Is Exercising More Unhealthy?

If you start to exercise more, is that an unhealthy sign? A new “study” on CrossFit suggests it is.

The article’s entitled “Exercise addiction in CrossFit: Prevalence and psychometric properties of the Exercise Addiction Inventory.” It was published in Addictive Behaviors Reports.

First, let’s address a false premise. The introduction states, “The prevalence of injuries in CrossFit is high.” It cites the Hak study as evidence. The Hak study did not find a “high” prevalence of injuries in CrossFit. In fact, it found a rate “similar” to “general fitness training.”

To conduct the study, researchers posted a link to an online survey in Facebook groups and got 603 responses. Participants were asked to consider a series of statements and whether they identified with them. Here are two of the statements the survey asked participants to consider:

– Over time I have increased the amount of exercise I do in a day.

– I use exercise as a way of changing my mood.

Do these statements suggest an unhealthy relationship with exercise? Increasing exercise volume over time, and thus developing tolerance to exercise, is a goal of many exercise programs. How, then, could it be a negative outcome?

Here’s one statement participants were asked to consider that may be a little more understandable:

– Conflicts have arisen between me and my family and/or my partner about the amount of exercise I do.

It is possible to imagine situations where this could be a problem, but is it always? The vast majority of people do not exercise intensely on a regular basis, nor do they pay close attention to what they eat. It can seem abnormal to start doing squats and deadlifts, and to cut out soda.

For example, let’s say that a woman and her boyfriend are sedentary. She joins a CrossFit gym, while her boyfriend stays at home watching Netflix and eating ice cream. He might get upset that she’s exercising instead of sitting on the couch with him. Does that mean she has an exercise problem? It might mean she has a boyfriend problem.

Here’s a similar statement from the survey:

“I exercise in spite of pain and injuries.”

This piece classifies continuing to exercise during an injury into the “extreme exercise attitudes and beliefs” category. So is the only healthy response to injury to completely stop all exercise? Should someone with shoulder pain avoid even stationary biking? And should someone with a knee problem avoid even upper body movements such as strict pull-ups and presses?  If you are sore–i.e., you have “pain” in your muscles­–and you still exercise, is that “extreme” too?

Despite the researchers’ strange presumptions about what constitutes addictive behavior, they did not find a high rate of exercise addiction in CrossFit. The researchers found it “surprising” that only 5 percent of CrossFitters met their standard for “exercise addiction.” Furthermore, they noted that this rate “was similar to the prevalence rates in other fitness settings in Denmark.”

Some academic exercise commentators seem to have a vendetta against CrossFit affiliates. Having failed to find a significant risk of physical injury in CrossFit, they are now attempting to classify CrossFitters’ increased exercise rates, and avoidance of toxic lifestyle choices, as signs of exercise addiction.And this during a chronic disease epidemic killing 1.8 million Americans yearly. In its disparagement of CrossFit, the NSCA has even classified muscular soreness as an injury. Perhaps these academics should be more concerned with preventing type-2 diabetes, though that could go against the interests of the ACSM and NSCA’s sponsors.

It’s just another reminder that you can’t believe every “study” you read, especially when it comes to CrossFit.


Obesity’s growth in America. Source.


  1. Posted this on the FB page but possibly worth spreading around:
    Maybe exercise is a critical component of human health (and happiness). MAYBE, because CrossFit is highly variable it is “gamelike” and therefore more cognitively engaging (fun?) than most other gym activities. Perhaps the intersection of efficacy and fun does not describe addiction but the fulfillment of a fundamental human need?

  2. Pingback: ACSM Fellows Accidentally Show CrossFit Safer than ACSM | THE RUSSELLS

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