AD­DICTED TO TRAIN­ING

THERE IS A THIN, RED LINE BE­TWEEN TRAIN­ING HARD AND TOO HARD. DR JOSEPHINE PERRY CON­SID­ERS WHICH SIDE OF THE FENCE AN ATH­LETE COULD BE ON

Athletics Weekly - - Performance -

“TECH­NOLO­GIES SUCH AS GPS WATCHES, FIT­NESS TRACK­ERS OR SO­CIAL ME­DIA ARE SO ‘STICKY’ THAT ATH­LETES US­ING THEM IN TRAIN­ING HAVE IN­CREASED RISK OF BE­COM­ING AD­DICTED TO EX­ER­CISE”

BE­ING fo­cused, ded­i­cated, hard­work­ing, dili­gent and mak­ing the sacri­fices needed to im­prove could quite eas­ily be a coach de­scrib­ing an ath­lete with an ideal at­ti­tude to­ward their ath­let­ics. It could also be a psy­chol­o­gist di­ag­nos­ing ex­er­cise ad­dic­tion.

It is a thin line to walk, es­pe­cially if you take your ath­let­ics re­ally se­ri­ously, put in lots of time and ef­fort, feel guilty for miss­ing train­ing or aim­less on rest days. You may be a ded­i­cated ath­lete do­ing ‘what­ever it takes’ to suc­ceed. But, if do­ing what­ever it takes pushes you into con­flict with friends or fam­ily, and what you’re sac­ri­fic­ing is more than phys­i­cally or men­tally healthy, you may have crossed the line from ded­i­cated to ad­dicted.

Dis­tance run­ners are par­tic­u­larly at risk

Ex­er­cise ad­dic­tion is some­times joked about, worn as a sort of badge of hon­our to show your drive and pas­sion. How­ever, I re­cently re­searched this sub­ject in depth, ques­tion­ing 255 am­a­teur en­durance ath­letes and in­ter­view­ing eight of those at risk of ad­dic­tion. The sto­ries they shared showed it re­ally wasn’t funny. Es­pe­cially when we dis­cov­ered that, for ath­letes do­ing longer dis­tances, for ev­ery 10 marathon run­ners, four of them are at risk of ex­er­cise ad­dic­tion.

For these ath­letes their ex­er­cise starts out as ben­e­fi­cial but over time gets ex­ces­sive. Their train­ing be­comes a way of chang­ing their mood and they get frus­trated and an­gry at the thought of miss­ing a ses­sion. The tip­ping point comes when ex­er­cise is pri­ori­tised over every­thing else. While this is sus­tain­able for an elite ath­lete whose key fo­cus in life is com­pet­ing in their event, it can be harm­ful for those of us com­pet­ing as ama­teurs and fit­ting it in within a busy life full of other re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

One of these am­a­teur ath­letes ex­plained the con­flict their ad­dic­tion caused, say­ing: “I did have a scream­ing row with my fa­ther over it on the phone. My fa­ther is prob­a­bly one of the most com­pet­i­tive peo­ple

I’ve ever met in my en­tire life and yet, he sees my sport as an un­healthy ob­ses­sion. I had an enor­mous row with him and he just said, ‘Oh, you’re just com­pletely ob­sessed with this stupid sport’. I put the phone down on him.”

Our re­search found that the level of po­ten­tial risk of ad­dic­tion in­creases the greater the amount of tech­nol­ogy is in­volved with your train­ing. Specif­i­cally, tech­nolo­gies such as GPS watches (used by 93% of those ques­tioned), fit­ness track­ers (used by 84%) or so­cial me­dia (used by 70%) are so ‘sticky’ that ath­letes us­ing them in train­ing have in­creased risk of be­com­ing ad­dicted to ex­er­cise.

The tech­nol­ogy and data track­ing can be­come ab­sorb­ing and can make us in­flex­i­ble in our train­ing. We can get fix­ated on the num­bers and lose sight of our real goals. This harms our

per­for­mance and in­creases our chances of get­ting in­jured.

An ath­lete in the study was clear how it fed her ad­dic­tion. “With so­cial me­dia, there is al­ways an ar­ti­cle or a link to some­thing telling you how to get faster, quicker, leaner, stronger … tap­ping into the in­se­cu­ri­ties of ath­letes and con­stantly re­mind­ing them of how much bet­ter they could be. There is a dan­ger of los­ing the fo­cus of one’s own train­ing and spe­cific pro­gramme as you try to match what 20 other strangers are do­ing.”

When we add data into the mix, the tech­nolo­gies mean ath­letes can com­pare them­selves against other ath­letes eas­ily. But these com­par­isons cause them stress and pres­sure, in­crease their chances of in­jury, re­duce their po­ten­tial per­for­mance and can crush their love of ath­let­ics. A pretty tough po­si­tion to be in.

It is even tougher if the ath­lete re­lies on this on­line com­mu­nity for sup­port and then gets in­jured. One of the ath­letes I in­ter­viewed de­scribed the blunt­ness of the re­minders. “While I was in­jured, I kept get­ting no­ti­fi­ca­tions from Strava to say some­one had bro­ken my course record for var­i­ous seg­ments. There is noth­ing worse than not be­ing able to run and re­ceiv­ing a no­ti­fi­ca­tion say­ing: ‘Uh-oh. So-and-so just broke your record’. It’s a very bru­tal re­minder of in­ad­e­quacy.”

It ex­ag­ger­ates feel­ings of iso­la­tion, jeal­ousy and de­spon­dency. If you use your train­ing as a cop­ing mech­a­nism for other things (such as stress or men­tal health is­sues) then not be­ing able to train, and los­ing your on­line sup­port at the same time, am­pli­fies the orig­i­nal is­sues.

So, while ded­i­ca­tion to your ath­let­ics is fan­tas­tic watch out for any times when your ded­i­ca­tion starts to cause con­flict and con­sider the im­pact of the tech you use. Be­ing self-aware and catch­ing risk in­di­ca­tors early on should keep you the right side of the line, so you re­main an ath­lete not an ad­dict.

More about Dr Josephine Perry: per­for­man­cein­mind. co.uk

Don’t let your train­ing stress you out

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