THE BLOG
10/21/2014 05:14 pm ET Updated Dec 21, 2014

The Extreme Training Trend, Injuries and You: Are These Programs For You? Maybe Not

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In the wise words from one of my mentors as a trainer, "Just because you can doesn't mean you should."

You could actually apply this to many aspects of life. But in this particular case I'm talking about is an extreme training fitness movement or "trend" under some highly recognizable brands that a lot of folks across the country are enamored with. There's a strong chance that these programs are just not the best choice for you.

As I've said many times, fitness programs should be "appropriate" for the given individual. Safety, bar none, is the #1 most important aspect of any fitness endeavor. An appropriate program is one that serves the individual's current goals, needs and abilities and is able to be executed safely to minimize injury both acutely and in the long term.

I want to make myself clear that my purpose in bringing this forth is not to bash or discredit any extreme training program or any fitness program at this point. Extreme training can actually be great -- for the right people.

The issue is there are many out there partaking in these programs at excessively high levels, excessive speed of movement and volume that simply should not be and I want to people to be able to make an informed decision. Folks are being misdirected and misguided into certain fitness programs. I'm here simply to shed some light on this.

I begin each of my Robert Reames Live! Radio/video podcasts with these words; "My mission is to inform you, inspire you and motivate you. I want to empower you with information." The discussion here is FYI -- so that you can make a smart choice. That's it. And I've covered this topic quite extensively so far this season on the podcast. I continue to incorporate the philosophy of safety first for my private clientele, all throughout my nearly 25 years of experience as a fitness pro.

One may be able to execute Olympic-style lifts like hang cleans, the clean and jerk, dead lifts, front or back squats with axial load (Olympic bar onto the shoulders) and excessive amounts of weight, multiple forward deep moving lunges or certain kettle bell movements (again with excessive load) sled pushing, heavy tire exercises or high level plyometrics. Folks may be able to, or "can" do, these movements -- at least for now.

But are they executing proper and optimum form at a resistance level and speed of movement that is safe and appropriate? Are they "good" or skilled at the motions? Have they been sufficiently taught the optimum form? Is the body working in synergy and balance? Or is it exacerbating syndromes that will only become worse with excessive volume and force?

These are just some of the questions myself and other fitness pros ask. In other words, once again, they "can," but "should" certain individuals being engaged in this extreme style type training?

And by the way, Olympic lifting movements for the most part are judged by amount of weight that can be done and are not timed for speed of movement(s). The experts who engage in this sport DO execute proper form. So, what we have going on in some of the group classes and programs out there are very intricate, highly form- and skill-based, explosive lifting skill pattern movements being done with a great deal of compromised form, which is being rushed because one of the objectives is to beat some sort of time for a given circuit.

Various other exercises are added into the given "circuit" to increase the volume of work done. This particular report from The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research sites an injury prevalence of 73.5 percent for CrossFit participants. That means for every 100 people that partake, there will be 73.5 of these folks who will sustain an injury.

The competitive climate in a group setting like this also can have tendency to amplify the intensity of these workouts, and not in a good way. This study from University of Rochester sites a nearly 20 percent overall injury rate for CrossFit.

There are other brands offering similar approaches to fitness. Keep in mind injuries can happen acutely (right now) or syndromes (syndromes are not taken into account in this research) can develop that contribute and lead to injury down the road. In looking at these numbers, they speak for themselves. And these numbers don't necessarily mean any program in and of itself is wrong. It's just that many of the people participating either shouldn't be in the program or need to be better skilled at the exercises.

At the end of the day, an exercise is a learned motor skill, with the key word here being "learned." You know how to do it and are good at it. Optimally, you learn this motor skill and then apply the resistance level (amount of weight) and mode of resistance (free weight, tubing, body weight, machine) that is appropriate and safe. Even a simple push-up, or seated row, or an arm curl -- one learns the correct and optimum motor skill or form of the movement then applies resistance levels that can safely be done to maximize results, while minimizing risk of injury.

If you look at say, a clean and jerk, a deep front squat or a dead lift, these are, again, motor skills -- much like working any event in gymnastics, boxing or mixed martial arts, Nascar driving, downhill ski jumps or swinging a tennis racket. Before you do one of these movements at an extreme or advanced level, you need to know the motor skill or "how" to do these movements with optimum skill and form. What happens if you don't? Accidents happen, and they can even happen if you're "good" at these movements, so this amplifies my point. Ongoing practice and maintenance of a given skill, proper supervision and coaching are vital to support safety in these endeavors. The same goes for your fitness program.

Understand once again that I'm not at all saying that "extreme training" is a bad thing. What I'm saying is if someone is not at the extreme level, then the professional recommendation is to not take part in one of these programs until when and if you're ready. Folks at an elite fitness level that have learned proper skill and form for an extreme training setting. Go for it! That may very well be the program for you.

Ask yourself what you want from exercise? Where do you want to be six months, one year, three years, five years, 20 years and 40 years from now in your fitness plan? Do you want longevity, vitality, improved mobility, a sustainable high fitness level as the years go on?

Or do you risk long-term mobility and health for the sake of accomplishing a particular physical task or endeavor here in the relative short term? It's your choice. If you listen to your body, it will actually tell you. Pain is a body's method of communication.

Take a look at prominent athletes over the years, both famous and maybe individuals who you know locally in your circle who have trained at elite, high, extreme levels. And keep in mind -- these are skilled, conditioned athletes!

If you have minimal core and body strength, chronic poor posture, minimum flexibility, and have not exercised in a while, or ever, I'm going to recommend an entry-level beginning approach and to get with a fitness pro who can guide you in the right direction safely with the right progression.

Just as in nutrition, your best asset for success to learn and stay informed as much as possible because the process is on going. I'm a very big supporter of HIIT Training (high-intensity interval training) and have used this approach for years. However, "intensity," is a relative term. Individual levels will vary depending on the fitness level and skill level of a person in a given fitness endeavor. In any exercise mode or movement you have to think about the risk vs. the benefit. Certified qualified trainers are taught to evaluate the client and determine the optimum and safe program for that individual. So my first recommendation is always seek out this professional in your area for at least one session. Stay informed.

And finally, all said and done, if you do decide on the extreme training workout classes -- do yourself a favor and be really excellent at the execution of these exercises!

Happy and safe training, everyone!
RR

-- Head Trainer for The Dr. Phil Show (12th season)
-- Pear Sports Coach for Pear Mobile Audio/Heart Rate Training System
-- Spokesperson for the VEEP Nutrition System
-- 10-Year Member of the renown Gold's Gym Fitness Institute
-- Host of "Robert Reames Live!" radio/video podcast

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