Some fitness programs are a challenge to your ego just by their name.

Are you insane enough to complete “Insanity,” or are you a wimp? The website asks the question: “Are you ready to dig deep?” Well, are you?

Motivated yet?

Some people are. Some go for this marketing hype. They want to challenge their inner soldier with a “boot camp” or SealFit or Training for Warriors. They’re possessed by some deviltry to exercise beyond the point of failure with Demon Training. Hell, even the Jacob’s Ladder machine implies getting electrocuted. It’s called a “Tough” Mudder, not “Not Too Bad” Mudder one.

I have embraced the implication of baddassery as well.

Myth or no, marathon running has an awesome back-story. It’s an inspiring tale of victory, with Greek soldier Pheidippides allegedly dropping dead after allegedly running 26.2 miles to Athens to tell of non-allegedly kicking Persian ass at Marathon in 490 BC.

I have run a few marathons, one of them rather quickly. One day, I intend to do an Ironman Triathlon. Tell me the terms “iron” and “man” put together don’t imply toughness. Many who finish one mark their bodies to show the world how tough they are.

Fitness is a competitive business, and “Rainbows and Puppy Hugs” training isn’t going to drive people the same way insane-demon-iron-seals will. This is a challenge being issued. It’s the opposite end of the weight loss bullshit spectrum with its promises of “quick” and “easy.” None of this “just minutes a day” crap. We’re going to make you hurt.

It reminds me of the Schwarzenegger movie The Running Man. Jesse Ventura asks the question, “Are you ready for pain? Are you ready for suffering? If the answer is yes, then you’re ready for Captain Freedom’s Workout.”

Are you ready for pain?

These aren’t walk in the park workouts. These are workouts for tough people—male or female. As the names imply, you better be ready for suffering. It might help if you’re a little off your rocker as well.

But not too bugshit bonkers, because there is only so much pain you can work through. Many a person has done irrevocable damage to their body by pushing too hard. Sure, you can use these badass-named programs and physical endeavors to motivate you to exercise, but don’t let a trainer push you beyond your safe limits. It is important to know the difference between good pain and bad pain.

Crossfit, while not an insane or demonic sounding name, certainly follows the “embrace the pain” mentality, and it has wrecked people. Many articles have questioned the safety of the program, and I’ve written a few as well. Here’s the final piece I wrote about it.

Personally, I like embracing hardcore (although at almost 50 that’s slowly changing). It’s unique. It sets us apart from the couch potatoes and those looking for a quick fix. The marketers understand there is a small subset of the population who is ambitious, who wants to achieve, and they call to us. They challenge us not just to lose weight or be healthy, but to be among the physically elite of society; to be stronger, faster, fitter, and have more endurance than the rest.

FYI, being fitter than others doesn’t necessarily make you better. Don’t be a dick about it.

Those of us who accept the challenges being issued have a wee bit of ego, and that’s not a bad thing if you can also temper your ambition with intelligence, education and caution. Just because something is hard for you to do doesn’t mean it’s good or is the best way to train. Sure, you can be insane, demonic, soldierly or psychotic, but merely torturing you body won’t necessarily give you the results you’re after.

You need to use smart torture.

Do some research into these programs. Check out the qualifications of the instructors. Listen to your body and learn the difference between good pain and bad pain. Focus on good technique that builds functional strength and skill rather than just “one more rep” for the sake of doing another rep.

It’s okay to do workouts that scare you. It’s okay to push your limits and be hardcore. It’s not okay to check your brain at the door when doing so.

You can still be careful while kicking ass.


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James S. Fell, MBA, writes for the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Women’s Health, Men’s Health, AskMen, the Guardian, TIME Magazine and many other fine publications. His first book was published by Random House Canada in 2014. He is currently working on his next book, which is about life-changing moments.