Tag Archives: CrossFit

Functional fitness and why it is important for you.

Functional fitness involves exercise to improve balance, coordination, strength, and endurance to enhance the ability to perform activities of daily living. Practically, functional fitness training aims to replicate the movements associated with the wide range of physical activities someone might do in his or her daily routine. For example, athletes have long used functional fitness training to target the movements they utilize in their sport.


This concept of “sport specific” training has applications outside of athletics. Firefighters come to mind, lifting and carrying heavy equipment, climbing stairs and ladders, and moving through tight spaces, often for extended periods of time without rest. But the same could be said for construction workers, landscapers, and other occupations that require manual labor. To be sure, the components of functional fitness are as important for workers as they are for athletes.


This is important to you even if you don’t participate in sports or have an active job. Functional fitness plays a role in nearly all activities, from simple things like maintaining posture, sitting, and standing, to more complex movements including lifting a heavy box, carrying bags of groceries, or playing with your children (or grandchildren). Even something as routine as bending down to tie your shoes requires strength, flexibility, and balance. These are the very activities that become more difficult as we age, so improving functional fitness can help maintain independence and quality of life.

linfing boxes

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How to avoid doing too much too soon when you start an exercise program

Regular exercise is one of the most important things you can do for your health. For many people, this means walking on the treadmill for an hour, doing a circuit on the weight machines, or going through the same aerobics class again all in the name of losing weight and getting fit. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

The current trend of high-intensity exercise workouts (CrossFit is one example) that emphasize shorter bouts of vigorous aerobic and strength exercise can hardly be described as boring and can produce even greater results than traditional exercise regimens. Some of these programs claim that you can “transform your body” or lose 10–20 pounds by participating in a three-week fitness challenge. Or maybe you are interested in trying high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to get the benefits of exercise in as little as 10 minutes per session.

It’s not as easy as it sounds, though. In order to get the fitness and weight loss benefits, the exercise must be done at a very high intensity, which may not be right for everyone. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Boot camp workout

To be sure, these types of fitness programs can be safe and effective for burning calories and improving fitness. But because they are intense means that you need to be fit to even get started, so they may not be a good choice for people who are not already in shape or who are new to exercise. There is a greater risk of injury and even heart attacks in people who are unfit and start exercising at a very high intensity. At the very least, muscle soreness is likely and may impact your ability—and motivation—to repeat that exercise the next day.

Ideally, an exercise program would begin with a health and fitness assessment by a certified exercise professional to determine potential health risks. These results would be used to create an exercise prescription. For participants who have risk factors like high blood pressure or diabetes, those variables would be monitored to make sure the exercise sessions were safe and effective.

In the real world, many people who have these conditions simply show up at a gym to begin an exercise program, often with little or no review of health history or assessment of fitness. In most cases this is safe, but without some form of monitoring participants who have high blood pressure or diabetes may have problems. This is especially concerning since many people don’t know they have these conditions, which is why seeing a physician is often recommended before undergoing fitness testing or starting an exercise program, especially if you are over 40 years of age or have other health problems.

A good personal trainer or exercise leader should ask about your health history and perform some type of assessment to gauge your current fitness and use this information to start you at an appropriate level. Even the most intense exercise programs, classes, or videos are scalable to all fitness levels, but you need to know where you are starting from. Additionally, a qualified personal trainer or group exercise leader can help you learn proper techniques to reduce the risk of injury and improve your progress.

Once you begin, resist the temptation to do too much, too soon by going at your own pace. This is especially important in group exercise programs where you may feel pressure to keep up with other, fitter participants. Listen to your body, too. Feeling some level of fatigue and soreness is normal, but severe shortness of breath, chest discomfort, or muscle and joint pain, especially if it comes on suddenly, is a good reason to slow down or stop. Make sure you communicate how you are doing to trainer or exercise leader, too.

Maybe you will find that the intensity and variety of these exercise programs keeps you motivated to meet your goals.  But don’t forget that even if you aren’t pushing yourself, any exercise you do will have significant health and fitness benefits.

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What to expect when you join a gym

One of the most common New Year’s resolutions is to start an exercise program. One good way to do this is to join a gym. The equipment, exercise classes, access to fitness professionals, and the accountability of paying for a membership at a gym can help you meet your exercise goals.

But many people are intimidated by the gym experience or recall a time when exercise meant running, lifting weights, and a “no pain, no gain” mentality. The reality is the modern fitness facilities are constantly changing what they offer to meet the needs of people who are new to exercise as well as those with more experience who are looking for a new challenge.

Since 2007, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has surveyed health and fitness professionals to identify exercise trends for the upcoming year. The report for 2015 was published in ACSM’s Health and Fitness Journal in November. Here is a summary of the top ten fitness trends to look for in 2015.

The biggest fitness trend for 2015 is body weight training. Popular for building strength and endurance with minimal equipment, body weight training goes far beyond the push-ups and pull-ups you may remember doing in PE class. This type of training can be done almost anywhere, which is good news for people who are on a budget or want to train at home.

Next is high-intensity interval training (HIIT). This type of training uses repeated cycles of short, maximal or near-maximal exercise alternated with short rest periods. These HIIT sessions last less than 30 minutes but lead to fitness improvements that exceed those of traditional longer-duration training. Beginning exercisers should note that HIIT training is intense, so starting slow is recommended.

These first two trends are relevant even in you don’t join a gym. A good example of a high-intensity, body-weight workout that you can do at home with minimal equipment was published in the ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal in 2013. Because of it’s simplicity and effectiveness, it received much attention in the media and is the foundation of at least one fitness app.

Third on the list is educated and experienced fitness professionals. You should look for a facility that requires the staff to have fitness certifications that involve both education and experience. Some of the most respected certifications are through professional organizations including ACSM, National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), and American Council on Exercise (ACE).

This may include personal training, both individually and in groups. Personal trainers are excellent resources for people just starting out to learn proper techniques, set goals, and track progress. Experienced exercisers can get a motivation boost and learn new ways to enhance their training. Group personal training adds a team dynamic and can be more economical than one-on-one training. Again, finding a trainer who has experience working with people like you is essential, so ask for recommendations and references to get the best match.

Other trends on the list include strength training and yoga. Aerobic exercise, including walking, running, cycling, and swimming, are among the most common forms of exercise. But there are additional benefits to including strength and flexibility training in an exercise program. Building strength can make everyday activities easier, help maintain bone mass, and boost your metabolic rate. Activities like yoga can improve flexibility, which can help reduce the risk of muscle and joint injuries. Yoga can also help with stress management and promote feelings of wellbeing.

While this list does not include every popular or “trendy” type of exercise, it does capture the components of most types of training. CrossFit, for example, is a combination of body weight, strength, and functional training involving high-intensity intervals in a group setting.

Even if you don’t plan to join a gym or aren’t interested in the latest fitness trends, keep in mind that even something as untrendy as walking for 30 minutes each day can have substantial health and fitness benefits. And if you haven’t been exercising, this can be a great way to get started on a happy and healthy New Year!

Is exercise safe? Yes!

Recently someone asked me why I recommend that people exercise considering that exercise is  dangerous and can lead to injury or death (they didn’t say it exactly that way, though). I responded that while it is true that exercise could be dangerous, it almost always isn’t and serious complications exceptionally rare. Furthermore, regular exercise actually reduces the risk of heart attack or sudden death and screening prior to starting an exercise program can reduce this risk further.

Then, someone asked me about the “CrossFit syndrome” they saw on the news. At first I had no idea what they were talking about, but in our conversation I figured out that it referred to exertional rhabdomyolysis. This form of severe muscle damage can, rarely, result from extreme exercise and, apparently, this has happened  in people doing CrossFit.

But it could result from any overexertion, not just CrossFit and not just exercise. The risk of injury like this can be reduced by starting at a low intensity, progressing gradually, and taking advice from qualified, certified trainers and coaches. Some common sense helps, too: Exercise may cause some muscle soreness, but it shouldn’t hurt.

So, I figured I should write about exercise safety, which I did in my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.