I did a full round of Insanity about a year ago, and have since incorporated many of its routines into other workouts. I once had a dream in which Lance Armstrong challenged me to a ‘best of’ round of Insanity’s “Fit Test”; and, at some point in early 2011 doing the “Insanity Max Interval Circuit” workout made me vomit up a cup of grapes. Needless to say I am on a first name basis with Insanity. In the text to follow I offer a summary of the programs (there are Insanity, and The Asylum), my subjective evaluation of Insanity as a grad, my thoughts on instructor Shaun Thompson, and musings on individual Insanity workouts.
Summary of the Programs
Insanity: Insanity is a DVD-based fitness system produced by BeachBody. It was introduced in 2009, and in the ensuing years it received such acclaim, BeachBody decided to develop a second series—The Asylum (see below). Insanity comes with ten DVD workouts led by Shaun Thompson (colloquially known as Shaun T), a workout calendar, a fitness guide, and a nutrition plan.
BeachBody taunts us with the tagline, “The Insanity workout might just be the hardest fitness program ever put on DVD.” To complete Insanity as recommended you have to commit to working out and eating healthy foods for nine weeks. The workouts average about forty-five minutes, and they are to be done six days a week. The diet, which is based on a 40/40/20 (protein/carbs/fat) micronutrients ratio, is easy to follow. The included nutrition guidebook contains five “meal lists,” each of which offer ten food options. You are instructed to eat five roughly equi-calorie meals throughout the day by selecting one meal from each list every few hours.
Insanity is based on “max interval training.” Whereas “traditional interval training” can be defined as bursts of high-intensity exertion interspersed with periods of recovery, “max interval training” is defined by long stretches of maximum-intensity exertion interspersed with relatively short periods of recovery. “You can burn up to 1,000 calories per hour doing Insanity …” says BeachBody.
The Asylum: The Asylum is the second program in the Insanity series. It comes with six DVD workouts led by Shaun T, a workout calendar, a fitness guide, a nutrition plan, a utility ladder, a jump rope, and a couple of bonus workout DVDs. The Asylum is a thirty-day program; and, unlike Insanity, its workout schedule does not follow an “exercise six days / rest seventh day” plan. In fact there are only two rest days in the entire program—days five and twenty-two.
My Subjective Evaluation of Insanity as a Grad
BeachBody essentially touts Insanity as lightning in a box with their oft used statement, “… the hardest fitness program ever put on DVD.” If you buy the program and actually survive your epic sixty-day battle with Zeus (and submit before and after pics as proof) they will even send you a purportedly coveted “Insanity” t-shirt. Clearly BeachBody wants us to know that Insanity is tough. Is it the hardest program ever put on DVD though? As a grad I can definitively say it is an extremely challenging program; but, for me the answer to that question is a moving target. Insanity has a cardio bias. If you decided to embark on a new fitness endeavor following a year in which all you did was run and cycle long distances, you would probably find Insanity easier than other DVD programs like P90X. Having run and cycled you would be in good aerobic shape—your lactate threshold and V02 max high. Your muscles would not be conditioned for lifting heavy weights though; hence why programs like P90X would likely pose more of a challenge. Conversely, if you had just finished a year of nothing but weight lifting you would probably find Insanity to be much harder than programs like P90X.
I completed two rounds of P90X before ever pushing play on my first Insanity workout, so naturally I compared the two programs throughout my journey. My conclusions? Insanity is a bit more intense than P90X, which in some ways is good; but, despite said difference, I like P90X better. Where X bests Insanity in my opinion is in its instruction quality and workout objective clarity. Conflicting as I find Tony and his unintentionally self embarrassing humor, I think he does a better job than Shaun T at engaging viewers. Tony is thorough (almost to a fault) in his instruction, and he presents several ways you can modify workouts should you need to. Shaun T does a nice job, but I find him a tad flatter. He also does not provide nearly as much instruction on modification techniques. As to “purpose,” P90X workouts each have a clear and distinct objective; to a large extent though I question what the differentiators are between the Insanity routines. X workouts fall into one of three categories: strength building, cardio, stretching and recovery. Though Insanity workouts can be “loosely” grouped into these categories, they all have a cardio undertone that in my opinion blurs their distinction. These negatives and my preference for P90X notwithstanding, I still think Insanity is a good program. I recommend it; though I do feel that those who are new to fitness training would be best served by easing into the program for a number of weeks. (Perhaps a couple of workouts per week interspersed with walking and jogging would be prudent.) Following are Insanity’s pros and cons.
- The production quality of the DVDs is very good. The workouts are well filmed, they have good lighting, there are readable on-screen countdown timers for each exercise, the music is appropriate, and the DVDs are indexed so that you can easily queue to the beginning of an exercise.
- At an average of around forty-five minutes each, the length of the workouts feels appropriate. In this regard I like Insanity better than I do P90X.
- The diet plan, which is based on healthy non-processed foods, is simple and easy to follow. I prefer it to the P90X nutrition plan by a wide margin.
- You do not need any equipment to do Insanity. Its strength training exercises can all be done with your own body weight. This makes its cost of approximately $100 a good value. In comparison, the P90X program costs about $20 more, and it requires you to have ancillary strength training equipment.
- A personal pro: I experienced positive body changes during my Insanity run—even having gone into it in good shape. My body fat percentage dropped about 1%, and my endurance increased moderately.
- While I like that Insanity routines average about 45 minutes each, I think its six-workouts-per-week schedule is a bit excessive. Save for elite athletes, most people do not (and possibly should not) exercise six days per week.
- Those of you who have done P90X may find Shaun T’s demeanor a little flat when compared to Tony’s colorful personality (not that he is not motivating).
- Most of the workouts in my opinion lack distinction (read, they are too similar to each other).
- I would venture a guess that among modern popular DVD-based fitness systems (P90X, RushFit, etc.) Insanity poses the greatest risk of exercise related injury. It offers less time for moderately paced warm-ups and rest than most of its competing programs, and many of its workouts require frequent jumping.
My Thoughts on Shaun T
Shaun T was born and raised in New Jersey where he attended Rowan University and received his BS in Sports Science. He is obviously well-known and regarded for his work on Hip Hop Abs and Insanity, but he is also nationally recognized for his choreographing and dancing in live theater and television. He even does a fair amount of bit acting. Clearly Shaun T is an accomplished person. And I give him extra credit for his brief acting stint on Six Feet Under. Comparing Six Feet Under to Rebecca’s Secret—the softcore epic Tony Horton starred in—is like comparing the Holy Grail to a wicker bedpan.
Though I gravitate more to Tony, I still Like Shaun T (and I appreciate his better grasp on urban vernacular). There is a twenty-year age disparity between the two; accordingly, Tony (senior in age) has more experience. If this was not the case, I am not so sure my preference stance would be the same.
Musings on Individual Insanity Workouts
Fit Test: The name “Fit Test” could be misleading. Yes it is a fitness test, but more than anything it is a “tough workout.” It consists of eight exercises, each of which is to be performed for one minute. The routine features Shaun T and two students—Tania Ante Baron (a close friend of Shaun T), and Chris. Maybe the fact Tania and Shaun T are friends is why he did not call her out for doing fewer “high-knees” than she said she did on her fit test.
Plyometric Cardio Circuit: This is one of my favorites. It is an extremely taxing workout. It is also the only routine in the Insanity library in which Tania subtly mimics the pursed lip expression she wore while performing as Britney Spear’s Martian dancer in the Oops I Did it Again music video.
Cardio Power and Resistance: I like this routine as it is calls for more calisthenic strength moves than do most of the other Insanity workouts. It starts with a fast-paced warm-up, moves to two circuits that you are to repeat a couple of times, and then ends with one minute of hop squats and push-ups, followed by stretching.
Cardio Recovery: “Cardio Recovery,” though not as punishing as the other routines, is still fairly intense. I am always humored when I pull the DVD from its sleeve, as it features a picture of one of Shaun T’s students bent over holding his knees in obvious pain—clearly the finest image imaginable to inspire “recovery.”
Pure Cardio and Cardio Abs: “Pure Cardio” is a decent routine, but the standout for me is “Cardio Abs.” Insanity’s “Cardio Abs” is tantamount to P90X’s “Ab Ripper X.” Unlike “Ab Ripper X” though, “Cardio Abs” does not call for any crunch-style moves. Its routine is built on twists, leg raises, planks, and c-sit holds.
Core Cardio and Balance: This is one of my favorite workouts. It is a bit slower paced (read, still fast-paced) than most of the other routines. It is also the only Insanity workout in which Shaun T moves about the gym squeezing the midsections of his female students to the point of liver massage.
Max Interval Circuit: Part way into this workout Shaun T shouts, “I’m smiling because I love killing people!” This obviously true statement is telling of the routine. “Max Interval Circuit” is brutal. It starts with a ten-minute warm-up (“warm-up” being a serious misnomer), then progresses to three rounds of multiple exercises.
Max Interval Plyo: I like this routine, but I like “Plyometric Cardio Circuit” better as it is more succinct. The first fifteen minutes of “Max Interval Plyo” mimics the first fifteen minutes of “Max Interval Circuit” given that they feature identical warm-up routines.
Max Cardio Conditioning: The substantive part of this routine calls for almost thirty minutes of uninterrupted cardio exercises. It is one of the tougher workouts for me; and, it is also one of my favorites. I like that it—save for the warm-up—is not a routine in which you are asked to repeat the same circuit two or three times; rather, you get to move through a long list of different exercises.
Max Recovery: “Max Recovery” consists of a warm-up, five primary segments, and a cool-down. Like “Cardio Recovery,” it is still (belying its name) a fairly intense routine. It calls for a punishingly slow push-up set, which for me pulls it slightly over the fence from the “Cardio Recovery” side to being my favorite of the two recovery workouts.