Friday, June 4, 2010

Journey to Insanity

Insanity... maybe you've seen the infomericial.  It's more likely you've heard of P90X.  Both are extreme workout programs that promise amazing results.  Insanity says they'll give you a new body in 60 days.  P90X says they'll give you one in 90.  I saw the infomercials for both and decided that maybe I'd give one of them a shot.  I'm skeptical of all infomercials that makes claims that are too good to be true. But, I thought if I get even half the results they promise, it'll be money well spent.  When deciding whether to get Insanity or P90X, I ended up making the decision to get Insanity because I thought it was less of a commitment.  It doesn't require any equipment (dumbbells or chin up bar) and it's only a 60 day program. I would later find out that of all of the crazy workout programs BeachBody ( has released, Insanity is actually the most intense and probably requires the greatest commitment.   The workouts are fairly short in the first month (30-45 minutes).  But, in the second month with combinations, they go up to as long as 90 minutes. The workouts are the most
intense thing I've ever done by a mile, including any classes I've taken at a gym or working with a trainer or whatever.  And, in doing my extensive research on the program (after I bought it), I heard
from person after person who had been through military training or intense sports training saying it is crazier than anything they've ever done before (well except for my friend's son who went through Navy Seal Training).

I was 48 years old when I decided to order Insanity.  I finished at 49 years old.  I felt I was in pretty decent shape.  Not great.  But, not too bad. Like a lot of people I put on weight over the holidays.  Early in 2009 year through diet and exercise, I had taken off the extra 10-15 pounds beer and a sedentary lifestyle had added to my body.  I hit my stationary bike, cut out the excess alcohol, ate right and within a couple of months was back down to close to the weight I wanted to be. I joined the gym in November 2009.  But, I've never been a gym kind of guy.  I went a few times and did what a lot of do who join gyms.  I went a few times.  Took a spinning class here and there.  Hit the weights a bit.  Messed around on the machines.  But, with no real "program" to follow results from the gym have never been fantastic for me.  I've been a member of a gym on and off for 25 years.  I find I go for a while and then always fade to the point where I realize I haven't been in months and drop the membership. The results from the gym have always been "so-so" at best.  I did better when I had a bench and weights at home.  But, that's been over 13 years ago.  Over the holidays of 2009, I put back on all the weight I had lost earlier in the year.  I found myself up to 203 at the beginning of the year.   At 6'2" that was more than I wanted to weigh, particularly since the weight was not in the places I wanted it to be.  Most of it was hanging around my waist like a spare tire.  So, in the course of a couple of months,  I recommitted to the exercise bike (like I had done the year before) and took off about five or six pounds.  I was 197 when I started Insanity on April 5, 2010. 

Day 1 with Insanity

When I got the Insanity program, I read through the materials with all the warnings about "Don't do this if yo have a heart condition, bad knees, bad shoulders, etc., etc.". and the "No, we really mean
it".  I thought "Great marketing hype".  I really appeals to people who want to feel they can do something other people can't do (me).  Well, when I put in the first DVD and started the Fitness Test, I realized this was no marketing hype and no joke.  The warm up for Insanity is about 10 minutes and it will "kick your butt".  The Fit Test consists of eight exercises where you do as many reps as you can in a minute.  I got through the Fit Test OK.   But, my results were nothing like the two "machines" Shaun T. (your trainer for Insanity) had doing the program with him. After taking the test for the next several times my results improved dramatically (much more than I would ever have imagined- see
results section below).

The next day I actually tried an Insanity workout I thought "Uh oh.  I think I made a mistake ordering this program".  The exercises themselves were difficult enough.  But, the pace is what kills you. Even during the non-cardio days of the program, everything is done at a frantic pace. I decided to stick with the program.  But, I had to swallow my ego.  I found myself trying to keep up with Shaun T. and the
people on the video.  No way.  I finally figured out that Insanity is designed to push you to your point of exhaustion.  Everyone's point will be a little different.  But, you will hit it while doing Insanity.  I realized the point was not to keep up with them but to do my personal best and to push that limit a little
more every time I did a workout.  One of the great things about Insanity is that if you're not realizing that you're getting better from the workouts themselves, you will see it when you take the Fit Tests.  Since you're exhausting yourself every time through the program it never really feels like it's getting easy or even easier.

Insanity Month 1

The first few days of doing Insanity I was sore ALL OVER.  My calves, my feet, my quads, my hamstrings, my abs, my shoulders, my upper and lower back and my triceps.  Insanity pretty much hits
your entire body.  You are working out body parts you don't even realize you are working at the time.  The soreness was the good kind of soreness for the most part.  The only problem I experienced in Month 1 was sore knees.  First my right knee swelled up.  This was sometime during week one.  Then, my left knee swelled during week 2-3.  The swelling was manageable by icing my knees.  I also bought some compression braces (not sure if those helped or hurt). I did not experience pain while working out.  My self-diagnosis is the pain is in the tendons around the knee and may have been caused by improper form on the lunges in the first few weeks. The pain did not get worse during my 9 weeks of Insanity.  It would be better on some days than others.  But, it never got unbearable to the point where I couldn't finish my workouts.

I got on the scale a couple of times during the first couple of weeks.  I'd be down a pound or two or the same.  After the second week, I did a lot of reading of what results people were getting during the early part of the program.  While some people saw weight loss almost immediately, it seems most people did not.  I'm sure it depends a lot on what you actually need to lose in terms of fat.  If you have a lot of excess weight, I think it comes off more quickly.  While you are doing Insanity you've got two competing things going on.  You are burning body fat.  But, you're putting on muscle.  Some people actually gain weight during the first couple of weeks of the program.  The advice is overwhelming to just keep "pushing Play".  I saw very few people who completed the program and were not happy with the results.  I say stay off of the scales during the program.  If you feel you need to measure your progress there are three ways I'd recomomend.  The first is take pictures of yourself before you start and refer to those pictures.   The second is to pay attention to the way your clothes fit.  The third is to take measurements of your waist, chest, arms, thighs, etc.  I did the pictures.  But, I did not take measurements. The only area I was interested in reducing was my waist and I can easily measure that by the way my pants fit.  No need for a tape measure.

My results for Month 1 were acceptable.  Looking in the mirror I saw some increased definition in my abs and I could tell the love handles were going away.  There was also more definition in my chest and arms.  But, the results in the mirror were not dramatic by any means in the first 30 days.  My pants started fitting looser, also. But, the best measures of my progress was my heart rate during the workouts was not getting as high and was dropping faster when I rested.  And, I made some pretty impressive (to me) gains on the Fit Tests. I made progress with the work outs themselves. They started being something I could barely get through; I actually quit one workout with about 15 minutes
to go during the first or second week.  I was just done and saw no point in watching the rest of the DVD while I sucked air sitting on the couch.  By the end of the month, I was completing the workouts easily.

Now this does not mean I got through the workouts without stopping.  But, I got through them without pressing Pause (which I did a few times in the first weeks) and I got all the way through them.  The DVDs instruct you to take breaks when needed and I did. But, the breaks became shorter and shorter and I took fewer of them.

Recovery Week

After the first week of the craziness, you are blessed with what Shaun T. calls a "Recovery Week".  Don't let the name fool you. While you're not beating your body up the way you do during the first month there is still plenty of opportunity to get your heart rate up and to work your muscles. The cardio is less intense and there is not as much jumping around. The recovery week gives you just enough of a break to feel like you can actually make it another four weeks. 

Month 2

Month  1 is spent working up to Month 2 where the idea is you do "Max Interval" training.  That is you go as hard as you possibly can for three minutes (doesn't sound like much? wait 'til you're in it).
After that three minutes, you get a 30 second break where your heart rate should come back down. As soon as it does, you're off for the next three minutes.  During the first workout of Month 2 I felt like I
was right back where I was the first week of Month 1. Lost and all alone.  When Month 1 was
over I thought "Hmmm.... I don't know if I'm ready for Month 2."  I had definitely gotten better.  But, I still couldn't make it through the DVDs without breaks (no one can- BTW.  The fitness freaks doing the video with Shaun T. can't make it through the routines).  I caught some of their occupations while doing the routines- fitness instructor, spinning instructor, one guy runs marathons.  This becomes more apparent in Month 2 when even the evil inventor of the program (Shaun T.) takes breaks.  Poor Akeel
drops out routinely and Shaun T. takes special notice to torture him during one of the tougher workouts alternately telling the guy to dig deeper and "take a break if you need a break".  Finally, Akeel
succumbs "I need a break!".  New, more advanced moves are introduced in Month 2.  It's a good thing my daughter was in the room the first day I did Max Interval Circuit (after taking a Fit Test the same day).  Otherwise, I would have cussed Shaun T. out good.  As it was Shaun T. got a lot of "You can't be serious." from me.  The length of the routines is kicked up and the intensity is kicked up at the same time.  I felt like I must have skipped the middle part of the program that was supposed to take me from the introductory level up to the advanced level of Month 2.  During Month 2, the body changes accelerated.  The weight loss I had was mostly in Month 2. But, since I stayed off of the scale from week 2 to the end, I don't know exactly how the 9 pounds I lost were spread out through the 60 days.   I didn't think my Fit Test results would continue to improve because I felt like I had pretty much pushed to my limits already. But, I was wrong.  The Fit Test results continued to


Insanity comes along with a very detailed diet plan that allows you to calculate how man calories you'll need based on your age, weight, sex, height and current weight.  It takes into account the level of
activity you'll be doing with Insanity and suggests shooting for a 500 calorie deficit which will allow you to lose a pound a week. All of these thigns are approximate.  One thing that is annoying about
trying to lose weight is everything I've been reading has said if you eat too few calories, you'll impede your weight loss.  That's right.  Too many calories will cause you to gain weight. But, too few calories and your body reacts to the idea that it thinks you're trying to starve it by reducing your metabolism so you burn fewer calories.  I'm not much for special diets.  They are way too much work. What I did during my time on Insanity was to double my normal efforts of eating healthy.  I cut out all alcohol with the exceptions of maybe a couple of glasses of wine at a party or a happy hour here and there.  I watched calories as much as practical.  One way I found that makes it easy to control my calorie intake is to eat a Lean Cuisine, Kashi or Healthy Choice meal for lunch.  I made sure to eat every few hours never going more than three hours or so without a small snack to keep my metabolism revved up.  For the first couple of weeks I tracked my calories using (I highly recommend that site).  I found that when I ate healthy it was difficult to get up to the recommended 2,500+ calories recommended for me.  I made my own fruit smoothies using protein powder (Muscle Millk from Costco), soy milk or fruit juice, bananas, frozen strawberries and frozen blueberries. I avoided added sugar foregoing cookies, ice cream, cake, etc.   I'm a chocoholic (and chocolate is good for the
heart).  So, to satisfy my chocolate craving, I buy small pieces of dark chocolate bagged and individually wrapped.  I would allow myself a couple of pieces a day and incorporate those calories into my overall plan for the day.

I may have gotten better results using the recommended diet. But, I didn't find that practical when eating in a family setting.  The way I ate during Insanity is a way I can pretty much sustain when I'm
done with the program.  I have to allow myself some "cheat days" because good food and a little alcohol in social settings is an big part of enjoying life for me. I made sure I ate "clean" at least six days a week while on Insanity.

The Good and the Bad About Insanity

First the bad about Insanity.  It's definitely not for every one.  If you're not willing to push yourself you're not going to get results. But, that's true of any exercise program.  A friend of mine when
he found out I was doing Insanity said "He (Shaun T.) can't make you do what he says.  Why are you putting yourself through that?"  No Shaun T. can't.  But, I broadcast it to the entire world (Facebook and on the BeachBody website) that I had begun this program and I snapped those "before" pictures.  Every day I thought about the fact that I was a day closer to having to snap the "after" pictures.  And I knew if I quit everyone would know.   Those things helped keep me motivated.

Insanity involves a lot of plyometrics (jumping around and explosive moves) that are hard on your
joints.  Starting the program at 48 years old may not have been the wisest decision I ever made.  I had zero knee problems before Insanity and both my knees were sore during most of the 9 weeks.
I also felt an old shoulder injury start to flare up just a bit in the last two weeks.  My heel got a little sore at one point.  And, in the last couple of days, my left hip has hurt just a bit.  Nothing unbearable.  But, after 60 days, the old body's saying "Maybe it's time for a little break".

Another thing about Insanity is because they are trying to get results so quickly the program involves working out six days out of seven for nine weeks. There are days they call recovery days and even a
recovery week. But, recovery is a relative term. Month Two you start combining workouts more and you actually work out on your Fit Test days.  I have about 1/3 of an acre lot which I mow by hand which is a little workout itself (and the grass didn't stop growing during Insanity). So, I ended up doing a lot of doubles the second month.  I stopped riding my stationary bike during the program.  This is a grueling schedule both mentally and physically.  My legs have been in varying stages of soreness for the last 9 weeks- not just the kees, the calves and at times my thighs have felt rock hard the day after a quadricep intense workout. 

Insanity is not a primarily a body building program.  You probably won't pack on a lot of muscle doing Insanity. If you're a guy looking to beef up, Insanity is not the program for you.  Without a chin up bar and bands there is only so much you can do for your biceps and back.  There was almost no bicep work.  The first month I complained there was not enough upper body work (I stopped that complaint during the second month when we did every kind of push up known to man).    You will put on some muscle doing Insanity and muscle is more dense than fat.

Insanity is not primarily a weight loss program. While you're peeling off the goo, if you've haven't done any strength training (like me) in a long time, you're likely to be putting on muscle at what could
be a comparable rate.  If you like to watch the scale for results it's likely you'll get discouraged in the first weeks.  I joined a support group to get through Insanity (on the BeachBody message boards).  The group was mostly women and a lot of them had a hard time not watching the scales during the program.  I had set a goal (arbitrarily) to take off 12-15 pounds.  After completing Insanity
I realized that goal was way too high.  Taking off the 9 pounds that I did was probably about right.

Now the good about Insanity.  Insanity will improve your cardiovascular endurance.  Also the plyometrics will probably improve your speed, ability to jump and other sports related skills.  You'll probably improve your flexibility and balance also.   There is a lot of stretching in Insanity and a fair amount of balance moves. If you're looking to improve your overall fitness, Insanity is great. Personally I couldn't care less about the plyometrics (speed and quickness moves) and I think those are probably responsible for majority of my joint (knee) problems during Insanity. 

Another thing I love about Insanity and the BeachBody programs in general is they don't involve any (or much) equipment and you don't need a gym membership to get great results.  I find when I go to
the gym I don't know exactly what to do to maximize my results for the time spent there.  I found myself thinking about hiring a trainer to help me develop a program. Well, for less than $150 I had a trainer in my home every day telling me exactly what to do, how to do it and pacing me.  Shaun T. is a great trainer, just the right mix of cheerleader and drill sergeant.  Watching the guys in the video
gave me a goal to shoot for everyday (getting my body to look like theirs). I had people doing the workouts along with me to keep me motivated to keep up.  I got a wall calendar to check off my
workouts and knew if I skipped a day, I wouldn't get that check mark.  For me, it's not about knowing just the moves to make to get fit. But, having the pacing and the schedule planned out for me made my workouts extremely efficient.  I knew from the time I pushed "Play" to the time I pushed "Stop" I'd be getting maximum results from every second.  I'm really busy and I hate the time wasted driving back and forth to the gym and the time spent at the gym trying to decide what to do next and getting from here to there.  With Insanity, I get my cardio and my strength training at the same time and I'm not piddling around between exercises.


During the 9 weeks of Insanity I lost about 9 pounds.  Not bad.  But, certainly not dramatic over 9 weeks.  The experts say when you're trying to lose weight you should aim for a pound or two a week.  I was on the low end of that number in terms of pure weight loss.  But, while I didn't take body fat measurements, I am certain that I put on muscle mass during the time I was doing Insanity.  I would guess I lost maybe up to twice that amount of fat and ended up putting on some of the weight in muscle.  I went to the doctor about two weeks into Insanity and told her what I was doing.  After she got done telling me how crazy I was to be trying Insanity at my age, she told me that I really didn't need to lose any weight.  She said maybe about 5 pounds from where I was at the the time.  Ideal weight charts are all over the place telling me I should weigh anywhere between 160 pounds (ridiculously skinny for someone my height) and 195 pounds.  My doctor told me if I was going to do Insanity to do it for my heart, not to lose weight.  I decided that, if at the end of Insanity my clothes fit the way I liked and I liked the way I looked I would accept that as my "ideal weight".   I completed
Insanity at 187.8 pounds (again I started at 197).   My waist size has gone from being pretty
snug in 34s to my 33s are now loose and I've got a pair of 32s that are really comfy.  I'd say I lost about 2 inches off of my waist.

Here are my Fit Test Results:

Each exercise is as many as you can get done in a minute. Everyone does them a little differently.  So to compare yours to someone else's might not make the most sense.  If your form is consistent from week to week you can compare your own numbers to see how you are improving.

fit test results

Per Cent Improvement













Up Jacks


Low Plank Obliques


A picture is worth 1,000 words.

I don't know how well you can see it in the pictures.  I don't have great lighting in my bathroom. But, I've got abdominal definition showing through, I've trimmed off a lot of the love handles, my deltoids and trapezius muscles are improved, my chest is more defined, my triceps are more defined and I see improvement in my lats.  My wife told me my calves are more defined. 

before and after

insanity before and after

insanity before and after

insanity after

Overall Impression and What's Next

Some people have had amazing transformations in the 60 days of Insanity.   In some ways I would call my results amazing.  The fit test results are definitely amazing. The strength improvement in my abs I couldn't believe. The first time I tried the Cardio Abs workout, I could barely do the exercises.  My abs were so weak I felt like I got almost nothing out of it because I simply could not do the exercises as they were designed.  But, by the last time I did it, I was able to keep up with the people in the video.  I'm not 100% where I want to be.  But, I think maybe I'm 30 days away.  The other BeachBody
programs I've looked at are 90 days and a lot of the results come in those last 30 days.   I'm not sure why they decided to make Insanity a 60 day program.  My guess is because it's so intense you need a
break after 60 days of doing it.  About two weeks out from finishing the program, I found some old pictures of me from 20 years ago back when I was more active and was lifting weights regularly. I think my body is actually better now than it was then.  My abs are better now than they were then.
Compared to where I was 60 days ago, the outside transformation is pretty big- not as big as I had hoped. But, as big as I expected.  I took these pictures two days before I actually finished the program and since then I've lost another pound and the abs may be a teeny, weeny bit more defined.   I feel stronger in my "core".  I don't have that six pack (it's just starting to peek through) or the really ripped look.  I'm no Shaun T.  But, at the end of Insanity, I can say  am ready for more.  I have P90X and will start it after a break of a week.  And, I have plans to see Shaun T. again in September.

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Anonymous said...

Brian, great pics! Like the journal. I'm going to do something similar for my wifes wellness practice. I think your results are about like mine. I'll make sure you can see me in a week or two!!


Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

Thanks for the writeup, Brian. At my current weight and fitness level, Insanity would be too much for me. I do have the Power90 series, which is kind of P90X's little brother, but I never started it. One thing I did find for Power90 was a great online support community with lots of people posting their progress and building each other up.

kc bob said...

Not sure why this did not show up on my reader sooner.. feel like I am late to the game.. that said.. all I can say is:

WOW!! Congratulations Brian. You are looking great! WOW!!

I am going to bookmark this one and reread it after my move. Maybe my new downtown surroundings will motivate me a bit to get fit.

Ross said...


I'm almost at the end of my first month, and loving it. It's incredible how fast it works too.

Great job getting through it, congratulations.

danielle said...

one word: DAMN!!!!! you look great in those after pics--can't believe you only lost 9 pounds. probably lost more fat and just gained lbs of muscle, cause you look amazing! I just bought insanity for myself and am startin tomorrow. thanks for the blog--I can see it'll be worth the burn :)

Brian said...

Thanks, Danielle. Yeah. I think I lost a lot more than 9 pounds of fat. But, there's no doubt I put on muscle. I stopped worrying about the scale a couple of weeks in.

Insanity is as tough as they say it is. But, it's worth getting through. I hope it goes great for you.

Unknown said...

I am going to bookmark this one and reread it after my move. Maybe my new downtown surroundings will motivate me a bit to get fit.

Buy P90X