Extreme Exercise — How Much is Too Much?

April 2013 View more

N2013_04_01_010FITNEIt seems to me that exercise has gone from reasonable to extreme. With workout programs like Insanity, Spartacus, P90X and Crossfit, exercise has moved to a whole new level. Have the high intensity exercise programs gone too far, or are they serving a much greater purpose by offsetting a sedentary lifestyle? Often, people dive into any program that will eliminate unwanted weight as quickly as possible, regardless of the ramifications. High intensity training for a sedentary individual is a dangerous road to travel, yet many do.

“Your physical well-being should never be put in jeopardy for the sake of burning more calories. If you add up the time you’re out due to injury, it doesn’t balance it out. Once people reach a certain level of fatigue they begin to break form. Once form is compromised your risk of injury increases,” said Christopher Flores, certified athletic trainer and owner of Flo Fitness.

In talking with some of the world’s top fitness professionals, they all agree that exercise has to be based on ability. Jumping into a program that your body is not prepared for is the surest way to injury.

“High intensity exercises require prerequisite mobility, stability, range of motion, strength, coordination, and power. It is crucial to lay the foundation of these physical characteristics prior to embarking on a high-intensity program,” says Bryce Taylor, physical therapist and creator of HALO trainer. “More is not better. Better is better.”

Dr. Perry Nickelston, chiropractic sports physician and owner of Stop Chasing Pain, says high-intensity training is like driving in the Indy 500. “You should probably learn the basics before getting behind the wheel to avoid crashing. High-intensity training must be earned – meaning certain fundamental movements and body patterns should be at optimum efficiency or the risk of injury increases.”

If you suffer an injury and have to stop exercising, your good intentions are cut short. So keep an eye out for these red flags:

 Red Flags

“Red flags include poor sleeping patterns, headaches, chronic fatigue, increased sickness (colds, infections) from decreased immune system, joint soreness, lack of motivation, training plateaus, gaining weight around your midsection, high threshold pain in key areas (shoulder, neck, elbows, knees),” said Taylor.

Nickelston suggests including a yellow flag warning to further reduce the risk of injury. “I will refer to warning signs that our body signals as yellow flags—these require modification to avoid injury. However, red flags require complete cessation of the aggravating exercise(s). Red flags are joint swelling, pain that progressively worsens, asymmetrical heat over a joint, and sudden loss of motion.”

Ultimate Benefits

There’s no doubt that with activity comes risk. However, if done smart, there are benefits to participating in a high level of training.

“The secret to staying healthy starts with programming. You must have a program that progresses your clients in a safe manner. Weight is not the only way to increase intensity. Most people think that if 10 pounds is light, go up to 15 or 20. The last thing I increase on my athletes is weight. The first variable I change is tempo. Slower tempo increases the level of difficulty of the exercise,” says Flores.

Ultimately being in charge of your body and how it moves is key to staying healthy and fit. “Control of movement is the key to injury prevention,” says Nickelston. “If you cannot harness the power of your body by first having a strong stable core you cannot optimize movement efficiency. Sure, you can go hardcore intensive training, just make sure you do it the smart way. Think long term.”

“Improvements can only occur if you are fully participating and not sitting on the sideline nursing your injuries. Be smart and listen to your body,” adds Taylor.