shake it up


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

Shake It Up: Nia, A Fusion Of Dance, Kicks And Spirit-Stirring

I used to be a dancer. And sometimes, when I dance around the living room with my kids, I miss my younger dancer life deeply. So when a friend encouraged me to try Nia, a dance-y, “fusion” fitness class that draws on Tai Chi, Tae Kwon Do, Aikido, jazz, modern dance, yoga, Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais, it appealed to my inner Martha Graham.

At moments during the class I took last week — as the sun poured in the mirrored studio, and a Kate Bush-like song called “Japanese” urged me to connect with the sunrise — I did feel like a groovy dancer again. I got caught up in the easy flow and rhythmic momentum that I never, ever get plodding along the jogging path or, even worse, on the Stairmaster at the gym. And it seemed like all the other middle-aged women — from chubby to highly sculpted — who came to this class in Wellesley felt pretty groovy too.

Nia was started in 1982 by former aerobics teacher Debbie Rosas and her partner Carlos AyaRosas who yearned for a more holistic, fun and barefoot practice that would soar above the “feel the burn” gestalt of the era. Each rhythmic, flowy routine (they have names like Opal, Passion, Butterfly, Sanjana, Girls Night Out) has a specific focus, for instance listening to the music, or honing in on a certain body part — my class was about hands “the messengers of the soul” as the instructor said. The sequences started off modestly with head movements and arm undulations, then came “tail” rotations and more and soon we were gliding across the floor, doing an eclectic mix of turns, karate kicks, Sumo stances, shimmies, swimming arms and body dips. After a few missteps, the movements became fluid and suddenly I remembered how powerfully expressive a body can be. “Use pleasure as your guide,” urged another instructor.

The traveling sequences evolved into “free dance” — a time to roam around the room, experiment with twisty arms and sashays and infuse a bit of personal interpretation into the mix. The cool down included floor play, where you kind of crawl and roll around the ground. And in our class at least, there were movements that involved caressing your own legs and body. Kind of nice on a Friday morning at 10 am.

Nia definitely has an Inner Goddess, self-love vibe to it. And frankly, at first it struck me as slightly crunchy and contrived (I’m a New Yorker; Inner Goddess is tough for me). But after a while I thought: here’s a room full of imperfect, grown-up women dancing their hearts out. From that perspective, it’s pretty cool.

Nia doesn’t promise toned abs or burning 500 calories in a 60-minute class. Its aspirations are higher: “cardiovascular and whole body conditioning for your body, mind and spirit,” according to the promotional materials. Not to mention “body awareness, holistic fitness, personal growth and lifestyle benefits.”

In the end, Nia is neither pure dance nor pure rote exercise class. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Shake It Up: Trampoline Aerobics, And The Old-Fashioned Thrill Of Jumping High

I love routine. I eat the same breakfast everyday, and relish my trips every summer to the same cottage in Wellfleet I’ve been to for over 40 years.

Exercise is no different. Since I’ve had kids, it’s basically running and yoga, and for me, it’s the perfect regimen. (I’m going to my 30th high school reunion this month thinner than I was in high school. ‘Nuff said.) Still, I’m aware in some abstract sense that a little change, sometimes, is good.

Trampoline aerobics have been on my mind for over a year. I kept meaning to check out the classes at SkyZone, an indoor trampoline park in Boston but have conveniently found one excuse after another not to go (it’s a schlep, it’s not Zen, it’s risky, etc.)

Yesterday though, I did something different. Pushed by our new Shake It Up series, and the prevailing exercise wisdom that trying something outside your comfort zone forces your body and mind to stretch in healthy ways, I ventured to Hyde Park, to experience SkyRobics, which is basically an aerobics class on a trampoline.

Jumping, it turns out, is really, really fun.

Continue reading

Why To Exercise Today And Onward: Time To Shake It Up


It’s that time again. The light lasts longer, the flowers are out, and your body is saying, “I can do more! Just try me!”

Last spring, we at CommonHealth launched a 3-month, get-healthier project called FreshStart, and quite a few people said it helped them set smart goals and work toward them. (Check it out here, reading oldest to newest.)

This year, we want to try something new: Trying something new. That is, in terms of exercise. One staple of fitness advice is to find what works for you and stick with it. But it’s not a contradiction to say that we also need to shake it up. So that’s the theme for this spring: Shake It Up. Try something new. Not necessarily brand new to the world, just new for you. And let us know how it goes.

‘All programs suffer from diminishing returns after a few years.’

As I write this, Rachel is off on a Shake It Up mission at an exotic exercise locale — she’ll report in tomorrow. Your own mission, should you choose to accept it, is to think about trying at least one new form of exercise — or more. Tomorrow, we’ll ask for your plan, and later on we’ll ask you how it went. We’ll report on fun new exercise innovations; share gory details of our own experiments; and hope you’ll share your own adventures back.

For inspiration, please consider this passage from the excellent recent book on exercise science by physicist Alex Hutchinson, “Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights?” In its final chapter, it offers three conclusions: Do something rather than nothing Figure out your goals and monitor your progress. And last but not least:

• Try something new. Whenever researchers line up two or more exercise techniques against each other, the conclusion is almost never “A is better than B” or “A and B are the same.” Instead it’s “A has these strengths and weaknesses, and B has these other strengths and weaknesses.” Moreover, all programs suffer from diminishing returns after a few years — if you always bike at the same pace and do the same five strength exercises, your improvements will be measured in a fraction of a percent. Trying something new every now and then will force your body to adapt in new ways, and keep you mentally fresh.