Today I’m going to directly compare two popular forms of training – Insanity vs HIIT – and reveal which is better for noticeable, sustainable fat loss results.
But first, allow me to show you the reason for today’s article.
Check out this email from website member Candice (while you’re at it, become a free member yourself so you can ask future questions!):
My friend constantly tells me how great her Insanity home workout program is, but I’ve always considered myself more of a gym person. I love HIIT circuits and lifting weights, but I don’t think I could push myself very hard if I was training at home in front of the TV.
Can you tell me, am I missing out on something?”
First off, I feel for Candice…
We all know someone who’s taken part in a program like Insanity (or P90X, or CrossFit, etc) and suddenly took it upon themselves to lecture their friends on why it’s the best thing ever, right?
And those infomercials are really persuading, too.
If you’re ever sat in your underpants at 3 a.m. with a scrumpled up Galaxy wrapper and a full box of regret in your lap, hearing Shaun T and his scantily clad chums declare they can make everything better for three easy payments of $99.99 can seem like a ray of sunshine in a world of darkness.
After all, these people are f**king ripped.
They’re popping out burpees all over the place. Burpees! The devil’s exercise!
And it’s not just that. They’re actually happy about it. They’re cheering for the next round!
Are these people insane?
(Pun 100% intended.)
But how effective is Insanity once we strip away all of the hype? Is it really as impressive as the infomercials claim?
Today, I’ll be answering the two questions above, and also covering the following:
- What long-term results can you expect from Insanity?
- Is Insanity really as good as high intensity interval training (HIIT) for fat loss?
- Can you use HIIT and Insanity at the same time?
- Which style of training – Insanity or HIIT – do I use with my clients?
Insanity Vs HIIT – The Big Misunderstanding
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 better for fat loss, we must first understand them both.
There is one key difference between them, and once you get beyond the first three weeks of the program (which will generally unlock good results with either training method) this key difference becomes a crucial factor.
Let’s break it down…
HIIT is a protocol which sprung to mainstream popularity in the early 2000’s, but it dates much further back than that.
In fact, the earliest studies on HIIT were performed in 1994. (1)
Before that, it was primarily being used by sprint coaches prepping their athletes for competition.
HIIT is built entirely on the concept of manipulating your heart rate.
We do this by performing short bursts of maximal effort activity (10-30 seconds), followed by a longer recovery period to allow your heart rate to return to sub-maximal levels.
Rinse and repeat for the duration of your session.
It’s as simple as that.
But what’s going on under the surface is anything but simple. Those short bursts of explosiveness serve the purpose of jacking up your heart rate as high as possible, and the combination of this high/low approach forces our body to use carbohydrates as our primary energy source during the workout, in the same way a resistance training session would.
This goes on to create a phenomenon known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.
Better known by it’s trendy name “The Afterburn Effect”, E.P.O.C. places the body in a state of accelerated fat burning which can last up to 14 hours! (2)
In the 1994 study I briefly mentioned above, HIIT was shown to be able to burn almost 9x the calories (and more fat!) than regular cardio despite the fact that the study group doing regular cardio performed longer workouts!
So there’s a breakdown of how a HIIT workout is set up to burn calories.
Anyone who has ever tried Insanity (or any of the copycat workout systems it has spawned over the years) can look at the statements above, and tell you that Insanity is not the same as HIIT.
So what type of training is Insanity?
Well, the program bills it as Max Interval Training.
But this is also false.
Max Interval Training is a gimmick which was developed for the purpose of this training program, which allows the program’s developers (BeachBody) to hint at the idea that it’s superior to other training styles shown in rival programs.
After all, why do interval training, when you could be doing Max Interval Training?
When we look at what Insanity really is, however, it’s a training style known as HISS.
As opposed to high intensity interval training, HISS stands for high intensity steady state.
Think of HISS as the much tougher brother of low intensity steady state cardio (LISS).
I’m sure you’ve seen LISS before. See that row of women sitting on recumbent bikes at your gym, flipping through magazines while they leisurely pedal away the day? That’s LISS.
Despite being related, HISS is much harder to perform.
It’s like running past all those people on bikes and headbutting them one by one, ramping them up to level 35 in the process.
Because as the name, HISS puts you on full steam ahead (high intensity) for the majority of your workout (steady state), allowing for very brief periods of respite to catch your breath before the next bout starts.
This works in the opposite way to HIIT, which has short bursts followed by longer recovery periods.
Insanity Vs HIIT – Which Is Better For Fat Loss Results?
Yeah, I said it.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m not saying Insanity is ineffective.
You can get mighty fine results with either, providing you work hard and stay consistent.
But in a battle to the death between Insanity vs HIIT, HIIT is the clear winner.
The onset of E.P.O.C. created by a well-structured HIIT workout will eclipse those of Insanity, and provide your body with a platform for much greater results than any other style of interval-based cardio training.
It’s that key difference I mentioned a little earlier in the article.
The key difference I was talking about is progression.
You see, providing you can put the work in during training and stick to your new healthier eating plan you should expect to see some fairly impressive results within the first two months of any cardio-based workout routine.
Your body will respond very well to you overhauling your lifestyle and ditching junk food in favor or exercise and good nutrition.
But the initial “shock factor” soon wears off, though.
That’s why most home workout programs use a 4-6 week timescale.
The problems arise once that period has expired, and you are forced to progress the routine in order to prevent your body from adapting. Your program needs to be progressive in order to give you continuous results, otherwise results will stagnate. (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 to go.
People often do this, because they’re eager to see if they can re-experience those early results by re-running the entire program again. But unfortunately the body doesn’t operate like that.
As well as the lack of progression, it’s worth pointing out that the risk of injury rises significantly. Due to the sheer amount of high impact exercises involved (power squats, burpees, jump lunges, etc), ACL tears are easy to come by (caused by twisting awkwardly, such as landing a poor rep at high speed), and it’s fairly common for people to experience knee issues if they continually use this approach.
Why HIIT Wins
In order to drive home this point, we must look at the long-term adaptations made to either program.
We have three types of muscle fibers within our body, and they play a vital role in determining the adaptations you’ll make from either long-term HIIT or long-term HISS performance.
- Type 1 muscle fibers (endurance)
- Type 2a muscle fibers (MVP)
- Type 2b muscle fibers (explosive)
Steady state cardio (regardless of the intensity level) 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 the explosive training we’re doing.
Those type 2a muscle fibers are like the MVP everybody wants to sign in the draft.
They possess the unique ability of being able to transform into either additional type 1 muscle fibers for greater endurance, or additional type 2b muscle fibers for greater explosive strength output.
And whichever way those type 2a muscle fibers go is crucial to the type of physique you will own.
(Granted, some lucky motherf**kers are blessed with the ability to look leaner and bigger than “the norm”, but I’m speaking in terms of the masses here.)
For the vast majority of people, this long-term adaptation will determine the difference between looking “slim lean” and looking “athletic lean”.
We’ve all seen the awful meme comparing the body of a marathon runner to that of a sprinter, right?
Well, don’t panic.
That meme is bulls**t because it gives the impression that cardio will make you look like death. But while the results won’t be anywhere near as wild as that example (unless you are following the training protocol of a marathon runner), 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 factor to take into consideration is that your training routine should be geared around fat loss, not solely around weight loss.
If that’s the case (and it should be), your greatest ally in lowering your body fat percentage is to build lean muscle, so creating more of those explosive type 2b muscle fibers is the way to go. Plus, HIIT has already been shown to possess unique muscle-sparing capabilities. (4)
These long-term adaptations, alongside the wealth of scientific evidence documenting it’s effectiveness, are just some of the reasons why my clients base their cardio program around HIIT when they are trying to cut body fat, retain lean muscle, and improve explosive strength output.
They’ll occasionally throw in a programs like Insanity just to shake things up and give their body something different to work against for a few weeks.
If you enjoyed reading my breakdown of Insanity vs HIIT, share it. If it helped you, it’ll probably helps someone else too. Get on my email list below for more tips.
- Trembalay, A., et al. Impact Of Exercise Intensity On Body Fatness And Skeletal Muscle Metabolism. Metabolism. (1994)
- Knab, A. M., et al. A 45 Minute Vigorous Exercise Bout Increases Metabolic Rate For 14 Hours. Med Sci Sports Exerc. (2011)
- Mangine, G. T., et al. The effect of training volume and intensity on improvements in muscular strength and size in resistance-trained men. Physiol Rep. (2015)
- Wilson, J. M., et al. Concurrent Training: A Meta Analysis Examining Interference Of Aerobic And Resistance Exercise. J Str Cond Res. (2011)