If you’re hoping to start a new workout, the coolest ones can also be the most harmful if done incorrectly. Here are the potential pitfalls of some of today’s most popular extreme fitness programs, and what you can do instead to avoid getting hurt.
Obstacle races and ‘mud runs’
They come with different names—Tough Mudder, the Spartan Death Race, or simply “mud runs”—but they’re all about pushing contestants over, under and through adrenaline-inducing obstacles as they run a couple miles. It certainly is a way to get over the monotony of your morning jog, but Tough Mudder especially has come under fire recently for riskier, more extreme obstacles that are just tempting fate.
With obstacles such as the aptly-named Electroshock Therapy and Fire Walker, it is indeed the toughest-sounding race on the planet. However, the race claimed a 28-year-old victim earlier this year back in April. People started asking questions—are there enough lifeguards, safety features and other guards ensuring their participants’ safety, and are people entering knowing full well what they’re getting into?
A new study published last week in The Annals of Emergency Medicine shows that Tough Mudder runners experience an unusually high incidence of permanent injuries and disabilities. The case study saw men and women with burn marks and heart inflammation from electric shocks, all the way up to a guy who was unable to move his right side after a seizure, and to this day has problems with his leg.
With few health and fitness benefits to speak of (other than a beer and a medal), we’d be inclined to take a pass on the next race we’re invited to.
CrossFit and Insanity workouts
There have been numerous get-ripped-quick exercise routines since the explosion of fitness fads back in the 1970s, but none have been quite as popular or pervasive as CrossFit and Insanity. In these exercise regimens, jacked-up coaches walk participants through tough and demanding workouts, often daily, for 30-90 days.
These have received much criticism in recent days, most pervasively for being marketed to beginners—an audience that cannot safely meet the demands of the programs, but will inevitably attempt them nonetheless. A relatively hidden danger lurks behind the squat rack: the possibility of rhabdomyolysis, a condition brought on by the rapid breakdown of muscle tissue that can lead to painful kidney and liver failure.
While CrossFit admits this pitfall and warns its practitioners very thoroughly, beginners rarely pay attention to these warnings when they’re excited about blasting their arms and quads with 10 plus sets of high-intensity training. The pain that signals extremely overworked muscles—especially for beginners who assume a “no pain, no gain” attitude and buy into the CrossFit culture of working to exhaustion—can fly under the radar. Along with the pain comes a spike in creatinine kinase levels, which indicate damage to the kidneys. This may result in weakness, weight gain (not the good kind), severe muscle pain, seizures and Coca-Cola-coloured urine.
What was once a very rare condition with an overall 0.06 annual incidence has now been propelled to epidemic proportions by CrossFit practitioners. Rather than selecting an extreme fitness routine like CrossFit or Insanity, it’s wiser to put the time in to slowly build up your muscle mass.
Weight loss competitions and rapid weight loss
Shedding a few pounds can be tricky, but why not turn it into a game you can play with your friends? Weight loss competitions have been increasingly used by workplaces to incentivize weight loss. However, this has led to peer pressure-fueled crash dieting and worse.
According to the Mayo Clinic, losing weight too quickly (that is, in excess of 1-2 pounds a week, which is around the highest rate you can burn off fat) can increase the potential for putting that weight back on sooner than later, and it may also make your body target lean tissue such as muscle instead. Digging into muscle mass can only accomplish the opposite of what most participants want.
Rapid weight loss also burns through much of your body’s water reserves, leading to dehydration. Couple this dehydration with a spike in digestive problems—such as diarrhea—and you’ve got a potentially harmful situation on your hands.
Again, taking things slow and steady is the best method. However, some studies suggest that you can safely start your weight loss at an extreme level for up to four weeks, as long as you drop your weight loss rate back to around 1-2 pounds a week.