Military-Style Workouts, Sled Pushing, and the Trend of Extreme Workouts

Apr 25, 2014

A training session at Crossfit 269 in Kalamazoo.
Credit Courtesy of Crossfit 269

At Crossfit 2-6-9 in Kalamazoo, owner Jack Kelly says the technique has “a little bit of everything” – from gymnastics and rowing to cycling and running.

“One day you will be doing some weight lifting, and climbing ropes another day. But the beauty of Crossfit, the coolest thing about it is that it is infinitely scalable," says Kelly. "So no matter where your ability level is, injuries you might have, we can scale down the workout to fit your abilities and fit where you are fitness-wise.”

Crossfit says its workouts mimic those used by police academies, the military, martial art champions, and many professional athletes. Crossfit has recently begun pushing participants toward a “boot camp” environment.

Kelly says his customers work hard. He also says they’re motivated to succeed in order to be part of a community.

“When you are at a big gym, you’re on a machine, a treadmill or whatever. When you’ve got your headphones in the whole time it doesn’t translate well to meeting people. It isn’t a whole lot of fun and it is easy to get out of that routine," he says.

"When you come to the gym here everybody knows your name, everybody is happy to see you, and they cheer you on and support you," says Kelly of the environment. "I think that is really beneficial for long term fitness and long term sticking with the program.”

Many people might consider any workout originally designed for the military to be both “extreme” and possibly dangerous. But Kelly says that’s not the case because participants are always monitored.

“There is nothing dangerous about this. It is very controlled and ability-level centered. You would never be asked to do something that you couldn’t handle. In that sense it is very safe. Now is it extreme compared to going to the gym and going on a machine? Maybe a little bit. But I think it is a very safe thing and very attainable for most people.”

Crossfit isn’t the only Kalamazoo gym pushing the exercise envelope.

At SWAT Fitness, co-owner Jill Thompson is also a certified personal trainer.

“We have a couple of machines on the floor that take you heart rate up to place that is extraordinary, that you almost can’t get doing other things," she says. "A weighted sled push would do that. Doing what we call the "gauntlet," which is like a weighted Stairmaster extreme, would also take your heart rate up pretty fast.”

SWAT Fitness doesn’t just offer extreme workout classes and training. It also focuses on helping people find physical wellness.

“I feel like people who are already in a gym or fitness routine and they’re finding wellness on their own is great. But from my own experience going to church or [to a] grocery store [is] that there are a lot of people who aren’t finding wellness, and I believe that everyone needs to find their way into something,” she says.

Like Kelly, Thompson believes her gym helps create a community as well as improving fitness. She says community has a lot to do with feeling “well”.

“There are people saying hello and wonder when you’re not there; there are people that are asking about your life outside of the gym. Those are relationships that we watch being built and it seems to really increase their own accountability without it being a written thing.”

While for most people these exercises might seem like a great new way to stay fit, Professor of exercise science and physiology at WMU Timothy Michael believes that people thinking of partaking in these workouts do so with caution.

“Exercise in of itself is not considered a risky behavior. Increasing your heart rate quickly for some people is perfectly fine. There are parts of the population that would be a risky behavior for, if you have heart disease for example, that might be a risky thing for you.”

Although people with pre-existing health conditions or who don’t commonly workout may want to stray away, these extreme workout trends may be just fine for people who maintain an active lifestyle.

“Things like Crossfit, or P90X, those types of programs are okay for young relatively healthy individuals. Those programs would not be appropriate for someone who has been sedentary or a couch potato for a long time. You can’t just go to those people and say “Hey, let’s go do Crossfit today,” says the professor.

While smashing tires with sledgehammers may not be for everyone, and pushing heart rates to their limit isn’t always ideal, extreme fitness might just be what some people need in order to find wellness.