Fitness Face Off: Insanity Workout versus P90X

Two popular programs in the fitness industry right now are the INSANITY® conditioning program and the Power 90 Extreme (P90X®) home exercise system. As with most structured systems, both are effective, but the question of which is better is determined by the individual. What are your goals? What is your body type? How much time do you have available? Are you ready to commit your best effort?

Let’s take a sober look at the contenders in this match-up.


The supposed “secret” to the allegedly “mind-blowing” INSANITY workout, as they advertise it, is the following:

Shaun T took traditional interval training and flipped it on its head—you perform long bursts of maximum-intensity exercises with short periods of rest. Each INSANITY workout keeps you constantly challenged as you alternate between aerobic and anaerobic intervals performed at your MAX. The result: burn up to 1,000 calories in an hour and get the most insane body in 60 days.

Stepping past the marketing hype, working at maximum effort and keeping rest periods short is a well-established practice for developing the heart and lungs as well for burning calories. Without doubt, 2 months is a reasonable length of time to affect measurable changes if one truly does work at higher absolute exercise intensity routinely over that timeframe. Moreover, if you had the endurance to run on a treadmill at a faster-than-a-casual-jog pace for an hour, you would likewise burn upwards of 1,000 calories.

Like the P90X system, the INSANITY Workout repackages known training techniques. Whereas the P90X system repackages cross-training, the INSANITY program repackages interval training. More specifically, it softens true high-intensity interval training (HIIT). If one were truly to exert themselves at or near their maximum heart rate with short intervals in lower exertion zones, it’s highly unlikely that they, apart from a few elite athletes, would be able to do so for the duration – roughly 30 to 90 minutes – of a typical INSANITY workout. Moreover, working so hard for so long would have a decidedly catabolic (i.e., muscle losing) effect. Realistically, the INSANITY workout has you working a something less than “your MAX” but still pretty hard.

INSANITY workouts are based mostly on intervals of aerobic conditioning and plyometrics (e.g., free-standing bodyweight squats) and do not incorporate free weights. Consequently, the INSANITY program might be preferable in the eyes of those interested more in shedding fat and improvements in cardiovascular endurance and respiratory efficiency than gaining muscle.

P90X System

The marketable hook of the P90X System is that it promises significant improvement to one’s health and physical fitness within 90 days as long as you follow their rigorous program plan, including dietary changes. As they advertise:

In just 90 days, you can get back in shape, or build the body you’ve always wanted. All you need is a set of dumbbells or resistance bands, a pull-up bar, and about an hour a day. No gym membership required with P90X®.

Well, they’re right, 3 months is plenty of time to affect measurable changes even without a gym membership. The system, however, is not “revolutionary.” The notion of deciding on a goal, following a plan, eating less crap, using supplements, breaking routines into segments, and consulting with experts when you have training questions was established decades ago and has been advocated since.

Concurrently conditioning according to different sporting pursuits is known as cross training; the P90X system repackages it in the popular term of muscle confusion. An example of cross-training would be bicycling to develop the cardiovascular system and build endurance, weight lifting to develop the musculoskeletal system and build strength, and jumping rope to develop the neuromuscular link that will increase coordination, quickness and agility.

Other training systems also advocate muscle confusion; it would have been revolutionary if the P90X program departed from proven principles – like cross-training and periodizing to maintain adaptive benefits – to which successful fitness participants have been adhering to for many years. Nevertheless, the system is legitimate because it uses time-tested techniques.

Unlike the INSANITY program, P90X includes training with free weights matched with a protein and vegetable dietary bonanza – no harm there. Ideally, this has a tendency to build muscle; so, the P90X system might be preferable in the eyes of those interested more in muscular strength and endurance than cardiovascular and respiratory efficiency.

General Fitness and Basic Good Health and Wellness

Whether you decide to storm the gates of the halls of fitness holding the banner of the INSANITY maniacs or the P90X revolutionaries, if your goal – part of the target market – is to be basically fit, slim, and more athletically competent, either system has the potential to deliver nice, even shockingly transformative, results. The important thing is you’ve made a commitment to a well-structured plan.

Currently and generally unfit people – part of the target market – with limited experience, low energy levels, a soft and weak musculature, poor endurance, and/or carrying a good deal more fat on the body than they should would very likely yield all of the following from active and sustained participation in either P90X or INSANITY workouts:

  • Increased muscle mass
  • Increased muscle, tendon, ligament, and bone strength
  • Increased joint stability
  • Improved posture and flexibility
  • Higher endurance
  • Higher resting metabolic rate with a higher percentage of lean body mass
  • Improved self image and a more positive attitude

Both INSANITY and P90X are good programs calling upon established and proven principles and techniques to affect positive body conditioning, including:

  1. Variability to target different skills and muscles
  2. Specific durations
  3. Intensity
  4. Appropriate nutrition

For individuals already fit, specifically well conditioned, or engaged in other athletic pursuits, these programs may have a much less dramatic, even retroactive or detrimental, effect. A competitive bodybuilder, for instance, would likely not be wise, if their intent is to reach or maintain a champion bodybuilder’s physique, to change from a bodybuilder’s traditional weight-training program to either the P90Xor the INSANITY Program, as they are not specifically oriented toward muscular mass. The same considerations would exist for a gymnast, marathon runner, etc. These pursuits, beyond low levels of competition, all require dedication to specialized programs.

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