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Fitness Inspirations


Article by Stephanie Hower

Photography by Nathan Satran

These two doctors work to care for others and work out to care for themselves. 

Our health is entrusted to doctors and nurses throughout our lives. We seek their advice, answers, and expertise. It’s fitting that we might also look to them for fitness inspiration, as health and wellness are at the heart of their profession. Husband and wife physicians, Dr. Gordon Riha and Dr. Jamie Riha, lead by example with a routine that balances work and work outs. We explore their paths to the medical field as well as their methods of prioritizing fitness in the midst of a challenging, and often stressful, workload.

Dr. Gordon Riha, Billings Clinic Surgeon

1. What inspired you to pursue a career in medicine?

“As a young child, I was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency and was exposed to doctors early in life. The bedside manner of physicians who cared for me was inspirational, and by school age, I was determined to become a medical professional such that I could give back to and help others in their time of need as well.”

2. Why is fitness a priority?

Growing up, I was heavily involved in team sports, but would often get bored going to a gym to lift weights or running on a treadmill. I had been blessed with the metabolism of a small rodent up until 4 to 5 years ago. At that point, I was also consuming juices, sodas, and other high sugar products when I wanted to quench my thirst or have a quick snack. Before I knew it, I was 30 pounds heavier than my medical school weight. Interestingly, my back and legs would ache after long hours in the operating room. I was exhausted – and I wasn't even exercising! I realized that I needed a change in my lifestyle, not just my diet. Fitness became a priority for me at this point."

3. How do you find time to visit the gym?

“Even with a busy, two physician family, my wife and I make time for fitness. This means planning! We will sit down before the week begins and map out when call nights are scheduled, timing of surgery/clinic days, and who is available to be home at what point in the day. Then we will pre-plan which Crossfit classes we can attend through the week. We have to be flexible. I may attend a 5:00 am class or a 6:30 pm class. We also try to make trips to the gym a family affair to promote togetherness and demonstrate to our children the importance of staying healthy and active.”

4. How long have you been doing Crossfit? Why did you choose this form of activity?

“I have been doing Crossfit for almost 2 years now. My wife originally influenced me to start because she was already highly involved. I begrudgingly started, but immediately became infatuated with the results that I saw and the changes I observed in my own body. In a matter of 4 months, I lost the 30 pounds I had slowly gained with a combination of exercise and diet. Crossfit is not strictly about sweating it out at a gym – it is a lifestyle as well. I have learned more about healthy nutritional choices in 2 years at Crossfit than I did in 4 years of medical school training. Furthermore, Crossfit promotes social interaction, and each workout, though done as an individual, is approached by the class as a whole.”

Dr. Jamie Riha, Billings Clinic Pulmonologist

1. What inspired you to pursue a career in medicine?

“Since I was a little girl, I dreamed of becoming a physician as an adult. Early on it was probably influenced to some extent by my father being in the medical profession; however, as I grew it was the combination of a love of science with a passion for improving the lives of others that led to me this career. During my medical training, I fell in love with the intensity of the ICU and the challenge of caring for critically ill patients, which ultimately led me to choosing Pulmonary/Critical Care as a specialty.”

2. Why is fitness a priority? 

“Regular exercise to maintain fitness is an essential part of being healthy. Greg Glassman, the founder of Crossfit, argues that there is a continuum between chronic illness on one end and fitness on the other end, with wellness falling in the middle. I completely agree with this philosophy. If you stay in physical shape, you can avoid development of numerous chronic illnesses and live a healthier longer life. Fitness equals health.”

3. How do you find time to visit the gym?

“I personally believe that if you make fitness a priority and you make a commitment to include exercise as part of your daily life then you will be able to find the time to workout. Every Sunday I look at the family schedule for the upcoming week and figure out my game plan – when can I run and when can I get in my Crossfit workouts? I then put them into my planner. Sometimes unexpected life events come up that alter my plans but if I schedule most of my exercise for the week then it happens 90% of the time. It also means that there are often days that I get up at 4 am to exercise before one or both of us leave for work. That sounds really early but it works for me. It also works for a lot of other busy professionals I know – the 5 am class is one of the busiest classes at the Crossfit Gym. In my opinion, anyone can find the time to exercise on a regular basis; it just takes making a commitment to yourself, in particular to your fitness and ultimately to your health.”

4. How long have you been doing Crossfit? Why did you choose this form of activity?

“I have been doing Crossfit for three and a half years. I decided to start Crossfit six weeks after our second child was born in 2015. I had been a runner for the preceding 8 years but I was looking to add an element of cross-training into my fitness routine as I felt like it was one dimensional. Crossfit appealed to me because of its definition: 'constantly varied, high-intensity functional movements'. What does that mean? It means that through Crossfit you will strengthen all the important muscle groups in your will be able to better perform every day tasks such as picking up a heavy bag of dog food and yet you will also be prepared for random physical challenges that occur in life.”

There are two big misconceptions about Crossfit that Dr. Jamie would like to correct. 

#1 Only the young and fit can do Crossfit.  

The truth: "While professional Crossfit athletes embody the fittest on Earth with their ripped, muscular physiques capable of completing insanely challenging feats of strength and endurance, these are not the majority of individuals that you will find inside a Crossfit gym. The reality is that everyone can do Crossfit. You can have a 23-year old competitive Crossfit athlete, next to a 36-year old teacher/mother, next to a 55-year old overweight patient with diabetes, next to an 85-year old great grandparent all doing the same Crossfit class. The beauty of Crossfit is that every workout can be appropriately scaled to each individual’s physical capabilities and tolerances so that each person is pushing themselves within their limits."

#2 Crossfit is dangerous. 

The truth: "There are inherent risks to any exercise program and Crossfit does carry risks due to the performance of movements at high intensity. However, with a good trainer who can help the individual appropriately scale and tailor the workout to that individual’s capacity and tolerance, these risks can be significantly reduced. More importantly, I would strongly argue that the health risks of not exercising and living a sedentary lifestyle are so much greater than any possible health risk from Crossfit."

The Workout

15 Minute AMRAP 

5 Ring Pull-ups

7 Push-Ups

9 Back Squats (95lbs for men and 65lbs for women)

250-meter row (count 1 rep per 50 meters rowed)

For those new to Cross-fit, AMRAP stands for "as many reps as possible". When completing this type of a workout, the individual begins with the first set of reps, in this case, 5 Ring Pull-ups, and continues through the series of exercises. If the person completes the series of exercises, they start the series over and continue. This process continues for the full 15 minutes. an article.

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