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A more in depth Insanity review

Posted by on Jul. 8, 2011 at 8:09 AM
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Is This Workout Completely Insane?

Insanity already solidified its spot as “the next big thing,” but is this high-intensity program a gift from the workout gods, or a training injury waiting to happen?

Gasping for air, drenched in sweat, wondering if you’ll be able to walk in the morning—if you’re already familiar with Beachbody’s other powerhouse workout, P90X, you know Insanity isn’t for the faint of heart or weak of body. The cardio-based program is a high-intensity, no-equipment, total-body system that requires you to work out 6 days a week for 9 weeks, with only a week of slightly less difficult “active recovery” workouts to bridge the gap between the challenging first month and the, dare we say, insane second month. What does it take to conquer Insanity, and will it work for you? Here’s our take on this high-octane program that—as its popular T-shirts remind you—makes you “earn it.” 

The Power of P90X

The Exerciser (You)
It says it right on the box and it’s worth taking notice: This program is not for beginners and shouldn’t be attempted without a solid fitness foundation. Insanity was created as an intermediate-advanced graduate program for exercisers to move on to after mastering some of Beachbody’s more intermediate workouts like Power 90 or Turbo Fire, says Steve Edwards, a fitness expert with Beachbody.

But for exercisers not familiar with Beachbody’s other offerings, who fits the bill? “This program would be perfect for someone who has been exercising for a few years,” says Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise. “It’s for a person who has consistent training experience and is just looking for something that really challenges him. Or maybe she played sports growing up and the regular gym exercises and treadmill thing bore her. For these people, this would be a very stimulating workout.” You should also have experience with proper strength training technique as well as jumping and landing properly, says David Jack, director of Teamworks Fitness in Acton, MA. The program’s before and after shots paint a clear picture of its most successful clients: relatively normal-weight individuals who want to achieve gains in muscle definition and challenge themselves by taking their workout up a notch.

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The Trainer (Shaun T)
Shaun T is highly motivating and provides encouragement throughout the DVD without sounding insincere or redundant. “I’m going to motivate you so hard that you have no choice but to get the best body you’ve ever had,” Shaun says during the introduction—and he’s not far off. His energy is contagious and you really get a sense that he’s passionate about the Insanity program and its effects. The gymnasium of people working out with Shaun also has a motivational aspect. In most DVD workouts, only one or two flawless assistants accompany the lead trainer. Insanity features a large group of sweaty exercisers, and they huff, puff, and cheer each other on, which helps create a live-class environment.

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The trainer’s greatest shortcoming is that he fails to provide step-by-step instructions for each exercise—a result of the quick transitions between the exercises in each interval—which may put users at risk of performing the moves incorrectly. The instruction that is provided often occurs as you’re already performing an exercise, so there’s a chance you could spend a few seconds doing the move incorrectly before learning proper form. However, the breezy instruction may also be a function of the program’s intended audience: intermediate to advanced individuals who know how to perform basic exercises like squat jumps, high knees, high kicks, and sports drills like suicides, and just want some coaching.

In their review of Insanity, the American Council on Exercise found that the workouts contain some instructional inconsistencies and coaching miscues. In a few cases, incorrect muscle groups are identified in relation to certain exercises and incorrect explanations of muscle functions are provided. Whether or not those inconsistencies affect the overall effectiveness of the workout depends on the experience of the exerciser. The workouts progress quickly, making it difficult to keep up, let alone listen to the physiological benefits of each move, but a miscommunication about which muscles to fire could pave the way for potential injury in less-experienced people.

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The Workouts (Hard)
The program kicks off with the “Dig Deeper” introductory disc, which dispenses several warnings not to attempt the workout unless certain you’re physically able. Shaun T also provides instruction on how to perform four moves used often in the workouts: Jumps, squats, planks, and the C-sit. For the most part the training tips are helpful, but essential information about how to safely launch and land jumps is quickly glossed over with only a caution to “land soft,” emphasizing the need for experience with plyometric training prior to attempting Insanity.

Image: Thinkstock

Blast Fat by Jumping Rope

The program also begins with a fitness test of eight cardio, plyometric, and strength training moves, to be repeated every 2 weeks to gauge progress. The challenging test—that even leaves the people demonstrating the moves stopping in exhaustion—requires you to perform as many reps as you can of each move for 60 seconds with only 60 seconds of rest in between. Although Shaun T consistently reminds exercisers throughout the workouts that proper form is key, the fitness test relies on the sheer number of reps you can do, which may lend itself to cheating through a move to feel a greater sense of achievement. Stay honest with yourself and avoid injury by recording only the number of exercises you can do correctly on test days.

Month 1 of Insanity introduces you to five total-body cardio conditioning workouts, to be performed in the order outlined by the training calendar included in the program. Each workout lasts approximately 30 to 40 minutes and begins with a heart-pumping 10-minute warm-up followed by static stretching. The warm-up feels less like preparation and more like a component of the workout itself; in fact, some of the Month 1 workout moves actually become a part of Month 2’s warm-up. All workouts also include a guided cooldown.

Find out how you can run your butt off—literally!

The workouts are structured with 3 minutes of intense exercise—including cardio, plyometric, sports training, and strength-training moves—followed by 30 seconds of rest and rehydration. Though the DVDs for each month of the program have specific names like Cardio Power & Resistance, Plyometric Cardio Circuit, and Max Cardio Conditioning & Cardio Abs, none of the workouts are particularly unique from the others in the series, as they share many of the same types of exercises. Max Interval Plyo DVD, for example, actually incorporates a great deal of bodyweight resistance exercises like pushups.

VIDEO: Running Hydration and Nutrition

The 3 minutes on, 30 seconds off “max interval” structure of the workout intervals has been met with controversy. “The workouts are built on the premise of recent research that shows higher-intensity intervals with shorter recovery periods stimulate the type 2 muscle fibers and will keep up the exercise after-burn,” says McCall “So their work ratios are skewed higher on the work side and lower on the recovery side.” But there is concern that 30 seconds isn’t enough time to for an average exerciser to recover and then continue to perform at maximum intensity to make it a true anaerobic interval. “One of the biggest mistakes made with interval training is using work periods that are too long and rest periods that are too short, which ends up making the workout more aerobic in nature,” says BJ Gaddour, a certified strength and conditioning coach and cocreator of Workout Muse. “For the average exerciser, incomplete recovery will impair performance to the degree that the intensity will not be high enough to generate the desired anaerobic training effects that boost metabolism for up to 48 hours after completing the workout. Will it get you really sweaty, tired, and sore? Yes. But it doesn’t mean it’s going to give you the optimal training effect.”

Tempo runs that will ramp up your speed and endurance

After Month 1, the program incorporates 1 week of “active recovery,” during which you perform the Cardio Core & Balance DVD for 6 days straight. The workout is heavy on cardio, light on balance training, but is completed at a slightly more manageable pace than the Month 1 workouts. But you don’t get to coast for long. Month 2 immediately picks up the pace, packing challenging variations of several Month 1 exercises and a few new moves into four longer workouts—each about 45 minutes excluding the warm-up. These workouts are also performed in the order outlined by the provided training calendar.

The Bottom Line (Be Careful)
We said it once and we’ll say it again. This is not a program for beginners. The intense plyometric work, in particular, makes this is a no-go for workout novices—especially an exerciser with significant weight to lose. “High-intensity training is very effective for weight loss, however, to do a high-intensity workout, individuals should have the appropriate mobility and stability in their joints and in their bodies to do what’s prescribed by the program,” says McCall. But it can be a highly effective program if you’re honest with yourself and meet the fitness requirements that Insanity identifies. Coordination is essential. Fast-feet sports drills like side-to-side suicides are maintained for more than 1 minute at a time, as is hopping from foot to foot. In short, you must possess the ability to see a demonstration of an exercise and then complete it exactly as it is shown without a trainer adjusting your form.

Image: Thinkstock

SEARCH: Fitness Tests

The potential for injury when completing any high-intensity training at home is the main concern of trainers. “A workout like this is high risk, high return,” says Jack. “As a trainer you can only do your best to give the appropriate warnings and guide people through the TV. But sometimes we have a difficult time teaching people how to do something the right way when they’re in front of us.” The beauty of the DVD workout is that you can press pause. “Don’t let the first time you see the moves be the first time you’re attempting the workout. Make sure you’re doing them correctly,” says Jack. “Get the foundational patterns of the exercises in place before attempting any of the moves at speed when you’re tired.”

Note: Insanity also comes with the Elite Nutrition guidebook, which suggests eating 5 times a day from a selection of 300-calorie meals. The eating plan also includes recommendations for scaling those meals up to 400 or 500 calories, depending on individual need, but it gives little guidance on how to select balanced meals.

" I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." Phillipians 4:13

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by on Jul. 8, 2011 at 8:09 AM
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