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Extreme fitness programs

published: 06-17-2010 Journal entry icon

Fitness programs are trending right now, and there's a move away from the traditional focus on calisthenics and running in the military. Our Warfighters are increasingly interested in ensuring that they are optimally prepared to deal with the rigors of being deployed. Most have found that unit physical training programs are not adequate to prepare them for a year of going up and down the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. Therefore, it’s not surprising that many have looked outside the military and are increasingly embracing extreme fitness programs.

Two of the more popular programs are P90X and CrossfitCrossFit. P90X is a commercial, 90-day, home fitness program emphasizing cross-training and varied exercises. The cardiovascular conditioning, strength, and flexibility components are designed to promote overall physical fitness. HPRC has recently posted a review of P90X that looks at the suitability of the program as a readiness tool. CrossFit is similarly a strength and conditioning fitness methodology that combines weightlifting, sprinting, and gymnastics. It has been described as everything from a fitness company to a grassroots health movement to a cult. (crossFit homepage link) Both P90X and CrossFit are designed as intense exercise programs and are not ideally suited to beginners or unfit users.

So what is right for you? This is an important question, but difficult to answer because of the lack of research associated with popular intense fitness programs. Both of the programs referenced above have shown good results with a large number of practitioners. There has, however, been a history of muscle damage (rhabdomyolysis) associated with each program. This is a dangerous condition where muscle fiber breaks down and is released into the blood stream, poisoning the kidneys.

To determine what the right fitness program is for you, it’s important to consult the experts in your organization. Talk to your supervisor first and ensure that you are matching your fitness program to your functional job requirements. Each of the Services are moving toward functional fitness programs and leaders are increasingly shifting away from a focus on the “daily dozen.” What you are looking for in an exercise program might be available in your unit or on your base. You should also consult your local health provider. They will be able to help you establish your baseline fitness level and determine how aggressive you can be initiating a new and more intense fitness program. They can also help you establish a program to ramp up from this baseline that puts you on a path to continually improve your fitness level without getting injured.

Because of the necessity for better information on the risks and benefits associated with extreme fitness programs, HPRC will host a conference prior to the end of the fiscal year 10 (FY10) that will include some of the leading experts on the subject from across the country as well as representatives from each of the Services. The conference will be held at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. If you are interested in getting information on the conference please send us a note at the “contact us” button on the HPRC homepage. The intent of the conference is to ultimately establish the right framework to push the fitness envelope and to dramatically reduce the risk of injury.