High-Intensity Fitness Programs: A Guide for Beginners

Joining any exercise program is a commitment, so know what's right for you

High-Intensity Fitness Programs: A Guide for Beginners

Are you looking for a high-intensity core strength and condition
ing program? You might consider joining an extreme fitness program, which have grown in popularity over the last decade.

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Extreme fitness program you may have heard of include CrossFitTM, Insanity®, P90X®, Rev4 and ReZist. Each of these programs attracts committed and athletic participants who 
are often looking for a fitness community.

CrossFit, for example, is promoted as a physical exercise philosophy and a competitive fitness sport. Founded in California in 2000, CrossFit was designed to improve fitness across many domains, including cardiovascular, strength, stamina and coordination.

The high-level strength and conditioning program emphasizes varied exercises and functional movements. It is a program used by athletes and military services personnel, and is not for the faint of heart. It is also a business with a growing number of gyms (called affiliates) across the United States.

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A closer look at a high-intensity regimen

CrossFit aims to challenge athletes with varying exercises ranging from running to gymnastics to weightlifting. CrossFit gyms across the country offer hour-long classes that typically include a warm-up, a skill development segment, the high-intensity Workout of the Day, and a period of individual or group stretching.

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The daily workout might include sprints, kettle bell exercises and pull-ups, or it might mix squats, rowing and push-ups. Performance on each daily workout often is scored to encourage competition and track individual progress.

The program says it is designed for committed athletes, regardless of experience. Those just starting out use the same routines and programs as the extreme, high-intensity athletes. Each one simply modifies the weights and workout intensity to what is appropriate for his or her fitness level.

“As with any new exercise regimen, safety and proper form are key to avoiding potential injuries,” says Richard Figler, MD. “And this is a high-intensity program, so it’s especially important to know your health status and, if necessary, consult your physician prior to starting a new exercise routine.”

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Make sure it’s right for you

If you decide you want a high-intensity fitness program, many gyms offer a free introductory session that includes an overview and sample workout. The sessions may be one-on-one with a trainer, while others will be group-based. Those styles appeal to different types of exercisers, so think about what style you like best.

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The goal of functional movement stays the same; the loads you carry and intensity of the workout changes with your goals and abilities.

Joining any exercise program is a commitment, so you want to know if it’s right for you. Styles differ from place to place. So if you really want to see if you like a high-intensity fitness program, sample as many of the free sessions as you can at different locations.

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Guide to sports health

Raul Raudales, MD, a former primary care sports and exercise fellow at Cleveland Clinic, contributed to this article.