We all know that individual in the gym who never seems to have an “off day.” Their intensity is always through the roof, and you probably describe him or her as an animal, a beast, or the fittest person you know. All you see from the outside is a sweat-covered individual with an admirable physique who seems to have an abnormal threshold for discomfort. Sometimes, what you see is truly what you get. More often than not, though, I would argue that the individual is using exercise to deal with some inner demons (which is healthy to a point).
Now I want to preface this article by saying there is nothing wrong with intensity, but that it is important to know yourself well enough to know when the intensity you bring to your workout is being directed in an unhealthy manner.
If you are the type of person who obliterates workouts after a bad day, after someone has hurt your feelings, or after you have made a mistake just to feel that excruciating soreness the next day… I want you to pay close attention to the story I’m about to tell you.
I have been a fitness nut my entire life. I have always admired people who I saw as “mentally tough,” or those who could withstand large amounts of pain. I asked for my first pull-up bar when I was about 7 years old, and practiced until I blistered my hands. I love everything about an intense workout, but I have also had to admit that I have had unhealthy patterns with exercise over the course of time.
Most notably, in my junior year of college, I tried using exercise as my one and only coping mechanism for dealing with stress. To give you more background… I had just spent my spring break prepping a space for the gym I was about to open up with my business partners. Hours upon hours of tearing down drop ceiling, painting, putting up drywall, laying out flooring, rearranging equipment etc. all lead up to 1 client showing up on our first day. I stood in the gym for 10 hours for 1 person to show up after all of that work, and would be lying if I said that I wasn’t a little discouraged.
At the time, I was the only certified trainer out of our gym, and on top of being at the gym 10 hours a day to train people (or hope people would show up), I was attending school full-time at Eastern Washington University. My workload was intense to say the least.
In addition to stressors from school and work, I had just met a girl at a local fitness competition who I hit it off with. Things were going well, but she was moving back to Yakima. We had discussed making a long-distance relationship work, but she ended up in a relationship with a guy in Yakima shortly after moving back, and the summation of stressors got to me. We had 4 clients after being open for 2 months, my workload at school wasn’t getting any lighter, and I felt like I got played (now for the record… this girl is a large part of the reason I was able to pull my head out of my ass and do some introspection to learn more about areas of myself that I needed to work on. Without that introspection I wouldn’t be the man I am today, so don’t go dissing her. She is a good friend of mine. Back to the story).
I couldn’t sleep, so I decided to step-up my intensity. Intensity wasn’t helping my negative internal dialogue, or my sleep, so I decided one workout wasn’t enough. Thus, I began two-a-days. At least one of those workouts a day I was getting that iron taste in my mouth (you know, like when you taste blood) and my inner dialogue was negative. I had thoughts in my head like, “You weren’t good enough for her,” “your business is failing because you don’t know what you’re doing,” and “fuck people.”
I was able to justify my two-a-days because of an upcoming competition, but I knew damn well that I was just beating myself up over a business that wasn’t doing well and a girl who I wrongly felt owed me something.
From the outside, people viewed me as “the fit guy.” I was praised for winning the upcoming competition. I was described as a “porcelain statue” (funny because I’m so white, flattering because my physique was being complimented).
On the inside, though… I was hurting. It was just a couple weeks after the competition that my inner pain manifested itself in a torn labrum that left me with 6 months to heal physically, while reflecting upon my poorly directed intensity. The time away from exercise gave me time to do the introspection necessary to see my role in why things weren’t working with the business, to see that I played a role in a failed relationship, and to recognize that I was using exercise irresponsibly.
Ultimately, I have had to take a break from competition due to an unhealthy mindset towards it.
If you are somebody who can handle the responsibility of intensity in exercise and knows when it is time to back off… I applaud you. If you are somebody who could relate to the internal dialogue I described above, and the unhealthy use of exercise as a scapegoat from facing your stressors...please do me a favor and slow down before you end up severely injured. It is important to understand how crucial it is to maintain a healthy balance of working out and working in. You can’t out-exercise all of your problems. There are times when you need to look deep within yourself and face some ugliness. Believe me when I say that you will be better off for it.
You’re not alone when it comes to using exercise as a way of punishing yourself, my friend…. But there are better ways of dealing with shit than wrecking your body with poorly directed intensity. If you’re not sure where to start, please send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will do my best to steer you in the right direction.
Thank you for listening to my story, thanks for sharing it with others (yes, you have my permission) and thank you again for supporting my in the pursuit of my dreams. Until next time, stay humble, stay hungry, and stay happy.