Insanity and P90X are some of the most popular workout systems on the market today. Each one bills itself as the holy grail of fitness: just a few months (and $100+ later), and you’ll see changes in your body you never thought possible. We all want to learn the Secret to Getting Fit, and Insanity and P90X both want you to think they have the answers.
So how do you possibly choose between the two?
The short answer? It depends.
The slightly longer answer? Your success in either program depends on your level of fitness, your fitness goals, your overall health, your lifestyle, and a host of other factors.
The find out which system is right for you, read more…
I’ve compiled a side-by-side comparison of each of these programs that should give prospective buyers a better idea of which system will work for them.
Insanity: An Introduction
So, just what are you getting into when you purchase a program called “Insanity”? Insanity claims to get you into the best shape of your life—both in looks and ability. By the end of the program, you should have the body you’ve always dreamed of, and an increase in overall fitness that allows you to almost match professional athletes. The best part? It only takes 60 days, and you never have to step foot inside of a gym. This is great news for those who are self conscious, can’t afford a gym membership, or simply don’t feel like hauling to the gym before or after work!
The program is owned by a company called Beach Body, which produces other popular workout programs, such as Power 90, Slim in 6, Hip Hop Abs, and P90X. It’s sold by infomercial and online, costs $120, and includes a nutrition plan, a workout calendar that allows you to track your progress, and 10 workout DVDs.
P90X: An Introduction
Much like Insanity, the P90X system is an intensive home-based fitness program that claims to give you a lean, ripped body in 90 days. As I said, the P90X program is also a product of Beach Body. It’s sold by infomercial and online, costs $120, and includes a nutrition plan, a workout calendar that allows you to track your progress, a fitness guide, and 12 workout DVDs.
Fair warning: neither of these workouts are for the faint of heart.
They’re intensive, difficult, and require a lot of commitment to achieve their goals.
Getting fit the P90X way means an undertaking of workouts 6 to 7 days per week, with each workout lasting 60 to 90 minutes. Beach Body suggests that before ordering the program, you take a fitness test to determine whether you’re up for the challenge.
And like its name would suggest, Insanity is also a pretty serious program. The plan involves a brutal schedule of 6 days of exercise per week, with each workout lasting 30 to 60 minutes.
But that’s where the similarities between the two end.
In order to determine which of these intensive programs is better for your lifestyle, let’s explore each workout individually.
Insanity: The Details
Possibly the most demanding cardiovascular-based home-workout program on the market today, Insanity is a total body circuit program that uses body weight as resistance. A very low maintenance plan, the only thing Insanity workouts require is a TV, DVD player, a good pair of sneakers, and the sheer willpower to push yourself through the grueling sessions.
The Insanity system is based on traditional interval training—which requires you to exercise at an intense pace, with long periods of rest in between—but much more intense. Max interval training, as it’s called, turns this equation on its head, and has you working as hard as possible for 3 minutes, followed by a 30-second period of rest.
Are you scared yet?
During these intense intervals, you move from one exercise to another, with little to no rest in between. Insanity instructor Shaun T., who is also the creator of the program, tells you to “dig deep, and go as hard as you possibly can go!” Remember this, because with the difficulty of these workouts, you’ll need all the encouragement you can get.
For the entire 60 days of the Insanity program, your workout schedule will change on a weekly basis.
The first 30 days consists of an alternating lineup of five extreme workouts: The Fit Test; the Plyometric Cardio Circuit; the Cardio Power and Resistance; the Cardio Recovery; and the Pure Cardio workouts.
Before you run screaming, here’s the good news: in between the first 30 days and the final 30 days, you get a week to recover.
But here’s the bad news: unfortunately, for Insanity, a “recovery week” consists of a daily core cardio and balance routine, not slacking off entirely.
The recovery week is not nearly as intense as the regular workouts, and is designed to help you recover from the first half of the program. It’s also supposed to prepare your body for the second, more intense half of Insanity.
The second 30 days of Insanity increases the intensity of the routines, by introducing four new workout programs: the Max Interval Circuit; the Max Interval Plyo (short for Plyometrics); the Max Cardio Conditioning; and the Max Recovery. And, as their names suggest, they’re not easy to keep up with. These workouts are highly intense, and even longer than the group of workouts from the first half of Insanity.
“So,” you’re thinking, “now that you’ve got me shaking in my boots at The Prospect of this workout, what will I actually be doing? What could possibly be so hard? And will I survive it?”
Typically, an Insanity workout begins with a warm-up, which can be a variety of interval movements: jogging in place; jumping jacks; jumping side-to-side; and different kicking movements performed back-to-back, all of which are followed by several minutes of stretching.
The Insanity program is so intense, that as you start, it’s possible that you’ll have a hard time just keeping up with the warm-ups.
The workouts themselves are made up of specific movements, which are not very difficult to perform. Most are a variation on jumping jacks, squats, push-ups, sprinting in place, lunges, kickboxing moves, and sport-like drills.
Okay, but that doesn’t sound too bad, right?
What makes the Insanity workout so effective (and so difficult) is that the movements are basic, but the max interval training gets your heart racing (and gets you in shape so quickly!) The number of repetitions, pared with the pace of each movement means that each workout is very intense and difficult to finish.
Insanity: The Good
The Insanity workout system is a great method for those who want to lose body fat or body weight, and increase cardiovascular fitness.
The great thing about Insanity is that you can do it in the privacy of your own home, and the instructor/creator of the program, Shaun T., is an excellent motivator during the nitty gritty of each workout.
If you’re able to maintain the intense exercises, Insanity will give you a great workout. Yes, each DVD has very tough workouts, but you can always pause if it’s getting unmanageable.
Fitness buffs will especially enjoy the extreme intensity, and will love the extra motivational factor that the 60-day time limit gives them.
Insanity is also a very low-maintenance system: aside from the system itself, you do not have to purchase weights, or any other additional equipment. Everything you need for Insanity is included in the package.
This workout is plateau-proof: because there is such a wide variety of DVDs, the program can be changed on a weekly basis. Insanity always keeps you on your toes, and doesn’t let you get bored. And best of all, the workout schedule is already made up for you in the easy-to-follow calendar included with the system.
No excuses for not working out!
Finally, the “Elite Nutrition” plan included with the Insanity program is very comprehensive. The plan discusses the important role calories play in supporting an intensive workout routine. It also provides a variety of equations to help you estimate the correct amount of calories you’d need daily while doing Insanity.
Insanity: The Bad
The important thing to know about Insanity is that it’s not for beginners.The workouts are very intensive, and are designed for people who are already in fairly good shape.
While it’s true that Insanity bills itself as a quick-fix, it certainly isn’t an easy one.
This workout isn’t for anyone with health problems or orthopedic limitations. In order to succeed in the Insanity program, you must be willing and able to work hard.
Since Insanity is so difficult, it requires a lot of dedication and self-discipline. And while the fact that you can workout at home is a plus, it can also easily lead to distractions.
Another thing that’s important to know about Insanity is that it is not going to increase your muscle size, or help you gain strength.
Insanity workouts don’t use weights, and only some of the exercises involve resistance-based moves that use your body weight, like variations on push-ups and squats.
The price point for Insanity is a little steep, though it’s worth noting that it can be split into three payments. And while Beach Body does offer a 90-day money-back guarantee, if you return it, you’ll have to pay shipping costs.
Finally, the “Elite Nutrition” plan is not without limitations: while it does offer comprehensive information about calorie requirements, its actual nutritional advice is minimal, consisting primarily of healthy recipe recommendations.
Insanity: The Bottom Line
Insanity: with a name like that, what did you expect?
Make no mistake, this maximum intensity workout system will push you to your limits, both mental and physical.
This program is fantastic for achieving a lean and mean body through cardiovascular fitness.
However, it is intended for those who are already at least fairly fit.
Insanity workouts are very challenging, and you’ll need a lot of willpower and dedication to succeed.
If you’re severely unfit or out of shape, or you’re just starting an exercise program, Insanity isn’t for you quite yet. However, if you’re in decent shape and want to step up your workouts, love pushing yourself, and find the idea of swimming in a pool of your own sweat appealing, Insanity could be great for you!
If you keep yourself motivated and stick with the program, you’ll see great results.
P90X: The Details
Like Insanity, P90X workouts are based on max interval training. During each session, you move in a circuit format, going from one exercise to the next with little to no rest in between to keep your heart rate up.
Each strength DVD focuses on strengthening certain parts of your body every day: chest and back; shoulders and arms; legs and back; chest, shoulders, and triceps; back and biceps.
The other DVDs focus on plyometrics, explosive power movements, like kickboxing, cardio fitness, yoga, stretching, Kenpo, and abs/core movements.
Here’s a good example of what to expect from a “Chest & Back” workout: the session lasts 53 minutes, and works your chest muscles with variations on push-ups, such as traditional push-ups, a combination of flys and push-ups (done with the hands placed wide-set), and push-ups done with your hands close-set. It also works your back muscles with variations on pull-ups or pull-downs using resistance bands, like pull-ups and pull-downs with your hands at shoulder width, held at narrow grip, held at wide grip, and a reverse grip. You can also expect rowing exercises done with resistance bands and dumbbells.
The Plyometrics workout is even more intense than the strengthening workouts. Lasting 59 minutes, the session takes you through a long warm-up before pushing you into a cardiovascular routine. This high-impact workout focuses on your lower body using jumping moves, so you’ll need a soft landing surface, and a good pair of shock-absorbing sneakers.
And just in case you’re thinking the yoga will give you a break, think again.
P90X yoga is high-intensity, lasts 90 minutes, and is very hard—especially for those who aren’t regular practicers.
Here’s how P90X works: the program is based on something called “muscle confusion,” which aims to change up your workout schedule, constantly introducing new moves so that your body never fully adapts.
And when P90X claims that you’ll practically be able to compete with professional athletes, they’re not kidding: muscle confusion is similar to periodization techniques that athletes use to get their bodies in top notch shape. Research suggests that muscle confusion fitness programs carry greater benefits than those that don’t.
So what does this mean for you?
During the 90-day period, your weekly workout schedule changes every 3-4 weeks. The great thing about this is that you can change up your routine to get the results you want—you can focus on strength, cardio—or if you’re feeling really brave—extra-intense “doubles,” which means doubling up on your workouts for an insane two in one day.
Here’s what a classic P90X program looks like.
For 13 weeks, you alternate these three weekly routines:
Weeks 1 through 3, and weeks 9 and 11:
- Day 1: Chest & Back, Ab Ripper X
- Day 2: Plyometrics
- Day 3: Shoulders & Arms and Ab Ripper X
- Day 4: Yoga
- Day 5: Legs & Back and Ab Ripper X
- Day 6: Kenpo
- Day 7: Rest, or Stretching workout
Weeks 5 through 7, and weeks 10 and 12:
- Day 1: Chest, Shoulders, and Triceps; Ab Ripper X
- Day 2: Plyometrics
- Day 3: Back & Biceps, Ab Ripper X
- Day 4: Yoga
- Day 5: Legs & Back, Ab Ripper X
- Day 6: Kenpo
- Day 7: Rest or Stretching workout
Weeks 4, 8, and 13:
- Day 1: Yoga
- Day 2: Core Synergistics
- Day 3: Kenpo
- Day 4: Stretch
- Day 5: Core Synergistics
- Day 6: Yoga
- Day 7: Rest or Stretching workout
Like Insanity, before buying P90X, Beach Body offers a fitness tests to make sure you’ll be able to complete the program. And if you’re not up for P90X, Beach Body recommends another, less intense system, like Power 90.
P90X’s nutrition plan is very comprehensive—something that Insanity cannot claim.
The great thing about the plan is that it has three phases, and depending on your goals, you can change which one you follow:
- The first phase, called “Fat Shredder,” is a high protein diet that’s low in carbohydrates and fat.
- The second phase, called “Energy Booster,” is a more balanced diet that has a mix of protein and carbohydrates, with a small amount of fat.
- The third phase, “Endurance Maximizer,” is a high complex-carbs diet with a modest amount of complex carbs and protein, and a small amount of fat.
P90X: The Good
Here’s the thing about P90X: if you’re already pretty fit, the system is a great way to lose body fat and increase your muscle tone.
The instructor, Tony Horton, explains each exercise well (y’know, before completely destroying you…) And like Insanity, the workouts are home-based, so you don’t even have to have a gym membership. Unlike an real-live personal trainer, though, you can always pause the DVDs if the workouts are getting too tough and you need a break.
If you’re easily bored by repetitive workouts, P90X won’t let you down: since you change the workouts frequently, and switch between a variety of DVDs, this system is sure to keep you on your toes.
While P90X is a tough program, the actual exercise and nutrition plans themselves are easy to follow. The system includes booklets for workout schedules and your daily eating plan, so it’s pretty foolproof. And like Insanity, the nutrition booklet has an assortment of healthy recipes.
If you can keep up with P90X, you’ll get a fantastic workout.
And if you’ve got a competitive edge, you’ll love challenging yourself to get through the 90 days.
P90X: The Bad
Much like Insanity, P90X is not for beginners.
The system is designed for people who are already healthy and relatively fit.
The cost of the program can be a little prohibitive, especially since the strength-based nature of P90X means you’ll need to have basic resistance training equipment on-hand: a mat, a pull-up bar (and maybe a chair if you need help doing the moves at first), weights, and bands.
If you want to build muscles and get stronger, P90X might not be the best program for you. Because of the max interval circuit training and lack of traditional equipment, these workouts are better for improving muscle tone and endurance, and cardiovascular fitness.
Each circuit targets a certain body part, one right after another, which is more beneficial for a toned appearance than for increasing actual strength. And for optimal muscle development, you should rest for a minute in between sets—that way, you can continue to lift the maximum amount of weight in each set.
And while the P90X nutrition plan is comprehensive, the first two phases are virtually low-carb diets, which are controversial in the long-term. The plan isn’t designed by a registered dietician, and doesn’t follow the USDA’s Food Pyramid, so it should be taken with a grain of salt.
P90X: The Bottom Line
It sounds pretty straightforward, right?
Just follow the program for 90 days, and you’ll finally achieve the body you’ve always wanted. And in a way, it is straightforward—but if you don’t (or can’t) put in the amount of work required, it’s not as easy as it sounds.
Like I said, P90X is not for beginners. But if you’re dedicated, and can put in the necessary work to keep up with the program, you’re certain to see results.
So, after all this analysis, can you tell me which program is better?
I hate to say it again, but it depends! Both Insanity and P90X are fantastic systems, and despite some of their essential similarities, they will help you achieve very different goals. Neither program is The Secret to Getting Fit (surprise, there isn’t one Secret), but if you’re willing and able to put in the work, you’ll see some pretty incredible results in a short amount of time.