Study examines how many CrossFitters are addicted to exercise

Worldwide, fitness buffs are turning to CrossFit, a specific type of group exercise, to initiate and maintain their exercise goals. CrossFit involves assorted forms of physical activity such as powerlifting, plyometrics, and running. During workouts, participants use assorted mantras (i.e., “sweat is your fat crying” or “strong is the new skinny”) to assist with maintaining motivation and direction; consequently, CrossFit is both a philosophy and a competitive fitness activity.

Given the nature of CrossFit training, researchers in Denmark were interested in exploring to what degree participants may meet the criteria for exercise addiction.

A total of 603 regular CrossFit participants (270 women and 328 men) completed an online version of the Exercise Addiction Inventory (EAI), a survey that assesses aspects of exercise addiction such as salience (“exercise is the most important thing in my life”) and loss of control (“If I cut down the amount of exercise I do, and then start again, I always end up exercising as often as I did before”).  Researchers also included four additional items to measure extreme exercise attitudes and beliefs.

Results found that 5% of survey participants met the criteria for exercise addiction, with CrossFit addiction occurring more frequently in men, those younger in age (under age 30), and those who exercise more frequently. Those who were more addicted to Cross Fit also reported the presence of the additional four characteristics related to negative exercise beliefs and attitudes (exercising in spite of injury, feelings of guilt when unable to exercise, obsessive exercise and taking medication to be able to exercise).

Given the tenacity with which CrossFitters approach their workouts, researchers Mia Beck Lichtenstein and Tanja Tang Jensen were somewhat surprised that CrossFit participants likely do not experience any greater exercise addiction than those who participate in any other form of exercise.

However, when obsession over exercise does occur among CrossFitters, it revolves around conflict with family or partners, “probably because exercise repeatedly is given priority over social activities. In a clinical or qualitative setting these fine distinctions and associations would be important to clarify, explore and discuss.”

The study, “Exercise addiction in CrossFit: prevalence and psychometric properties of the exercise addiction inventory” can be found in the forthcoming June 2016 issue of Addictive Behaviors Reports.

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