P90X, CrossFit: The rise of the "extreme" exercise routine.

The business, culture, and science of working out.
Jan. 20 2011 10:51 AM

Work Out So Hard You Vomit

The rise of P90X, CrossFit, and the "extreme" exercise routine.

See the rest of Slate's Fitness Issue.

(Continued from Page 1)

"The world knows nothing of the virtual company," Glassman says in the article. "Venture capitalists don't get it, the MBAs don't get it, and the media don't get it. The very people who should understand it best are aghast at the concept."

True, we dollars-and-cents types don't get the give-away-the-exercises-for-free model, money-wise. But we certainly get it follower-wise. The videos, the fan base, and the social component are what keep anyone sticking with either of these decidedly painful, results-demanding workout systems. The Glassmans created a system that does not need their chiseled abs to keep growing: CrossFit is more of a community than a business.

For followers of both systems, much of the joy comes from gloating or whining about your crappy workout at CrossFit's forums or P90X's virtual community. CrossFitters are encouraged to post grainy homemade videos of themselves doing different bits of workouts—lifting bales of hay , then doing squats, for instance—to YouTube or the CrossFit site. They also head to the Internet to report on the growth of their biceps or to mythologize about rhabdomyolysis, a condition that develops when you work out so hard your muscles break down and release dangerous chemicals in your bloodstream. (The condition is rare, but not unknown (PDF) in the CrossFit community.)

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These videos and chat boards help members who can't share in a group workout or visit a CrossFit gym feel included. The same goes for its high-def relative, P90X. Enthusiasts have put up thousands of YouTube clips of themselves flexing and squatting and giving impromptu home testimonials—testimonials the company has incorporated into its infomercials—and have built Web communities to support each other through the first grueling days.

It's those funny videos—where can I find a bale of hay to lift?—that I'm thinking about as I lay on the floor after a few hours of pain. I'm not sure which system I like better. They both hurt. But they both work. As I flex my slightly bruised muscles in the mirror, I'm thinking I just might post a video once I've got my six-pack.

Also in Slate's Fitness Issue: Elizabeth Weingarten flexes her cheeks and winks creepily to see if face exercises really work, Torie Bosch searches for a fat-girl-friendly exercise DVD, and our handy flowchart helps you navigate awkward, naked gym situations.

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Annie Lowrey is a contributing editor for New York magazine. She can be reached at annie.lowrey@gmail.com.

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