Insanity at Max Interval


Insanity at Max Interval

Insanity at Max Interval

So I decided to sit down and write out about my struggle for fitness and weight loss—ROUND TWO. Ding ding!

I did this whole weight loss thing once five years ago and reached a peak of fitness about two and a half years ago. I traveled from a weight of two hundred and oh my god –plus, all the way down to a svelte kinda ridiculously cool and healthy one hundred and forty!

From a size twenty-two to a whispery size six. Nobody was more shocked than me that I accomplished that. No store-bought diet. No assistance except what I learned, added, or intuited for myself. I didn’t even have the money to join a gym when I’d first started. No personal trainer, no equipment—just me and my decision to start and my feet that carried me as I began.

It was slow steady work with healthy ideas being added in one at a time until one day I had a breakthrough moment as I stood on top of a mountain. The stillness of a freak weather pattern swept through the air and froze everything in its path. The wildflowers around me had been caught in sudden permafrost that sent shoots of green snapping stiff and stems crackling brittle like glass set utterly still without warning.

The faces of the flowers were flash-frozen in a glittery firestorm of ice. They had been staring up at a sky in a gentle Spring one moment and stilled in the next. Their faces still upturned with all their color flashing and shouting drunken, dizzy, lazy, and gorgeous–ever as beguiling but caught swiftly without breath frozen solid. The rain that had fallen on my hair had turned suddenly to snow.

The sudden swift turn of the season had been the most beautiful and the most powerful thing I’d ever seen. I recognize it now as perhaps my first true realization that power sweeping in with such softness is beautiful.

It was divinely driven or so it seemed as it gently dusted my shoulders. It was both out of place and season entirely to find snowfall in May in Southern California just off of an old abandoned fire road that I had climbed and switchbacked and rambled and rolled for eleven miles by the time I’d finished. In the wake of the rain turned silver needles to soft feathery snow I felt a bolting shaft of something like lightning move through my skin.

I felt a power rolling in my heart. In a way I’d never felt before, I knew I had arrived. I was fit! It was so good! I did carry on that way for a while, but I faltered, somewhere along the way in time after that.

Unfortunately with no real good plan on how to maintain my awesome loss and a serious headlong swerve into an overwhelming twist in my destiny and a period when my attention quite naturally turned away from self and onto other things and the diagnosis of my son’s severe end Autism, among other things, and with my spirit in shambles– my body returned to its default chaos mode, and I let it all slowly go.

I was graced with a year of fairly good resilience but by the end of year two and a half or so I found myself knocking back to a dread mark I said I’d never reach again! After all that grace and all of that power, I stood right at the edge of an unbelievably backward ass over feet slide in my plan—again.

And, I still struggled to find it in myself to regain that balance that unbearable sizzling light touch of power found in the feeling of standing—atop that mountain. It wasn’t the weight loss so much that I missed, I may have told myself that and even come to believe it, but the truth is that it was the power in letting go and seeing what I’d overcome—THAT feeling of true strength– that I missed. It was quite simply gone.

During these last few years, I yo-yoed sometimes quite insincerely and jokingly half-assed and sometimes even quite seriously in every crazy get-it-done quick plan you can imagine, which should really have been the clue that I wasn’t on any kind of track. In my super fit days, I knew there were no shortcuts and I wasn’t looking for one.

Recently though there has been surrender and brokenness over my excesses and acceptance for where I am that I had been waiting to have. I knew from my first go-round that I really wouldn’t have any success until I reached this point. In my life, I have never been able to change anything until I could fully accept the reality of where it is that I was starting from. Finally, I’ve had that sustained realization and awareness.

I became fully aware that I was overweight, again. That is important only because it is a physical pointer to a poor level of health and fitness. Lack of fitness, in my case, never just affects the body it is mind and spirit too.

Slowly, I became able to look at myself fully again.  I looked at where that weight had landed and I faced it honestly. I quit trying to hide it behind cover-ups and layers and just said to myself “Well, here I am again. I am overweight! I am worthwhile and worth every inch of the space I occupy.

Nothing about who I am inside or my value as a person is altered by my weight, but it isn’t the healthiest version of self that I can be. When I love myself enough to channel my sorrow or stress or whatever it is that always seems to wait to bump me back into default, sending my spirit and body back into a huddled lump of “I can’t– I’m stuck– right, now” into healthier and functional coping strategy, it’ll come off again. Then, I can reflect to the world a better vision of how I value myself.

Until then it matters not how “they” see me but how I see myself and right now, I see myself just as I am. So here–we will go again!” Big deal! Folks, it’s not even close to the most challenging thing I’ve had to rise up to before!

It also helps to know that I’m not alone in this, not by a long shot. It’s one of the few struggles people may wear so obviously outside for the world to read, but I am not alone here. I’ve turned the corner and into acceptance. I began to alter my diet in sensible ways and to move my body and feel that tug on muscle again. I felt a nice slice of success and a return to health. Exercise and diet are so connected to my physical and emotional health. I was ready for the next push.

I upped the ante recently. At forty years old, I picked up a copy of Insanity. What can I say, the name appealed to me! It sounded like—well—hello, mirror, much? Insanity is an exercise program that focuses on core muscle building through calisthenics, cardio, and interval or circuit training. Their push is to encourage people to dig deeper and to challenge their own best efforts in each workout. I liked this idea. Aside from the program purchase, it could all be accomplished with my own determination and the weight and muscle of my own body.

It reminded me of my feet and how they led me to my first great fitness transformation and to the top of the mountain, but perhaps ramped up a little bit. Of all my effort of the past, I’d never built core muscle. Lots of leg muscle from doing cardio, hiking, jogging, and elliptical but never, ever, had I done anything in any other manner having to do with body strength.

I wondered what would it be like if what I ate went into a well-conditioned body, first. What if I changed every single thing and didn’t participate in a weight loss program at all? What if instead I fed and exercised my body in a way that would help it become fit?

What if fit was more important to me than weight loss? What if I gave myself all the time in the world and just focused on how I felt and quit worrying about an external reward? Gee, that could work towards truer health in the long run, don’t you think? Dubiously but completely intrigued I started the program.

My first experience was the Fit Test. Seemed easy enough, for those of you not familiar with this program the fitness test is compiled up of eight core exercises where you are asked to push out as many reps as you can in one short minute for every single targeted exercise. Eight exercises! One minute each! Come on, what’re you a wussy? You record the results and over the next few months periodically you repeat the test and you will be amazed to see how much you improve.

Okay, boyz! I picked a morning and I started. I was very careful to put FORM over repetition for my Fit Test because I like my knees, what’s left of them anyway, and I don’t feel the need to blow them out at this point. So though I was encouraged to dig deeper, I stuck to earnest well-formed (safety first, #$%@ers!) sets of each exercise at my own best pace in which I didn’t risk injury. Done—only paused once or twice between one exercise and the next—but I said DONE!

I didn’t find anything about my body being sore as all that noticeable all that first whole day. I am a goddess I thought! Wooohooo a forty-year-old fluffy Insanity goddess! Bring it Shaun T.!

Then on day two, I did my first workout. I had some twinges in lots of muscle groups for sure, but—took some Ibuprofen—nothing to go crying about. Jeez what’s the big deal? I am maybe more of an Insanity red-headed step-demi-Goddess–but still, I’m elevated up from a mere mortal, I’m rocking THIS aren’t I? How sweet and innocent I was that first day and a half. In fact, I am going to stop here and pause and start a whole new paragraph and leave what is left of this one to a moment of silence for that sweet idiot that was me on my first day and a half. Silence, please—

By nightfall after my first workout after my Fit Test a layer of agony and misery had settled over my every muscle group, omg there are muscles there? Yes!! Yes!! I don’t care how ridiculous you think a question that is—the answer is yes! There are muscles there, omg! The pain of newly shredding muscle mass sending weeping fluid into every battered and irritated cell from each quadrant of my poor body set in so severely that at one point I contemplated dialing 911, and if I could of reached the phone, I probably would have.

I am truly not exaggerating when I tell this next story. Judge if you must, but it was the Fit Test and first workout and I had a bit of ice cream left. Stay with me here, I am a progress and not a perfection kind of girl. Moving on, suffice it to say that it seemed perfectly sane and right, I’d tighten that old diet up tomorrow. I mean, right?  Oh shut up—it seemed rational then.

I got my bowl of ice cream and lay in the bed and watched about forty-one minutes of t.v. and decided to move. Easy peasy, right? As I tried throwing my leg jauntily out of bed, it refused to move. How interesting I thought– I then set to gingerly roll myself like a human burrito out of the bed and as I did every muscle in my body suddenly sat bolt upright and began to scream. I was powerless as one by one, even the ones in my lips clenched, and refused to move—and then they all began to twitch.

The twitching signaled my body to notice the sudden incredible concrete weight of the light summer down blanket. I was powerless to move. I was totally trapped under a six-ounce blanket of feathers—fEaTherS I said— and an ice cream bowl that I could neither continue to hold nor could I put down. I couldn’t even yell out to my husband to help me up because yelling involves muscles!

I instead whispered like an asthmatic fat version of Marilyn Monroe with her “Happy Birthday Mr. President” in pain thickened pleas for my husband to “Help me out of bed, take the bowl—it’s too heavy, move the $%^&ing blanket, please! Omg—!” I believe I began briefly speaking in Latin, a language I didn’t know I spoke. I am pretty sure I heard myself saying something about Jesu Christo—and then braying something about dominoes and Bisquick and then being reduced to—“I can’t bleepING get up!” in chanting breathless English. And that was Fit Test and workout! Day one.

Insane? Insanity was pushing play for day two! Yep. I did. With Advil and carefully timed breathing and remembering not to waste any movement on things—um—not involved with essential stuff like say, blinking once in a sandstorm, I began. Surprisingly I never did feel that bad again. I had lots and lots of stiff and sore days. Don’t get me wrong, I knew I was working out! I just never spoke anything resembling Latin or got stuck in bed holding a three hundred pound empty bowl of ice cream again.

I enjoyed the way Shaun T. the host and fitness leader sucked me in sweetly—we weren’t digging so very much deeper at first nor were we really at the Let’s Goooooo stuff, yet! It was very sleek and groovy the way it slowly rolled in. For those first three days he was encouraging and rational and it all made smooth good sense. There were enough breaks that though– I sweat balls I thought pffft—okay got this shibble! It’s in a bag, yo!

Shaun was really kind of cute. Though I pegged Tanya the incredibly attractive and chiseled iron cut woman who is always somewhere in the camera frame and who Shaun T. is always stroking purely to illustrate with his fingertips (wink wink) to showcase her awesome engaged obliques as having some sort of “off-camera thing” together, right off, I found them both mildly inspiring and even a little encouraging and uber adorable’esque– as far as youngsters go.

I added Beach Body and Insanity on FB! I loved their encouraging page pictures and the cute and funny memes (though I’d like to suggest one: Keep your knees soft when you “jack!”—Omg, how have they missed that one?) and adorable little hints that only people actually DOING Insanity would get, and I dutifully shared them. I found myself suiting up and showing up every day. It was great!

At some point, Shaun’s tone got more strident and the breaks fewer and far between. I noticed it, like I had noticed the “off-camera thing” between him and Tanya and like I’d noticed the chick who moved like a finely bred Tennessee Walking horse who never actually jumps at all but just high steps– all sleek haughty and powerful and beautiful, I noticed it– but perkily I kept showing up anyway. I sweat more balls and indeed found myself digging deeper.

At first, I couldn’t even balance on one leg nor could I even accomplish a single push-up. My core was like a chunky stick of room-temperature butter. But, gamely I kept showing up. Miraculously somewhere in the middle of the first four weeks, I found I could suicide jump, ski plank, in out and up down—mummy kick yo’ ass! Woohoo! Always had a really good muscle tone in my legs anyway—I was still pleased to find strength there again and start to build outward from there.

Yeah! Okay, Shaun, I see what you did though—you got harder, didn’t you? I noticed, yes, I did—but I feel pretty good. I am an Insanity lesser known mortal saint working my way up to honorable mention, or to Beach Body towel girl at least! Okay—so I dug deeper.

I kept to my philosophy of form over repetition and even turned my back on the television often so I couldn’t confuse myself and forget. They do remind you of that often enough, to be fair.

But, my brain hears that as a challenge. My frontal lizard lobe licks its own eyeball at the pretty display of healthy arms and legs fly on the fit bodies on the television and my good sense will go blue screen sometimes as my inner greyhound lunges out of the gate and tears off after them trying to tear some invisible bunny’s head off and WIN! For me, turning my back sometimes is the quickest fix for that and reminds me to stick to my best form and efforts and to not try to compete with these ridiculously fit and toned granola munchers.

By Fit Test two everything had improved, just as promised! Unfortunately, I switch kicked myself into a temporary knee brace trying to ratchet my number up. I re—resolved to follow MY best form over their most repetitions (Shut up, Beach Body, my ass!) and I kept showing up.

My dedication so strong that when I took a five-day trip to Las Vegas my husband and I brought Insanity with us, that’s right buttercup—in the city of sin we stuck it out! SO DEDICATED that we received a noise complaint at 10:00 a.m. from a hotel employee who reported we had pissed off and probably more than mildly freaked out a neighbor who had been disturbed by the thumps, squeals, applause, laughter, cursing, blended cries of “get those knees up, kick your butt!” and all that heavy breathing that emanated from our room.

But, those people who were irritated can bite me—we lowered the volume shut our own mouths, and kept at it. I was getting my Insanity on! I kept right on grooving with my fluffy butt.

This leads me to my second month of MAX interval, plyo, cardio, core, and balance with Shaun T. and my third Fit Test which also improved and without injury this time! And yep, I’m still showing up. Everything in the first half led up to getting me here so that Max Interval would be possible to accomplish. Every move at this point is possible, difficult yes, but totally possible. Good job Beach Body!

At Max interval, I’ve returned to periodically wanting to vomit a little bit at least once in every workout—but I am still doing it. I find it important to re-state ad infinitum–that I am choosing form over repetition. I was cleared health-wise to undertake a program like this as long as I watched my form and stopped if I felt injury. With those things in place and so far not having any reason to stop, I have kept going.

I have expelled drool and sweat in copious free-running indistinguishably pooling amounts. I have watched these fluids pour from my body powerless to stop them as they puddled onto the floor. I have been reduced to flopping weakly around in stupid twitching circles trying to find the power in my jello legs to stand up– like a cockroach sprayed in the face with Raid more than a time or two.

The blue streaks that have ejected from my lips as I tried new razor-edged moves and began to slowly find both host and the girl who doesn’t ever really jump but who plod steps like a sway-backed nag —Wait! Why the hell am I jumping then?!— to be demons and not at all adorable or cute, has led to a tiny gratitude that my son is low verbal as of now. Yep, I’m allowed to make that joke!  I am! Suckit, suckit, suckittttt!

There have been times I thought I’d never pick up the coordination let alone the strength to pick up a move. Yet, I kept getting up again. I’ve been wrong so far about the things I thought I’d never do, eventually, I’ve found I could do at least some repetitions of every move that I couldn’t when I started out.

I’ve seen results. My husband and friend who I’ve buddied up with have too. You however may be disappointed by them. I am not! Weight loss is still very minimal just starting into the Max Interval—five pounds lost through Insanity added to my total loss of the last several months.

However, I’ve lost four inches from around my middle, three from my chest, and two inches off of my arms while doing this program. More importantly, I’ve drooled and sweat buckets and been sore but I am drawn to do more! It’s important because the scale tells me this isn’t working but my body still comes back to it anyway. My body knows the truth.

Insane? Perhaps, but I am also remembering in the depths of my soul the profound moments in the snow at the peak of my fitness some three or four years ago in May on that abandoned fire road. I’m remembering a promise I made to myself in December of 2010 when my son was diagnosed that I wouldn’t forget to take care of myself too. I am remembering how important I am too.

It’s not about the weight it’s about the obstacles of things I think I cannot do, that suddenly I can. It’s about being exactly who I am and still showing up every day. It’s about a return to the power of knowing that “I CAN”–I can— do anything.

I will check in when I am done and let you know how it all goes. But—I think a forty-year-old special needs mom kicking ass is out of this world! We women with those perfectly imperfect children have a power that can move mountains! It can change the law, change the future, and change the prospects for the world entire!

Yet, when it comes to ourselves that power can lie sometimes untapped. Many of us swallow parts of ourselves and squelch so much of who we mean to be for ourselves into a tiny compartment that we keep meaning to get back to. The energy we have is not always spared on ourselves. We take on the world and stomp out injustice under our feet, we find we can do amazing things for our children.

I am proud to be among this sisterhood of women. I am prouder still to have found a way to return to giving one iota of that power back to myself. I think a person like me, even though I am fluffy and having to work it in around therapists and specialists and exhaustion and stress sometimes—but still finding it in me to keep returning– is amazeballs. I feel good even though my scale says I shouldn’t be so thrilled. I am, anyway.

I even forgive Shaun for going ugly on me. So that’s me digging deeper. Today it is Insanity and tomorrow it could be something else, but anything that feeds my spirit in a way that returns an opportunity to feel that power of accomplishment is good enough. That’s me back in the insanity of the fitness and weight loss kick again.

That’s me giving to myself so that I have something to draw on to give to another. It’s also me enjoying this place in my journey looking forward to seeing where determination and willingly showing up might just take me. Let’s GO!

  1. Avatar of Paula Boer
    Paula Boer says

    Funny and inspiring. Hold on to that feeling in the snow. Moments like that are precious. There is no doubt, too, that you have the motivation to achieve whatever you want to, providing you want it enough. Go girl!

  2. Avatar of Cynthia Niswonger
    Cynthia Niswonger says

    Thank you Paula. I am still showing up every day. I won’t ever forget the mountain tops. I’ve been blessed with a few such vivid moments that I can tuck in my pocket and keep to pull out when I need them.

  3. Avatar of Andrew J. Sacks
    Andrew J. Sacks says

    Eminently readable! Thank you, Cynthia.

  4. Avatar of Cynthia Niswonger
    Cynthia Niswonger says

    Thank you Andrew!

  5. Avatar of Cynthia Niswonger
    Cynthia Niswonger says

    Update: Insanity DONE!15.5 pounds lost.

    Nearly ALL in the second half. I also added an hour long 3.5 mile walk every morning. And once I surrendered to the nutrition part things really moved. For me that is incorporating a ton of vegetable and super foods with lots of anti inflammatory nutrients to support keeping RA in remission. Very limited lean animal protein and measured amounts of whole grain. Eating my heaviest volumes in the early part of the day and completing my eating after dinner.

    My knees gave me some trouble in the end, I have some cartilage loss there. I felt it. Kept to super careful form and sometimes opted out of some grueling knee moves and chose other “equivalent” less battering stuff. And I got through. Lots of muscle built too. On to T-25 starting Monday.

    So score? Busy puffy tired special needs mom with achy breaky joints—better on all 5 fronts! Sedentary excuses and poor me: 0! Cynthia wins!

    How about you? What’re you gonna do to maximize your potential and quality of life? It’s a good question, right there. Because you’re worth your own attention and time as much as any of the people, situations, things—you devote your heart to. It doesn’t have to be BIG. Start small move in any way you can in that direction that moves toward YOU. Find your worth and believe that you CAN as much as anyone–and then you’re halfway there. Peace and Insanity out!

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