High Intensity Interval Torture

If you heard a loud groan echoing through the stratosphere, it wasn’t our planet finally imploding, it was the sound of millions of people rolling off their couches to start an exercise program for the new year. Maybe they want to lose 10 pounds, run a 5K –  or maybe even a marathon if they think they’re some kind of freakin’ super hero.

action-adult-agile-316769Some people hit the ground running. (I hit the ground every time I run. That’s why I stopped running.) Others might take a gradual approach, adding an extra 5 minutes each day until, like me, they’re exercising for 5 minutes each day.

But some folks lunge directly into extreme exercise – trying to punish themselves into health, beating muscles into submission and then talking about it NONSTOP. There’s no one worse to talk to than someone who just discovered CrossFit.

And people who do Parkour? Intolerable. They jump from buildings, swing from trees, climb walls and don’t touch the ground for 24 hours. When I was a kid, this was called, “Don’t step in the lava,” and we’d jump from couch to end table to piano bench to bookshelf to the safety of the kitchen floor. Now, it’s basically an Olympic sport.

There’s always a new health fad that promises to SHRED fat, BURN calories, BUILD muscles and DESTROY abs. (And they mean destroy in a good way.) Spokespeople are usually tree trunks with heads and are as hyped as a toddler mainlining Mountain Dew.

If you trace exercise craziness back to its roots, you’ll find Jack LaLanne, the great-grandfather of fitness, and the first person to make everyone feel super crappy about their bodies. Jack LaLanne didn’t wear a shirt for 40 years. Before that, humans were basically doughy people who didn’t give a rip about biceps.

Then, Jane Fonda high-kicked her way into the fitness industry, wearing high-cut leotards, leg warmers and terry-cloth armbands to fashionably wipe the sweat from her brow. She had a gajillion housewives burning calories with her VHS tapes, starting the workout-at-home phenomenon. She’s 125 and will still kick your butt.

Now we’re obsessed with high-intensity fitness. (“We” meaning someone who isn’t me.) We throw down $50 to sweat through an excruciating hot yoga class, cycle like we’re being chased by stationary zombies and do hundreds of burpees to remixed hip-hop tunes.

Guys at the gym bench-press Volkswagen Beetles and dead-lift redwood trees.

Overtraining has become a merit badge for fitness success. People at the fitness center will warm up for 30 minutes, take a cardio class for an hour, a weight-lifting class for an hour and Zumba their way into intensive care.

Here’s the thing. Overtraining is dangerous. It can leave you moody and fatigued, it saps activity-athlete-barbell-703009your immune system, contributes to insomnia and makes you a cranky $%#*. There’s even been an increase in rhabdomyolysis, which is not rhino abs (like I thought). It’s muscle tissue breaking down from overuse. It can make your pee dark-red! Ew.

I get it. Everyone wants a beach body, even though that term doesn’t really narrow it down. Walruses live on beaches. Whales have often been found on beaches. And even though I’m a Cancer, I’d rather not have the body of a crab.

So before you roll off your couch this year, maybe set a fitness goal that doesn’t involve throwing tractor tires or leaping out a second-floor window. Mostly because your body will be healthier, but also because I don’t want to hear you talk about it.

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