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PCOS and CrossFit

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a condition where the ovaries produce an over abundance of androgens (male sex hormones). Symptoms can include:

  • Male pattern baldness
  • Weight gain (specifically around the abdominal region)
  • Cysts developing in the ovaries (which can be present without having PCOS)
  • Acne
  • Infertility
  • Excess body hair on the face, chest, and back

It is estimated that one in five women worldwide have PCOS.

Women diagnosed with PCOS are often insulin resistant. As a result doctors will suggest losing weight to treat their PCOS, and may recommend decreasing intense physical activity to manage cortisol and testosterone levels.

This is where the recommendation to stop CrossFit comes in to play. But is that something that has to happen if you’re a woman with PCOS?

Absolutely not, and here’s why:

First, studies show that resistance training can decrease testosterone levels in women with PCOS. Studies also show that resistance training increases estrogen levels, aiding in hormone balancing.

Second, exercise, specifically HIIT training WITH weight lifting, actually increases insulin sensitivity. And the more muscle mass a woman has, the more insulin sensitive she becomes!

Third, while we don’t want to focus on exercise to lose body fat, having more lean muscle mass increases resting metabolism.

This means your body requires more calories just to exist.. which means when you’re in between meals your body is more likely to use body fat as fuel. This helps your PCOS symptoms because excess body fat contributes to inflammatory markers (which can worsen PCOS symptoms like irregular periods).

Fourth, not all cortisol is bad cortisol.

In fact, without cortisol (a condition called Addison’s Disease) we would die. Rather than take away something that brings you pleasure, is overall exceptionally good for you and your body (CrossFit helps women with their balance, power production, bone health, confidence, and mental health), AND can have positive impact on your PCOS symptoms, doesn’t it make more sense to look at cortisol spiking things that AREN’T serving you… like poor sleep, a nutrient poor diet, work stress, etc?

At the end of the day you want to find a system of exercise that makes you feel good, you’re willing to do regularly, and it provides more positive than negative impacts on your health and your life.

You may even find there are seasons for you as a CrossFitter and time when you need to step away from the sport. But if you LOVE CrossFit and are a woman with PCOS, know that you CAN make this training modality work for you and your body!

References

Androstenedione. Androstenedione – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. (n.d.). Retrieved July 10, 2022, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/pharmacology-toxicology-and-pharmaceutical-science/androstenedione#:~:text=Androstenedione%20is%20converted%20to%20testosterone,oxidoreductase%20or%2017%2Dketosteroid%20reductase.

Barbieri, R. L. (m.d.). Steroid hormone metabolism in polycystic ovary syndrome. UpToDate. Retrieved July 10, 2022, from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/steroid-hormone-metabolism-in-polycystic-ovary-syndrome#:~:text=In%20PCOS%2C%20androstenedione%20and%20testosterone,and%20the%20adrenals%20%5B3%5D.

Hestiantoro, A., Kapnosa Hasani, R. D., Shadrina, A., Situmorang, H., Ilma, N., Muharam, R., Sumapraja, K., & Wiweko, B. (2018). Body fat percentage is a better marker than body mass index for determining inflammation status in polycystic ovary syndrome. International journal of reproductive biomedicine16(10), 623–628.

Liu, Y., Ye, W., Chen, Q., Zhang, Y., Kuo, C.-H., & Korivi, M. (2019). Resistance Exercise Intensity is Correlated with Attenuation of HbA1c and Insulin in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health16(1), 140. MDPI AG. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16010140

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2022, February 28). Retrieved July 10, 2022, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/polycystic-ovary-syndrome-pcos

Ramos, F. K. P., Lara, L. A. da S., Kogure, G. S., Silva, R. C., Ferriani, R. A., Sá, M. F. S. de, & Reis, R. M. dos. (2016, July 29). Quality of life in women with polycystic ovary syndrome after a program of resistance exercise training. Revista Brasileira de Ginecologia e Obstetrícia / RBGO Gynecology and Obstetrics. Retrieved July 10, 2022, from https://www.thieme-connect.com/products/ejournals/html/10.1055/s-0036-1585457

Razzak, Z. A., Khan, A. A., & Farooqui, S. I. (2019). Effect of aerobic and anaerobic exercise on estrogen level, fat mass, and muscle mass among postmenopausal osteoporotic females. International journal of health sciences13(4), 10–16.

Wiggs, A. G., Chandler, J. K., Aktas, A., Sumner, S. J., & Stewart, D. A. (1AD, January 1). The effects of diet and exercise on endogenous estrogens and subsequent breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women. Frontiers. Retrieved July 10, 2022, from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fendo.2021.732255/full

1 thought on “PCOS and CrossFit

  1. Bek says:

    Honestly when I disengaged from doctors visits, hormone experimentation, and risk-averse-medical-buttcovering-against-possible-litigation, and just started living well – moving (starting walking regularly, which is all I could manage initially due to other chronic conditions on top of my PCOS) and then getting into CrossFit, and eating a balanced diet designed to fuel me for the life I was living, everything got better.

    My insulin resistance resolved itself. My chronic abdo-pelvic pain and my chronic joint pain both resolved themselves. My mental health followed along with this as I blew the ceiling off my limited view back then of what I thought possible vs impossible looked like.

    I’m not yet 2 years deep into my CrossFit journey but I’m such a believer in constantly varied functional movement at high intensity, combined with good sustainable nutrition and habits, as the very best healthcare.

    I’m now a competitive masters weightlifter (still with a helluva lot to improve and learn) and my CrossFit performance across all the domains is improving steadily and measurably.

    But most of all – I just love the difference it has made in my life. My constant illness and pain is a distant memory. I’m happy and strong and healthy and empowered.

    Take responsibility for your health and make your own decisions. A doctor’s advice is worth seeking out, but it’s advice, with its own biases and interests. We MUST own our medical decisions.

    A slow and steady and cautious path forward from illness and pain through fitness and non-fad nutrition has a high percentage chance of benefitting most women, IMHO.

    Reply

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