If you’ve recently seen Insanity advertised outside your local town hall or community centre, you might well have thought you were actually going mad. But this isn’t some kind of cult promoting the loss of one’s marbles, nor a therapy group hoping to relieve you of your angst.
It is, quite simply, another exercise class that, like Zumba, has become an international brand promising to make you fitter, leaner and – quite possibly – a few new friends.
This particular “Insanity Live” brand of lunacy began in 2014 when Beach Body, the company behind the Insanity home-workout DVDs, caught on to the gaps in their grand machine and began to roll out Insanity classes live in gyms, studios and halls in the United States, Canada and the UK. There are now more than 15,000 qualified Insanity Live instructors around the world, with 3,500-plus instructors trained in the UK in the first year. For those who struggled with the DVDs, this could only be a good thing, meaning a high calibre of instructors across the board and options for those coming back from injury or of lower fitness levels. I went along to a class in south-east London and enjoyed (sort of) 30 minutes of lung-bursting jumps, burpees, press-ups and on-the-spot sprints.
“The Live class is a one-stop shop where you work the whole body, so I’d recommend starting with a 30-minute class three times a week if possible,” says head of Beachbody Live for Europe, Will Brereton. “And unlike with home training via DVDs, those with any niggles or worries can come and talk to the instructor before the start of class: we can almost always provide modifications to suit everyone.”
Modified or not, any Insanity class usually involves a decent amount of sweat. All in all, I was impressed – not just by the redness of my face but also by the intensity level the instructors enabled us to maintain, while keeping the atmosphere both fun and energetic. And yet – back to the beginning – Insanity wasn’t always a collective endeavour. It was originally intended as a boxset home workout, a 60-day challenge that could deliver quite mindblowing aesthetic results. The format was simple: six very intense workouts a week, each between 30-60 minutes and involving bodyweight resistance and high-intensity cardio training, with lots of abdominal work thrown in. Transformation pictures attributed to this deranged new workout system flew like wildfire across the internet.
I was inspired, so tried, and failed, to complete the full two months. It was challenging, certainly, but also repetitious, and I am quickly bored so never quite made it all the way through. I felt the limitations of training at home as well, even when cheered on by the motivational front man Shaun T.
Firstly, while Insanity DVDs include varying workouts and insist you take one total rest day per week, it still demands a lot of your time and body; at least an hour per day of very-high-impact work, so it’s not for the injury conscious or those who don’t already have good form when exercising.
Secondly, I found it hard to remain inspired, day after day, with the same smiley faces and flawless bodies staring back at me from the screen, each of them performing the exercises perfectly, more like well-trained monkeys than real people.
Thirdly, with a DVD, there’s always the pause button, and I used mine a bit too much. That water break extended. I began to pick up the phone if it rang mid-workout. My standards slipped, until I found better ways to go mad for high-intensity exercise, like CrossFit, where others struggled alongside me during a workout.
Along the way, however, I did discover the benefits of Max Interval training, which is Insanity’s main selling point. I was reacquainted with the concept at that recent Insanity Live class in Waterloo.
Max Interval training is like the worst of all worlds (in a good way). It doesn’t just spike the heart rate for a very short time, but keeps it elevated for as long as possible before you either have to reduce the intensity or fall over half-dead.
So instead of doing burpees or squat jumps for just 20 seconds then resting for 10 seconds, as you might in off-the-Richter-scale-intense Tabata classes, Insanity requires you to go at just a little under “flat out” for 3-5 minutes at a time instead.
What’s more, the breaks between those blocks are minimal – you get time for a little sip of water, 30 seconds to catch your breath, and you’re off again.
It’s painful, yes, but it’s quick and effective, whether done at home or (my preference) in company. Just beware: Insanity is addictive and it’s a slippery slope to overtraining. But keep your head, take adequate rest, and you should sidestep the mania.
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Insanity Live classes are 30, 45 and 60-minutes long and include modifications to ensure that all fitness levels are catered for and adds the impact of working out with a group to keep you motivated and add community to the workout.
DVDs: Insanity (the original 60-day plan) and the new Insanity Max 30 (30-minute workouts) are available at beachbody.co.uk for three payments of £33 plus p&p.