You’ve probably seen those infomercials advertising Extreme Conditioning Programs (ECPs). You might have seen two popular ones on television now: Insanity and P90X.

The appeal of ECPs is that they appear to promise a quick fix – you could rapidly build muscle and get fit, no matter how out of shape you are. The testimonials look awesome, featuring the before and after photos of people touting how fast they totally transformed their physiques.

ECPs work for people who have previously received instruction in advanced power lifting techniques and plyometric exercises. Because ECPs require an extremely high level of biomechanical proficiency.

Unsupervised intense exercise programs aren’t the ideal prescription for people who have rarely, if ever exercised before. ECPs can be dangerous when they invite you to start an unsupervised exercise program that includes advanced power lifting techniques and plyometric exercises. The widely respected National Strength and Conditioning Association does not recommend ECPs for most individuals, and neither do we at BioMechanix and AthleteBuild.

What’s a good analogy? Imagine if this were your first time skiing and the ski instructor brought you to the top of a double diamond trail. Then he shouted out “Go for it!” even as you barrel down the slope, out of control.

Can you safely learn how to ski at an expert level without proper instruction from a trained professional to guide you, watch your form and correct it – and stop you when you break your form and risk injury? The answer is obvious.

ECPs aren’t bad, but for most sedentary people, they aren’t the ideal way to get fit. Power lifting and plyometric techniques are potentially very dangerous activities. If you don’t understand the precise mechanics of how to do these exercises correctly, the likelihood of injury is extremely high since these programs push you to failure or near failure. They can result in biomechanical breakdown and improper technique.

If ECPs are something you are interested in adding to your fitness routine, we advise you to seek proper instruction from a NSCA Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), or a USA Weightlifting Level 1 Sport Coach Certified instructor.

We recommend the same approach for cross-fit classes, which are designed much like the ECPs. Rapid power lifting and plyometric techniques call for expert attention to monitor how your form is holding up – or breaking down. When your form breaks down and you continue the exercise, you are at the greatest risk for injury.

We suggest that you look for a cross-fit gym that is owned and operated by an NSCA Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), or a USA Weightlifting Level 1 Sport Coach Certified instructor.

Remember: we’re not saying you can’t lose weight and tone up doing these programs. However, we advise you to ask yourself honestly: do you have the knowledge to do these programs using the proper form and technique? Poor form sets you up for injury. And, that’s an insane approach to building your ideal physique.

Jon Torerk, CSCS