by Antonio Sini

The business of fitness has taken an interesting turn.  We’re seeing fewer and fewer infomercials featuring silly pieces of exercise equipment that one uses in an overtly sexual manner to get in shape. (Head to YouTube and look up Shake Weight for a good laugh.)  There is a new, more serious trend in fitness:  It’s called working out…really, really hard.

Just take a look at what’s out there now. Exercise routines like P90X, Insanity and Crossfit, as well as extreme races like the Tough Mudder, are all the rage. Personally, I think it’s great that our society is coming to the realization that it’s not a piece of equipment or a “magic” exercise that’s going to give us tone and six-pack abs. Getting in shape and maintaining a healthy lifestyle requires work–smart, consistent and progressive work.  Which leads me back to these new fitness fads.

P90X started the intensive exercise trend with its 6-days-a-week “muscle confusion” program. Insanity continued the “extreme conditioning” hype with their 60-day program.  Today we have Crossfit, an intense exercise program featuring dynamic exercises like plyometric jumps and Olympic lifts.  What all these programs have in common is that they require a lot of dedication and a serious level of commitment.  They are not for the faint of heart or fitness beginners.  They persuade you to buy into the program because, “if you’re serious about getting in shape” (and who isn’t?) then how could you not?

I’ll be the first to admit that, yes, these exercise routines will get you in shape. The potential for injury with high-intensity fitness programs like Insanity and CrossFit, however, is high.  Not only are the exercises themselves inherently risky if not performed correctly, but performing them under a fatigued state, such as during an intense circuit, increases the risk of injury even further. Not to mention that these programs are so difficult that most people quit within the first week.  If you are in shape, have a good understanding of exercise movement and practice proper form, then maybe they will add value to your already active lifestyle.

Even so, most trained athletes understand the value of periodization–alternating between hard metabolic workouts, moderate workouts and recovery workouts—and don’t subscribe to just one type of exercise regimen like CrossFit.  A program that has progression, moving from bodyweight strength and stability to strength with added load & bigger strength moves, combined with the nutrition and recovery these more intense routines require, is your best bet.

The truth is that a progressive program will eventually yield the same positive results. Not only that, but a good routine performed consistently will be more sustainable and much safer. Of course, this type of program doesn’t come quick. Like I said before, becoming fit and healthy requires smart, consistent and progressive work.  If you think it can happen “in just 60 days!” then you’ve already set yourself up for failure. Remember, everyone’s definition and perception of “fit” is different.  For some it means being able to run a marathon. Others just want to be able to walk 18 holes of golf. Maybe it’s just being able to play with your kids or take care of yourself without pain or exhaustion.

Regardless of how you define it, there is only one path to achieving true health and that’s to make it a way of life.  Just as sleeping and brushing your teeth are things you do every day, being active and paying attention to what you consume has to become part of your lifestyle.  Remember– take your time.  Make healthy choices every day and the results will show– a lot quicker than you think.