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Bodybuilding addiction. This morning I lifted weights. My large body (220+ pounds) is muscular and I look like a tank. I am a beast. People stop and stare.
Over the years, I built my body from a pathetic weak shape into a huge muscular statue. I continued not because of the attention. I became addicted to the pain and the progress.
Bodybuilding is addictive. I know this now. It creates a dependency—this has been studied at universities. It has things in common with other addictive behaviors.
Men and women: Women become equally dependent as men on lifting. This may be surprising.
More addictive than running: Lifters describe themselves are more dependent on exercise than even runners.
Poorer, unhappy people: They are most afflicted. They have the highest rates of exercise dependence.
Exists. First you might be asking yourself whether weight lifting addiction really exists. After all, there is nothing wrong with lifting weights and becoming healthier and stronger.
Answer: We know weight lifting dependence exists because research has shown it has many things in common with other addictions.
Cessation. When a person who is dependent stops lifting, psychological symptoms will cause discomfort. This addition affects the same group of people who are most prone to other addictions.
And: These are people in the lower socioeconomic classes, who are single and unhappy.
Note: Read the next section for the scientific description of weight lifting dependency.
Bodybuilding dependence. Let's turn to the medical library to examine bodybuilding dependence. We need to get a precise definition of exercise dependence.
Definition: In an article from the University College Chester in the United Kingdom, we define exercise dependence.
Exercise dependence, a process in which a person feels compelled to exercise and suffers physical and psychological symptoms when exercise is withdrawn, appears to be commonplace among bodybuilders.Validity of the bodybuilding dependence scale
Three factors. Three factors model strength training dependence. I learned this from the above research citation. Here are the three factors.
Factor 1: Bodybuilding (or any sport) involves a community of people. With big muscles, we identify with other "big arm guys."
Factor 2: Another factor is the workouts—these affect your hormones and your energy levels.
Factor 3: The third factor is the challenge of planning your training. Should you do squats or deadlifts for optimal results?
Social dependence appears to reflect the need to be in the bodybuilding social environment, training dependence appears to reflect dependence on the actual activity of lifting weights, and mastery dependence appears to reflect the need to exert control over training schedules. Validity of the bodybuilding dependence scale
Muscle man stereotype. Stereotypically, an addicted weightlifter would be a muscle-bound man, training endlessly in the gym with extremely heavy dumbbells.
But: This is not the only possible path of addiction. Women too can become dependent on strength training.
Female bodybuilders: It is less common, but female bodybuilders are equally dependent as male ones.
Bodybuilding dependence appears to affect male and female bodybuilders equally, despite previous claims that this is predominantly a male problem, but competitive bodybuilders of both sexes score higher on all three factors than non-competitive bodybuilders. Validity of the bodybuilding dependence scale
Exercise dependence. Some weight lifters tend to be more addicted. Power lifters are considered most dependent on their physical exercise.
In one study: A survey showed that "fitness lifters"—people less serious than bodybuilders—are less dependent.
Bodybuilders: The survey found that bodybuilders are less dependent than power lifters.
Heavier weights. It seems like the more dedication, and the heavier the weights, the more exercise dependence occurs. And this makes intuitive sense.
Results showed that bodybuilders and power lifters were significantly higher than fitness lifters on [Exercise dependence] scales. In contrast, power lifters were found to be significantly higher on [Drive for muscularity] scales than bodybuilders. The regression results suggest that exercise dependence may be directly related to the drive for muscularity.Exercise dependence and the drive for muscularity
Some thoughts. Is powerlifting more addictive than bodybuilding? In my interpretation, it is not powerlifting itself that is more addictive than bodybuilding.
Instead: People most dependent on weight training tend to describe themselves as power lifters.
Dependence. Not everyone is equally likely to become dependent on weight training. A high level of bodybuilding dependence is associated with a low level of satisfaction with life.
Thus: Let me restate this in psychological terms. Bodybuilding is an answer to disappointment and unhappiness.
Pearson correlations also revealed significant negative correlations between all three [Bodybuilding Dependence Scale] subscales and [Satisfaction With Life Scale] scores.Exercise-dependence in bodybuilders
Poverty. In studies, people who have lower incomes tend to be most afflicted with addictions of all types. Poor people are most afflicted with bodybuilding dependence.
[An analysis] revealed that working class participants scored significantly higher on all three [Bodybuilding Dependence Scale] subscales than intermediate class participants who, in turn, scored significantly higher than professional class participants. Exercise-dependence in bodybuilders
Relationship. Does a relationship make people tend to focus less on the gym? The answer is yes. Those in a romantic relationship are less dependent on bodybuilding.
Significant: This change is "significant." A partner reduces bodybuilding dependence (and increases happiness).
Participants who were not currently involved in a romantic relationship scored significantly higher on all [Bodybuilding Dependence Scale] subscales than those who were romantically involved. Exercise-dependence in bodybuilders
Marriage and fitness. Many have observed that when people get married, they tend to become less fit. They gain weight and generally let themselves go.
So: A romantic relationship is effective in reducing a person's interest in fitness—even in terms of bodybuilding dependence.
More addictive. We often hear of "runner's high." But one study found that power lifting results in a greater level of dependence than running or endurance sports.
Note: It is unclear why this occurs. Perhaps "power lifter's high" is a useful term.
Scores on exercise dependence examined among a sample of 14 competitive power lifters showed higher exercise dependence among lifters than those previously reported for endurance athletes.Exercise dependence among competitive power lifters
Most addictive sport. Power lifting is perhaps the most addictive sport. Power lifters report themselves to be more dependent on exercise than even endurance athletes.
Time. How does bodybuilding dependence change with experience? All those years spent using the gym make lifters feel more confident about their bodies.
Anxiety: Bodybuilders have less social physique anxiety. But they become even more addicted to weightlifting.
Experienced bodybuilders exhibit more exercise dependence, show greater social support behavior, and experience less social physique anxiety than inexperienced bodybuilders and weightlifters.Exercise dependence, social physique anxiety
More over with time. Bodybuilding addiction is one that will often not run its course. Instead lifters will become more dependent on it as the years pass.
However: Unlike some addictions, this does not lead to death. You cannot die from bodybuilding overdose.
And: There is a positive aspect to this. They have more social support over time and feel better about their physical appearances.
Story. Since my late teenage years I have struggled with depression. It ran in my family—but to me it felt intensely personal. And it left me with anxiety about my body.
In retrospect: My body was not overly fat or weak-looking. But my negative self-talk built up a desire to change.
And: The depression continued like a river though all parts of my life. It nearly destroyed me.
Summer of 2006. I remember the summer of 2006. I discovered weight training (bodybuilding) in its full meaning. I had enjoyed lifting weights off and on since I was 12 years old.
And: I had, naturally, a muscular and thick build. I have 15-inch arms even before lifting at all.
But: My depression, my desperation, set bodybuilding in a whole new light in this summer.
Training. Since then I designed training programs and learned every exercise. I went through dozens of containers of whey protein.
Eggs: I ate thousands of eggs, some raw—and drank many gallons of milk. I physically changed.
Mental health. But my mind too changed. The dependence set in for me. The change was positive in most ways—and became more positive as the years passed.
Barbells: The weights changed from dumbbells to an Olympic barbell and hundreds of pounds.Barbell, Dumbbell
And: The exercises changed from biceps curls to dips to heavy back squats. I became more serious and my body became thicker.CurlsSquats
My results. I don't consider it a bad thing. And the evidence says over time, the dependence grows greater—but the social support and their internal body images improve.
A personal note. As I admire my powerful and big body, I think about how much bodybuilding has helped me. I hope it can help you too. It is not just about muscles.
Bodybuilding dependence exists. When a lifter stops training, psychological symptoms cause distress. Depression and withdrawal signs may occur.
This dependence has three main components. These involve the social life, the exercise itself and control. It is important to understand a bodybuilder's mind—not just admire those muscles.