In a gym battle for the ages, I’ll be looking at Insanity vs HIIT and answering the all-important question:
Which is better for fat loss?
Website subscriber Candice emailed in last week to ask about this comparison, check out her message below.
My friend constantly tells me how great her Insanity workout program is, and wants me to do it alongside her. Every time I see her it’s literally all she talks about, but I’ve always been more of a gym person, and struggle to stay motivated for home workouts.
I love HIIT and lifting weights, am I missing out on something by doing those things and not doing Insanity?”– Candice
Firstly, I feel for Candice…
We all know someone who’s started a program like Insanity (or P90X, or maybe even CrossFit) and suddenly it engulfs their personality and becomes them. Before you know it, they’re lecturing all their pals on why it’s the best thing ever.
So let me break it down.
One thing I have to give Insanity props for is perfecting the late night infomercial.
If you’re sat in your underwear at 3 a.m. with a scrumpled up Galaxy wrapper and an overbearing feeling of regret, you’re primed and ready for the moment Shaun T and his scantily clad chums explode onto your television and declare they can make everything awesome again for three easy payments of $99.99.
After all, these people are f**king ripped!
They’re popping out burpees like there’s no tomorrow. Burpees! The devil’s exercise! And they seem happy about it. In fact, they’re cheering for the next round to begin!
Are these people clinically insane?!
(Pun 100% intended, btw.)
I’m jesting here, of course, but how effective is Insanity once we strip away all of the hype and glossy packaging? Is it really as revolutionary as it claims? Are the results as impressive as the infomercials promise?
Today, I’ll be explaining the differences between Insanity and HIIT, and covering the following:
- Is Insanity as good as HIIT for fat loss?
- What long-term results can you expect from Insanity?
- Which style of training do I use with my clients?
Insanity vs HIIT – What’s The Difference?
In order to compare Insanity vs HIIT we must first understand the key differences between our two training styles here.
After all, many people believe them to be the same thing.
So if you’re wondering “Is Insanity HIIT?”, you’re in the right place. Because next you’ll see the subtle differences and what you can expect from each training protocol.
There’s one difference in particular which plays a crucial role in determining our overall ‘winner’ when it comes to fat loss…
HIIT is a principle which dates back long before it sprung to popularity in the mid-2000’s.
In fact, one of the best studies researching its benefits goes all the way back to 1994. Even earlier, it was being used by sprint coaches prepping their athletes for the 1992 Olympic Games, held in Barcelona. (1)
HIIT is built around one concept – heart rate manipulation.
The goal is to perform short bursts of maximum effort activity followed by a recovery phase. Rinse and repeat, for the duration of your workout. HIIT is as simple as that.
But what’s going on under the hood is anything but simple.
Those short bursts of explosiveness are designed to jack your heart rate up to sub-maximal levels, and the recovery phase is in place to allow you to recover before the next all-out burst takes place. This high/low approach forces our body to burn through carbohydrates as fuel, not fat (much like lifting weights).
This creates a phenomenon called EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), otherwise known as ‘The Afterburn Effect’, which places the body in a state of accelerated fat burning for up to 14 hours. (2)
The 1994 study I touched upon earlier showed test subjects who performed high intensity interval training burned almost 9x more calories (and more fat) than those performing regular aerobic cardio, despite the HIIT group training for less time.
Anyone who has ever tried the Insanity home workout program will take a look at the info above on HIIT and testify that Insanity isn’t structured in the same way.
Insanity bases itself on something they constantly refer to as Max Interval Training.
But this is little more than a gimmick to lure the viewer in. ‘Max Interval Training’ sounds better than ‘Interval Training’, making Insanity seem like the best program out there. Like I said, they’ve mastered the infomercial game to a “T”.
(Again, pun intended…)
But the training style it actually uses is known as HISS (high intensity steady state).
I guess we could call it a cousin of HIIT, or the much bigger, nastier brother of aerobic cardio.
It’s based on much longer intervals performed as intensely as possible, with very brief periods of recovery interspersed to allow the trainee to catch their breath before the next round begins.
This actually works in the opposite way to HIIT, as it flips the work/rest ratio to favor more activity and less recovery.
Insanity vs HIIT – Which Is Better For Fat Loss?
Ready for this?
Don’t get me wrong, though, I’m not saying Insanity is ineffective.
Providing you stay consistent and work hard, you can get mighty fine results running that training program. I’ve done it myself in the past.
But in a battle for the ages, HIIT is superior.
The reason is that little “crucial difference” I mentioned earlier in the article.
You see, the recovery phase in HIIT workouts is what makes them special. That’s why I bolded it above for you. Go check, I’ll wait!
It allows you to adapt and progress, and we know that this is necessary in order to see continued success with any training program, be it weights or cardio, to fight the body’s natural ability to adapt to its workload and continually unlock new results. (3)
The first two months of any decent training plan should yield a positive impact. The overhauling of an unhealthy lifestyle to a healthy one cannot fail to produce some nice visible changes in the mirror.
But beyond that, we need a plan to take it to the next level. This is usually where home workout programs fall down.
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.”– Rita Mae Brown
Your only option with Insanity is to run the program again, maybe try training even harder (it’s already pretty damn hard), and hope to not get injured in the process.
At a certain point the risk of injury overtakes the potential reward of results, due to the sheer amount of impact exercises (burpees, jump lunges, power squats, etc). Knee issues are too easy to come by and ACL tears (caused by twisting awkwardly, trying to land a rep at high speed) are common.
Meanwhile, HIIT is built entirely on the structure of progressive overload.
Why HIIT Wins…
The recovery phase between burst of activity make HIIT the ultimate champion when it comes to long-term fat loss.
They allow you to progress your workouts as you gain fitness, and keep you working at your maximum ability.
In the beginning, a 30 second interval may need to be followed by a 2-3 minute recovery period in order to allow your heart rate to sufficiently recover for another all-out burst (which also significantly lowers risk of injury). As you improve, this recovery phase can be shortened to match your growing ability.
Plus, HIIT can be applied to any exercise at all, providing great variety (sprints, swimming, stationary bike, circuit training, even individual exercises).
If we take a look even deeper at what’s occurring inside your body while you train, we can see another reason HIIT is superior in the long-term.
We have three types of muscle fibers, they are:
- Type 1 muscle fibers (endurance).
- Type 2a muscle fibers (MVP).
- Type 2b muscle fibers (explosive strength).
Those type 2a muscle fibers can either be transformed into additional type 1 muscle fibers, or additional type 2b muscle fibers.
Granted, some lucky motherf**kers are blessed with the ability to look leaner and bigger than the norm, but to a large extent, whichever way these crucial muscle fibers go determines the type of physique you build.
That’s why I refer to them as the MVP. They’re like LeBron James in the NBA draft, with whichever team he joins almost guaranteed the success of winning the championship.
Steady state cardio, regardless of its intensity level, tells our body to create more type 1 (endurance) muscle fibers in order to handle all the endurance work we are doing.
Much like weight training, HIIT will tell your body to go in the opposite direction and build more type 2b muscle fibers. Your best friend in looking ripped is to carry more muscle and less fat, so the fact that high intensity interval training also possesses some unique muscle sparing capabilities also comes into play. (4)
We’ve all see the awful meme comparing a sprinter vs marathon runner, right? Look below:
Don’t panic, this meme is bulls**t.
It gives the impression that cardio will make you look like death (which it won’t), and weights will make you look awesome. It’s often used as an excuse not to do any cardio, by guys who really should be doing some cardio.
Actual results won’t be anywhere near this wild unless you’re following the brutal regimen of a marathon runner or an Olympic sprinter!
But it illustrates the point of a physique which is mainly comprised of type 2b muscle fibers vs one comprised of mainly type 1 muscle fibers.
These long-term adaptations, the ability to progress easily, and the growing body of academic research to verify it’s effectiveness, are just some of the reasons why my male and female clients base their cardio routines around HIIT.
Occasionally, they’ll run a program like Insanity to provide a fresh stimulus.
I believe that’s the best way to get the most out of it.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this breakdown of Insanity vs HIIT! Jump on my free email list below for more tips (be careful not to tear your ACL, though).
- 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)