Extreme Exercising Becomes New Craze – But at What Cost?

The reason why celebrities look so great in films or on the red carpet is simple; they work very hard, very quickly, in preparation for big events. It’s quite satisfying to realise the amount of effort celebs put in within a short space of time just to look that good, and it’s good for your wellbeing that you don’t have to worry about the paparazzi whenever you leave the house. In fact, wellness experts agree that this kind of high-intensity fitness makes you more likely to get injured, sick, or burnt-out than reach HD-ready perfection. So why are we engaging in extreme exercise more than ever before.?


According to nonprofit Running USA, since 2000, the number of people who finish marathons has soared by almost 50%. There has also been a surge of interest in yoga, with practitioners going from four to 20 million in the US alone over the last 10 years. This has gone alongside an explosion of interest in vigorous forms like Bikram (hot yoga) and Ashtanga (an athletic series). Plus, you can’t go into a gym these days without seeing offerings of high-octane boot camp sessions, Spinning classes, and barre workouts. And the people that take up these offers are forming their own kind of fitness enthusiast cult.


Tina Craig, a fashion blogger who takes back-to-back kickboxing and Pilates classes three days a week, raves, ‘I’m back in my size-24 jeans. I felt like an old milking cow most days. My exercise regimen was validation that I had some sort of control over my life, which had been taken over by an adorable but demanding little bundle.’ Tracy Stern, a Philadelphia- and New York-based tea entrepreneur followed a gruelling workout schedule that included several yoga classes, two aerial gymnastics lessons, and boxing and Pilates classes — all in one week. She says that she felt under pressure from friends to strive for an unnatural ideal of perfection. ‘I was under the influence,’ she remembers, adding that after one exceptionally strenuous period ‘I couldn’t even brush my hair after.’


So what motivates people to exercise to extremes? Sheenah Hankin, a psychotherapist in Manhattan, argues, ‘It’s fear. They think, If I don’t exercise, I am going to gain weight, lose my muscle tone. It’s emotional, not rational. It’s a terrible trap.’ Loren Bassett, whose namesake boot camp is taught in 100- to 105-degree temperatures, echoes, ‘It’s about control…The main thing is looking at the mind-set of the person. If you’re feeling anxious when you can’t exercise, that’s a sign you’ve crossed the line between healthy and compulsive.’ This was the case with Cassidy Vineyard, a Brooklyn-based production coordinator for a fashion company, who trained twice a day, swimming in the morning and riding her bike or going for a long run after work. ‘I missed my former roommate’s bridal shower,’ she admits regretfully. ‘That definitely burned a bridge.’


The truth is, even if dedicating your time and energy to fitness does give you the body results you want, you may be putting other aspects of your wellness at risk. For Stephanie Hirsch, a Manhattan-based artist who used to Spin five times a week at SoulCycle, some results of the gruelling sessions were ultimately positive. She recalls, ‘It lowered my stress and increased my energy level. I also noticed it in my stomach and arms.’ That said, once Hirsch lots 10 pounds, she scaled back her routine to three or four times a week. She comments, ‘I do feel guilty. I see a difference in my body, which I don’t love, but my kids are my top priority, work is second, and things like Spinning sometimes have to fall by the wayside.’

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