Extreme Newsletter—Diet and fitness tips, recipes, and motivation

Issue #035 06/30/10 Introducing TurboFire®!

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Cardio Confusion: A History of TurboFire

An interview with Chalene Johnson by Steve Edwards

"I thought it was too hard, but it turned out to be everyone's favorite," says Chalene Johnson about the creation of her newest program, TurboFire®. "It sold me on the fact that people really do want something that will take them to the next level. But this isn't P90X® for girls. It's not INSANITY®. And it's not just harder Turbo Jam®. It's my answer to the question, 'What would work best for me?'"

TurboFire Workout

TurboFire, the latest offering from Beachbody®, is next-generation in more ways than one. It's the hardest workout series to come from Chalene Johnson, but it's set up so anyone can do it. It's like cardio class at the gym, but it also has core and strength workouts. It's High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), but it's also traditional cardio. It's a structured program, but it changes dramatically over time. "If P90X is about Muscle Confusion™," says Chalene, "TurboFire is about cardio confusion." Today we'll talk with Chalene to help you decide if TurboFire is the right program for you.

"I'm 41, and because of that, I (like everyone else) can wake up with aches and pains, so it was critical for me that this program be something that everyone could do," Chalene begins, dispelling the rumor that TurboFire was intended to be the next INSANITY. However, it's not the lack of high-end difficulty she's referring to, because the program is ultimately very intense. What makes TurboFire more versatile is that it comes with an optional preparatory schedule for those who lack the fitness base to jump right in. For them, each workout also offers a low-intensity option. "In every single video, we have modified moves with little to no joint impact," adds Chalene.

The creation of TurboFire was a long process, says Chalene. "It began in my Turbo Kick® classes. Health clubs don't care about beginners. The overwhelming majority of any health club classes are for advanced users. The mentality is sink or swim. Turbo Jam (Chalene's original Beachbody program) was a step down from what I teach; a starting point for what I was doing in the clubs. It was a ramp; essentially a place to get on the Turbo Kick highway.

Picture of HIIT"I had begun to study HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training, which is short workouts that feature ultra-high intensity intervals," says Chalene. "I was using this in my classes when we created the Fat Blaster workout as part of Turbo Jam's continuity program. It was the hardest video we had done, and I didn't think people were going to like it. In fact, it almost didn't make it into the rotation. But then it turned out to be everyone's favorite." This meant, essentially, that TurboFire was on.

"The concept was to take the toughest Turbo Kick class ever and turn it into a program," Chalene says. "I was trying to answer my own question, 'What would work the best for me?' I'd been incorporating the HIIT philosophy in my classes. But HIIT had come out of sports, where athletes will do anything they're told. I needed to find something more interesting than sprints on a football field. I needed TurboFire to be tougher, more intense, but also more exciting and exhilarating than what I'd done in the past. Like anyone else, I get bored. I plateau. I have the same problems everyone else has. So TurboFire had to address this."

Chalene continues, "I didn't want to make P90X for girls. I didn't want INSANITY. I wanted a HIIT program. I wanted short-duration intervals that killed you. You had to be maxed at the end of each interval. That was the starting point, to be consistent with the research for HIIT. But HIIT can only be done for short durations, about 3 weeks at a time, before you start to overtrain and plateau. So the challenge was creating a program that expanded on these HIIT phases with other aspects like cardio training that would keep the results coming. So I started making workouts to address this and the result is this cool periodizational program that takes you through various forms of cardio training. If P90X is Muscle Confusion, TurboFire is cardio confusion."

What else was successful for the creation of a successful program? "Next," Chalene says, "it had to have great music for that class atmosphere, so you're having fun. But I also wanted the choreography to be easier to follow than Turbo Jam, even though the training was going to be more challenging. So we set it to sound effects so you don't need to follow a beat, so INSANE-ers, X-ers, and other non–Turbo Jam people could do it." Plus, Chalene says, "We wanted it to appeal to guys, too. And it has, especially the HIIT workouts. You don't need to feel as though you can dance. The music is there for motivation."

TurboFire ProductChalene adds enthusiastically, "I think the music is 100 times better than Turbo Jam! Music is so important to me because with good music you don't have to find the motivation; it's there. It makes classes so fun that you don't notice how hard you're working out. It's so much easier sprinting to the right song than a random soundtrack.We had more of a budget and more time with the producers so we could get the music perfect. I had more of an influence over the process and was there every day. I wrote the lyrics. I controlled where the energy needed to build for the workout. This is why it took so long to get it done. Training this hard to OK music was totally not OK. I needed it to be off the charts, un-friggin'-believable, amazing music!"

Of course it's not all cardio. Anyone who's familiar with Chalene knows she's a firm believer that you need to strength-train regularly. As she says, "We wanted everything you'll need in one box: strength training, core training, stretching. But to be honest, what's unique is its cardio. The stretching is geared towards the cardio you're doing in Turbo Fire, but the strength training can be swapped with anything. In fact, I think in a perfect world, you might choose ChaLEAN Extreme® for strength training." (A ChaLEAN Extreme/TurboFire hybrid schedule comes with the program.)

"But," Chalene sums up, "the goal of having everything in one box is important because I want to create things you'll be doing for life. Like I said, this program was about what I would do. And I'm not stopping or slowing down. My finish line is in the coffin!"

See Chalene explain the difference between TurboFire and her other programs here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xz8DJy-YGIQ.

Related Articles
"Cardio: Do It for Your Joints"
"Female Fitness Myths and P90X"
"Endurance Athletes: Get Ripped in the Off-Season"

Questions about your workout program, diet, the latest newsletter, or anything wellness related? Chat with Steve Edwards, the overseer of Beachbody's fitness and diet development (who also serves as your Fitness Advisor on the Message Boards) in the Beachbody Chat Room on Monday, July 12, at 8:00 PM ET, 5:00 PM PT.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

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spacer Are you ready to burn up to 9x more fat and calories than with traditional cardio?

Chalene Johnson's intense new cardio conditioning workout is here! Featuring 12 workout classes, you'll be sweating to the hottest music and moves. It's the best trainer, the best music, the best workouts, and the best spot in class.

TurboFire® workouts include interval training known as HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). These routines combine short bursts of intense exercise with quick recovery periods to ignite your metabolism. The result is a phenomenon known as the AfterBurn Effect, which enables you to burn fat at an accelerated rate for a full 24 to 48 hours after your workout.

In fact, studies show that with HIIT, you'll work out for less than half the time you normally would doing regular cardio, and burn up to 9x more fat.

Chalene Johnson
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Interval Training: The Best Way to See Quick Results

By Steve Edwards

There are a lot of contradicting ideas—many of them misconceptions—about the best way to reshape your body. This is largely because there are a lot of trainers out there, each seemingly espousing a different fitness philosophy. In this article, we'll examine an assortment of training strategies, bust a myth or two, and explain why interval training is generally the most efficient way to improve your fitness level.

Man Sweating

Having just launched TurboFire, we dusted off this article that was first published when INSANITY came out. Since most Beachbody programs use some type of interval training, the information we lay out here is also a perfect lead-in to TurboFire. We'll go into more depth about that program next week. Consider this Part I, your introductory course on interval workouts.

What is interval training?

Basically, you're interval training any time your workout includes a set where you perform at your maximum level for a given amount of time, followed by a lower-intensity set; this sequence is then repeated to achieve a cumulative effect. An interval can be a set of curls, a dance move, or anything that tires you out over a given length of time. Intervals can be short and hard, or long and easy, but they're all intervals, just as long as there's some cumulative effect—you get more tired as you go. All interval workouts aren't the same, though; the duration and intensity of the intervals are what define the workout.

Conversely, aerobic training is when you maintain a steady output at a low-intensity level over the course of the workout. Beachbody does offer some workouts that do this, but they're generally either for recovery or for the second daily workout of a doubles program. This type of workout helps your aerobic efficiency, but does very little for changing your body.

The myth of the fat-burning zone

Woman RunningIt's impossible to approach this topic without debunking the term "fat-burning zone." You often hear uninformed trainers recommend that their clients reduce the intensity of their workouts so their bodies will burn more fat. In reality, all these trainers are doing is lowering the overall effectiveness of their clients' programs.

Here's a quick explanation of the fat-burning zone. At an aerobic pace (see above), your body utilizes stored body fat as fuel to save its preferred fuel (stored blood glycogen) for more pressing matters. This sounds great, because you're burning body fat. However, you're burning it at a very slow rate.

During higher-intensity work, your body turns to a limited supply of blood glycogen (often called blood sugar) for energy. While your body is burning glycogen rather than fat during this more intense period, it's also breaking down more body tissue. "Breakdown" is a negative-sounding word for a good thing, because while it's happening, your body produces more hormones and increases its metabolism to repair the breakdown. As the tissue repairs itself, it builds more muscle, so the next time you do a stressful workout it won't be so taxing. This process of adapting to intense exercise is where your body makes the most rapid change.

Continually building on this process is called "progressive overload." By continually adapting to stress, then adding more stress, either with weight, speed, or intensity, you increase your body's fitness so it's actually burning body fat for fuel as you rest. Interval workouts should be a key component in every phase of your training.

Techie science made simple

Asked what separates serious athletes from recreational athletes, author and fitness trainer Steve Ilg replies, "Intervals." But because "intervals" is an umbrella term for training that targets many different energy systems, Steve's answer is somewhat cryptic and requires further explanation. At the same time, however, it's pretty accurate. Recreational athletes like to train within their comfort zones. Interval training, regardless of the targeted intensity level, always forces you out of your comfort zone. And you have to be willing to leave your comfort zone if you want to see significant changes in your fitness level.

Interval levels can change dramatically. For example, HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workouts are very short, sometimes lasting only seconds, and are completely anaerobic. Marathon runners will often run for one- or two-mile intervals, which can take many minutes and are obviously somewhat aerobic. The reason for the varying intensity of intervals is to train different energy systems in the body. These are defined by terms you may have heard, like anaerobic threshold (AT), VO2/max, etc., but we don't need to go into that level of detail yet. For our purposes here, we'll give you the "101"-level course in what you need to know:

  1. LSD. Not the hippie drug from the 60s, but rather "long slow distance." This isn't an interval; it's a term you're especially likely to hear if you know or are a runner or cyclist. The purpose of LSD is base-level aerobic conditioning. As I said above, this approach isn't really applicable for making significant body changes, unless you do it for a very long time. Yet many trainers still recommend it. I think this is primarily because their clients won't complain about doing 30 minutes of easy exercise.
  2. Sports-specific intervals. These can be anything, like the two-mile example above. Interval training exists for all athletic endeavors. Since it's targeted for sports performance, we won't discuss it. You'll learn plenty about it when you join a local group to train for a triathlon, or other activity or event.
  3. Woman With WeightsWeight training intervals. All weight training could be considered interval training, but traditionally, you rest so long between sets you don't get a cumulative effect. All Beachbody weight training is done interval-style, which we call circuit training. During these workouts, you move from body part to body part without much rest between sets, so the workouts don't just target muscle building, but also improve your cardiovascular fitness. P90X and ChaLEAN Extreme are good examples of this kind of training.

    What defines these circuits is your targeted number of repetitions. A low target using more weight will create muscular hypertrophy, or growth. A higher number of reps limits muscle growth (although you do still get some muscle growth) and gives you more cardiovascular improvement.
  4. Cardio intervals. These are what most of you probably think of when you think of interval training. First, let's define the difference between "cardio" and "aerobic." Cardio means heart, while aerobic means oxygen. Aerobic training is most easily defined by the word "easy." (It's really defined by training below your anaerobic threshold, but let's dispense with the science talk.) Cardio, however, is any and all training that affects the heart, so it can include aerobic training, but also all the high-intensity training associated with intervals.

    High-intensity cardio intervals are performed in something we call "heart rate training zones." Cardio intervals target these heart rate training zones for various periods of time. When you design your own interval workouts, you have to do this for yourself. When you have a trainer, he or she does it for you. This is why we at Beachbody always have test groups to make sure our workouts train you in your proper zone. That way, all you need to do is follow along.

Interval lengths

Chalene Working OutIn general, the longer the duration of the interval, the easier the workout. Some interval sessions have long and moderate intervals with short aerobic breaks. Others have short, difficult intervals with long aerobic breaks. Two interval systems that buck this trend are HIIT and INSANITY's MAX Interval Training. Both feature high-intensity intervals with short breaks, and both systems are very effective for creating rapid body composition changes. But due to their intensity, it's vital that you only do HIIT or MAX Interval Training for short periods of time as part of an overall program—like INSANITY, or Beachbody's new program TurboFire—that includes other types of workouts as well.

How to incorporate intervals into your workout program

As with every other aspect of fitness training, the type of interval training you start with should be based on your current physical condition. If you aren't very fit, you'll want to start with a very basic interval program (which will still feel plenty hard). Workouts like Slim in 6's Start It Up! or Power 90's Sweat Cardio 1–2 are good introductory interval sessions. If you're in doubt, start slowly. It's easier to increase your workout's intensity than to go backward. Intervals are the most effective way to see quick results from a workout program. If you're not doing intervals in your current workout regime, try adding some. If you're already doing intervals, maybe it's time to step up to the next level. You might just be amazed by the results.

Related Articles
"Customizing P90X: Specific Goals"
"Customizing P90X: Running"
"Customizing P90X: Triathlon"

Questions about your workout program, diet, the latest newsletter, or anything wellness related? Chat with Steve Edwards, the overseer of Beachbody's fitness and diet development (who also serves as your Fitness Advisor on the Message Boards) in the Beachbody Chat Room on Monday, July 12, at 8:00 PM ET, 5:00 PM PT.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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TurboFire Available Now!

Get ready to have fun and feel the burn with TurboFire—Chalene Johnson's intense new cardio conditioning program. With TurboFire, you get the best workouts, the best music, and the best spot in class. Click below to check it out!

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Recipe: Seared Ahi

By Chalene Johnson, creator of TurboFire
Seared Ahi

The quality of the ahi (also known as yellowfin tuna) you use for this recipe makes a huge difference, because you'll only be lightly searing the outside, leaving the inside not just rare, but raw. That's why you need to start with extremely fresh, sushi-grade ahi—don't even attempt this dish with a lower grade of fish.

  • 2 sushi-grade ahi tuna steaks, each 6 to 8 oz. and 3/4 of an inch thick
  • Shallow bowl or casserole dish
  • Plastic wrap
  • Nonstick skillet


  • 2 Tbsp. dark sesame oil
  • 2 Tbsp. soy sauce (or 2 Tbsp. of wheat-free tamari, for gluten-free option)
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 medium green onion (scallion), thinly sliced (reserve a few slices for garnish)
  • 1 tsp. lime juice

Mix marinade ingredients together in shallow bowl or casserole dish, then coat both sides of tuna steaks with marinade, cover dish tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Preheat nonstick skillet over medium high to high heat. Remove tuna steaks from marinade and sear for 1 to 1-1/2 minutes on each side. (Sear a bit longer if you want your tuna less rare.)

Remove tuna steaks from pan and slice into 1/4-inch thick slices. Arrange on plates and garnish each serving with a few green onion slices. (Makes 2 servings.)

Serve plain, with brown rice, or over thinly sliced cabbage or fennel. Seared ahi is also great in tacos!

Preparation Time: 10 minutes (plus 1 hour marinating time)

Cooking Time: 3 to 5 minutes

Nutritional Information (per serving):

Calories Protein Fiber Carbs Fat Total Saturated Fat
322 40 g 0 g 2 g 15 g 2 g

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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