As an athlete who competed at an elite level of soccer my entire life, I experienced the tremendous demands placed on student-athletes. Sports not only demand excellence in physical performance, but require the ability to juggle a demanding schedule including school, social events, family, and more.
I strived for perfection in all aspects of my life, but particularly soccer. I placed an immense amount of pressure on myself to meet and exceed all expectations in my performance, and was willing to do whatever it took to succeed. This personality characteristic in itself made me susceptible to developing unhealthy, extreme behaviors.
Sports are very time-consuming and demanding. Training programs are strategically designed for athletes to achieve optimal performance. That is, workouts vary based on intensity allowing time for our bodies to rest and recover in between high-intensity exercises. At the time I struggled with compulsive exercise, I was running and doing additional cardio on top of our mandatory sessions. At first, my intentions were to become as fit as possible. But, then it became an obsession. And, no matter what occurred at training or practice, I was in the gym after.
When an athlete is involved in high level sports, where the required training is sufficient, this should be a concerning behavior that is looked at more closely, and may indicate there is a more severe problem.
Another key sign that I became a compulsive exerciser was when I began having Achilles’ tendon pain and was told by the doctor that the only way to heal it would be to rest it. I continued to workout through the pain, which hurt it even more. Obviously, this was unhealthy and a sign I was not taking care of my body. If athletes continue to exercise or work out when sick or injured, they should also be watched closely. They may be revealing an imbalance with exercise potentially causing further damage to their bodies.
Working out became a major focus for me, and consumed my life. I began isolating myself while compromising my social life, academics, relationships, and overall well-being to exercise. One who is struggling with compulsive exercise may do exactly this, and is indicative of a more serious problem.
And, finally, when a mandatory session was not to my standards, I experienced immense guilt. I felt like I hadn’t worked hard enough, burned enough calories, or felt the satisfaction from pushing myself to a greatest intensity. This also happened on our ‘days off’ or when I missed a workout. In fact, I didn’t ever allow myself a day off. Rest and recovery are essential for high performance, and when an athlete struggling with compulsive exercise feels constant guilt, it can be detrimental physically, mentally, socially, and more.
It took professional help for me to learn to find moderation with exercise. I had other underlying issues that were connected with this, and when I was finally able to recover from compulsive exercise, I witnessed a major increase in my performance. If you notice someone who may be exhibiting similar behaviors, seek professional help. It is imperative to keep them healthy, happy, and safe.