Exercise Addicts: Pushing Ourselves Too Far?

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Exercise Addicts: Pushing Ourselves Too Far?

Kathryn Schreiber says she's addicted to something most people would praise her for: exercise.

She’s been known to hit the gym obsessively. Two hours before work. An hour at lunch. Another hour after work. Kathryn is an exercise addict. But rather than make her happy, she sees her need to work out is a curse.

“It's not something to be envied because the psychological turmoil that forces me to do this, it's not fun and I don't wish it upon anybody. Honestly,” said Schreiber.

“I'm depleting myself. I literally haven't taken a day off from the gym in over 2 years. So no days off. Even when I was sick.”

Our country is in the grips of an obesity epidemic, which may explain the exponential growth of hyper-intense workouts that promise to help you slim down and bulk up quickly. P90X has sold more than 4 million DVDs. Insanity, more than 2 million. CrossFit has sprouted to 10,000 gyms in just 3 years, signing up 10 million "CrossFitters."

The burning desire for six-pack abs and chiseled biceps is driving people in droves to military boot camp training, hard-core spinning, extreme endurance races. Even yoga -- usually a refuge of peace and tranquility -- is now amped up to appeal to those who love being pushed to the edge.

But extreme exercise has a dark side. When Schreiber doesn’t work out, she says she gets severely anxious, irritable and depressed. Wreaking havoc not just on the mind, but on the body.

“I have a herniated disk in my back that I exercised throughout,” admitted Schreiber. “I was in severe pain for a year and a half. And I stopped menstruating for 2 years because of it. That's a common thing with females who exercise a lot.”

Schreiber says she’s also suffered several back injuries, pulled muscles and sprained ankles: “I think a lot of it comes out in the fatigue and you have the symptoms of over-training and I'm just exhausted and hungry all the time.”

In fact, Schreiber said she refused surgery for her herniated disk because her doctors say she couldn’t work out for 2 to 3 weeks after.

And injuries are common. Just this weekend, Kevin Ogar, a CrossFit trainer, severed his spinal cord in a freak accident during a weight-lifting competition. His 235-pound barbell hit on his back. Within 48 hours, a viral campaign raised $100,000 for his medical bills, but he may never walk again. CrossFit is a military-style regimen which combines high-intensity aerobics with gymnastics and weight lifting.

Although increasingly popular, doctors say these kinds of hardcore, high-intensity workouts can lead to serious health problems, including kidney failure.

Which is what happened to Jill Kloesel. She wound up in the E.R. just days after doing intensive CrossFit exercises, swelling from her elbows to shoulders.

So just how tough is too tough?

Tracey Anderson is fitness guru to the stars, who's known for pushing her clients -- celebrities and non-celebrities alike.

“The truth is that it takes a lot of care and attention to achieve your best body,” said Anderson. “It’s possible but it takes support and it takes education and understanding. It’s how you move and you do need to choose what you do carefully.”

Katherine Schreiber has managed her obsessive exercising to under 2 hours a day on average, but she knows she has to be vigilant, carving out time for friends and for her other passion, writing.

“When I'm writing, I just am in the zone,” she said. “It's the only thing that trumps exercise for me.”

She says her various therapies are helping. But just recently, she took delivery of something she hopes will help keep her from obsessing about going to the gym: an elliptical machine.

Not everyone's convinced: “I'm kinda nervous about this,” said her fiancé Sandy Marks.