Shake It Up: Commit Today To Try Something New, Even If It’s ‘Insanity’

I would follow Dr. Damian Folch to hell and back, and that may be just what I’m about to do.

I met Dr. Folch, a 58-year-old Chelmsford primary care doctor, last year when I was  reporting on a growing movement called Lifestyle Medicine. It helps doctors actively tackle their patients’ unhealthy habits, in part by sharing their own fitness experiences. Dr. Folch was walking the walk, literally, on an office treadmill, and with his low-key but warmly enthusiastic coaching, I’m sure he could inspire even a lifelong laggard to get moving. Or a middling-fit person like me to push much harder.

Dr. Folch ran his first half-marathon this fall. When I checked in with him last month, he said his latest fitness exploration was “Insanity,” a super-intense DVD workout that requires no equipment. I’d repeatedly run across used Insanity DVDs for sale on Craigslist, and figured it was some sort of scam, one of those Bowflex-style deals that make irresistible promises that you’ll get impossibly ripped.

Not at all, Dr. Folch said. Not in his experience.

But before I get to his persuasive account of Insanity, let me remind you: CommonHealth has just launched its new spring fitness initiative, under the title “Shake It Up,” and to join is exceedingly simple: Just post in the comments below your plan to try something — anything — new in the realm of exercise. Yes, you need to stick with what works for you. But healthy fitness is a lifelong journey, and research suggests that it’s best to vary our workouts. Rachel has already begun by trying trampoline aerobics, and I’m about to descend into Insanity. So what’s your plan?

Back to Dr. Folch. I interrogated him about his Insanity experience. Its concept of long intervals of exertion interspersed with short rests sounded efficient if exhausting. But wasn’t it leaving masses of injured or discouraged people? He replied:

I decided to try Insanity after I saw a program with Dr. Oz. Up to that point I thought it was too dangerous and for a younger crowd. Shawn T. presented a 15-minute workout where Dr. Oz participated and I decided to do it. It was challenging but both Dr. Oz and myself were able to finish. I was sore for a few days. This was a program designed to be done daily for 15 mins. I did that for 3 or 4 days and decided to go for the real thing. Today is the end of my second week. These are my initial impressions.

1. The program is hard but not as hard or crazy as I thought – I ran 3 miles after one of the workouts and another time I wanted to move the rest day one more day, so I did weights an extra day.

2. They tend to push you but emphasize that if you are tired, you need to rest and should take a rest. In the video, Shawn asks some of the people who are working out with him to take a rest and sends them out for a few minutes when he sees them struggling. When you talk about frustrations, whoever is going to do it needs to make peace with whatever level of participation they can do in the beginning since you are not going to be able to do what they do the first few times. I would not recommended it for people that may be at risk of heart disease unless they get a stress test first.

3. The dietary recommendations are excellent but not practical for a busy person. Eating 5 times a day and preparing their meals can be really challenging. If you eat healthy and know something about combining proteins, carbs and fats, you can do basically the same thing with less work.

4. I like the fact that you do not need any kind of equipment to work your body hard. That was one of the things that attracted me the most. It is an answer for the people that either do not have the money or do not want to join a gym.

Hmmm. Not sounding so bad. I messaged Dr. Folch that I was tempted but didn’t quite dare try it, and he replied:

Carey, you should do it. You are not competing with anybody except yourself and it is OK to pace the exercise. It is not as hard as it seems even though it is “insane”. You get tired the same way you play racketball or squash for an hour or do interval training by sprinting and walking. If you follow the instructions, you will not get injured. You can do it at home anytime you have available! Nobody is keeping score. It will transform your body and your psyche – as Shaun T says “YOU CAN DO IT!” Give it a shot, you will not be disappointed and after a few weeks, will feel amazing.

Dr. Folch finished his own spell of Insanity last week, and says that while his weight has stayed the same, his body fat went down from 19.5% to 15%. He didn’t lift weights for those two months, but found his strength lost no ground.

It has been incredibly powerful. My core is like a rock, my body has “shifted” – not sure what word to use – since my weight is the same but my body fat is down 5%. I can see that my shoulders, torso in general, and abs in particular are a lot more defined. Actually my whole body, since my legs are also. My wife says I am more agile. The second month is brutal. I am still not able to do all the exercises at the pace he wants us to do it but I can see that a lot of people on his team have to take a rest also…

One of the marvelous things about Insanity is that I can do a full workout in my little office without any equipment, just my computer to put in the DVD. I think that is a big plus. Tight space and no equipment – no problem.

So what could be bad? Well, actually, I know what could be bad: Injuries. Wicked soreness. Feelings of incompetence and pathetic weakness. But life is dull and entropy ultimately triumphs if you stay in your comfort zone. And I’ll just keep reminding myself that this is not high school gym or the army. I’m a grown-up now, and I call my own shots — especially when the instructor is on a DVD and can’t even see me. Please stay tuned. And please do share your own plan for a fitness novelty in the space below. What’s the exercise you’ve long meant to add to your routine? Please stay tuned for more suggestions in the weeks to come.

Dr. Damian Folch runs his first half-marathon this fall

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