I’m sure you’ve already seen the promotional videos. Shaun T and about fifteen athletes in a basketball gym, doing 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 in 60 days. Is this program a legitimate and serious training that is worth investing money, time and effort? Is this show real? I’m going to take a serious, earnest look at what the show entails and promise, and give you an honest assessment.
Shaun T bases his entire training theory on something he calls ‘Maximum Interval Training’. He explains that the theory involves changing the traditional theory of interval training, where people typically train intensely for a short period of time and take long breaks in between. With Max Interval Training, it makes you train intensely for long periods of time, with very short breaks in between. These circuits range in length from one minute to several minutes, with a workout that builds into a solid cardio packed for twenty minutes with no rest.
It’s important to note that Shaun T repeatedly tells you that this exercise is not for normal people. He must already be in great shape to participate, and he provides a “Fitness Test” at the beginning of the workout to help you determine if he qualifies for this level of intensity. If the physical test itself is too difficult for you to perform, it is clear that you must first do a preliminary exercise before tackling INSANITY.
Also, throughout the workouts, I was pleased to hear Shaun T repeatedly tell you to take a break if you need to, and to never sacrifice form for length. This emphasis on form and safety is incredibly important in any exercise routine that promises to deliver “extreme” results.
What is ‘Maximum Interval Training’? Even though Shaun T demands that you give your workouts your all, you clearly can’t approach them with the kind of intensity you’d go into a high-intensity interval training session where you go at a heart-stopping intensity for twenty minutes. seconds, take a ten second rest and repeat for about four or five minutes total. max.
So interval training is clearly not a real ‘high’ like HIIT is, but something one step below. I think the correct term for this type of cardio/resistance is ‘Threshold Training’.
The threshold in question can be debated. Whether it’s VO2 Max, Lactate Threshold, Anaerobic Threshold, OBLA, or Fan, the point is that you’re performing at the highest intensity you can sustain for a period of time, which in INSANITY is typically around 40 minutes.
Threshold training is used in a number of sports for professional training, such as cycling and running. The reason is that you are experiencing a huge alteration of the cellular energy state and you do it for long periods of time, which is why this type of training also tends to improve your aerobic motor, as much as anything else. In addition, you are working at a level where the generation of waste products from your muscles is high but sustainable. This adapts your body to deal with waste products more efficiently and is therefore desirable. Given the higher intensity, you also tend to see a greater generation of type II muscle fibers compared to lower intensity cardio.
So the benefits are tangible, but the downside is that working as close to your threshold as possible for forty minutes is extremely exhausting and can be downright unpleasant if you’re not in top physical condition. Where the jury is still out is whether it is advisable to work that close to the threshold for five days a week (one of the 6 INSANITY workouts each week is a recovery routine) or if it could result in overtraining.
Finally, a word of warning: if you’re not in great physical condition, you can start to put a lot of pressure on your joints. The sheer amount of cardio and plyometrics can put a lot of punishment on your knees and ankles, and so you should consider your joint strength as well as your muscle strength before you go in.
Is INSANITY training legit? Yes, but with several very important caveats. Understood as threshold training, it can deliver incredible benefits in a very short time. Your body’s ability to deal with the generation of waste products, the 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 number of calories you’ll burn. However, it is a very extreme form of training and should therefore be approached with the right mix of wisdom and caution. Be very careful with your joints and be honest about whether your body is ready. Measure your levels of fatigue and see if exercising at this level of intensity five days a week is good for your body.