During the holiday season, people are as concerned about their waistlines as their shopping lists. Hearty food and the cold temperatures sometimes turn individuals toward “extreme” workouts like P90X, or more recently, CrossFit. We asked Dr. Alexander K. Meininger, a Steamboat Springs-based orthopedic surgeon and a U.S. Ski Team physician, about the right way to approach these intense fitness regimens.

5280: Do extreme workouts…well…work?

Dr. Alexander K. Meininger: They do work. They’re very effective mostly in engaging the person to continue with an exercise program because they’re entertaining and new. The combination of powerful, Olympic-style lifts and plyometrics aren’t commonly integrated into routines, but they should be; they get your metabolism higher.

Are there any particular diets that complement this type of workout?

I think most people would agree that the most effective diet is to burn more than you eat, right? The problem is living it more than saying it. [I]f you have a high protein or carnivore diet, you might feel underpowered to be jumping and sweating. Some carbs are necessary—whole wheats or grains or even fresh vegetables or starches that can help you gain power.

What dangers might be involved with these regimens?

CrossFit has trickled down, and there are more people looking to train for specific events. They’ve recruited more people who weren’t fit for this program, and it was too much too soon in those cases. One of the downsides of the group CrossFit workouts is that you’re trying to lift heavy weights as quickly and powerfully as possible, but there’s added pressure from the other people in the room. Thrusting weights above your head or repetitive jumping squats might be too much, and you might fall into improper technique that predisposes you to injury.

How can people prepare for CrossFit and other extreme exercises?

There’s a lot of material online that can orient them to workouts, but nothing replaces the in person. It would be helpful to meet with instructors for CrossFit beforehand, or join on a trial basis. Obviously the moniker of going “low and slow” is the most appropriate—low weights and slow motions. Don’t start with 50-pound dumbbells; don’t be ashamed to use five-pound or 10-pound bags instead. You can still get the benefit through partial participation.

How frequently should you do these exercises?

Begin with two to three times a week and do that for about a month’s time. With these types of workouts, more than five days a week would probably be excessive. Some other things should be combined to make a balanced workout. Pilates, yoga, aerobics—they all work in conjunction.

Follow editorial assistant Mary Clare Fischer on Twitter at @mc_fischer.