Do Extreme Workouts Go Too Far?

You’ve probably seen them—the sculpted abs, chiseled pecks, bulging biceps, and tight cabooses. The totally ripped actors from the movie 300 some years ago caught the eyes of body buffs and brought popular attention to intense workouts like CrossFit, and now various extreme workouts abound.

CrossFit “boxes” (gyms) are popping up all over the place, often in non-descript industrial areas out of a warehouse or a hole-in-the-wall retail spot. Hours before work, at lunch, or after work, you’re liable to see sweating men and women pushing themselves as they flip tractor tires, drag heavy weighted sleds, pump rowing machines seemingly across the English Channel, lift weights, jump onto large boxes, or simply do chin-ups. It’s intense!

For those of us doing good to get in a 30 minute walk or make it to the gym a couple of times a week, it’s intimidating. These people have made a sport out of fitness! And that’s just the growing CrossFit community, to say nothing of the numerous video-based workouts like the once-popular P-90X.

Now, don’t get me wrong—I am not at all downing the people getting amazingly fit through these and other exercises. Also, CrossFit communities especially are like tight-knit, exercising families, and I love that dynamic that’s arising in these “boxes.”

However, as a medical practitioner, I have seen no few injuries, and I know many specialists who are very hesitant to recommend anyone in less than perfect health engage in the full-boar extreme workouts.

But let me be clear: the problem is not the exercise. It’s not the moves themselves or how many of them—not those things alone, anyway. The trouble with the more extreme workouts is improper form and cutting corners trying to be competitive with other athletes.

It’s Not A Competition—Until It Is

CrossFit is known for its local and national workout events. Drawing ever greater crowds, these (sometimes televised) events have heightened the perception of this being the sport of fitness, and it’s important to understand that the people who win at the higher levels have made exercise a professional-level pursuit. They dedicate many hours a week to their passion. Even at regional and local levels, some people just put more time and effort and energy into this than others.

Then come the imitators. Seeing the crème of the crop, the pro’s, they attempt to push their personal best workouts…and they cut corners in form and technique trying to shave seconds off the Workout of the Day (WOD). This is simply a recipe for disaster. Blown rotator cuffs, damaged cartilage, torn tendons, bruised joints—not to mention a great deal of extra muscle pain—await those who don’t take the time to learn proper form and who don’t resist the temptation to cut corners in order to compete with the person next to them.

Being fit isn’t a competition—unless you’re one of the few who want to take the time to do it right and master the exercise forms that allow your body to perform at these high levels.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from joining a CrossFit box and getting in killer shape, but I do want to challenge anyone who’s thinking along those lines to be sure you’ve got the techniques down. And if you’re going to a box where form isn’t of critical importance, change locations!

Far too few Americans get enough exercise—only about 12%. I love seeing people get fit. But I don’t like seeing them get hurt.

If you’re not physically up for the demands of extreme fitness, I urge you to not let that stop you from exercising. Get out and walk if nothing else. Play! Have fun by getting outside and just moving. Set reasonable fitness goals for your age, body type, and prior activity levels.

But whatever you do, whether it’s in a “box” or in your back yard, go get moving!