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The pros and cons of competitive workouts | Timi Gustafson
I always enjoyed a competitive spirit. Throughout my life, I was convinced I could accomplish more when I was challenged by formidable rivals, both at work and sports.
Playing in the streets of my childhood neighborhood in London taught me that. Only as I grew older, and hopefully a bit wiser, I gradually allowed myself to keep to my own pace, although I still welcome a good contest because it brings out the best in me.
So it naturally peeked my interest when I heard the other day about a gym opening in my neighborhood that offers competitive workouts. Actually, it is part of a chain called CrossFit with more than 3,000 affiliations worldwide.
CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program that includes endurance training, weight lifting, gymnastics and other exercises. It is rigorous, to say the least. Originally designed for police and military training, CrossFit has developed an almost cult-like following.
According to the founder’s website, http://www.crossfit.com/cf-info/what-crossfit.html, anybody can benefit from the training sessions, regardless of age or initial fitness level. There are also seminars and certifications for those who want to teach others. Even competitive CrossFit games are conducted annually to determine “the fittest human beings on earth.”
What sets CrossFit apart from other fitness regimens is mainly its intensity. The studio, or as followers call it, “the box,” in my area has an ominous slogan on its homepage that says, “You can rest when you’re dead.” Critics say that’s only half joking because participants are regularly driven to utter exhaustion.
Even that may be putting it too mildly. Injuries are to be expected when people constantly push themselves to (and sometimes over) the limit of what their bodies can tolerate. But there are reports of rhabdomyolysis (among fitness extremists also known as “rhabdo” or “uncle rhabdo”), an event where muscle fiber breaks down from overexertion, releasing protein myoglobin into the blood stream, which can lead to kidney damage and even kidney failure.
Regardless of warnings by health experts, extreme workout schedules such as CrossFit are becoming increasingly popular not just among athletes and fitness enthusiasts but also in today’s corporate culture.
“For us, CrossFit was a major team building exercise,” said Jonathan Hefter, the CEO of a New York City-based software startup company who expects all of his employees to partake in workout sessions at least three times a week. “If someone didn’t join in, it caused problems,” he told the New York Times.
Proponents of corporate fitness programs agree that there are more than just physical health benefits to working out as a team. “If you can sweat and groan and moan with your co-workers you’ll have no problems working with them in a meeting,” said Karin Eisenmenger, a director of order management at Datalogix, a company in Colorado that specializes in data transactions, who was interviewed for the same article.
There is no doubt that employees should take advantage of corporate-sponsored health policies whenever they are offered to them.
Things become more complicated when undue pressure is exercised to join in because it fosters the corporate culture and benefits the company in other ways.
Also, it does not always seem clear how closely monitored these workouts and how experienced trainers are. Critics warn that CrossFit, for example, certifies trainers after just one short introductory seminar, which entitles them to start their own gym and train as many members as they want. Every month, the company says, it receives 150 applications for affiliation with new gyms, or about five a day.
At its peak expansion, by comparison, Starbucks opened an average of six stores per day.
That’s a lot of new “boxes” opening up. It can’t be easy to ensure they all play by the rules.
But then, competition is what these guys are looking for.