I’m sure you’ve seen the promo videos by now. Shaun T and about fifteen athletes in a basketball gym, performing ridiculously hard circuits of cardio and plyometrics for about 40 minutes per workout, promising that if you follow the program you’ll have a total body transformation within 60 days. Is this program a legitimate, serious workout that is worth investing money, time and effort in? Is this program for real? I’m going to take a hard, serious look at what the program entails and promises, and give it an honest assessment.
Shaun T bases his entire workout theory on something he calls ‘Max Interval Training’. He explains that the theory involves flipping the traditional interval training theory, where normally people train out intensely for a brief period of time, and take long breaks in-between. With Max Interval Training, he makes you work out intensely for long periods of time, with very short breaks in-between. These circuits range in duration from one minute to several minutes, with one workout going for a solid cardio packed twenty minutes without a break.
It’s important to state right out that Shaun T repeatedly tells you that this workout is not for normal people. You have to already be in excellent shape to participate, and he provides a ‘Fit Test’ at the beginning of the workout to help you determine if you qualify for this level of intensity. Should the Fit Test itself be too hard for you to perform, than clearly you need to do some preliminary exercise first before tackling INSANITY.
Further, throughout the workouts I was pleased to hear Shaun T repeatedly tell you to take a break if you need it, and never to sacrifice form for duration. This emphasis on form and safety is incredibly important in any exercise routine that promises to deliver ‘extreme’ results.
What is ‘Max Interval Training’? Despite the fact that Shaun T demands that you give the workouts your all, you clearly can’t approach them with the kind of intensity one undertakes a High Intensity Interval Training session, where you go at heart-attack intensity for twenty seconds, take a ten second break, and repeat for about four or five minutes total. Max
Interval Training is thus clearly not a real ‘Max’ as HIIT is, but rather, something one step below it. I believe that the correct term for this kind of cardio/endurance is ‘Threshold Training’.
The threshold in question can be debated. Whether it’s VO2 Max, or Lactate Threshold, or anaerobic threshold, OBLA, or ventilator, the point is that you are performing at the highest intensity that you can hold for a period of time, which in INSANITY is usually about 40 minutes.
Threshold training is used in a number of sports for professional training, such as cycling and running. The reason is because you are getting a large disruption of cellular energy status and doing it for extended periods of time, which is why this kind of training tends to also improve your aerobic engine, as much as anything else. Also, you are working at a level where waste product generation from your muscles is high but sustainable. This adapts your body to dealing with waste products in a more efficient manner, and is thus desirable. Given the higher intensity, you also tend to see higher Type II muscle fiber generation as compared to lower intensity cardio exercises.
Thus the benefits are tangible, but the downside is that working at close to your threshold as you can for forty minutes is extremely draining and can be downright unpleasant if you are not in prime physical condition already. Where the jury is still out is whether working that close to the threshold for five days/week (one of the 6 INSANITY workouts each week is a recovery routine) is advisable, or might result in over training.
Finally, a word of caution: if you are not in excellent physical condition, you may begin to put a lot of stress on your joints. The sheer amount of cardio and plyometrics can result in a lot of punishment to your knees and ankles, and thus you should consider the strength of your joints as much as you do that of your muscles before going in.
Is the INSANITY workout legit? Yes, but with several very important caveats. Understood as threshold training, it can bestow incredible benefits in a very short period of time. Your body’s ability to deal with waste product generation, your development of your aerobic and anaerobic engines and the recruitment of Type II muscle fibers are all very attractive benefits, not to mention the sheer amount of calories you will be burning. However, it is a very extreme form of training, and thus needs to be approached with the right blend of wisdom and caution. Be incredibly careful of your joints and be honest with whether your body is prepared. Gauge your fatigue levels, and monitor whether working out at this level of intensity five days/week is good for your body.