To clock up serious fitness, you need to get out of your comfort zone. Leave ‘can’t’ and ‘but’ at the door and enter the world of extreme fitness. (War paint optional.)
The marketing gurus in the fitness industry are a powerful force. When medical science tells us the only way is the slow, steady way. The fitness industry cranks out something promising the contrary. While many so-called breakthroughs genuinely improve the fitness landscape, others simply line the pockets of snake oil salesmen who guarantees amazing results for three simple payments.
Years back, aerobics was founded by a physical therapist in the US Air Force – Dr Kenneth Cooper. He coined the term and exercise method. Not long after, John Travolta was seen thrusting his banana hammock in Jamie Lee Curtis’ direction in an aerobics class scene in the movie Perfect. The trend went nuts.
But fitness progressed, and in the 1990s we went after the ‘fat burning zone’ to keep our heart rates at 65 per cent if max. The decade was all about outwitting our bodies with scientific-sounding tactics.
In the 2000s, these moderate approaches have been usurped by plyometrics, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and Tabata exercise regimes, on the science that says higher intensity in shorter bursts is where results lie. That’s not to say a relaxing jog isn’t healthy, but science concludes that exercising at a higher intensity employs both aerobic and anaerobic fitness. Intensity requires more muscles, a bigger workload, more weight loss, more toning… and more results. So where to next? This year extreme fitness and intensity are the new black; if you’re not pushing your mind and body to the limit, you might as well just be standing still.
So why is intensity the new black? It’s all about the convergence of science and culture. Science has told us that high intensity works to get lean, strong, and to lose fat. Culturally, people are more time poor than ever, so they seek exercise that is of shorter durations with big results. It’s like peanut butter meeting jelly, so the fitness industry delivers regimes that both culture and science seek – everybody wins, right?
Maybe not. Despite the suggestions of infomercials staring ordinary people, ‘intensity’ isn’t for everyone – and not all intensity workouts are created equal. First up, you’ll need to be wary of programs that ask you to hit the intensity with every single session. Melbourne mother Amanda Soogun is a casualty of the cross-fit trend after going too hard, too fast. After four or five months of CrossFit training, which she credits with impressive strength, cardio fitness, and tone, Soogun feel victim to rhabdomyolisis, or the breakdown of muscle fibers that leads to myoglobin entering the bloodstream. It’s no strained ankle; this is bad news for the kidneys.
And its not just the physical overload that can cancel the benefits of hardcore fitness classes. Take a 30-something woman who is stressed at work, deprived of sleep, and in a tense relationship – intensity just might be the final ingredient that tips the boat.
The flipside is the potential to become addicted to exercise. “Exercise can be great for stress release, but it’s potentially harmful in the context of avoidance of emotional pain”. A lot of clients exercise to avoid thinking about certain issues and to block emotional pain, rather than tolerate it and deal with the psychological process. Used as an avoidance tactic, exercise is like a drug, with the potential for dependency.
A study on exercise dependency from Australian Physiotherapy says it’s a very real risk, with the impact witnessed on the physio couch. Compulsive exercisers tend to ignore their bodies’ signals, such as soreness, and cause or exacerbate injuries.
So should we give extreme regimes a wide berth?
It is important to carefully evaluate a fitness program up front, and periodically. “Regular exercise has significant health benefits for mood, anxiety and daily stresses, but it’s about the right balance”. And it’s nothing to do with being a buzz kill. Balanced training may actually get you better results in the long term. “Overtraining is a detriment and becomes counter productive when it comes at the cost of achieving other things in life”. “Stress then compounds, causing fatigue and the inability to perform in the days to come.”
So what does WH&F thinks of these hyper programs?
We’ve hand picked five fitness regimes that will have you sweating like a sauna maintenance worker (and swearing like a trooper.)
In A Nutshell: P90X is a home fitness system, and the program includes 12 intense workouts that use resistance and body-weight training, cardio, plyometrics, ab work, martial arts, and yoga. Also included is a three-phase nutrition plan to lose fat and build muscle.
The Claim: ‘Muscle Confusion’ is the secret of P90X, and word is, it will transform your body in just 90 days. Trainees are never meant to plateau, which means varied, intense routines will allow you to make improvements to your fitness and your body, while burning fat and sculpting muscles.
P90X is a ‘Dial 1800’ home fitness system but provides much more than the Ab Dominators of the 1990s. Workouts are challenging, varied, and comprehensive.
In A Nutshell: The INSANITY workout regime is provided by personal trainer Shaun T over 10 workouts DVDs ultilising body weight during interval training sessions. INSANITY replicated the class environment in your home via strength, power, resistance, and ab and core training moves.
The Claim: INSANITY’s secret is MAX interval training. Shaun T took traditional interval training (short bursts with short rest) and flipped it on its head by providing long bursts of maximum intensity exercises with short periods of rest. The goal is to alternate between aerobic and anaerobic interval performed at maximum intensity, providing trainees with the best body in 60 days. INSANITY is comprised of 10 varied workouts that mainly tax the cardiovascular system via plyometric movements and intervals. Unlike P90X, INSANITY is less about targeting specific muscle groups and more about bodyweight movements.
In A Nutshell: RIPPED was co-created in 2008 by Terry Shorter, an entertainer turned fitness instructor. RIPPED is not a home DVD system but rather a group fitness class that aims to provide a total body ‘plateau proof fitness formula’ ultilising resistance and cardio training – Resistance, Interval training, Power, Plyometrics, Endurance, and Diet. Getting RIPPED is about torching your fat in the class environment at your local gym.
The Claim: RIPPED’s effectiveness stems from testing different energy systems and muscles in each workout segment, changing the focus and activities every 6 to 9 minutes. Trainees might achieve a 750-1000 calories burned in just a 50 minute class.
RIPPED sessions are indeed challenging and high intensity. However, RIPPED enters a competitive group fitness market, and courses emulate a combination of well-known Body Pump/Jam/ Combat. On their homepage, Ripped Planet is seeking instructors to encourage expansion, but we don’t see this type of training having a Zumba-esque explosion across the globe.
In A Nutshell: CrossFit was founded by Greg Glassman in 2000, who over many years designed this strength and conditioning program where Olympic movements and functional exercises are performed at high intensity. Daily workouts are known as WODs (workout of the day), and some last five minutes, whereas other last up to 30 minutes. All trainees compete against the clock, which makes CrossFit not only an exercise regime, but also a quickly growing international sport.
The Claim: There are no ‘money back guarantees’ spiked on TV with CrossFit – there is only your attendance at your local CrossFit ‘Box’ and doing the hard yards. CrossFit WODs are designed to test the 10 Elements of Fitness, making you an all-around athlete and healthier individual: Cardio and respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy.
WH&F spent time at a CrossFit box, and the first WOD We performed was a simple (three rounds) 50 pulls-ups, 50 push-ups, and 100 body weights squat for time. Fifty men and women readied themselves, and leading CrossFit trainer Mick Shaw shouted a ‘three, two, one’; off we went. From ultra fit athletes to weight loss clients, CrossFit unites fitness enthusiasts who believe in results and don’t mind turning up the volume on the intensity up the volume on the intensity dial.
If you think CrossFit sounds like a ‘man’s program’, think again. Shaw, from CrossFit Effects, says; “CrossFit is for anybody half motivated wanting to make a change in their body. I currently train an individual with Multiple Sclerosis, and the trains next to grandmothers and women in banking and teaching, proving CrossFit is for everybody.” According to Shaw, workouts can be scaled and the focus is entirely on results. “We are no bull*t, no mirrors regime – its exercise without the vanity for women to achieve fitness, weight loss and a slim-athletic body.”
In A Nutshell: Ashtanga Yoga stands for ‘eight limbs’. These limbs are teachings like truthfulness, purity, and austerity. Mentally, Ashtanga is the simplest form of yoga, but physically it’s a demanding strength and stamina format that never changes. Many poses have ‘plank’ in them, and one can end up doing 100 pushups in one practice. Vinyasa keeps the heat throughout a 90 minute sessions as movements flow from one to the next. Ujai breath detoxifies the body as you lock in energy then excrete toxins through powerful inhale and exhale breaths.
The Claim: Jenny Sherwood is an expert Ashtanga yoga practitioner and having studied with Ashtanga masters including Patabhi Jois (the founder of Ashtanga) in a number of countries, Jenny says Ashtanga is suitable for anyone who wants a longer, leaner, stronger body. “Attendees can expect a toned physique in the upper shoulders/triceps, strong legs from static standing poses, fat release from forward bends, and core strength from all the tummy lifts,” she assures. Beginners will definitely feel some cardio intensity, though. The mental benefits are similarly robust. Ashtanga’s breathing principles slow the mind, leaving attendees calmer, still, context, Sherwood says.
Of the five extreme regimes, Astanga stands alone for its holistic benefits. For a rocking body and blissed out mind, it’s our pick of the bunch.