Every year Google releases its most-searched terms, and this year it has “exercise” as a category. This inspired me to explore five of the most popular workouts: the Insanity workout, CrossFit, ab workouts, 7-Minute Workout and kettlebell workouts. I’ve spent a lot of time on each one, and one common theme seems to be high-intensity and getting the most bang for your buck while you’re working out. Another trend is using your own body weight to provide resistance for weight training.
What is it? It’s an intense 60-day workout on DVD by the producers of P90X, Beachbody ( http://www.beachbody.com). There’s no equipment required; you use your own body weight for resistance. One of the keys is doing interval training at high intensity. From the producers: “Fitness expert and college track and field star Shaun T has taken traditional interval training and turned it upside down. Instead of long periods of moderate exercise with short bursts of intensity, you’ll perform long periods at maximum intensity with short periods of rest. Each workout keeps you constantly challenged as you alternate between aerobic and anaerobic intervals performed at your MAX. The result: Burn up to 1,000 calories in an hour and get the most insane body in 60 days.”
Health benefit: Burns lots of calories and gets you in great physical shape without joining a gym.
Health consequences: If you’re not ready for this, it could cause injury. Some of the reviews posted by users online indicate that people have been hurt. Also, I’m concerned about a person’s ability to stick with this program because it’s so intense.
Bottom line: I love the idea of using your own body weight to get in shape; however, it’s too bad there isn’t a beginner’s version for those just starting to become “insane.” You need to be in shape to participate in this program; it’s not for the average person or those with special needs.
Unless you’re in good shape, it’s probably best to try something else.
What is it? A combination of weights, kettlebells, calisthenics, gymnastics and other fitness and exercise modalities — a rapid pace, nonstop, timed, high-intensity workout. American Council on Exercise (ACE) describes CrossFit as “a form of functional training that utilizes constantly varied, high-intensity, functional movement patterns to improve efficiency in performing the activities of daily living (ADL).” CrossFit has WOD, Workout of the Day, which has developed a cultlike following. Additionally, CrossFit is now a competitive sport ( http://games.crossfit.com/).
Health benefit: You can burn more calories than with traditional workouts. Women can burn 13 to 15 kcal per minute, and men can burn 15 to 18 kcal; by comparison traditional exercise burns 9 kcal per minute for women and about 11 kcal for men. “High-intensity, multi-joint movements comprise the bulk of CrossFit exercises, and the overall degree of stress placed upon the entire body will certainly promote systemic neuroendocrine adaptations to improve fitness and one’s overall capacity to tolerate stress (assuming adequate fueling and recovery between sessions),” says a report by a fitness expert at ACE.
Health consequences: According to CrossFit participants, from ACE interviews and research, the workouts “will wreck you.” (See: http://www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/962/crossfit-is-the-gain-worth-the-pain-ace-experts) They are known to work you so hard that a person could throw up or even, in some rare cases, develop rhabdomyolysis (where muscle breaks down, leaks into the blood and can compromise the kidneys). ACE’s report states that, “Instructing individuals to complete as many repetitions as possible (AMRAP) using the same intensity creates an issue, regardless of intent. As fatigue builds, technique will suffer, so at what point do we draw the line in the sand and acknowledge that the risks outweigh the benefits? Asking individuals to know their own limits seldom works in a competitive environment.” This loss of technique can create a recipe for injury.
What is it? Experts disagree about the “best way” to work the abdominal muscles. Some say that these muscles are no different from any other skeletal muscles and so, theoretically, they should respond to the same stimuli. Thus, working them the same way you would work your biceps or shoulders should be effective. “If you really want to have the outward appearance of washboard abs, you need to train the stomach muscles just like you train your biceps — using strength/resistance training methods (e.g., holding a weight against your chest while doing crunches),” says Michele S. Olson, Ph.D., a professor at Auburn University’s Montgomery Human Performance Laboratory.
Then there are those who believe the primary purpose or best function of your abs is to act as “anti-gravity” or stabilizer muscles, meaning they support and anchor your body (hold you upright) and are in a low state of activity all the time. Experts believe that, in this case, abs should be treated as endurance muscles and trained accordingly. “This means doing a variety of exercises, including using core equipment such as an exercise/stability ball, with a high frequency on a daily basis,” says Olson.
Health benefit: Having strong abs protects our internal organs, helps our lungs function better (e.g., blowing out your birthday candles), prevents injuries and helps us maintain good posture, which can reduce lower-back pain, all of which help to improve overall body performance.
Health consequences: One of the most common mistakes people make is working the wrong muscles or actually not working any muscles at all. The most important thing to remember is, if you don’t feel the abdominal exercises in your stomach or if you experience discomfort in an unrelated area of the body — it’s probably NOT working, and there is a good chance you will injure yourself.
Bottom line: A study completed by the Biomechanics Lab at San Diego State University looked at some of the most common abdominal exercises and found the following three to be the best of the bunch: Bicycle Maneuver, Captain’s Chair, and Crunch on Exercise Ball. Keep in mind that only 13 out of hundreds of abdominal exercises were analyzed.
What is it? The 7-Minute Workout is about high-intensity training. The folks at the Human Performance Institute in Orlando, Fla., published a scientific article titled “High-Intensity Circuit Training Using Body Weight: Maximum Results With Minimal Investment” in the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal in June of 2013 (see: http://bit.ly/1eC0JNm). The article outlined a 12-station high-intensity workout, with each exercise to be performed for 30 seconds and 10 seconds of rest between sets.
1. Jumping jacks — Total body
2. Wall sit — Lower body
3. Push-up — Upper body
4. Abdominal crunch — Core
5. Step-up onto chair — Total body
6. Squat — Lower body
7. Triceps dip on chair — Upper body
8. Plank — Core
9. High knees/running in place — Total body
10. Lunge — Lower body
11. Push-up and rotation — Upper body
12. Side plank — Core
The one catch is that the researchers recommend doing the “circuit” two or three times, which means it’s actually a 21-minute workout. But doing at least the seven minutes still has benefits.
Health benefit: According to the researchers, “HICT [high intensity circuit training] seems to be an efficient means of exercise to help decrease body fat, improve insulin sensitivity, and improve VO2 max (maximal aerobic capacity) and muscular fitness.” Additionally, using only your own body weight as resistance means you don’t need a gym.
Health consequences: Any time you’re doing high-intensity training you need to be wary of injury as you plow through the exercises as hard as you can.
Bottom line: Most people are pressed for time. In fact, it’s the No. 1 reason we don’t exercise. So, if you can do seven minutes at the very least, it will affect your life. Try seven minutes per day of those 12 exercises. You can download a free 7 Minute Workout app by Bytesize. It times the workout for you.
What is it? Kettlebells can provide a challenging, effective workout for those who are bored with traditional free weights or simply looking for an alternative. The placement of the handle on the kettlebell means that its center-of-mass is outside the grip. This results in a far different — and greater — challenge than that of most free-weight exercises and can provide a terrific challenge to the muscles of the forearms, shoulders and core, says Jonathan Ross, a spokesman for the American Council on Exercise.
“Kettlebell exercises help with regular everyday functions such as lifting groceries, carrying a pile of magazines, gardening, throwing out the trash or lifting a child — moving irregular-size objects and controlling the momentum,” says Tedd Keating, Ph.D., a professor of physical education and human performance at Manhattan College.
Health benefit: A kettlebell is a compact and convenient piece of fitness equipment. Once you figure out the weight that’s appropriate for you, all the exercises use just that one kettlebell. As you get stronger, you simply do additional repetitions and increase movement speed. Research says that the best improvement is in abdominal core strength.
Health consequences: Kettlebells can be unexpectedly heavy, and the design adds an additional “unwieldy” component that can be both helpful and dangerous. Kettlebells do not provide a complete workout. And don’t try this on your own; get an expert to show you how to do it.
Bottom line: Kettlebells can be very effective if used appropriately, and very dangerous if not.