PTSD & CrossFit

PTSD and CrossFit Training

According to Captain Obvious, exercise is good for you.  We have all heard about the physical and emotional benefits of exercise.  We have heard all the clichés; “find an activity you like and make it your exercise,” “take a walk around the block.” “park your car at the far end of the lot,” and “exercise releases endorphins.”  Nothing new to see here. Keep moving.

I’m not going to present a scholarly article on PTSD.  My assumption is that if the person reading this has any military or law enforcement/first responder experience then they are all too familiar with PTSD; it causes, symptoms and effects on life.  I happen to be of the belief that PTSD is a “normal reaction to an abnormal situation,” and like it or not, being in the military or law enforcement exposes us to abnormal situations.  What is seen and heard in the course of a day is often not experienced by a civilian in the course of a lifetime.  PTSD is the Purple Heart of Heroes.  It is something we have, not who we are.  It is something earned.  PTSD is something we manage through heathy avoidance, accommodation and modification. It is not something we are cured of.

But what about PTSD and exercise; specifically, PTSD and CrossFit training.  While exercise at the gym is known to improve overall health status, it is usually a solitary activity that often goes the way of home exercise bicycles that quickly become places to drape our clothing over. Motivation to get to the gym waxes and wanes.  CrossFit on the other-hand, has built-in teamwork, camaraderie, and competition; an antidote for the isolation and withdrawal which are hallmark symptoms of PTSD.  In CrossFit, you get to compete with people in your class and interact through social media groups.  There are local, national and international competitions.  The solidarity amongst CrossFit warriors heals the self-imposed incorrect PTSD perspective of being damaged or broken in some way and serves to improve self-esteem.  In addition, being part of a CrossFit “Box” makes you part of a family, and when a “family member” doesn’t show up, or shows some noticeable change in behavior, emotion or appearance, other “family members” are more likely than the casual observer to notice and reach out. 

By their very nature, military and law enforcement warriors are individuals who push their limits.  They choose not to have a 9-5 desk job with weekends off. They can be defined by their innate ability to persist and persevere.  What better arena is there for them to tap into their natural tendencies than CrossFit.

Military and law enforcement professionals maintain order.  In New York City, there are 8 ½ million residents.  In the New York Police Department, there are 38,000 law enforcement professionals.  It’s often asked, “how do 38,000 regulate the actions of 8 ½ million?”  They do so with their presence or what is better known as “image armor.”  PTSD wreaks havoc by putting cracks in image armor.  CrossFit welds those cracks and restores a sense of control and self-determination in a world where PTSD has weakened routine and normalcy. 

Finally, many people include meditation or mindfulness into their CrossFit routines; another excellent tool for management of PTSD symptoms.


Dr. Stephen Wakschal is a clinical psychologist with over 40 years of experience in the field of trauma and suicide with a particular focus on the law enforcement community.  Dr. Wakschal holds a PhD from Columbia University and three masters degrees, including a masters in forensic psychology.  Dr. Wakschal worked for over 32 years for the NYS Office of Mental Health, providing services to a forensic population, and conducting Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) to various law enforcement agencies including the NYPD, FBI, Homeland Security, NJ State Troopers, Federal Air Marshal Service, Allegheny County Sheriffs Dept, Bermuda Police Dept., and US Customs and Border Protection, as well as US Military.  Dr. Wakschal worked for the Police Organization Providing Peer Assistance (POPPA) for 17 years, providing peer support training, supervision, development of program content, and served as a referral clinician. During his tenure with POPPA, Dr. wakschal spent nearly two years on the pile at ground zero, debriefing thousands of Members of service of the NYPD.  Dr. Wakschal is a former clinical lead for the Red Cross Disaster Mental Health program and holds advanced certification in Critical Incident Stress Management. He is a New York State Trooper PBA Surgeon and a member of The American Academy for Professional Law Enforcement. Dr. Wakschal is the author of the Conquer© program, a suicide awareness and intervention program for law enforcement professionals.