Is your CrossFit workout making you unhealthy?

Without a doubt, CrossFit™ has become a global phenomenon that has developed a cult-like following. It is a high-intensity workout designed to burn a high amount of calories in a short period of time and has helped thousands of people to lose weight and become fitter. But is there a darker side to CrossFit™ and other high-intensity interval training (HIIT) programs that we need to be aware of?

Does CrossFit™ increase the risk of injury?

Injury in CrossFit™ and other HIIT workouts is very common – because it forces us to work beyond our maximum level of fitness, causing fatigue. The focus on endurance, heart rate and exertion points, and not on how our bodies are feeling, is the issue. As a result, we miss the early warning signs of imminent injury and it is easy to strain or sprain something in the body.

Once you’re injured, your fitness routine stops and it can take a while to recover. As exercise is a cornerstone habit – meaning that for most people their exercise precedes other good habits such as healthy eating and meditation – it’s important that our programme is setting the right foundation for us.

Can you over-exercise?

Yes! Over-exercising can have detrimental effects on the body. Intense exercise is a stress, and although this can be beneficial for us in the right amounts if you do too much it can cause inflammation in the body as well as severely affecting your hormonal health.

In my clinic I see this stress show up in a number of different ways. Too much high-intensity exercise can impact your thyroid hormone production (underactive thyroid) and reduce fat stores to low levels, which can result in hormonal deficiencies and amenorrhea (not getting your period). We have had a lot of patients that have improved their health simply by switching their CrossFit™ workout for another form of fitness, that isn’t so taxing on the body.

Bettering ourselves or pushing too far?

A huge issue with CrossFit™ is the culture of pushing your body harder and harder, not so much the actual workouts. Pushing your body to be better, to be fitter, slimmer, stronger. While most exercise has an element of pushing yourself, CrossFit™ takes this to a whole new level.

The problem with CrossFit™ is that the programme promotes competition. And although this competitiveness is often against yourself (work just a bit harder this session), there has been a whole culture built up around the workout. This has resulted in CrossFit™ moving from a way to stay healthy, to a competitive sport, resulting in people not focusing on what their bodies are telling them. It has become about who is the best, not the healthiest.

Tuning in to your body vs. focusing on results

What I dislike the most about CrossFit™ is that it stops you from tuning in to your body and what it needs. Instead, there is a big focus on calories burnt, fat loss and body image. Some people can thrive on HIIT methods but for other people, it can make them quite unwell. Listen to your body and what it is telling you. Do you feel energised after a CrossFit™ session or do you need to go home and lie down on the couch? Is it helping your stress levels or contributing to them? Are you energised? Or fatigued despite working out 5 times a week?

If you can listen to your body and not push it too hard then CrossFit™ 3 times a week may be of benefit to you. In between, mix it up with some yoga or pilates, a bushwalk or maybe some dancing, and of course, rest.

Think about your reasons for choosing CrossFit™. Is it about being healthier, or is it all about body shape? We need to look at the underlying reasons why we gain weight, rather than trying to simply burn it off with exercise. Think about what you’re eating and drinking but most important of all, what is your emotional state and are you caring for yourself properly?

Exercise is very important for us, but choose it based on what you need, not what will help you lose weight quickest. You want to be able to maintain a healthy body for life.