Time Magazine recently ran an article discussing the cult of Cross Fit and its effects on the body. Cross Fit is not the only extreme exercise system out there. P90X and Insanity Workout are two other currently popular extreme exercise systems out there.
These extreme exercise systems do work, and they work well, if you can stick with them and avoid injury long enough to get results.
These systems work on the premise that you have to push yourself hard to get to the next level of fitness. When everything is going right, these systems will help you to burn calories, build muscle, lose weight and get into shape. But that is only if everything is working right.
In a study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers from the Ohio State University studied 43 subjects before and after a 10 week intensive CrossFit program. The results showed a significant decrease in body fat and an increase in endurance for both men and women for all levels of exercise experience and all levels of body type.
In order to benefit from an extreme exercise system, I feel that you have to be in decent shape to begin with. If you haven’t exercised in over a year, you cannot jump into an extreme exercise system and expect to stick with it long enough to see and feel benefits. If you do, you will injure yourself and end up having to stop exercising.
In another study to be published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers surveyed CrossFitters on online forums. 73.5% of the respondents said that they suffered an injury that prevented them from working, training, or competing. 7% said that their injury required surgery. The researchers concluded that crossfit has the same rates of injury similar to those of Olympic weight lifting, power lifting, gymnastics, distance running, and triathlon training.
I recommend staying away from exercises like triathlon or marathon training, Olympic weight lifting, power lifting and gymnastics because the incidence of injury is so high. The reason why exercises like these and CrossFit have such a high incidence of injury is because they are so high impact. Most of us will be able to do these high impact exercises for only a short period of time before getting injured. Some people can do these high impact exercises without injury for many years without injury. Eventually though, high impact exercising will catch up with you. The high impact eventually wears down joints and creates injury and long term leads to joint breakdown and arthritis.
Some extreme exercise gyms will create more injuries than others. Some trainers will be good and listen to you and listen to your body. They will make sure that you are doing the exercises correctly and with good form. They will modify the exercises if they see that they are too tough for you. They will even advise you to back off and stop if they sense an injury coming up.
I worked on a guy who injured his shoulder doing CrossFit pull ups. These are a specific type of pull up where you swing forward when you lower yourself down. It is extremely tough on the shoulder, and creates tears where the latissamus dorsi (the lat) attaches to the shoulder. This guy would not stop exercising no matter how much I advised him to. His injury kept lingering because he wouldn’t take time off to let his shoulder heal. Finally his CrossFit instructor told him to take 2 to 4 weeks off to let his injury heal.
That is a responsible trainer, and the type of trainer that you want to work out with.
Watch out for other types of trainers who just want to make you big. If they don’t listen to you if you say something is too tough, then that is a sign. If they keep pushing you and don’t listen to you at all, then that is a sign. A trainer who will not listen to his or her clients is one to stay away from.
I feel that CrossFit and other extreme exercise systems are good for about 20% of the population. These are people with previous exercise and or athletic experience. These are people who are already exercising and want to push it to the next level and get into better shape. From what I have seen, of these 20% that can do CrossFit , only 5% will be able to stick with the program without injury.
If you haven’t exercised in years, if you are in pain, if you have arthritis, if you are overweight or obese, if you are over 50, then the extreme exercise systems probably aren’t for you. The activities that caused the same amount of injury as CrossFit are all high impact exercises that are very tough on your body. I feel that these activities are so tough on your body, and cause so much wear and tear, that you will only be able to maintain them for a short period of time before you have to stop due to an injury. And you may or may not recover from that injury. Something as small as a pulled muscle can affect you on and off for the rest of your life. I see it in practice every day. Your body has a way of remembering injuries. And those old injuries have ways of coming back and haunting us as well get older.
Even if you are in good shape, you will probably still suffer an injury while doing an extreme exercise system. You have a 73.5% chance of it.
That is why I created Pain Free Lifestyle. I see a need for an exercise and nutrition system that is honest, straight forward, easy on your body and easy to stick with. To get the most benefits from exercise, you have to do it consistently. The more I learn about the human body and how muscles act and react to stresses, the more I feel it is important to go easy on your body. Consistency is more important than intensity in regard to long term exercise. Especially as you age.
The main difference as you age is that you will not recover from injuries the way that you used to. The best example is drinking. When I was 21 I could go out all night and drink and feel fine the next day. I could wake up and jump out of bed and be ready for the day, or ready for another night of going out. Now if I have more than 1 or 2 drinks I get a headache and upset stomach the next day. I am not recovering from the toxin that is alcohol as well as I did when I was younger.
The same principle applies to exercise. When you were younger you could jump into a gym and max out your bench press after not having exercised in months. And you’d feel fine the next day. Now, 20 years later, if you were to try that you would hurt yourself doing the exercise and then feel it for weeks to months afterwards.
Pain Free Lifestyle is meant to be a moderate and common sense approach to exercise and eating right. The exercises that I incorporated into the routine are tried and true exercises that are easy on your body, they are low impact, and not likely to cause injury. These exercises are hand picked by me because they target the most overused and injured areas of the body. These exercises will strengthen, stabilize and loosen up these commonly injured areas to prevent further injury, reduce pain and increase activity.
In both exercise and eating right, it is not necessary to be extreme to see changes. If you haven’t exercised in years and you are overweight and in pain, then you won’t be able to go hard at first. You have to get yourself in shape to exercise and to get a workout, so that way you won’t injure yourself.
As we age, our concerns shift more to maintenance and feeling good. We want to be able to run around with our kids or grandkids. Once you retire, you should be able to do the activities that you want to do. If you love to travel, then keep yourself in shape to travel. If you love to golf or garden, then keep yourself in shape to golf and garden. You want to be able to enjoy life once you retire, rather than suffer through your retirement in pain.
It is not necessary to exercise until you puke or until you tear muscle fibers to achieve this. It is necessary just to move. If you haven’t exercised in years then you will see a difference from low intensity exercising and making some small, moderate changes to your eating habits. If you can stick with these changes for a year, if you can exercise consistently for a year or more, then you will be ready to decide whether you want to move onto an extreme exercise system to take your body to the next level. Or you might decide that you’d rather feel good, reduce pain, increase stability, and avoid injuries that you aren’t recovering from as quickly.
At that point though, you will be in touch with your body and in good enough shape, to make an intelligent, informed decision.
If you’re not a professional athlete, then it is not necessary to train like one.
Exercise and eat right intelligently. Don’t exercise harder, exercise smarter. It is the Pain Free Way.
Here are two other articles that I wrote about extreme exercise systems: