From superstorm Sandy to sugar-laden holiday spreads, you may have felt like you had little chance of maintaining your physique this winter — like it just wasn’t in the cards for you to keep any kind of training momentum or dietary discretion. And you’re not alone. Research by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development shows that of the 1.05 pounds per year the average person gains, most of it (0.8 pounds) is packed on during the six weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
You could always commemorate the new year — and your commitment to a new you — by joining (or rejoining) a gym (for more info on that, go to Page TK). But the other option is to kick your own ass into shape in the comfort of your own home. Because contrary to what that polo-shirted gym salesperson will tell you, getting leaner and more athletic does not necessarily require time spent cozied up to a Smith machine or a TreadClimber. With a renewed focus on high-intensity bodyweight-based training — and a return to sensible eating habits, of course — you can melt away the holiday heft, one workout at a time. And while there are plenty of ways to achieve this, the acclaimed Insanity workout DVD series stands out for a reason. Put simply, its blend of resistance training, plyometrics and cardio produces a fitness superstorm that, if weathered, leaves your body with little choice but to respond.
More than 1 million units of the Insanity DVDs — which includes the original and two Insanity: The Asylum titles — have been moved since they debuted in 2009. But what is Insanity? “It’s training that utilizes your own bodyweight to get the results you want,” says Shaun Thompson, or Shaun T, fitness expert, choreographer, host and creator of the popular Insanity training videos by Beachbody, “This type of training gives you strength and endurance in the same workout.”
Generally agreed to be the most challenging home-based workouts on the market, the grueling, interval-style routines call for various combinations of traditional bodyweight moves like squats, push-ups and sit-ups, as well as plyometrics, abdominal work and no-equipment cardio. Shaun T leads participants through moves done circuit style, usually against the clock for max reps. In that way, you determine how much you get out of each workout, especially if you’re training alone or are otherwise out of view of your instructor.
One of the hallmarks of Insanity is that it boosts athleticism by improving stamina and agility and by recruiting a greater variety of muscle fibers than traditional lifting. “Personally, I feel that this style of training provides better muscle quality because it combines power and endurance training,” Shaun T says. “You could ask a strong guy, who can bench a couple of plates, to get down and do 60 push-ups in a row, and he probably won’t be able to.”
If you’ve ever seen an Insanity infomercial, chances are you’re also familiar with its fat-fighting benefits. Doubt the on-screen testimonials if you will, but it’s hard to argue with the research. According to a study done by the American Council on Exercise, interval training can scorch about 10 calories per minute, or about 400 calories in a 40-minute session. And that doesn’t take into account the excess post-exercise oxygen consumption that accompanies interval-style training.
“I don’t really get into calories because it’s so specific to each individual, but from my experience, it’s absolutely true that your body continues to burn calories postworkout because of the way you took your body on a roller coaster during the workout,” Shaun T says. “But this type of training is not for everyone. It is high intensity. If you’re doing it at home, there’s no supervision, so it can be risky. If you don’t know how to land softly or you don’t practice the form of an exercise or if you’re uncoordinated — these are all things that can result in injury. And it’s easy to overtrain. Rest, nutrition and flexibility are very important. After 60 days [of Insanity], people should do some low-impact stuff or take some time completely off. Listen to your own body. If you ever feel like you need to take a day off, then do it. Don’t just push through to keep to some schedule.”
Still, Shaun T says, it is the challenge — and perhaps the inherent danger — that draws people to this type of training. It may be tough, but it is unquestionably effective at getting you in the best shape of your life. “I wanted to push the envelope with these programs,” he says. “I’m sick of telling people that it’s easy to lose 30 pounds; it’s not really that easy. I wanted to keep it real. You have to work hard. You have to stick to your nutrition plan. If you want to look good for summer or for your wedding, you have to do the work, effectively. Insanity is for a person who’s ready to take their body to peak physical condition. It is not for the lazy person.”
And with that, the gauntlet is thrown down.
If you’re ready to start using Insanity-style training as your own personal conditioning tool, you don’t necessarily need to “call now.” In lieu of the DVDs themselves, you just need to familiarize yourself with some key programming elements.
Exercise Selection Multi-joint bodyweight exercises are inherently more functional than vanilla weight-training moves like curls and bench presses. For this type of workout to be truly effective, you need to incorporate a wide variety of movements that require movement at multiple joints and in multiple planes.
“If you think about it, a lot of what people do when they go to the gym is linear,” Shaun T says. “If you get on a treadmill or an elliptical, you’re moving in one way. And that may work for you, and your body will be good in that way. In Insanity-style training, you’re also doing lateral movements, which end up benefiting your glutes and parts of your quads that simple linear movement might not help develop. Your shoulders will develop in a different way through the floor work. You should bring in elements of all different sports, as well. Agility training will not only help you be more agile, but it’ll tax your core from moving your body like that. Athletes will feel more athletic. But people who have never played sports will feel like they can get out there and play, too. And this all helps you get more ripped.”
Ideally, you’ll use a wide variety of push-ups, squats and plyometric moves — and combinations thereof — but more advanced routines include elements of boxing, mixed martial arts and other sports. A healthy dose of options are presented here. Mix and match at your “leisure.”
Intensity Level High. Period. You’ll work in short bursts of exercise, going at an all-out pace that you can sustain. It’s a system that closely mimics the more-familiar schemes of high-intensity interval training, which has been shown to increase metabolism and extend caloric burn well past your workout. “You have to push yourself to a place where you feel slightly uncomfortable but you can keep going,” Shaun T says. “And that pace will increase dramatically and quickly, much more so than by running on a treadmill.”
And don’t be discouraged by your early performances or your time to recovery when you first start out, Shaun T says. By pushing to such extremes each time out, you’ll find that your body has little choice but to respond in kind. Forget about “talk tests” and heart-rate monitors — pedal to the metal is the only option. “Training at a high intensity, it’s amazing how fit you feel,” he says. “Give it two weeks. It’s definitely a shock to your system. But your body is a machine, and it will get through it.”
The Setup Shaun T says a good starting point is to select two groups of four exercises, performing each for 30 seconds. You’ll go from exercise to exercise without rest, circuit style, then you’ll take a 30-second breather before doing it all again. After going through this circuit three times, you’ll tackle the next circuit with the same approach. When all is said and done, you will have completed 12 total minutes of work (not counting warm-up or stretching) with a higher potential impact on body composition than your usual Wednesday session.
“Ideally, you’ll set it up so that you’re attacking different muscle groups with each exercise,” he says. “You should definitely alternate between cardiovascular exercises where you’re on your feet and moves where you’re on the floor.” Going from a push-up to some kind of crunch is better than, say, going from a push-up to a set of shoulder-tap push-ups. This built-in micro-recovery allows you to push it to the limit on each exercise. “It ends up being eight total movements, which really isn’t much,” Shaun T says. You can add exercises and intervals as you become more conditioned, he says.
Frequency How many times per week you train depends on your experience level, current training goals and overall starting fitness level. But because total work time is relatively low, Shaun T recommends doing it up to four times per week to maximize results.
“Think about athletes,” he says. “If an athlete only trains two or three days a week, come game time, he won’t be ready to compete. So if you look at a regular person who just wants to get fitter, I wouldn’t do it less than four days per week.”
Also, don’t expect to come back strong after taking a week or more off from training. “If you do Insanity-style training and you stop for a week and start back up, it’s hell,” he says.
Weights Shaun T believes that your best results will come by devoting yourself exclusively to this type of training, but if you want to integrate it with your usual weekly split, he recommends doing Insanity — wait for it — on the same day. “Follow your normal workouts with this type of training,” Shaun T says. “Even if it’s just 12 to 15 minutes worth of training.”
We know what you’re thinking, and no, he’s not entirely out of his mind. Following traditional weight training with cardio can help you maximize fat burning. And by performing interval-style cardio — as would be the case here — you increase your chances of maintaining hard-earned muscle. This also allows for complete recovery days between gym sessions for the usual Monday-Wednesday-Friday trainer. However, if you do opt for this arrangement, don’t expect to perform quite as well in your Insanity exercises as you might if you had done it alone.
MEETING YOUR WORKOUT WARRIOR
“People who try to do this are extremely competitive and want to keep up with other people,” Shaun T says. They also take joy in surpassing their results from previous workouts.
But for all the jumps, tucks, push-ups and pain, one of the most characteristic aspects of Insanity training is what it produces. “The sense of accomplishment by people doing the work with their bodies is the payoff,” Shaun T says. “Even though it’s tough in the beginning, the reward is worth it. When people realize what they’ve done and that they did this without equipment, they’re amazed.”
Most people never get to discover their true physical capacity. And so few workouts are designed to facilitate that. Insanity-style training — whether you’re doing it in front of the television with Shaun T or out in the garage to Metallica — forces you to assume the armor of your inner warrior. Each physique-crafting interval is a test, not only of your resolve to get fitter but also of your absolute threshold for punishment. But you’re not reading this because you were looking for a shortcut. You’re reading it because you’re not afraid to work.
For more on Shaun Thompson, visit shauntfitness.com. To learn more about the Insanity Training series, visit beachbody.com.
High-intensity training is a fickle beast. While some can hard-charge into the gym and put on a show five days a week, others find that the breakneck pace of these types of workouts can be draining or even injurious. When you take the intensity up by increasing difficulty and decreasing rest, you must carefully negotiate other variables, such as workout volume (total sets and reps), frequency and duration, which Shaun Thompson accounts for in the workout plan featured here. But more important, your nutrition and rest must be carefully managed.
“A lot of people think they need to drop their carbs, but when you train this way, carbs are really your best friend,” Shaun T says. “You definitely want to choose the right kind, like sweet potatoes, oatmeal or brown rice. Just don’t ever bundle it all together in one meal, right before bedtime. If you spread your carbs out over the course of a day, your body will use them.”
They’ll also help keep brain and body functions up to speed. And because muscle breaks down at a higher rate the harder you go, protein consumption is critical. “You definitely need to have a high-protein intake,” Shaun T says. “Your muscles need the support. The majority of your nutrition should be protein.”
For a more prescriptive solution, aim for 1 gram per pound of bodyweight per day and adjust based on your results. If you find that you are sore for extended periods or that your muscles are having a hard time performing from workout to workout, try adding a few extra grams per meal to make up the difference.
Shaun T advocates three protein- and carb-rich sit-down meals and two to three snacks in between to keep metabolism high and recovery constant.
INSANITY TRAINING 101
Use these moves and guidelines to build your own high-octane, Insanity-inspired routine.
STEP 1: Choose two moves from List A and two moves from List B.
STEP 2: Perform a move from List A for 30 seconds straight, aiming to complete as many reps as possible during that time. Immediately do the same with a move from List B.
STEP 3: Continue through the circuit in this fashion until you have completed four total exercises, which amounts to two minutes of total work.
STEP 4: Rest 30 seconds, then repeat. Complete entire sequence three times total, which amounts to six minutes of work.
STEP 5: Rest 60 seconds, then repeat Steps 1 to 4 for a second group of exercises, again alternating between moves from List A and moves from List B.
NOTE: To ensure progress, add one move to each circuit and 10 seconds to each interval each week.
Cross-Jack Power Jump
Start standing with your feet hip-width apart. Jump with both feet, simultaneously crossing right over left while bringing your right arm overhead. Jump back to the start position. Next, jump with both feet, crossing left over right while bringing your left arm overhead. Jump back to the starting position. Then bend both knees and explode off the ground, bringing both knees up to the hands at about waist height.
Stand with your feet just wider than hip-width apart. Descend into a squat position with your forearms crossed and explode off the ground, bringing your feet together underneath your torso as you simultaneously swing your arms overhead. Return back down into the squat.
Begin running in place with high knees, bringing your opposite hand to touch your opposite knee. Once both knees have been tapped, rotate the knees inward to bring the heel of each foot up toward your waist and touch with the opposite hand. Alternate touching knee, knee, foot, foot.
Start in a squat position with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, arms hanging straight down and fingertips touching the ground. Jump to the right, arcing both arms overhead as you do so, and land back in the same squat position. Repeat the jump going backward, then to the left, and then forward to complete asquare.
Level 3 Drill
Start standing upright with your feet close together. Bend forward, placing your hands on the floor, and jump back into a plank. Perform 16 push-ups. On the last push-up, hold in the top position and do 16 mountain climbers (bringing your knees up toward your chest).
Start in the top of a push-up with your head in line with your spine. Keeping your feet together, jump both feet up toward the right shoulder with your knees bent and your hips down. Jump back into the center and repeat to the left, alternating sides.
Start in push-up position. Without twisting your torso, punch the right arm straight out from the right shoulder, bringing the arm parallel to the ground. Return the right hand directly under the right shoulder and repeat with the left. Alternate sides.
Wide In-and-Out Abs
Start in a push-up position, your arms wider than shoulder-width apart, feet just beyond hip-width apart. Keeping your hips low and your feet together, jump both feet to the outside of your hands and then jump back into the start position.
Start in a push-up position. Descend into a standard push-up while simultaneously jumping your feet away from each other (as you would in a standard jumping jack). Press your hands through the floor to return to the start position, jumping your feet back together.
Shoulder Tap Push-Ups
Start in the top of a push-up position. Do a standard push-up, but as you return to the start position, bring your right hand up to touch your left shoulder. Return your hand to the floor and perform another rep. This time, at the top, touch your left hand to your right shoulder. Continue alternating reps in this fashion.