Is the Insanity training program better than HIIT for fat loss results?
Today, I will be putting these two cardio powerhouses against each other in a bid to determine who truly is the king of the fat burning game...
And I can reveal there IS a winner between the two.
So if you've ever stumbled across those compelling late night infomercials of people in lycra with way too much excitement at the prospect of three minutes of burpees, and wondered whether it really is as great for fat loss as it claims to be, today's article was written for you!
In fact, it came about because I received this email from website subscriber Candice (become a subscriber here, so you can ask me questions), who said:
My friend constantly tells me how great her Insanity home workout program is, and the commercials are certainly persuading. But I'm more of a gym person and I just don't fancy a home workout DVD, so can you tell me if I'm making a big mistake here?"
First off, I feel for Candice..
We all know someone who has taken part in Insanity or a similar program and then lectured all of their friends on why it's the best thing ever! Right?!
Don't even get me started on the guy in your office who just took up CrossFit.
And the infomercials are really (REALLY) persuasive. I get you.
If you're sat in your underpants at 3 a.m. with a scrumpled up Galaxy wrapper and a full box of regret, hearing Shaun T and his BeachBody chums tell you that all you need to do is make three easy payments of $99 to make it all go away, it's like a ray of sunlight in a world of darkness.
(And yes I'm speaking from personal experience!)
But how effective is Insanity really?
(Once we strip away all the hype, I mean..)
Is it really as great as it claims for burning body fat and giving you the type of weight loss results they show in the before and after pictures shown in the infomercials?
Today I'll be answering this and the following hot topics:
To really compare Insanity vs HIIT, we must first address the elephant in the room.
Many people believe that Insanity and high intensity interval training are the same thing.
And in order to determine which style of training is superior for fat loss, we must first understand them.
There is one key difference between them, and once you get beyond the first 3 weeks of the program (which will generally unlock good results with either training method), the key difference becomes a crucial factor.
Let's break it down.
HIIT is a protocol which sprung to mainstream popularity in the early portion of the 2000's, although it dates back way further than this.
In fact, the earliest studies on HIIT go back as far as 1994, and was being used by sprint coaches years earlier than that. (1)
High intensity interval training revolves around manipulating your heart rate.
We do this by performing very short bursts of maximal activity exertion (10-30 seconds), before letting your heart rate return to a normal level with a recovery period.
Rinse and repeat the method for the duration of your workout. It's as simple as that.
Those short bursts of intense action serve the purpose of jacking up your heart rate as high as possible, and the combination of this high/low intensity forces the body to use carbohydrates as your primary energy source during the workout (like it would during a weightlifting session), which then creates a phenomenon known as 'The Afterburn Effect'.
This state can last up to 14 hours and places our body in a position whereby it can burn calories (specifically, fat!) at an accelerated rate. (2)
Anyone who has ever tried Insanity (or the many copycat Insanity programs it spawned after reaching success) will look at the above statements about HIIT and tell you this is not the same thing as Insanity.
Insanity is a style of training known as HISS.
As opposed to high intensity interval training, this stands for high intensity steady state.
It's the much tougher brother of low intensity steady state cardio (LISS).
I'm sure you know LISS. See all those men and women sitting on recumbent bicycles at the gym while scrolling their Instagram feed with a look on their face that says they'd rather be sucked into a black hole than finish this hour on that damn bike?
They're doing LISS.
But despite being related, HISS is much harder to do.
It's like comparing a Tyrannosaurus Rex to a seagull.
As the name of the training method suggests, HISS puts you on full steam ahead for the majority of your workout, allowing for very brief periods of recovery along the way.
It works in the opposite way to HIIT, as you'll be spending the majority of your time here going flat out, as opposed to keeping your bursts short and sweet then recovering.
Yeah, I said it.
Don't get me wrong, though. I'm not saying Insanity is ineffective.
You can get results with either, provided you work hard and stay consistent.
But in a battle to the death between Insanity vs HIIT, HIIT is the clear winner.
The results of EPOC ('The Afterburn Effect') created by a well-structured HIIT workout will eclipse those of Insanity, and provide your body with a platform for greater results than any other style of interval-based cardio.
It's that "key difference" I mentioned earlier in the article..
Boxing champion Adam Baroni during an outdoor sprint workout.
See, providing you can put the work in during training and stick to your new healthier eating plan you should see some fairly impressive results within the first 2 months of any cardio-based workout program.
The initial "shock factor" which hits your body after upheaving your lifestyle and training regularly is great, and this is the reason most home workout DVD's stick to a 4-6 week timescale.
The problems arise once that period has expired, and you are forced to progress the routine in order to stop your body from adapting.
Otherwise, results will stagnate.
Your program needs to be progressive in order to give you continuous results. (3)
HIIT is based entirely on this principle, and that's why it wins this battle.
With Insanity, your main option is to run through the program again from the first workout and there's not really anywhere else to go.
As well as the lack of progression, it's worth pointing out that it's pretty common to experience knee issues if you continually use this approach, too, due to the amount of high impact exercises involved (squats, jump squats, jump lunges, etc).
It's a nasty trap to fall into, but this is a sign of somebody who achieved fast results with the program the first time around and the kept continually re-running the plan in a bid to re-experience those early results.
In order to further drive home the point, we must look at the long-term adaptations made to either program.
We have three types of muscle fibers within the body, and they play a vital role in determining the adaptations you make form either long-term HIIT or long-term HISS performance.
Steady state cardio (regardless of the intensity) tells our body that we need to create more type 1 muscle fibers to handle all of the endurance-based work we are doing.
Interval-based cardio tells our body the opposite - create more type 2b muscle fibers to handle all of the explosive training we are doing.
Those type 2a muscle fibers are like the MVP everybody wants to sign in the draft.
They are capable of becoming additional type 1 muscle fibers for greater endurance, or additional type 2b muscle fibers for greater explosive strength.
And whichever way those crucial type 2a fibers go is crucial to the type of physique you will own.
(Granted, some lucky motherf**kers are blessed to look leaner and bigger than the norm, but I'm speaking in terms of the masses here.)
For the vast majority of men and women, this long-term adaptation will determine is the difference between looking "slim lean" and "athletic lean".
We've all seen the awful meme comparing the physique of a marathon runner versus the physique of a sprinter, right?
The results will be nowhere near as extreme as that (it's a BS meme and you're not following the extreme lifestyle of either of these competitors!), but there is certainly a difference in the type of physique you will achieve as a result of long-term HIIT or long-term steady state cardio.
Another useful thing to bear in mind here is that your results should be about fat loss (not weight loss) if you are trying to get in shape.
Your body's greatest ally in lowering your body fat percentage is to build lean muscle mass, so building those type 2b muscle fibers is the way to go!
These adaptations, alongside the wealth of scientific data confirming it's effectiveness, are why HIIT comes out on top in this battle, and why all of my clients use high intensity interval training as their go-to form of cardio when they are trying to cut body fat, retain lean muscle, and improve explosive strength output.
As I mentioned above, though, Insanity is not "useless" and the adaptations to HISS are beneficial, so they'll occasionally use programs like Insanity as a means to shake things up and give their body something different to work against for a few weeks.
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