Getty Images

Where's the Line Between Cross-Training and Exercise Addiction?

Tackling an exercise regimen with focus and dedication can really pay off in your dance career, and there's a definite thrill associated with seeing your technique, strength, and stamina improve. But what happens when your drive morphs into something that's driving you? That's what exercise addiction feels like: a sense that you have to do more. "Exercise addiction controls you," says Diane Israel, a psychotherapist who specializes in body image and is an adjunct professor at Naropa University. Israel is also an exercise addiction survivor and a former world-class runner and triathlete. "It has a different quality than exercise that's joyful, and that you know is good for you," she says.


What Is Exercise Addiction?

Exercise addiction is defined by obligation. "You might feel really guilty about not exercising, even if you're tired, sick, or injured," says Philippa Ziegenhardt, counselor at the Australian Ballet School. Exercising takes priority over your normal activities, including rest and recovery. "Exercise addiction has a harsh, punishing, and critical energy," Israel says. "It tells you 'Get going' and 'You're not OK unless you do A, B, and C.' "

This might sound alarming to dancers who are used to self-motivating through tough rehearsals, training sessions, and performance seasons. But Dr. Andrew Garnham, sports physician at the Australian Ballet School, says that it's important to look out for that feeling of preoccupation. "Exercise addiction leads to the exclusion of, and reduced performance in, your other usual activities," he says. "It may also become apparent that performance in the chosen activity is diminishing rather than improving, despite devoting more time and effort to it."

Health Impacts

With both physical and mental health impacts, exercise addiction can really take a toll on a dancer's career. "It affects normal growth and development," Garnham says. "There may be delayed puberty, failure to grow, reduced muscle and bone strength, and frequent or recurrent injury." Disordered sleep and disordered eating are also associated with exercise addiction.

Israel adds that your sense of self-worth is likely to suffer, too. You might feel ashamed of or angry at yourself for doing something that you know is harmful, but which you can't stop. "At a certain point, you might feel more addicted to the training than the performance or event," she says. "And when you overtrain, you can't perform at your best."

Road to Recovery

The bottom line is: If you don't get support, you'll lose what you love. That support should be both physical and mental. It will take time, and require a team of care providers, to recover from exercise addiction. Use your regular doctor as a point of continuing contact during your recovery. "Your doctor will monitor your progress," Garnham says. Ziegenhardt suggests eventually working with an exercise physiologist, who studies the effects of exercise on the body. "This could help you reintegrate exercise into your life in a balanced way."

Israel stresses the importance of finding practitioners experienced in treating exercise addiction, who don't simply tell you to cut back. You might know that's what you need, but not how to do it. It's OK to take time finding the right medical and mental-health care providers. "It's a journey toward healing," Israel says. "You can't bargain with exercise addiction. You have to face it and name it."


A version of this story appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Exercise Addiction 101."

Latest Posts


Because there's never been a better time to binge-watch "Bunheads" (via Freeform)

5 of the Danciest TV Shows Streaming Right Now (and Where to Stream Them)

We're about two months into #SocialDisDancing, and let's be real—while we all wish we were spending every spare minute stretching, cross-training, or taking online classes, sometimes we just need to Netflix and chill.

We figure, if you're going to be watching TV anyways, why not make it dancy TV? After all, watching pros dance on-screen is basically dance class homework...or at least we'll say it is. Here are five of the danciest TV shows for you to watch—and where to find them.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Larry Saperstein on "High School Musical: The Musical: The Series" (Disney+/Fred Hayes)

Celebrate National Tap Dance Day with "HSM" Star Larry Saperstein

Happy National Tap Dance Day, friends! We're marking the occasion by catching up with one of our favorite talented young tappers: Larry Saperstein. The "High School Musical: The Musical: The Series" star began taking tap classes at 12 years old, studying at the American Tap Dance Foundation, where he quickly discovered his love for the art. These days, he's putting his skills to good use as Big Red on "HSMTMTS." (Who could forget that iconic moment at the end of season one where he broke out into a tap routine that shook us all!)

We chatted with Larry about why he loves tap so much, and why the art form needs more and better representation in the dance world (and the world world).

Keep Reading SHOW LESS

2020 Dance Grads: We Want to Put You on Our Cover!

Hello, all you members of the great Dance Class of 2020. With the world on lockdown, this hasn't been the graduation season you expected. You likely weren't able to go to prom; your commencement ceremonies have probably been delayed or canceled; and you might not have been able to take your planned-for final bow onstage.

Since you're missing out on so much, we'd like to give you a virtual ovation, to recognize all you've accomplished. And what's the highest honor we can bestow? The cover of Dance Spirit!

Here's the plan:

  • If you're a high school or college senior dancer, use this form to submit your information and dance portrait.
  • Each day during the month of May, we'll create a digital Dance Spirit cover starring one of you, chosen at random—31 covers in total.
  • At the end of the month, we'll create a "commencement video" featuring even more of your submitted dance photos.
  • 100 of you, selected by lottery, will also receive free one-year subscriptions to the print magazine.

Merde, 2020 graduates, as you dance your way into the future!

High School and College Senior Dancers: Submit Your Photo Here

Editors' Picks

contest
Enter the Cover Model Search