New Workouts: Tried and True or Just Trends?

By J.F. Pirro

At Fitness Central in Schnecksville, Steve Hrycko gets the question all the time: What workout burns the most calories? The owner-operator keeps his response sweet and simple: “The one that you use,” he says. “They all work if you’re willing to use them.”

He hears both positive and negative feedback on three of the most popular, or at least marketed, newer workouts out there – P90X®, CrossFit and INSANITY®. He also hears of those who start one of the three, then quit. Hrycko was one of them.

He tried P90X® for two weeks, then stopped. Of course, he has the luxury of playing it off as vocational training: He needs to educate himself in every fitness trend so he can answer client questions and keep abreast of the necessary accessories to stock – bands, push-up handles, pull-up bars for inside doorways, dumbbells and exercise-yoga flooring grids – to meet each program’s needs. “I bought P90X® to learn about it,” he insists.

Having a wife, three young kids and a business to run could be viewed as excuses, but they’re also realities for Hrycko – and realities for most of us. So what we need to know most is: are these exercise regimens for us, and do they work or are they just another fat-burning fad?

At Fitness Central, which for 11 years has been a fitness staple in the Lehigh Valley, Hrycko mostly promotes lifestyle activity. Largely, he sells bicycles between March and August and fitness equipment between November and May, though it’s all available year-round.

P90X®, CrossFit and INSANITY® aren’t exactly lifestyle activity. Though the polished infomercials and training videos make it seem like they’re programs for Everyman, they’re not necessarily for beginners. Rather, they are for those who want to “kick it up a notch,” Hrycko says. Even on its website visitors are told, “CrossFit is not easy and it’s not simple.” “They’re all one to one-and-a-half-hour musts, truly full-body workouts – everyday,” Hrycko says. “These programs are go-go-go, and they make you feel guilty for even thinking of taking a day off.”

P90X® promises to transform your body in 90 days. Created by trainer Tony Horton, the Beachbody program includes 12 intense DVD workouts that promote resistance and body-weight training, cardio, plyometrics, ab work, martial arts and yoga, all with a nutrition plan, fitness guide and workout calendar. It uses targeted training phases, so your body keeps adapting and growing, and you never plateau. Like the others, it involves cross-training (weight training, martial arts, yoga and calisthenics) and periodization, combined with a nutrition and dietary supplement plan. The program had grossed approximately $500 million in sales, as of August 2012, so it sells.

CrossFit’s aim is forging a broad, general and inclusive fitness. In sum, it’s website maintains that its “specialty is not specializing.” Life is unpredictable, it says, so real-world fitness must be broad and not specialized. CrossFit’s workouts are based on functional movements done in CrossFit communities-studios that stress camaraderie and competition. The same routines are used for elders with heart disease and cage fighters a month removed from televised bouts. Load and intensity are scaled, not the programs. The best fitness comes from the same regimen.

Kerri Jahelka, of Dedicated Fitness in Palmerton, does not actually have a CrossFit center nor does she offer CrossFit-specific classes, though she was once a certified CrossFit instructor. She just never bought into the brand or its marketing machine. “Dedicated Fitness was already off to a good start and very similar to CrossFit, so I decided not to use the name,” she says. Still, Jahelka’s classes as often called CrossFit classes because it’s the “cool thing to do these days,” she says, and her crosstrain classes are similar, though different.

INSANITY® is another comprehensive program with 10 workout discs packed with plyometric drills and non-stop intervals of strength, power, cardio, resistance training and ab and core training moves. It includes a detailed meal plan, but doesn’t require equipment or weights. INSANITY®, Hrycko says, is an aggressive aerobics class, but one not designed with the faint of heart in mind. Like all Beachbody workout systems, it’s meant for dedicated individuals who are serious about getting into the best shape of their lives. Again, results can be fast – within 60 days.

The secret to results is MAX Interval Training, essentially long bursts of maximum-intensity exercises with short periods of rest. You alternate between aerobic and anaerobic intervals performed at MAX. The promised result – burning up to 1,000 calories an hour.

So what could be a negative with that much upside? The workouts are intense, aggressive on joints and perhaps impractical for everyday routines. “I think there’s a better chance of getting you on a recumbent bike to teach you that exercising can be enjoyable,” Hrycko says.

Do the positives outweigh the negatives? Any of the three can prove what you can do if you put forth the time and effort. The video discs and kits are price-attractive, in fact cheaper than setting up a home gym, says Hrycko. His best advice: No matter what you choose, find an exercise you enjoy and chances are you will stick with it.

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