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“Extreme” fitness – is it right for you?

“Extreme” fitness – is it right for you?

The culture of health and fitness is constantly evolving, and new, exciting methods of achieving both glory and self-punishment through exercise are always emerging. As with anything trendy, some ideas catch on for a bit but quickly fizzle as they lose credibility, lose their “freshness”, or are just plain stupid (“Shake-weight” anyone?). However, every once in a while, as if by luck or sheer persistence, some of these new developments grow out of infancy and establish themselves as viable participants in the health and fitness market.

Over the past year or so, I’ve noticed several evolving trends in the realm of health and fitness, not only locally in Rochester, but also on a larger scale nationally that seem to be taking root. The present concept I am currently most fascinated with is not so much a specific program, but instead the philosophy of “extreme” fitness as a universal method to achieve health and fitness goals.  In a nutshell, I define “extreme” fitness as the desire to push oneself to the limit and beyond, which is often encouraged or pressured by an individual or group, in order to obtain not only maximum health and fitness, but also personal glory and a sense of accomplishment.

In 2014, there are a number of programs and products capitalizing on the experience of a raw, adrenaline fueled workout regimine. For example, programs such as CrossFit and Tough Mudder, two cultures which have established a huge following over the past few years, pride themselves in pushing people to the limit, regardless of physical abilities or exercise experience. In addition to specific programs are a multitude of products that profess being “hardcore” or innovative in the name of pushing oneself to the max. For me, a great example of such a product is minimalist running shoes. I’m talking about the ones that are basically socks (just Google “toe running shoes”). Even just now, while I eat a protein bar and drink some coffee, I saw someone jog by (very gingerly, of course) wearing toe shoes.  Although its always great to see individuals decide to make healthy choices for themselves, and have an avenue through which they can strive for their personal goals, the risks involved with diving into such programs or using such products may, at times, outweigh the benefits.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love a good, intense workout. In fact, its one the things I live for. And I can’t think of many things more satisfying than a brutal and totally exhausting lift that leaves me tenderized like a nice flank steak. However, there is a BIG difference between working out hard, and working out smart.

Before going any further, I’ll be the first to admit that I know very little about these specific programs or products personally, and have never actually participated in either CrossFit or Tough Mudder. And to reassure those that think this blog is just another bash on CrossFit or some like program, that is not my point at all. My beef is not so much with the individual programs, but instead with the popular, albeit “sexy”, philosophy on which many these programs and products rest. Namely, that by pushing oneself harder, and harder, and harder, that success in the health and fitness game can be obtained by all (“Maybe if I just hit my head harder against this brick wall, eventually I will break through!” THWACK!). For some, arguably most people, going from little to no exercise to full-throttle and unfamiliar training methods is simply dangerous and pushes one well beyond the threshold for healthy physical adaption and into the realm of injury. 

The primary issue with these trends is not so much that they aren’t effective for some individuals (i.e. trained, well-conditioned athletes), but instead that they are simply too intense for others and thus not appropriate for everyone, at least not without considerable guidance and attention to technique. And by claiming that anyone under the sun is ready to run around on concrete in basically socks or max out on the clean-and-jerk is simply dangerous to the public. Pushing people hard is fine, but many are not ready for this intensity of training, will do waaay too much too soon, and get hurt, which is both backwards and irresponsible.

Pushing oneself to the limit through exercise is not a new idea. For example, people have been running marathons for years (I personally have never ran one, and kudos to all who have). However, as “extreme” fitness becomes more popular and, in many regards, becomes the staple for achieving health and fitness in our society, one must ask, “is this right for me and my goals?”. The worst thing someone can do, and this is speaking from experience, is try too hard at something new, and get injured as a result, which will inevitably result in frustration and setbacks.

 Just because something is popular doesn’t mean it is right for you. And if it feels like too much, it probably is. On the off chance you do get injured, talk with a Physical Therapist. As musculoskeletal experts, they help you heal up and train smarter in the future. My best advice for anyone considering new forms of exercise or new products is to start slow, and focus on training .

But that’s enough of my opinions for now. Time to get up and hit the gym. Happy training!   

Greg Dixon, PT, DPT

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