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CrossFit Exercising: Good or Bad for Chronic Stress?

Bioenergetics Circuit Inflammation Circuit

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM

CrossFit exercising has been on the riseOne of the most popular exercise regimens is CrossFit. For the past several years, CrossFit exercising has been on the rise, as its benefits of strength-building along with weight loss are quite noteworthy. Nonetheless, it is important to fully understand the possible benefits or disadvantages it could bring to your health, depending on your individual condition. For those with adrenal fatigue in particular, CrossFit exercises can put heavy demands on a system that is already ailing. The following will help you understand why and how to make the best choice for you.

While CrossFit is a great choice for some people, not all types of exercises are fit for everyone, as health conditions, age, and many other factors play a crucial role in the outcome physical activity may have on you. Your body has individual needs, and you must handle it as such. This is especially true for exercising with adrenal fatigue. Jumping on the bandwagon of an exercise program, simply because it’s popular, may not be the wisest choice.

CrossFit Exercising

Many are constantly searching for an exercise program with guaranteed outcomes; for countless individuals, CrossFit exercising has been the one they’ve found to bring supreme results.

High-intensity movement in CrossFit exercisingCrossFit consists of constantly varied, high-intensity, and functional movement exercises. It could include a mix of Olympic style weightlifting, powerlifting, plyometrics, and calisthenics, along with more familiar activities such as swimming, aerobics, or running.

There has been some controversy that CrossFit could lead to a condition in which muscle tissues die, known as exertional rhabdomyolysis. Some have experienced injuries CrossFit exercising, due to the high-intensity, dangerous movements, and pressure on the system.

Choosing an appropriate exercise program all depends on your health history, current health status, and daily lifestyle habits, such as sleep.

CrossFit exercising has only been around for about two decades, yet has recently seen a surge in popularity. From a few original CrossFit-affiliated gyms, it has spread to more than 13,000 across the US. These gyms use various equipment and exercises, such as dumbbells, jump ropes, plyo boxes, rowing machines, barbells, mats, and pull-up bars, in an attempt to enhance physical aptitude. Many CrossFit exercise devoted gyms offer their clients games to join, improving motivation through competition.

CrossFit training uses unique methodologies for strength-building, which have been a dream come true for many bodybuilders. Much of the physiological construct comes from maximizing adrenaline flow as the mechanism to complete rigorous tasks in a short period of time.

Since 2007, CrossFit has hosted the CrossFit Games annually as a means of inspiring some heated competition. The games include a combination of gymnastics, aerobics, weightlifting, and some crazy surprises, such as swimming, obstacle courses, climbing peg boards, and even softball. They games expect athletes to be ready for anything and keep a level of suspense for what they are competing in.

While it may sound desirable to join CrossFit exercises or compete in the teams, it’s not the best choice for everyone. If you decide to join a CrossFit gym or team, do it on the advice of your healthcare professional. Be wary and take time to allow your body to properly rest, drink a sufficient amount of water, work on building strength gradually, and ensure you are supporting the health of your whole body with diet and stress reduction as well.

While CrossFit exercises have been shown to cause weight loss as well as increase strength and muscle building, they could cause adverse effects if you have AFS, especially in an advanced stage. CrossFit programs are very vigorous and could put a large amount of stress on your body.

Stress and Your Health

Your adrenal glands might be tiny in size, but they are vital in working to keep your body synchronized. When your body reacts to a stressor, it automatically goes into “fight-or-flight” mode, calling on the adrenals to release hormones to get your body ready to fight or run for its life.

Stress is a natural mechanism, and it’s not something you should generally label as bad. However, the issue arises when your stress is not from acute or worthwhile causes, such as being chased by a big bear while camping, or almost driving your car into a pole on a foggy morning. Stress has become a constant norm in the lifestyle of many. It comes from factors such as an extra load of tasks at work, marital difficulties, improper sleep, or trying to study for an exam. When stress becomes second nature, like reaching for your cup of coffee every morning, slowly but surely it begins to take a serious toll on your health.

While the hormone, cortisol, does wonders to keep your body healthy, too much of it leads to a weakened immune system, overworked adrenal glands, and sleep disruption. When your adrenal glands are constantly pumping hormones to combat all of the physical and emotional stress you are dealing with, they begin to deteriorate. With time, they become overworked, exhausted, and dysfunctional.

This causes disruption of your NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response system, which could then lead your body into developing Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS). At this point, you may begin to experience a series of symptoms, such as chronic fatigue, the inability to complete your ordinary tasks, headaches, unexplained hair loss, mood swings, low body temperature, lack of sexual drive, mild depression, food intolerance, constipation, indigestion, brain fog, and increased cravings. Lack of relaxation has become a norm, and environmental toxins, smoking, lack of sleep, and improper food habits could be other causes of AFS as well.

While in some cases exercise could aid you in better managing your AFS and boosting your energy, not all exercises generate the same results. While CrossFit exercising has been increasing in popularity, it may not be the most suitable exercise choice for everyone.

CrossFit and Adrenal Crash

Whether you are trying to exercise to lose weight, build muscle, or reduce your stress levels, it’s of utmost importance that you recognize it’s not a one-size-fits-all proscription. Exercise could do your health wonders, help improve your AFS, and prevent other health conditions from emerging later on in life.

CrossFit exercising vs Adrenal YogaHowever, once you have AFS, your body has problems that need careful handling. If you start on an exercise program your system isn’t ready for, it can cause a crash. Instead of going right for CrossFit, which is very high intensity, it is better for most people with AFS to start with gentle exercises like adrenal breathing exercises or adrenal yoga. These act as stepping stones to more vigorous programs, such as CrossFit exercising. Embarking on a CrossFit program prematurely, before the body is well, can trigger adrenal crashes and relapses.

You can still probably engage in physical activity with AFS, but you need to recognize that some exercise methods could, in fact, cause serious burnout, CrossFit exercising being one of them. The massive amount of adrenaline required during CrossFit can drain the body of a nutritional reserve that is already low. Engaging in high-intensity exercises could backfire with the development of serious exhaustion and lethargy.

Instead, if you are in an advanced stage of AFS, exercises that could be acceptable, and in fact helpful, include simple breathing exercises, stretches, and yoga. It’s vital that you speak to your healthcare professional prior to initiating a new exercise program, as results could vary from individual to individual.

If you decide to engage in simple exercise, or even begin a CrossFit exercising program at the advice of your healthcare practitioner, be sure to give your body proper rest. Don’t overwork yourself for the sake of external measures like bodybuilding or losing fat, while internally you are sabotaging your organs.

Habits to Reduce Stress

Reduce stress, regain strength, then you can engage in CrossFit exercisingWhen trying to manage AFS, it’s essential that you pinpoint the underlying cause of your stress. If you’re overloaded with tasks at work, speak to your boss and see how you could possibly rearrange things. If marital stress is keeping your pulse high all evening, seek counseling or learn to communicate your feelings in a respectful fashion to come to a peaceful agreement.

Once these external factors are dealt with, your exercise, diet, and mental health will have more impact in managing your AFS. With time, you may regain your energy and strength completely, and possibly be able to engage in CrossFit exercising later on. Reducing stress should be a lifestyle.

Implement some of these habits into your daily routine to better manage your AFS, and reduce your stress as much as you can.

  • Get sufficient sleep at night. Adequate sleep plays a big role in the health of your hormones. Poor sleep causes fluctuations in your cortisol levels and other hormones and could affect your energy levels during the day.
  • Reduce your intake of coffee or caffeinated teas, replacing them with caffeine-free herbal teas, such as peppermint, chamomile, or lavender, to relieve insomnia and anxiety.
  • Avoid processed food, fast-food, deep-fried food, and junk food items.
  • Eliminate alcoholic beverages from your diet.
  • Mend your relationships. Your relationships and emotional well-being play a vital role in your physical and mental health. Communicate better, be respectful in your dealings with others, and seek counseling if it’s necessary.
  • Find an exercise that is suitable for your body. Whether it’s starting yoga or engaging in CrossFit exercising with the consultation of your healthcare professional, do something you enjoy. If running on a treadmill inside the gym sounds like a chore, go to a scenic trail and enjoy a jog in nature.
  • Give your body time to rest; don’t overwork it with exercise while trying to manage AFS, as it may backfire.
  • Declutter your surroundings; whether it’s your desk at work, your office at home, or even your kitchen pantry. Clutter is linked to an increase in anxiety and stress. By having clean and decluttered surroundings, you are taking steps to improve your health in numerous ways.


Exercise is crucial, and it could do your health wonders, but be sure to consult your healthcare practitioner prior to starting any new diet or exercise regimen, for they know your condition best. CrossFit exercising may have helped many, but be cautious that it could seriously worsen AFS if not approached properly.

For those with AFS, the best course is to progress towards healthy types of exercise that are fit for your body. Simultaneously, eat wholesome and healthy foods that are found in nature, and persist even when the going gets tough. After all, your goal should be a healthy lifestyle, which comes with gradual steps and perpetual changes.

© Copyright 2018 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam's Key Question

While exercise in and of itself is crucial for a healthy lifestyle, not every exercise will guarantee the same result for every individual. If you are trying to manage your AFS, some types of vigorous activity, such as CrossFit exercising, could backfire. Focusing on gentle exercises is usually the best first step to recovery from AFS.

Crossfit exercising

© Copyright 2001-2021 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
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