Insanity: Truth in Advertising At Last

by Ninja Master Mark Fisher

Well kids.  You know how I feel about generalized programs.  As a general rule, I kinda think they suck, BUT I also understand not everyone can afford the individualized attention of a good fitness professional.  So for some people in some situations, these DVD programs won’t be the worst thing in the world.

However… sometimes it’s kind of like Coach Mike Boyle says (I’m paraphrasing) – if someone is starving, then yes, eating processed sugar packets is better than dying.  But maybe they’d be better off eating some vegetables?

To me, Insanity is kind of like processed sugar (or to be fair, maybe something with some more healthful properties that’s still not really great: oily honey roasted peanuts?).  Maybe better than doing nothing.  But not exactly the best choice you can make.

Insanity is a workout designed by personal trainer Shaun T.  The program consists of ten DVDs of do-it-at-home bodyweight exercises comprising a 60 day long program.  The workouts supposedly burn 1000 calories an hour.  The ad copy says it may be the hardest workout program ever put onDVD, and that it’s “packed with with plyometric drills on top of nonstop intervals of strength, power, resistance, and ab and core training moves.”  Insanity also claims to employ a science-y method called “MAX Interval Training,” which is a form of interval training that employs prolonged periods of all out effort with very short rest periods (as opposed to traditional interval training which is usually the opposite: short periods of max effort, followed by longer periods of recovery).

Where.  Do I.  Begin…

First things first: while I believe this to be processed sugar/ oily honey roasted peanuts… if you’re otherwise starving, I ain’t mad at ya.  I still think you could make better choices that will get better results without the wear and tear on your body, but I get it.  For financial or logistical reasons, this may be your best bet at the moment.  So be it.

But number one, I don’t really think it’s likely you’re burning 1000 calories in an hour.  If you want to know why, read this.  I believe burning that much in an hour is all but impossible for regular folk, particularly folks looking to lose some lbs.  So strike one is pooping on science. Though I will give them this: the amount of calories burned in a session of exercise is very difficult to measure, and it’s possible I’m wrong here.  But for the reasons discussed in the article I linked to, I think it’s HIGHLY unlikely anyone is burning 1000 calories an hour.

Insanity’s ad copy also proudly proclaims it to be possibly “the hardest workout ever put on DVD.”  And as loyal readers know, I’m not a fan of “hard” for hard’s sake.  Yes, I appreciate working hard (Ask my Snatched students about Thursdays, or my personal training clients about the horror of Week 4).  Yes, sometimes you should work so damn hard you feel like your spleen is going to pop out of your eye and land on your TV screen with a “thwap” (EW).  BUT, I don’t think it’s wise to go at it like a nut EVERY time you go to the gym. I believe this is gonna lead to joint problems even with the best of technique.  And if not now, then down the line.  This is why I’m not a fan of exercise programs that never fluctuate training stress and have you get after it like a lunatic every time you hit the gym.  Harder is not necessarily better.  It’s just harder.  A monkey can give you a hard workout by making you sprint and do pushups. That’s just gonna make you tired.  It’s not gonna make you better.  Yes you burn calories.  But possibly at the expense of your long term quality of life.  Doh!

“We’re doing wind sprints and then pushups back and forth for 60 minutes!!! After you’re done puking, you owe me 100 dollars for the session!!! I accept cash, checks, AND VOMIT!!!!!!!”

And what about “MAX Interval Training?”  Um… yeah I don’t know either.  I’m not sure how you can actually be giving ten-out-of-ten effort for a whole workout without the intensity significantly fading by the end of the workout.  By definition, ten-out-of-ten effort can’t be sustained.  Otherwise… it’s not ten-out-of-ten.  Even the infamous Tabata Protocol some of you fit pros may be familiar with only lasts for four minutes.  And while I understand the value of ad copy (helloooo, have you READ the Snatched ad?), it’s just a pet peeve when people try to sound science-y and make shit up. 

The thing that concerns me most about Insanity is its heavy reliance on plyometrics, or in layman’s terms, getting airborne (think jumping and pushups where your hands leave the ground).  Each fitness pro has to find their own line in the sand here.  I do use moderate amounts of jumping for conditioning, but I’m always hyper aware of over doing it, because even under my watchful eye, it’s an inherently stressful thing on your joints unless your technique is perfect. Now what do you think the odds are that a random couch potato who’s trying to lose 15 pounds has good jumping technique after 30 to 60 minutes of “MAX Interval Training”?  I’m gonna go with about a zero percent chance.

So we again come to the same conclusion that I’ve drawn about many of these “HARDCORE!” “EXTREME!” “IN YOUR FACE!” exercise modalities: I don’t think it’s the worst thing in the world, and you can argue than it’s better than nothing, but that’s not saying a lot.

And as a last parting comment, I’m always amazed that these type of programs often portray nutrition as a supplemental part of the program.  If you really want to be healthy and hot, you need to commit to both solid training AND nutrition strategies.  And if you’re eating right, you won’t need to train like a lunatic to burn the l. b.s you gained binging on booze and pizza this weekend.  Just keepin it real y’all…

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