insanity workout


Control: Why We Get Sucked Into Insanity (And Other Intense Workout Programs)

My insanity workout in my recycling bin, waiting for regifting (Carey Goldberg/WBUR)

“Insanity” workout in the recycling bin, waiting for regifting (Carey Goldberg/WBUR)

Veronica Thomas
CommonHealth intern

It’s time to come clean: Like my colleague, Carey, I too am an “Insanity” dropout.

Some people may say we’re weak or wimpy or quitters—in fact, many commenters declare just that—but a new study suggests that we fell into a very common marketing trap. We were bored by the same old exercises and hungry for something new—something intense. What we didn’t realize was that we might well be looking to intensity as a way to reassert control.

The new study, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, found that when a person’s sense of control is jeopardized, they are more likely to buy products that require hard work.

And man, are those workout programs hard. My first time trying Insanity—a high-intensity interval training program—I thought the 9-minute warmup was the actual workout. But Sean T, my glistening TV trainer, encouraged me to dig deeper. While simultaneously cursing his existence, I also managed to convince myself that somewhere deep, deep inside me I did have the strength to finish.

Turns out, my need to complete the workout every day for a month may have been about something more than just a boost to my usual fitness routine. According to the study, I may have been using ski jumps and burpees to regain some sense of control over my life.

From the press release:

“Intuitively, it would seem that feeling a loss of control might cause consumers to seek out a product that does NOT require them to exert very much effort. But we find that consumers actually look to products that require hard work to restore their belief that they can drive their own positive outcomes,” write authors Keisha M. Cutright (Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania) and Adriana Samper (Arizona State University).

By looking across five smaller studies, the authors assessed how people’s feelings of control over health or fitness influenced their selection of products demanding either high or low effort. Those who felt a low sense of control were likelier to choose tougher programs and mantras. For instance, one study found that basketball players just defeated in a game were more likely to purchase shoes with the tagline, “Work harder, Jump higher.” Continue reading

The Checkup: Flunking The Insanity Workout But Coming Away Wiser

It’s getting embarrassing. Week after week, month after month, this post — Flunking The Insanity Workout But Coming Away Wiser — tends to top the WBUR Web traffic stats.

It’s no mystery why: The inescapable Insanity infomercials continue to populate the late-night TV airwaves, and viewers tantalized by their amazing before-and-after photos, and the charismatic energy of trainer Shaun T., proceed to google “Insanity workout” to try to discern whether the set of DVDs is really worth more than $140. And there, on the first Google search page, is our CommonHealth post, and the lively, long, occasionally rough exchange of pro-and-con comments that follow.

The CheckupThis week, The Checkup, our podcast on Slate, revisits the Insanity workout, with a brief recap of Carey’s sad tale of flunking it and additional wisdom from experts. In particular, we spoke with Dr. John Richmond, chair of orthopedics at New England Baptist Hospital, which specializes in orthopedics. The original post mentions fear of injury, but Dr. Richmond delves into the nitty-gritty of which particular moves are most dangerous, particularly for older exercisers.

And for an added dose of sanity, the podcast also features Dr. Eddie Phillips, director of the Institute of Lifestyle Medicine, and his data-driven depiction of the overwhelming health benefits of exercise — even in far lower doses than you might expect.

(To listen to The Checkup now, click on the arrow above; to download and listen later, press Download; and to get it through iTunes click here.)

Below, a full transcript of Dr. Richmond, lightly edited:

CG: So I hear that orthopedic specialists are often very grateful to workouts like Insanity because they send you a lot of customers. Is that true?

JR: It definitely drives business. There’s no question that there are a number of people that end up in offices and actually, ultimately in operating rooms because they’ve torn things or worn things out by doing over-aggressive exercise.

So what would be your top tips of what to avoid?

There’s a couple. One that we see a lot of is lunges, or deep-knee bends, deep squats . . . Continue reading

Flunking The Insanity Workout But Coming Away Wiser

(Update: Listen to our new podcast with more info on the Insanity workout here.)

My Insanity set in my recycling bin, waiting for re-gifting (Carey Goldberg/WBUR)

“Dig deeper!” Shaun T goaded me, and dig I did. “You can do it!” He assured me, and mostly, to my own surprise, I could. “Don’t give up!” he hounded me. So I didn’t — at first.

In the end, all his exhortations, all his gleaming and dripping muscles, all his tough-guy-heart-of-gold coaching couldn’t alter the fact that the Insanity workout was wrong, wrong, wrong for me.

Still, I came away wiser.

If you haven’t heard of Insanity, you must live on a planet without informercials. It has one of the most persuasive pitches out there, and its YouTube trailers get millions of views. (The one below is at nearly 4 million.)

It is Amazon’s most popular exercise video and most popular DVD overall — no small feat when the listed price is $144.80.

Insanity Workout trailer

Here’s the basic concept: Try harder. To wit: Typical “interval training” involves several minutes of moderate intensity and then a minute or so of high-intensity push — a sprint, if you will. The Insanity workout flips that formula, so that you do longer high-intensity intervals and then have relatively short rests.

That approach struck me as meshing well with a wave of recent research findings that shorter, very vigorous workouts can provide surprisingly strong health benefits. And, as I wrote when I embarked on my Insanity, I was inspired by a 58-year-old doctor I deeply respect, who reported that the program was certainly intense but did not have to be truly insane. He ended up with lower body fat and feeling great.

So I took the plunge — well, a discounted plunge. I found a set on Craigslist for just $60, and met the seller in front of a pizza restaurant for a transaction that felt oddly illicit. Continue reading