P90X, Insanity or ChaLEAN Extreme: Which Beachbody Program is Right for You?

We recently got a copy of ChaLEAN Extreme here at the FitLifeSF headquarters and I have had a chance to tuck into it a little bit.  Keep in mind that this is just a preliminary “review”– not even a review, really. A lot of folks have been asking us how to decide between P90X, Insanity and ChaLEAN, so this is a first stab at helping folks figure out what program might be best for them.

Here’s the thing: All three programs are solid.  They are phased and move you through cycles so that you are constantly changing things up, improving and adapting to new stimuli. They all have what it takes to deliver awesome results, so long as you bring commitment to the table (literally, to the dining room table, and commit to a nutrition program as well as pushing yourself in the workouts.)  No one of the three is a “better” program than the other.  It really boils down to personality.

Let me ask you a few questions…

If you walk into a gym, where are you likely to feel most comfortable? A) On the weighfloor lifting with the guys; B)  In the aerobics studio taking a class, or B) On the basketball courts doing windsprints with the jocks.

If you answered A) You probably would enjoy P90X the most, if B) ChaLEAN Extreme is likely to be more up your alley, if C) Then you sound like an Insanity person.  (It’s no surpise that the videos are even shot on sets that feel like The Weight Floor, The Aerobics Studio and The Basketball Court.)

How much instruction do you like? A) Just tell me what to do and lets bang this mofo out! B) Can you check my form? C) I know what I’m doing, but keep me from wussing out, please!

If A) You’ll like P90X’s no-nonsense approach. You won’t get any handholding and just a couple verbal cues and instruction, but it’s mostly follow-the leader. If you answered B) because you need/like more handholding, ChaLEAN comes with PLENTY- including separate DVDs to walk you through all the form and moves, as well as loads of form instructions and cues during the workouts themselves. If you answered C) you’ll like Shaun T’s encouraging-but-not-micromanaging style in Insanity.

What kind of pacing do you like for your workouts? A) Hit it hard and sometimes burn out early, knowing you can take breaks, B) Slow and steady wins the race, C) Holy Moses, my hair’s on fire and this roller coaster has no breaks!

If A) You’ll like the way P90X turns into an interval experience– hitting muscles hard to fatigue with bouts of recovery in between. If B) You’ll like the controlled approach to ChaLEAN extreme.  There are even parts of the workout where you literally move in slow motion to burn out the muscles isometrically, if C) You’ll love the no-time-to-blink speed and constant motion of Insanity.

How much equipment are you prepared to keep in your home? A) I love equipment, I already have it all and/or have space and the funds to get it all, B) I have one or two things, and have been known to own a Thighmaster, C) I have room for a pair of shorts and me and that’s about it.

If A) Then P90X would be a good fit- you’ll need bands or barbells and a pull-up bar at the least– push-up stands are nice, you can get some weight gloves if you want. A yoga mat’s good to have.  If B) Then ChaLEAN might be right for you.  You will need dumbells, and you will need ot make sure the weight can keep increasing, so either something with multiple weight options like the Selectek dumbells, or a commitment to buy new dumbells every few months.  The program also comes with a lovely lavender “thigh toner” band. (I guess a question I should consider including in this quiz is “How concerned are you about toning your thighs?”) If you answered C) then Insanity might be right for you.  All you need are some shoes and shorts, and I’m sure people would argue that both of those are technically optional in the privacy of your own home.

How do you feel about techno? OK… that’s an unfair question. These are workout DVDs, after all.

I will say that ChaLEAN definitely has more of a “beginner’s” vibe than either P90X or Insanity, so if you are concerned that one of those two might be too advanced for you, ChaLEAN might be a great option.  Chalene Johnson is also renowned for creating programs that you may have encountered in a gym setting, like TurboKick and Hip Hop Hustle, so the warmups and such, while not “choreographed” are maybe a little more Jane Fonda than someone who wants to get a good pump is likely to stomach.  And, they highlight the “this is for everyone” theme by having an older woman who makes grimacy faces and seems to be whispering to herself the whole workout and a dude who is all “Oh yeah!” and “that’s the burn!” and chitty-chatty (I was ready to turn the sound off by the end of the ab workout because he was a little much.) It really does have the vibe of a gym lift class. And, if you like gym lift classes, you’ll probably love that vibe.

We’re sure to revisit ChaLEAN extreme more as spend more time with the program, in the meantime– if you found this post helpful and want to order any of the products mentioned, we’d love if you use this link.  This will bring you into the Beachbody portal through our link and assign you Rob (and me, by extension) as your Coach so that we can track your progress and help you succeed!

10 thoughts on “P90X, Insanity or ChaLEAN Extreme: Which Beachbody Program is Right for You?

  1. Hi Smurf. You posted a great response (as always) to my icking-out-on-too-much-protein question over on the What Women Can Expect board. I also got my Teambeachbody coach changed to Rob. Yay! This seems like the right place to ask my next question:

    OK – 3 weeks into P90X and I *loathe* the yoga and Kenpo (and to a lesser extent the Cardio X). The Kenpo is nobody’s fault – I’m just not that excited by the martial arts/TaeBo thing. The yoga is horrible, though. The problem for both Yoga and Cardio X to me is that it really takes a “builder’s” approach (let’s do a set 3, 15 reps, of the same thing and then move on to the next) where I prefer a better flow in both yoga and cardio. Anyway, I’m hoping you can recommend good alternative DVD’s for Yoga, Kenpo, and Cardio.

    I’m not wedded to them having to be from Beachbody, especially for the yoga. I am not a regular yoga person, probably an advanced beginner, and happy to be challenged. I like flow. For cardio, I would prefer something dancy/complicated/mentally engaging, if you know what I mean. High energy. I am good at picking up dance steps and just want something that fun enough that I won’t *dread* doing it, and hard enough to be good for my cardio days.

    Thanks for any suggestions you can make.

  2. Cherie- Thanks so much for the kind words on the marathon! I am still just coming out of my marathon stupor. 🙂

    I bet you would LOVE the Rockin’ Body series for cardio. It is so much fun and really highly-coreographed. More dancey than something like “TurboKick,” if you want something a little more HipHop than “aerobics.” As for yoga… I have not seen a Beachbody Yoga product that I would recommend. Let me do some asking around– the yoga disk that I do is from a studio that I attended for several years and it’s not very instructive unless you already know the series and the flow. Lemme get you some recommendations.

  3. Hi,
    First my info… I’m 47, female, 5’1″ 140lb. I’d like to loose 20 or so. I have been working out in the gym a couple times a week with a trainer for a few weeks. I can run 4 miles or so at a time at this point. My friend’s son has P90X and we’ve done some of the workouts but we’re not doing the program yet. I purchased it because we planned on actually doing the program together and I wanted to be able to do it at my house as well. Now I’m confused a bit after reading the above and also the blog about why women aren’t losing weight on P90X. I wonder if insanity or another workout might be better for me to reach my goal. Clearly I need to lose the 20 before I’m going to look anything like the after pics of the people on the website. What do you think?
    Thanks for the help!!

  4. I am an what I think a very active 36 year old. I run, I just completed insanity, and I’m about to start p90x. I think I am flabby!!!! I cant get toned ugh 🙂 I think it could be my diet??? I am 5’6 and I weight 155 I would love to lose the extra fat and have pretty arms

  5. Hi Shbro- That is all going to come down to diet. Use a program like The Daily Plate or My Fitness Pal to get yourself to a deficit (probably about 1500 cals per day will do the trick) track your calories and stick with it!

    1. Thank you should I do insanity again (for more cardio) or can I get enough from P90X? I missed weights when I only did insanity I like to do both cardio and weight training but I guess since I am not at a deficit I just don’t see the results like I think I should 🙁 and should I lift heavy for me thats 12lbs or should I stick to 8’s some exercises I can do 15lbs like tricep kick backs but only 8 reps. I really need to learn more about this deficit thing like when to eat and kinds of foods!!! I think I eat too many carbs and sodium 🙁 I definitely dont have a problem with lean meats but all the rest boooo I also (like an addiction) love pb&j in the late evenings, Do you think that needs to stop?

      Last thing am I commenting on the right part of the site?

      Thank you already for your help

  6. If you like the weight and cardio blend of P90X, you can stick with that. Or, you can do Insanity on the P90x cardio days if you own both– lots of people do a P90X/Insanity hybrid. When lifting, yeah, you should lift the max you can. You want to hit failure at the end of each set, meaning if you set out to do 10 reps, you really couldn’t do an 11th and still have good form. For people wanting to lose weight, the goal is to have the weight be nice and heavy, but to keep moving for most of the workout. (In other words: Strike a happy balance between lifting nice and heavy so you get to failure, but not so heavy so that you can only do five or six reps and then spend a bunch of time waiting around for the next exercise.)

    When to eat and what kind of foods has nothing to do with a deficit– a deficit is entirely a numbers game. When to eat and what kind of foods can help maintaining the deficit easier, though (meaning, keep you from getting hungry, keep you well-energized for your workouts, etc.) In general, you want a nice blend of lean protein (chicken breast, etc.), healthy carbs (beans, brown rice, whole grains, etc.), and healthy fats like olive oil, almonds, avocado, etc. Avoiding packaged and processed foods will both help keep your sodium down and make sure the foods you are eating are giving you the biggest nutritional bang for your buck. You want to strive to eat a blend of protein, carbs and healthy fat at every eating opportunity (so, a snack wouldn’t just be a piece of fruit, it might be a half a piece of fruit, a couple almonds and a piece of light cheese. Or whole grain crackers with a little almond butter, etc.), and to eat several times throughout the day so that you are eating every few hours.

    There is nothing that “needs to stop” so long as you have room for it calorically in your diet. The issue with PB&J is that people rarely if ever make a PB&J with a “real serving” of peanut butter, which alone is almost 200 calories for 2 TBS. Weigh or measure that out and tell me if it feels like a “real PB&J portion” to you. Most folks make it with 3 or even 4 TBS of peanut butter, two slices of bread (at least another 140 calories) and jelly (another 50 calories per TBS, most people again put on much more than that– 2 or 3 tbs.) And then you have a nearly 500-calorie “snack.” Which is more than you’d portion for dinner. I make a PB&J with light whole wheat bread (90 calories for 2 slices), PB2 powdered peanut butter ( for 45 calories and sugar-free jelly for another 10 calories and have that as a larger snack sometimes, it still comes in at nearly 200 calories all-told, so add a glass of milk or a piece of fruit and that’s looking more like a meal.

    The number one thing on running a deficit is just to get in the habit of weighing, measuring and tracking everything. You will learn so much about where calories are coming from in that process and you can make wiser choices… maybe you only have a half of your usual PB&J, maybe you decide you’d rather use those calories for dinner with friends or family and chose a less calorie-dense snack, but, really, the choice is yours so long as you stay within your calorie limits.

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