Popular Fitness Programs

Rough draft of a chapter from my new book.  Thoughts?  Any programs that you all use I should mention?  Ever use any of these?

Fitness Programs

It’s hard not to notice ads and commercials for exercise programs. They’re filled with sexy, rock-hard bodies, music, and ear-to-ear grins. Of course we want to be like them! But today’s exercise programs are as intimidating as gyms and diet plans. Highly charismatic leaders convince us that if we’d only exercise like they do, we’ll soon look like them and life will be great.

Most of these programs are really good, but only for the right person. It can be fun to buy an exercise program on DVD, app, or stream it to your TV and follow along for a couple weeks to get reenergized in your current program. Lots of people would rather go to an exercise class led by a competent instructor. And other people want nothing to do with structure and create their own programs.

Some of the celebrity trainers you see are really good at what they do, which is mostly to motivate people to exercise. Some of the hottest names right now are Jillian Michaels, Shaun T, Gunnar Peterson, and Harley Pasternack. Exercise programs rely on intense marketing, the stuff of late-night infomercials and Facebook ad campaigns. P90X, for instance has made over $500 million and the CrossFit brand generates over $4 billion!


Shaun T (From: http://www.shauntfitness.com)


Jillian Michaels (From http://www.jillianmichaels.com)

The biggest mistake is thinking that if you follow a popular program, you’ll quickly shed all of the excess fat you’ve accumulated. If fast weight loss is your motivation, you’ll be disappointed. But if you want to get in better shape and kick your workout up a notch, these programs are for you.

Types of Exercise Programs

There are three types of exercise programs:

  • Self-made, self-monitored
  • In-person, studio-based, guided programs (ie. CrossFit and Zumba)
  • At-home, DVD-based, semi-guided programs (ie. P90X, Insanity)

Self-made programs are used by most successful exercisers. With a bit of reading and practice, you can develop your own exercise program based on aerobic and strength training exercises. I recommend everyone do this. You can even incorporate some of the other programs, like Zumba or Insanity, into your personalized routine.

In-person, studio-based, guided programs like CrossFit and Zumba, or other more generic aerobics classes, are very popular. These programs are offered at local gyms, workplaces, hospitals, or even libraries. “No one to exercise with” is a common excuse used by non-exercisers. Getting out amongst other exercisers is a great way to meet people and stay motivated to continue an exercise program. If the instructor is knowledgeable and likable, this type of program is very worthwhile. Sometimes it takes some exploring to find the right fit for your personality and goals. Beware of the “bootcamp/summer body” type of programs that pop up locally unless you are familiar with the instructors and programs.

At-home, DVD-based, semi-guided programs appeal to many people as well. “No time for the gym” is the number one excuse given by non-exercisers. Busy people love the convenience of self-paced, digital programs and turn to these for their workouts. There are even on-line, subscription-based programs that allow you to exercise with other groups in real-time. The Peloton bicycle program has been extremely popular the last couple years. While there are no statistics on how long people stick with DVD-based exercise programs, you can bet it’s very low. A much better tactic is to develop your own routine, and use these guided programs just to break up the monotony if you start to get burned out on your current program.

Here’s a quick rundown on some of the top programs in case you’ve been wondering how they work. As you read through this list, try to take some elements from each that you can use in your own program.

Top-Selling Fitness Programs Reviewed



It’s called “Insanity” for a reason…it’s insane! Not for beginners unless you just want to watch something to motivate you while you do some sane exercises. The Insanity workouts are led by Shaun T, an intensely insane fitness trainer. His jumps and kicks will leave you breathless just watching.

Insanity Amazon

The good thing about Insanity is that it doesn’t require any special equipment, just some room in front of a TV to do 30-minutes of high-paced cardio and bodyweight exercises. Insanity uses a method known as HIIT, or high-intensity interval training. It’s like jumping jacks on steroids. You’ll work to maximum capacity for about 40 seconds with 30-40 seconds of rest before doing it again. The basic Insanity package is a 2-month program that gets increasingly harder as the weeks progress.

Insanity is based on an exercise technique known as plyometrics. Plyometrics was popularized by Soviet Olympians during the 1970s. This technique uses explosive jumps to train the muscles for instant power and maximum elasticity. Plyometrics is used by athletes in sports such as basketball, tennis, track, and volleyball.

Jumping is hard on the knees and joints. If you try Insanity, be sure to follow the initial stretching sequences or you’ll injure yourself very quickly. Insanity is a full-body workout that will leave you breathless, perfect for your weekly “vigorous aerobics” requirements.

The 2-month Insanity course is available from Beachbody.com and costs about $150 for the DVD set and instruction books.

I give Insanity a low rating because it’s too hard for most people and too expensive.

2 out of 5 stars.


P90X was developed by Tony “The Master of Motivation” Horton. This program is a mixture of strength training and aerobic conditioning. It uses a principal called “muscle confusion” in which different muscle groups are continually being worked throughout the program. For strength training, P90X relies heavily on pullups and resistance bands. A partial list of exercises you’ll do on P90X:

  • Closed Grip Overhand Pull-up
  • Groucho Walk
  • Reverse Grip Chin-ups
  • Sneaky Lunge
  • Speed Squats
  • Three-way Lunge
  • Wide Front Pull-ups

P90X is DVD-based, you’ll need to buy one of the many packages offered. Some packages just have DVDs, while more advanced packages have pullup bars, resistance bands, and other exercise equipment.

p90x amazon

An integral part of P90X is the diet plan. It starts off with a low-carb diet that progressively adds more carbs as the weeks go on. P90X is also big on supplements, you’ll be confronted with an endless array of slimming shakes, vitamins, and performance enhancing formulas.

P90X is available from Beachbody.com and costs anywhere from $100-600 depending on the plan you choose.

I give P90X a low rating because it’s too hard for most people to follow, especially the diet plan. It’s heavy use of supplements and exercises performed with twisting moves has great potential for injuries.

1 out of 5 stars




“Ditch the Workout, Join the Party,” is Zumba’s calling card. Zumba is an instructor-led aerobic exercise program that has taken the world by storm. Born in Columbia and brought to America in 2001, by 2007 there were over 10,000 Zumba studios across the US, now there are something like 100,000 or more!

Zumba Amazon

Zumba is a great workout, sort of like the old aerobics classes of the 80’s and 90’s, but with a more party-like atmosphere and a total Latin-music vibe. The Zumba company is a force to behold, they’ve expanded from simple classes to:

  • Zumba®
  • Zumba® Step
  • Zumba® Toning
  • Aqua Zumba®
  • Zumba Sentao™
  • Zumba® Gold
  • Zumba® Gold-Toning
  • Zumba® Kids
  • Zumba® Kids Jr.
  • Zumbini™
  • Zumba In The Circuit™

If organized classes are your thing, check out Zumba. They offer classes for every fitness level, low-impact, high-impact, and even strength training. More likely than not, there’s a Zumba class near where you live. There’s even a full DVD selection for home-exercisers.

The only drawback to Zumba is the cost, at $5-$20 per class, you could rack up some hefty dues. But, if you do it wisely, just go every now and then. Once, or a couple times, a week, it might be the perfect venue for people who need organization and lots of companions.

5 out of 5 stars for guided programs.


CrossFit has followed a similar trajectory as Zumba, starting in the early 2000’s. They’ve grown to offering classes in over 13,000 locations (called “boxes”) in 2019. CrossFit is an instructor led program that incorporates elements of both aerobic and strength training. CrossFit appeals mainly to athletic people who enjoy competition and hard workouts.

CrossFit is a bit expensive at around $150 a month, and classes are usually held in barebones locations like garages, warehouses, or outside, so you won’t have access to a full gym in most cases.


If Zumba is for people looking to lose weight, CrossFit is for people looking to get strong. Critiques of CrossFit are that the instructors are often not well-trained for the intense, injury-prone workouts they lead, and injuries are common. But that’s also part of the appeal of CrossFit. If you like a no-holds-barred, all-out beast mode workout, check out CrossFit.

3 out of 5 stars. Too difficult for most people and expensive.



Bodyrock.tv seems to be a big seller, but the creators have to know they are promoting an unhealthy brand. All of the models and instructors look absolutely anorexic. Perhaps this program appeals to waif-like runway models or young girls with eating disorders and body-image issues.


They do have an impressive online store where they sell cool things like pink barbells and weighted vests alongside books and meal plans. Bodyrock.tv recommends a super-low-carb diet. I’m really surprised they haven’t jumped on the “Keto” bandwagon yet.

Bodyrock.tv uses a combination of weights and aerobics for maximum weight loss. They use DVDs and live internet courses with numerous packages priced according to the plan you choose. The website is hard to navigate and many of the links didn’t work when I tried them. They are well-known for offering free videos of their workout programs, but I could not access any of them. To me, the website seemed more about selling DVDs and fitness gear than a workout program.

If super-skinny models are your thing, check them out.

1 out of 5 stars. Pure marketing. Based on hype, advertising, and unhealthy body image obsession.

My Fitness by Jillian Michaels

Jillian Michaels is most well-known as the hard-ass coach on The Biggest Loser. She’s now widely accepted as a fitness expert. You see her everywhere on talk shows and in commercials. Jillian recently started My Fitness, an app-based program that seems to be very well-thought-out and has something for everyone.


Jillian also released her latest book, 6 Keys, this year and it’s getting lots of great reviews. Here’s a deal for you…visit her website, jillianmichaels.com, and you can get 3 months of her My Fitness program for free if you buy the book.

If you like Jillian Michaels, you’ll love My Fitness by Jillian Michaels. If you’re not a fan, you’ll find that her workouts are a bit “canned” and don’t offer much in the way of variety, but that could quickly change if the program gets lots of subscribers.

Go check out her website if this sounds interesting, she gives away a 7-day free trial for the asking.

4 stars out of 5. Relatively new program, expect bugs. Jillian has enough experience to guide most people and she understands the difference between “health” and “fat loss.”


iBodyFit has been around since 2006 and has won about every award possible in the fitness world. While I am a little bit disappointed in their use of body-dysmorphic imagery on their website, this is the best internet-based plan out there and only gets better. Prices range from about $50 to $150 a month depending on the plan you choose. At the upper end, you’ll have access to a live trainer who will help you develop a personalized eating and exercise program based on your goals. At the lower end, you’ll have access to 100’s of exercise videos, personalized support and feedback.


The iBodyFit website has lots of free content and a decent blog, so go check them out. They have a great reputation in the fitness industry and offer something for everyone.

4.5 out of 5 stars. Good value, great product. Marked down for gratuitous use of extra-skinny models in their ads.


Physical fitness needs to become a part of you. Like brushing your teeth and taking a shower, you need to work exercise into your daily routine. Physical fitness also needs some structure if you are to keep at it. This can be as simple as plotting out a simple routine that’s done at home or in the gym…walking, bodyweight exercises, and more. Or it can be done by signing up for an instructor-led program and attending classes several nights a week. DVD and internet or app-based programs have also been really popular. With the rise of the smart-phone, having some apps to help you exercise is an awesome idea.

13 thoughts on “Popular Fitness Programs

  1. This is tough. It’s easy to give fitness advice when you’re young, pretty, and fit. I did it too. Doesn’t mean squat.

    Jillian Michaels is 44 Shaun T is 40. Nether has hit menopause or andropause yet.

    Compare that to Clarence Bass who is 81 or Jack Lalanne who was 96. Or Frank Zane, or Lou Ferrigno. Those are real fitness experts.

    I’m going to keep my mouth shut now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I get it, Wilbur. To tell the truth, after looking at a dozen or so of these top-selling plans, I was amazed that so many people buy into this stuff. I really don’t know who the target audience is besides people who buy on impulse. But as far as having a place in my book, I couldn’t really ignore them as people are flooded with the images every day, especially if you are Googling any terms related to diet, then you really get hammered with ads.


      1. I’m a big fan of Erwan Le Corre and his MovNat program.


        I don’t know how popular it is. Many of the ideas can be simply implemented. For instance, using curbs as balance beams. And for those with young kids or grandkids, getting on the playground equipment and going through tunnels, up slides, and so forth is good work. The monkey bars are quite challenging!

        Many condo communities here are installing adult playgrounds.


  2. Wilbur I agree with you whole heartedly.

    I find the programs that Tim mentioned are for the fit and young, not for an old girl like me. I started going to the gym over 20 years ago because I felt like I was becoming a stiff old bird. I started doing aerobics 3 times a week, and somehow stuck with it, and am still going strong today.

    I did general aerobics, step aerobics, taebo (the boxing one), and am now doing Pilates and Yoga. I have started doing strength training again, and hope to keep it up long term.

    One of the best programs on YouTube I found was the 1 mile walk by Leslie Sansome. She also has 2, 3, 4 and 5 mile walks. They are very easy to do at home, and boy do you feel it when you are done. Simple and very effective.

    The other one that I have stuck with the most is the Upper Body Workout with the weighted bar.

    And I liked an old programme called Heavy Hands with Dr Schwarz. It was easy to do something like the 1 mile walk. Unfortunately I can’t find it on You Tube any more.

    What has surprised me the most the last 20 years: at the start of the season the gyms are full and 6 to 8 weeks later half of them have stopped coming. There is no staying power. I’ve always wondered why there that is. It’s only an hour. Surely they can plan other activities around that

    I will give up other activites before I give up my hour at the gym.


    1. Good job, Jo tB – I hope to turn lots of people towards your lifestyle. I will amend this chapter to include a section on free YouTube videos as well.

      Has Zumba hit where you live yet? It’s really popular in the States right now…seems to have replaced aerobics and step-aerobics. Yoga is still popular, but classes seem awfully small compared to Zumba.

      Thanks for your helpful comments!


      1. Yes Zumba has been around in Holland for about two years now. It seems very energetic for old tulips like me. So I’m not tempted to follow a lesson. The classes are not packed in the gym I go to, so it seems to me to be a passing phase like all other hypes that have come and gone.


  3. Public recreation centers in cities likely have exercise classes designed for older folks. Where I live, free if 60 or older. The centers near me also offer pickleball, the illicit child of tennis and ping pong. It’s made for seniors and more energetic than it looks.

    Rowing machines like the Concept 2 are pretty darn good.

    My primary exercise comes from tennis. People who find it too difficult to pick up may not know how much they can learn from watching people play, reading an introductory book, and then hitting long hours against backboards that some tennis facilities offer. As a beginner, I found hitting the backboard generates invitations to play on court. There are youtube videos showing how to hit against a backboard – one even shows Djokovic, currently #1 in tennis, demonstrating backboard work.

    If it hooks you, you can compete until the day before you kick the bucket. I knew a guy named Nick who collapsed on court and died the next day. We all knew he was ill and admired his die with boots on attitude.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hey Tim, I have just had the chance to read this chapter. I especially like the conclusion – it is so true and really says it all. I like Wilbur’s comments above too. I am not long away from the post menopause age so it would be great to see some of the longterm fitness success stories and what works for them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Just a personal observation here, but it seems to me that the condition of your body when you hit your 50’s (both men and women) will determine how well you age, and especially for women as they undergo “the change.” Both men and women experience declining hormone levels, but if a person is greatly out-of-shape in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, they do not stand a chance of being healthy into old age. And what I’m seeing, it does not take Herculean effort to stay in shape, avoiding Western crap food and having a sensible exercise plan is not only easy, but fun.


  5. Orange Therapy is a newish workout facility where you wear a heart monitor and follow a workout that has modifications for those that need it. I have not been but have a couple of friends that enjoy it. I attend spin class 2x a week at a gym on a naval base for free. They have other classes too. One is a core/cardio and the other HIIT. Unfortunately my rheumatoid arthritis started to get in the way for those. I look on YouTube for various dumbbell weight related exercises. I intend to do some hot yoga in the new year (hate the expense, though!) Joining the YMCA is a low cost alternative than a gym. And they have classes.

    Tim, one typo I noticed in the Zumba write up, shouldn’t it be Colombia vs Columbia.


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