Extreme Editorial!

I found a martial arts school close to my home that I'd like to join. However, I'm a little turned off by the name: Extreme Karate and Fitness.

When did extreme become the adjective du jour? Extreme describes a state of intensity, when an absolute limit has been reached. So why do people insist on calling everything extreme? If everything is extreme, then, paradoxically, nothing is extreme.

I'd like to think that “extreme” gained its popularity in my hometown of Philadelphia. In the early '90s, a renegade wrestling promotion called Eastern Championship Wrestling (ECW) used brutality, bloodshed and adult themes to differentiate itself from the cartoonish antics of larger promotions (like the WWF). After developing cult status, Philly's ECW decided to switch its name from Eastern to Extreme. It was the first time that I noticed any business embrace the extreme brand.

It wouldn't be the last.

Larger wrestling promotions eventually took notice of ECW's strong (albeit small) following and gave their own offerings an edge. In doing so, they rendered ECW obsolete. After all, ECW couldn't be extreme if the competition did the same thing. As a result, ECW filed for bankruptcy, and its owner went to work for the WWF.

The WWF, itself, provides a perfect example of the flagrant misuse of the “e” word. Consider that the X in its short-lived XFL stood for extreme. Believe me, I tried watching the XFL, and it wasn't extreme — unless extreme is synonymous with bad football.

Football isn't the only sport to get the extreme treatment. Extreme sports form a whole separate category, filled with activities such as skateboarding and biking. Growing up, I knew guys who did crazy tricks with their skateboards and bikes. I didn't call them extreme. I called them nuts.

The point I'm trying to make is that “extreme” has permeated our lexicon — so much so that the word has lost most of its meaning. Suddenly, mundane activities are extreme.

This brings me to the fitness industry. (Thought I had forgotten about you, eh?) Check the schedules at most clubs and you are bound to find an “extreme” class or two. Take these classes, however, and you often discover that they are extreme in name only. They aren't especially intense. The “extreme” title is more of a psychological trapping. After all, it is a lot easier for me to drop my voice an octave when I announce, “I just took an extreme abs class.” Makes me sound tough, doesn't it?

I suppose that partially explains the “extreme” problem. I'm not moralizing, but our society has edged the envelope. (If you doubt me, you probably don't watch much daytime television.) There are few truly intense experiences left. That's why “extreme” products, services and businesses are so prevalent. Tack the word “extreme” onto something and suddenly people think that they've crossed a threshold when, in reality, they haven't moved at all.

Perhaps this is why clubs are guilty of “extreme” abuse. They want to give a rush to members who believe that they've done it all. The logic is that some exercisers will only feel a sense of accomplishment after completing an “extreme [insert body part here] class.”

I suppose this logic has merit, but I do see a flaw. Studies indicate that mind/body programming is now the ruling king of classes. This tells me that people are fed up with intensity and looking for a little relaxation.

Think about that the next time you put your class schedule together. Fight the “extreme” urge and add an extra yoga class instead. Your members and prospects could stand to have fewer extremes in their lives. I know I could.

Best regards,

Jerry Janda