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I'm a personal trainer and I could barely make it through the Insanity workout

Curious about the Insanity workouts you see on TV? The high-impact exercises are a great workout — but not for those just getting back into fitness.
The Insanity workouts are made up of intense, sweat-inducing cardio moves mixed with body-weight strength exercises.
The Insanity workouts are made up of intense, sweat-inducing cardio moves mixed with body-weight strength exercises.TODAY Illustration / Stephanie Mansour
/ Source: TMRW

With so many people working out at home during the pandemic, online fitness programs and videos have become more and more popular. Even the “oldies” like Insanity are back on people's radar.

As a personal trainer and weight-loss coach, I’ve had clients and friends try the program, but many petered out after a few days due to the intensity. I've also had many clients come to me curious about the workout: Is the Insanity workout bad for you? How long does it take to see results when following the Insanity workout?

So I decided to put the workout to the test myself.

Confession: I actually met Shaun T, the creator of Insanity, when we were on the TODAY show together a couple of years ago. Even in his everyday clothes, I could tell he was totally ripped underneath! Having met him in person, I was even more intimidated to give his workouts a try.

Cost and equipment

You can give Insanity workouts a try for free: I signed up for the 14-day free trial of BeachBody on Demand in order to access the Insanity workouts. The 12-month membership of Insanity costs $99 and gives you access to more than 1,500 online workout videos, and programs beyond just Insanity. (You can check out membership options here.)

What the workout entails

Part of what makes the workout so intense is how many days a week you will do the Insanity workout. Insanity is a 60-day program; you will work out six days a week for anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes at a time. The routines consist of weight lifting and high-intensity interval training and are known for being pretty intense. HIIT workouts have been shown to improve athletic performance, while boosting cardiovascular fitness and endurance.

After signing up for the program, I received a calendar detailing my upcoming workouts. My current exercise routine includes: playing tennis three days a week, strength training three days a week and doing yoga and Pilates routines. Being someone who is very active (and works in the fitness industry!) I was curious just how “intense” the workout would be for me. For the purpose of reviewing the program, I only tried a couple of classes, and I skipped the first workout they recommended — the “fit test” — because I really wanted to jump right into the intense workouts. However, for people really interested in doing the whole program, the “fit test” helps determine your fitness level and plays an essential role in determining the intensity of the workouts to come.

Pure Cardio

The first workout I tried was very intense. I definitely felt my heart racing and I enjoyed the upbeat start ... but my enjoyment didn’t last for very long. Before I knew it, I was jumping and kicking and shuffling side to side throughout my apartment. I was sweating within five minutes and could barely catch my breath. I really focused on big exhales to maintain my breathing.

The rest of the workout alternated between cardio and strength training. I was squat jumping and planking and doing burpees until the cows came home (at least that’s what it felt like). But the people working out behind Shaun T motivated me to keep going. Of course, Shaun T is ripped and his energy is out of this world, even while working out. But the people behind him were just as energized as he was, so I thought, “If they can do it, so can I!” I was dripping with sweat by the time we got to the cool down and stretch. I kept asking myself, “When is this going to be over?”

Like most challenging workouts, I felt really accomplished afterward. I was also thirsty! We took water breaks during the workout, but I had sweat so much that I still felt a bit dehydrated by the end.

Cardio Power and Resistance

Like a glutton for punishment, the next day I did another cardio class, but I wanted to see how it was different from the first class since it added in more resistance. We did a lot of lunges, jumping, running in place, high knees, and more cardio bursts in place. Thankfully, we had a brief rest period to stretch about halfway through.

He had us do a pushup in downward dog, which I had never done before. This basically ruined down dog for me, a pose I usually look forward to as a resting position in yoga. After doing pushups in this position, I’ll never look at downward dog the same way! We also did pushups in a squat position, which felt really weird, but really good.

My arms were burning halfway through the workout. The running mountain climbers just about killed my arms! There was a nice, long four-minute stretch at the end, for which I was grateful.

I grunted my way through the workouts, but felt like a rock star afterward!

What I liked

The program offers a well-rounded, full-body workout involving both cardio and strength training. All of the major muscle groups — abs, chest, glutes, legs, arms — are worked for an intense, yet satisfying routine. I grunted my way through the workouts, but felt like a rock star afterward!

With pre-planned workouts to follow every day at your own time, the Insanity program meets the needs of people working from home without access to the gym. And the intensity of the workout is definitely appealing to people who want to up their level of fitness from the comfort of home.

Shaun T’s instruction is phenomenal. And as a fitness instructor, that’s something that I’m very picky about. He cued the moves and cardio perfectly, and I felt confident in my form even with exercises I hadn’t performed before.

I appreciate how the Insanity program understands when and where to insert recovery stretches, water breaks and longer cool downs at the end. The stretches still worked the muscles while simultaneously offering relief to the body parts that needed it most. There are a lot of intense workout programs that fail to give its participants the break they need, but Insanity is not one of them.

What I didn’t like

I didn’t love how high-impact some of the moves were. I could have done without some of the jumping — which I slowed down so that I wouldn’t overdo it and hurt my knees, but that's something a beginner may not think to do.

Speaking of beginners, I would say that the Insanity program is not for beginners. If you haven’t worked out in a while or are just looking to get started, I wouldn’t jump right into this particular workout. I think the risk for injury is just too high. Even as a fitness professional I could barely catch my breath at certain points, so starting with something a bit more low-key would be best.

It's important to note that because of their intensity, HIIT workouts shouldn’t be performed by people with underlying conditions or injuries. Check with your health care provider before attempting the program. However, if you’ve been committed to a fitness routine and are in good physical shape, the Insanity workout may be a great way to kick things up a notch.

I would recommend this workout to:

  • People who are in good shape and want a challenge
  • Anyone looking for gym-class-level intensity at home in their living room
  • Those who want to take the guesswork out of fitness with a prescribed program
  • Anyone who wants to really push themselves and see results in a short time frame