Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Read This If You May Be Working Out Too Much

A problematic relationship to exercise can creep up on you.

As a performance coach, I work with some very highly motivated people. What happens when this motivation goes too far?

Addiction to performance-enhancing drugs or things that started out as a healthy outlet for stress can sink the most well-meaning and health-conscious of us into danger and despair.

In this post, I will be focusing mainly on Exercise Addiction (EA).

If you think you may be addicted to exercise consider the following questions:

  • Are exercise-related aches and pains a daily constant?
  • Does the inability to get a workout in cause conflict between you and others?
  • Are you excessively irritable if unable to exercise for a few days in a row?
  • Do you find yourself distracted by researching fitness topics rather than attending to life?
  • Do you see your body more critically than those around you?
  • Do you struggle to take rest days when you have joint pain?
  • Do you often exercise three or more days in a row without a recovery day?

These questions are somewhat subjective, and a yes to one or two doesn't equal a diagnosis of exercise addiction, but if you're answering yes to multiple questions, you may want to think about your relationship with exercise.

Though some may think of EA as a luxury or a "positive addiction," exercise addiction can be debilitating. Constant self-criticism, mania-chasing, and the potential for permanent physical damage can make life significantly more difficult.

Like anything else, moderation is key.

If you think you may have an unhealthy relationship with exercise, I encourage you to look into the work of researcher Mark Griffiths, or the book The Truth About Exercise Addiction: Understanding the Dark Side of Thinspiration by Schreiber and Hausenblas.

Some things to consider if you think you may have an unhealthy relationship with exercise:

  • Overcoming EA does not mean cutting exercise out of your life.
  • Finding balance will mean you can work out for your entire life, rather than wearing out your body prematurely.
  • At first, it will feel like you're ending your work out early or taking too many rest days, but as balance is restored you'll find you feel better and get more out of your workouts than ever.
  • Overcoming EA doesn't mean giving up the psychological benefits of exercise. Quite the contrary, it means that you can get the benefits and avoid the downsides like injury, agitation, and lack of time.
  • Therapy can be helpful for removing the emotional fuel that makes exercise seem like the only effective tool for stress relief or the only way access to a positive identity.

If you think you may have a problem with excessive exercise, I hope you'll explore the resources above or reach out to a therapist who specializes in behavioral addictions like Exercise Addiction.


Griffiths, M. D. (2019). The evolution of the 'components model of addiction' and the need for a confirmatory approach in conceptualizing behavioral addictions. Düşünen Adam: The Journal of Psychiatry and Neurological Sciences, 32, 179-184.

More from Zachary Alti LCSW
More from Psychology Today