Want to Train Like an Astronaut? Try CrossFit.

Constantly changing routine helps space travelers maintain bone mass in orbit

Astronauts, it turns out, are the CrossFitters of space.

Sort of, anyway. Keeping astronauts fit and healthy in space requires an approach that's very similar to the trending fitness program, said participants of a sports and fitness video panel hosted this week by NASA.

CrossFit, for those still unfamiliar with the fitness fad, is a broad-spectrum style of fitness that focuses on general fitness in order to be prepared for anything. Workouts—called "Workouts of the Day" (or WODs)—change daily, and include everday, functional movements like squatting, running, jumping, throwing, pulling and picking things up.

Astronauts, for their part, do a similar type of training to prepare them for, and to protect against, the effects of months spent living aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in a zero-gravity environment that dramatically accelerates bone loss.

“Everyday, it's something different,” said Mark Guilliams, strength and conditioning coach for astronaut Mike Hopkins, who also participated in the panel. “We're trying to trick the body into thinking we don't know what stimulus is coming next, so it never has time to adapt to any one particular thing.”

“You just described CrossFit,” replied Rich Froning, the male champion of the past two CrossFit Games and a panel participant (as well as one of The Active Times 50 for 2013).

"I may try and do some of [CrossFit's] Workouts of the Day," said Hopkins.

Like in Crossfit, astronauts work out every single day, varying their routines with circuits that include squats and other lifts with time on treadmills and exercise bikes, among other exercises.

NASA has become more concerned about astronauts’ fitness in space over the past decade or so, since it noticed that astronauts were returning home from long stints in orbit with lowered bone density and other signs of advanced aging. Fitness programs were incorporated into every facet of space travel—from preparation to orbit to post-flight recovery. Now they even bring special fitness equipment into space—to help them keep form and add back the bodyweight element that is missing—and schedule workouts into astronauts' daily routines, ensuring they exercise for at least two hours every day.

Of course, working out in space has its own challenges with the specialized equipment and zero-gravity. Hopkins, who's in the final phase of mission training before a Sept. 25 launch to the ISS, said that when fitness equipment breaks, it's "a bad day in space." It's second only, he added, to the toilet breaking.

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