With the increasing popularity in preventative health care, we are beginning to see an emerging, roaring lion in the fitness and wellness industry. We are seeing a mainstream shift in the way in which people train. For so long, we have been dominated by the bodybuilders and the body-split training modalities, that we have forgotten how to “function” in the fitness realm. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for bodybuilders and figure competitors (and being one who has competed in a few shows myself, I can attest to the amount of dedication one must have to compete). But one thing is certain, ask bodybuilders and figure competitors how they feel after training this way for a prolonged period of time and most will say they are suffering from chronic pain, injuries, and tendinitis; single joint movement can only get you so far.

But as for this emerging lion, we should closely examine what comprises the fitness and wellness market these days. We are being inundated with advertisements of new fitness devices, DVDs, training programs and private studios coming into this market. We are embracing new ideas, new technologies and sometimes the ability to “think outside of the box.” And let’s be honest, without some of these creative entrepreneurs such as Josh Henkin, creator of the Ultimate Sandbag, and Valerie Waters, creator of the ValSlide, we would be a little more limited in our fitness applications.

The purpose of this column is to create a little more knowledge about what is out there. It’s much easier to make judgments about something we have never before tried, like the Shake Weight, for example. What I do know is the science behind the Shake Weight is limited and therefore degrades its value in my book. But, I will tell you this: the marketing behind it generated enough chatter to sell millions and counting. But why? Is this the only tool and best way to generate the kind of “arms” it claims to build? No. And that’s what I’m here to debunk.

Please follow me on my investigative journey as I try new fitness products, attend certification courses and shop around Southern California’s boutique gyms and studios to find out what is shaping the fitness market. We have food, movie and fashion critics. It’s about time we have a fitness critic.

Are you crazy enough?

So this is what we’ve come to in the fitness industry. A nicely presented, pretty packaged DVD set that promises you the most insane fitness results of a lifetime. All it takes is three easy payments of $39.95, plus $24.95 shipping and handling, and you have your own private personal trainer (and fitness posse) delivered right to your doorstep.

As I joined a fellow personal trainer and dear friend of mine for my first Insanity experience, I approached with a little hesitance. She popped the DVD in and the first thing I see is Shaun T. with his jaw-dropping eight-pack staring at me. My first thought is, “Well, they found the right spokesperson. Who wouldn’t want to look like this guy? And if the rest of America thinks that they can look like him after 60 days of Insanity, why not give it a try.”

And then Shaun T. mopped the floor with me. Being someone who is in pretty good physical condition, I was close to death. This 40-minute cardio power and resistance DVD was exactly what they call it, “INSANE.” My average heart rate stayed at about 185 bpm and sometimes exceeded 200. Mind you, that’s a little dangerous for your average Joe. There were many moments where I had to stop, catch my breath, and let my heart rate decrease. Shaun T. was killing me.

I had to take almost four days off because I couldn’t move my legs … at all! I had a flashback to my former volleyball days: I could relate the kind of pain and soreness I was feeling to my first time attending volleyball camp as a sixth grader. This was no bueno.

Bottom line, the workouts are tough (and there are 10 of them) and they challenge me in a way that I would never do alone. But let me remind you, I am someone who has been a gymnast, a collegiate athlete, and continues to train utilizing heavy weights and some form of metabolic conditioning (battling ropes, KB swings, etc.) weekly.

These workouts are not for the faint-hearted and they are surely not meant for a novice. If you are someone who is new to training, someone who has suffered an injury and is returning to training and/or someone obese and de-conditioned, do not start this program. It is not made for you. You will notice that everyone participating in this video is in excellent shape and even they have a hard time completing a workout without taking additional rest.

If you are one of the three red flag populations that I named above, here is what I suggest: Take at least three to six months to work with a personal trainer to get you in decent shape to start your own program with Shaun T. You need some extra eyes to help guide you safely and soundly through the basic movement patterns (squatting, pushing and pulling) before you can assure that you are doing them correctly. Trust me, we all think we can squat, push up, and row, until you’re told you’ve been doing it wrong your whole life. I’ve come across this scenario too many times to mention.

With all the jumping, hopping, skipping and lateral shuffling going on in these workouts there is a great deal of risk for injury. Don’t be “that guy” who gets so excited to start working out that you work out so hard you injure yourself and then you can no longer exercise. Commit to yourself: make the investment and work with a trainer before doing this program. We all have to learn how to crawl before we can learn how to walk.

Shabnam Islam is a personal trainer living in Venice, providing private, semi-private and group training. She has a bachelor’s degree in health communication from James Madison University and is currently pursuing her master’s in exercise physiology at Cal State Northridge. She can be reached at shabnam@bodybyshab.com or www.bodybyshab.com.