Exercise addiction, and the different forces of cycling

June 13, 2016

cycling addictionLike other behavioral addictions, exercise addiction is often referred to as being compulsive or impulsive.

A key point discussed by Dr Kristen Keim, Clinical Sports Psychologist, is that like others who are addicted, the person addicted to exercise often considers the negative consequences (e.g., training while injured, riding in the rain when sick, skipping work, isolation from friends to train, etc.), but ultimately ignores them in favor of riding. The sense of pleasure or feelings of happiness associated with riding tends to lose its effect and is overtaken by an innate need and obsession with spending time pedaling at the expense of one’s mental, physical, social, and occupational well being.

Though most cyclists will not meet the clinical criteria for exercise addiction/dependence, it is always helpful to reflect and watch for symptoms that could lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms.

On the other hand, many cyclists do find it hard to stop riding, and even express feeling guilty if they miss a ride or training session. Therefore, a question I often bring up to my athletes when they are struggling with not being able to train due to an injury, rest week, or off-season (or what I refer to as the transition season) is: “Will the world end if you do not train or ride?”

What I mean by this is for the athlete to focus more on what they can control, and not allow the idea of not riding or training hold them back from their objectives.

This is why it is important for professional, elite, and amateur athletes to maintain a well-balanced life; if they only focus on their athlete identity, they often have a harder time coping with sport and life stressors such as injury, rest weeks, or a transition out of competitive cycling.

One of the first signs I know that I am making progress with an athlete is when they decide on their own and are able to sense both physically and mentally that they need to take another day of rest.

Remember, train hard, recover harder. Tap back into the positive feelings associated with spending time on two wheels — the light side of cycling. It’s something we all need to remind ourselves, whether we’re riding for pleasure up Mt. Diablo or racing up the Passo di Gavia. To read more click here.

Dr. Kristin Keim is a Clinical Sport Psychologist. She is a Certified Consultant in the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) and member of the U.S. Olympic Committee Sport Psychology and Mental Training Registry. Dr. Keim’s research focuses are on mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBIs) in athletes, depression in athletes, athlete identity, and the transition out of sport.

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