 and body dysmorphia were part of the list.

Anorexia Athletica: “…over-exercising, obsession with calories, fat, and weight, especially as compared to elite athletes, self-worth being determined by physical performance, and a lack of pleasure from exercising.”5

It was clear to me that I fit the description for Anorexia Athletica a little too closely, so I gradually allowed myself to eat larger portions of food, although I continued to avoid any unhealthy foods like the plague (burgers and fried foods).

I Felt Morally Superior for Exercising

Looking back, I missed out on so many opportunities to make memories with those friends because I felt I needed to work out on Friday and Saturday nights while the guys were out living it up. In fact, those nights were false points of pride for myself, because I felt I was somehow morally superior for exercising rather than having fun. What a distorted viewpoint that was. Definitely a big regret of mine in hindsight.

Weightlifting, Olympic style weightlifting, came into my life during my sophomore year in college. I had transferred to the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and was still dealing with obsessive-compulsive feeling toward training.

The problem was that I wasn’t training for anything specifically. I was dabbling in boxing after having one bout in Lincoln (I lost and broke my nose). I needed something to focus all that attention on.

After getting certified in the USA Weightlifting Level 1 Coaching course, I realized weightlifting fit the bill. I trained myself for 10 months until a weightlifting club popped up at my university, which I joined immediately.

A New Feeding Ground for My Compulsions

From then forward, I was encouraged to put on body weight for the sake of improving my total (1RM snatch + 1RM clean and jerk). The sport isn’t physique based, it’s performance-based. In fact, most guys at competitions that looked like bodybuilders were all show no go, so I was incentivized to look less bulky for the sake of having the “weightlifter look” (big quads, big butt, thick six-pack, thick back, and broad shoulders).

Naturally, I obsessed over my performance. I ate tons of food and put on very little body fat because I was training five days a week at a high intensity and high volume. I mimed the snatch, clean, jerk, squat, and deadlift movements whenever I was away from the weight room. I gained muscle, strength, confidence, friends, and a new feeding ground for my compulsions.

I met my most influential mentor, who showed me the endless and fascinating depth of strength and conditioning. I fell in love with learning. I met and fell in love with a girl from the club. I was legitimately happy, as long as my training was going well.

Bumps in the Road to Self-Actualization

Somewhere in the mix, I realized that I had tons of experience in physical preparation for competition. Competition results are almost completely unbiased in weightlifting. You either lifted the weight or you didn’t.

Judging whether or not someone made the lift is pretty straightforward. There’s nowhere else to look for blame other than your own preparation. Weightlifters are constantly monitoring their physical status, which acts as a chisel for what does and doesn’t work, I honed my craft of coaching and performing in the sport of weightlifting.

What I still hadn’t realized, was how hard I should be training to achieve optimal performance gains. Inevitably, my lack of understanding in this realm reared its head when bumps appeared on my road to self-actualization.

Don’t Stop Training.

The first major bump, that would become the source of most future bumps, was a snowboarding accident where I injured my sacrum and pelvis, yet continued to train a couple days later. I could barely walk after the injury, but I could lift without debilitating pain, so I did.

I didn’t see a doctor for fear of them not allowing me to train for an extended period of time. The pain gradually went away and I was back to normal for a short period, but I could tell I was moving differently.

A couple months later during a heavy squatting cycle, I began to have some serious pain near my left SI joint. I could barely bend over after waking up in the morning and had to perform extended warm-ups to prepare for training each day. After about four weeks, I took a week to squat less intensely and the pain subsided. Problem solved.

Training Through Injuries

Fast forward about two years, a couple subluxated ribs, pulled hamstring, strained levator, shoulder impingement, and maybe two total weeks off from training and I’m at the University of Notre Dame for a strength and conditioning internship.

I’m working 10-14 hour days and still training four days per week. I literally had a couple days in there where I fell ill immediately after training and had to go home. My legs would regularly go into spasm after training. I would hobble over to the Gatorade nutrition station for the athletes and down a packet of electrolytes to fend off the cramps.

On one occasion, I asked my training partner, the assistant football strength coach, if he’d ever experienced cramping legs as a result of heavy squat sessions. With a concerned look, he frankly told me he’d never come close. He had competed at weightlifting nationals and regularly front squatted in the 400s for doubles and singles as a 187 lb lifter (85kg).

For comparison, my best back squat at the time was a 3RM at 365 and the same bodyweight. A smart person would have taken that as a warning from an excellent athlete that I may have been overtraining. Foolishly, I saw it as a point of pride.

In hindsight, my perspective on what training should feel like was completely distorted. Training the way I was used to, which was established during my BUD/s preparation, was supposed to be as much agony as you can handle without getting hurt (I usually trained through injuries, which is not what they teach in SEAL training). In other words, it was training to survive, not training to thrive.

Sports, in general, are about competing while in peak physical form, not merely surviving the competition. My unconscious philosophy was, “If you’re able to move, you are able to train.” Pain and soreness had no input as to whether I was training that day or not.

The only kind of pain that kept me from training was the kind that was debilitating, which did come around on occasion. As a result, I became overreached from training very quickly. Every time you overreach in training, your risk for injury skyrockets, and that’s where I spent most of my time. Whether team sports athletes should train to overreach is up for debate.

Training to overreach is an important part of preparing for weightlifting meets. The one and two-factor theories for adaptation describe this process. If you’d like to understand those theories better, I suggest reading “Science and Practice of Strength Training” by Vladimir Zatsiorsky and William Kraemer.

Utilize Available Resources

I should’ve dropped it to 2-3 days per week and taken advantage of the resources available while I was at Notre Dame. Years of experience and so many bright minds between those coaches, but the only free time I had I would use to train or work on assignments. What a waste. I should’ve picked the brains of those coaches more than I did.

Fast forward again about three months after ND and I was in Los Angeles coaching for Takano Athletics and competing on Bob Takano’s team. Bob is in the USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame as a coach and is an all-around brilliant human being. I miss being around him and his assistant, Toby Skinner, on a daily basis. They’re both excellent coaches and people.

I was in heaven training and learning from Bob. We talked at least a couple hours every day about weightlifting and life. I trained for 2-3 hours per day, and I had a great community there to help me. I’ll never forget one meeting: I asked Bob if he thought I was talented enough to make something out of my weightlifting career. He told me he thought I could compete for a medal at nationals one day if I stayed consistent with my training.

That was all I needed to hear. When we finished the meeting I was still on break, so I went to my car to decompress and just lost it. The overwhelming feeling of validation as an athlete swept through me in a wave of goosebumps from my arms up to my head. I may as well have already won nationals.

It was as if the time I’d spent training since failing as a quarterback had paid off. The pride I felt from the past medals won at local competitions paled in comparison to the compliment that Bob gave me that day. From that day on I kicked my training into a higher gear. Nothing was going to stand in my way of achieving my championship dream, but as training intensified, my lack of maturity as an athlete showed.

A Willingness to Suffer

Slowly but surely, my SI joint injury gradually came back. I struggled to get out of bed in the morning, which turned into trouble bending over, which became trouble walking. All the while, I continued to train.

I would get myself moving through foam rolling and stretching during my warm up, but the root of the problem was that I didn’t have a ceiling for how hard I was willing to train. How foolish that was. I was always willing to crawl out of the gym if that’s what it took to achieve the goal. I didn’t care if I was in agony. My rationale was that what I lacked in talent, I could make up in willingness to suffer. That blind ambition and venomous naivety would be my undoing.

My goal had legitimately taken over my life. If I wasn’t making food, driving, or training, I was resting and recovering. Any amount of expended energy that was not directed toward lifting more weight was wasted energy. In my reality, all systems needed to function toward obtaining the goal.

Eventually, the pain was inescapable. I had to get a second job to support myself, but moving around was constantly painful. My physical activity outside of training increased, which reduced my ability to handle the typical loads I trained with. When those loads became more difficult, my stubbornness refused to yield. Depression crept into my psyche, and the only thing I looked forward to each day was training.

“Practice What You Preach”

The odd thing about all of this is that I’ve always been able to separate coaching mindset from training mindset. I don’t tell my athletes to train through pain, nor will I. For some reason, perhaps arrogance, I was not practicing what I was preaching.

An opinion I’ve held from the beginning about people who try to compete and coach simultaneously is that they should not hold the same philosophical approach in each role. Ideally, the athlete knows enough about training strategy to make informed decisions but ultimately focuses on training and competition performance.

  • Their confidence should carefully walk the line of cockiness.
  • The coach is the thinker in the relationship and acts as a conservative advisor to the athlete. She assists the athlete in avoiding pitfalls on the road to success.
  • The athlete should operate more on the risk-taking side of the spectrum while the coach operates as the risk manager.
  • Coaches will be less effective as the risk takers because a conservatively minded athlete being told to accept risk by the coach cannot rid themselves completely of their inhibitions.
  • Inhibitive thought processes reduce performance results.
  • It is the athlete who must be held back from too much risk, not the coach.
  • The proper balance for optimal performance is established when this relationship is such.

Not long after getting my second job as a personal trainer, I was offered a new job back in Wisconsin with the gym I started at when I was 13. My unhappiness was reaching a dangerous peak, and I felt it was a smart career move to take the position. Less than a week after training at my new facility I either bulged or herniated a disc in my lower back (I recently got an MRI that shows it’s herniated, we just don’t know exactly when it occurred).

I finally went to physical therapy. It was the source of my sciatic nerve pain, which I was associating with my SI joint. My physical condition declined drastically over the next seven months. I went from 195-200 lbs at 10-15% body fat to 170 lbs at 10-15% body fat. Severe depression kicked in

Since my normal coping mechanism could no longer be accessed, I started to drink. I felt trapped. Sleep and alcohol were the only escapes from the pain. I continued to train four days per week, but it wasn’t fun training. Physical therapy exercises on their own don’t exactly scratch the itch for someone used to lifting hundreds of pounds over their head on a daily basis.

In the 8th month of physical therapy, my pain began to subside. I could finally do some lifting and run, which was a totally different style of training than what I was used to. My mood drastically improved, and so did my career as a coach. I could focus on a healthy social life without the need to binge drink. Going home from work happily was a regular occurrence. Pain-free mornings were a wonderful way to start every day. Life was good all the way through Christmas 2017.

Just When Training Became Fun Again…

January 2, 2018, new year, new me mentality. I had been almost pain-free for four months. Front squatting twice a week, one high volume day and one high intensity (regularly doing singles at 110kg). Training was fun again, and the remnants of my old psyche gradually crept back into my mind. What if I could start competing again? Wouldn’t that be such a triumph?

I was going to back squat again for the first time since my injury a year earlier (to the day). My first three sets of pause squats went off without a hitch. The weights felt light and my technique felt great. All systems go

I tried the fourth set at 100kg (220lbs) after an 80kg triple. Descended with the weight on my back feeling light as a feather. When I stood up and locked out my legs, it felt like someone stabbed me in the sacrum with a hot knife. Luckily, I didn’t drop the weight, so I racked it and laid on the floor.

I knew what happened, and I was hopeful that I wouldn’t go all the way back to square one. We had a couple physical therapists on staff, so I went in to talk to them. They called it a pinched nerve, massaged me, and gave me some exercises to do. Off I went feeling optimistic.

The next morning I couldn’t get out of bed. I was so weak, the muscles in my abdomen wouldn’t engage to pull me out of bed. My psoas muscles were completely shut off, so flexing my hips was nearly impossible. Once I got to the edge of my bed, I couldn’t stand up. My legs felt useless.

Somehow, I managed my way down the stairs and broke down. I couldn’t take it anymore. I just cried to my dad (I was living at my parent’s house at the time) about how I couldn’t do this again. I couldn’t go through another year of daily pain. How was I going to fix myself again?

A Shadow of My Former Self

Physical therapy seemed to be my way out, so I went to the appointments twice a week for a while. Work got busy, I let myself get distracted and stopped doing my PT exercises. Standing for longer than 10 minutes became nearly impossible. For the first time since I was 13, I was not on a training regimen. I sporadically trained 1-3 times per week, which involved basic exercises like pull-ups, pushups, and planks. Physically, I was a shadow of my former self.

I’m now almost done with the third round of physical therapy. I’ve enlisted the help of an orthopedic MD. I got an MRI a few weeks ago, showing a herniated disc between S1 and L5. My next step is to undergo steroid injections and continue non-axial loaded exercises. Staying out of surgery is the number one priority.

Cognitive behavioral therapy was also something I had to begin because I didn’t know who I was or how to function when my life wasn’t revolving around athletics, as it had been for 12 years. A large part of that therapy was understanding my relationship to exercise, and realizing that it cannot be my entire life.

Obsessed With Training

I felt daily compulsions to train. I loved the feeling of competing on stage in front of a crowd, and the satisfaction of undergoing immense discomfort for a big pay off on competition day. Working out and competing as an athlete was my entire life for 12 years.

I sacrificed academic success, social well-being, and personal happiness with the goal of becoming a champion. It started as an escape from reality during my formative high school years and ended with a severe spinal injury. The injury now permeates my daily life, affecting my lifestyle and reminding me of my young-adult naive stupidity. I’m not sure that I ever would have left the path I was on had I not contracted the injury.

The Criteria for Substance Abuse

“Exercise addiction” is not listed in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), however, the symptoms of exercise addiction easily fit the criteria for substance abuse:6

  • Tolerance: increasing the amount of exercise in order to feel the desired effect, be it a buzz or a sense of accomplishment;
  • Withdrawal: in the absence of exercise the person experiences negative effects such as anxiety, irritability, restlessness, and sleep problems;
  • Lack of control: unsuccessful at attempts to reduce exercise level or cease exercising for a certain period of time;
  • Intention effects: unable to stick to one’s intended routine as evidenced by exceeding the amount of time devoted to exercise or consistently going beyond the intended amount;
  • Time: a great deal of time is spent preparing for, engaging in, and recovering from exercise;
  • Reduction in other activities: as a direct result of exercise social, occupational, and/or recreational activities occur less often or are stopped;
  • Continuance: continuing to exercise despite knowing that this activity is creating or exacerbating physical, psychological, and/or interpersonal problems.

A Precedent for Future Behavioral Addictions

The DSM-5 has also included gambling as a behavioral addiction, setting a precedent for future behavioral addictions, such as exercise addiction, to be included as well.

“The disorder can also be called exercise dependence, exercise addiction or compulsive athleticism. Not all compulsive exercisers, however, have eating disorders, leading experts to believe some sufferers are addicted to the act of exercising itself.” (Addiction A-Z 2018)

When you Google “exercise addiction” you will find two main kinds of articles:

  1. Articles describing exercise as an addiction
  2. Articles describing exercise as a technique to recover from addiction.

Exercise as a remedy for addiction is interesting because people with addictive personalities tend to get addicted to things that make them feel good (see criteria for substance abuse). In this case, exercise can become a substitute for the previous addiction.

This emphasizes the importance of coaches, trainers, and doctors being keen on identifying people that show signs of addictive behavior. Those who seem to have an unhealthy relationship to exercise need to hear from people they respect when they’re going too far.

Many of us have compulsive feelings. How those feelings manifest in our daily actions depends on what we like to spend our time on. Our ability to manage these feelings and deny their indulgence can be the crux of our functionality in society.

When we master the management of these feelings, we become valuable resources in the marketplace for people who struggle to do the same. This is a hugely positive component of losing my addiction, and why I now act as a warning to my athletes of what too far looks like.

Learning Gets Interesting

The addiction pushed me to learn as much as I could in a short amount of time about strength and conditioning and human performance. I still love these subjects and maintain my curiosity for more knowledge. As an athlete, I pushed my body to its limits, which may provide me with an uncommon perspective.

Now, my creativity is challenged even more because I have to create exercises that fit the description of what my doctor allows me to do (limit spinal compression as much as possible is the overarching rule). Who knows what wealth of insights lie beyond the border of what I currently know, and what is unknown. That’s where this stuff gets interesting.

If you want to get involved in strength and conditioning training for a sport, I advise hiring a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). Naturally, the more years of experience and/or higher density of experience is preferable. If you want to get in shape safely, I would also advise hiring a certified and skilled personal trainer or group training coach.

Recognize the Symptoms and Take Action

Clearly, exercise is a favorable alternative to drugs and alcohol. It is absolutely not a cure for addictive and compulsive behavior, and may only feed those aspects of your personality. When left unchecked, any compulsive behavior can become unhealthy.

To learn to manage that kind of behavior, a qualified cognitive behavioral therapist may be necessary, along with an honest and caring group of people around you. Bottom line: Any addiction can be life-altering, the amount of alteration it creates depends on your ability to recognize and take action to balance it.


1. “Opioid Overdose: Understanding the Epidemic.” CDC (2017, August 30). Retrieved June 6, 2018.

2. “U.S. drug overdose deaths continue to rise; increase fueled by synthetic opioids.” (2018, March 28). Retrieved June 6, 2018

3. McCarton Ackerman, “Just the Facts: Psychological vs Physical Addiction,” Behavioral Health, Detox, Drug Abuse, Mental Health, Science and Nature, Posted April 30, 2015.

4. Addiction A-Z. (n.d.). Retrieved June 8, 2018.

5. Anorexia Athletica. (2018). Retrieved June 8, 2018.

6. Freimuth, M., Kim, S. R., & Moniz, S. “Clarifying Exercise Addiction: Differential Diagnosis, Co-occurring Disorders, and Phases of Addiction.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2011.

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