ChaLEAN Extreme: Taking Chalene Home with You
By Steve Edwards
"When I'm personally training someone, I don't use Turbo Jam®," said Turbo Jam creator Chalene Johnson. "So when Carl [Daikeler, Beachbody® CEO] asked me to bring personal training to the masses, I jumped at the chance. ChaLEAN Extreme combines legitimate strength training with cardio, along with helpful diet tips, motivation, and other tools. With this program, I essentially come into your home."
Since Turbo Jam, which is also called Turbo Kick® at gyms around the country, is one of the most popular fitness programs in the U.S., I was very interested to hear why its founder would embark on something completely different. At Beachbody, we're well aware that there are numerous ways to get someone into shape. But this was the first time we'd turned one of our trainers loose to create a personalized program that would fit the masses. The resulting program is something that's completely different than the movement-to-music medley of workouts that is Turbo Jam. ChaLEAN Extreme test group results were off the charts. Today, we sit down with Chalene to get the scoop on ChaLEAN Extreme.
Steve Edwards: When we talked originally about Turbo Jam, you were all about the music (see "The Hottest Class in the U.S. Is Now on Video" in the Related Articles section below). Is it true that there won't be any music in ChaLEAN Extreme?
Chalene Johnson: When I'm personally training a client, I don't use music. There is some music [in the videos], but it's in the background. This isn't dance. I don't want a distraction. I want them to slow down. It's about total mental focus, and music can interfere with that. I don't want people moving to a rhythm, using momentum, or anything that can break down form. For entertainment, I use my personality and my 20-plus years of personal training experience. The cardio workouts have great music, though!
Steve: So it's not a complete about-face from Turbo Jam. What does the program consist of?
Chalene: The program consists of 4 months of workouts. Each week is broken down into strength one day and cardio the next. It's based on undulating periodization, so you can mix and match and continually keep the program fresh.
Steve: Let's shelve the technical talk until later. What else do they get?
Chalene: I come home with them.
Steve: That's got to be expensive.
Chalene: It would be, yes. Most people can't afford to pay for a personal trainer, but almost everyone could use one. My goal was to create the one-on-one experience you get when you hire a trainer. I come into your home and help you reorganize your life.
Steve: That sounds challenging, to say the least. How do you accomplish such a thing that will work for everyone?
Chalene: It's all about changing their lifestyle. First, I get into their car. They get an audio program that covers everything from how their childhood may have affected how they feel about food to how to stop thinking like a short-term dieter. I discuss how to change your way of thinking. This often means changing habits. Sometimes, it means changing friends, or at least finding new ones that support your healthy lifestyle.
We've got an epidemic in the country, and someone needs to step forward and do something about it. Especially for moms—we have to break the trend of how we show care. For 100 years, we've been trained to show love and care with fattening sugary foods. There are better ways to show kids how we care about them. There are better ways to show ourselves. I talk about how to rewire the voice that speaks to you. Essentially, if you really care about someone, wouldn't you give them every opportunity for a healthy lifestyle? That's the attitude I try and instill in them, about their loved ones and themselves.
Then, I come into their home. They get an instruction[al] DVD, with my family showing you how to reorganize your kitchen to make healthy food prep[aration] more realistic. Some stuff that you hear in advice columns, it's, like, get real[.] They can't do that. They don't have time. So I show them how a crazy busy mom does it, because I am a crazy busy mom. If I can do it, anyone can.
Steve: Want to share a few of these tricks with us?
Chalene: Sure. We will eat what's convenient, especially kids, so you want to acknowledge this fact and prepare for it. So the first thing we do in the DVD is to rearrange the fridge, the pantry, the whole kitchen. Watch kids—actually anyone—in a kitchen. The first thing they do when they aren't sure what they want to eat is to open the fridge. Then, they move to the pantry. So one of my tricks at home is to wash fruit and keep it at eye level. This makes healthy snacks the first thing you see.
Most of this prep[aration] happens when you first come home from the market. I prepackage chips, pretzels, and other [snack] foods into single servings. If you give someone a bag of chips, they'll overeat pretty much 100 percent of the time. But a small serving is plenty to satiate their craving, and it doesn't ruin your diet for the day. If you grab a small serving, instead of a whole bag, your mind tends to sign off on the craving.
The tips I give are easy. They won't turn your life upside down. The goal is to simplify it, to make everything easier. Because we're all busy. The more organized we are, the easier life becomes.
Steve: What else do they get?
Chalene: There's a beautiful nutritional book. It's like a coffee-table book, with big photos of [almost] every recipe. It provides you with all of the ammunition to make simple, healthy meals with stuff you can find in any store. At its core are recipes that are very simplistic. I didn't want you to need to find a certain store and use expensive ingredients. Anyone has the means to make these recipes.
And there's a guidebook, of course, but a really thorough guidebook. It had to be thorough because I talk a lot about using heavy weights, and I wanted something that you could take to the gym, if that becomes necessary. It's also designed to take with you when you travel so you never need to miss a workout. There are photos of all the moves, and you are urged to record the weight you use. And there's a lot about the science behind super-slow training and breakdown sets—the reasons that you're doing this program.
Steve: Okay, let's talk tech for a bit. Explain why you use weight training instead of cardio when the goal is to become leaner.
Chalene: As you know, nothing can reshape your body like weight training. Adding muscle increases your metabolism, resulting in a leaner you. This program utilizes all of the latest research. Movements are done slowly, with strict form. You progressively overload your muscles, which creates the most hypertrophy [muscle growth].
Steve: A lot of women aren't going to want to hear about muscle growth. Want to address the myth of bulk?
Chalene: It's such a ridiculous myth! Women who get bulky have to train so hard for it—way over the top of what a normal strength program offers. Not one woman in the test group ended up with larger measurements. They all ended up leaner, tighter, and smaller.
Steve: Let's talk about undulating periodization. All of our Beachbody programs use some form of periodization. For those who don't know, this term refers basically to training in different blocks, each with a different focus. The goal is to eliminate a results plateau, which happens whenever you do the same type of training over and over. At its most basic, we see something very simple, like the Sectional Progression™ concept of Power 90®. P90X® is far more advanced, using 4-week training blocks to create what we call "Muscle Confusion."
Chalene: Undulating periodization is different than traditional in that it allows you to mix and match your workouts, similar to how you'd create different programs with P90X. Because you can mix and match your workouts and the way your program is structured, you can always keep things fresh, new, and exciting. Plus, if you blow it and fall off the program, you don't need to go back to the beginning. These workouts will allow you to jump back in anywhere. This means that you can restart anytime you want, and this eliminates guilt and excuses for quitting.
Steve: Tell us about your cardio element. Is it like Turbo Jam?
Chalene: No, as there is no coordination requirement. No dance. [The ChaLEAN Extreme workouts are] like my boot camp workouts. Anyone can do them. You don't have to stay on a beat. But I also encourage you to do any cardio that makes that [happen]. Anything will work with the program.
When it comes to cardio, the best workout is the one you look forward to and will do with the greatest intensity. So if you like Tony, Shaun, Debbie, or whomever, I encourage you to do that. Whatever it is that inspires you will work.
Steve: Do you worry about this being too complicated for the masses? It sounds like you're attempting to revolutionize the way many people have been taught to think.
Chalene: It's actually simple, but the first DVD we want everyone to watch is Burn Basics. I ask you to erase everything you've learned about strength training—again, it's what I'd do as their personal trainer. I then teach anything you'll need to know. I do an in-depth analysis about form, how to know if you've selected the right weight, etc.
It teaches the concepts that they need to understand. For example, why we need to use different weights and different exercises, and how to do so in a way you won't get injured.
Steve: Speaking of weights, do they need to have a lot at home?
Chalene: The bands work great, so you don't need to buy a collection of weights. If you are going to invest in weight[s], I highly recommend the Bowflex® SelectTech® [Dumbbells]. These allow you to move up and down in half-pound increments, which is something that's very rare to be able to do even in a health club. They are a little expensive . . .
Steve: But people spend hundreds, and often thousands, of dollars on treadmills, ellipticals, and other machines that only have one application and end up as a place to hang their laundry.
Chalene: Yes! And these are so much more useful. You'll use these for the rest of your life, because you can always use weights, no matter what exercise program you end up doing. And they take up very little space.
Steve: Since Turbo Jam has been so successful, why would you design something completely different?
Chalene: Because I was given the opportunity. As a trainer, I've always prescribed both cardio and strength training. Turbo Jam is what I teach to classes, which are limited by what's in the health club. It's fun, and it's great exercise, but how I teach to a group has always been different than how I work as a personal trainer.
Clubs have always been afraid to make an investment for heavy weights for group exercise. More than cost, it's that they think women are afraid of weight. But at the club I teach at in Southern California, we've been offering three classes a day, four times per week, and have a waiting list every month.
Steve: How have your legion of Turbo Kick teachers reacted to the new program?
They haven't done it yet. They know it's coming, and are excited to teach it to their students. But that, ultimately, will come down to the clubs and whether they will invest in the equipment. What I've created is a way for trainers to do group personal training. It's an outlet for those who can't afford a personal trainer, and hopefully, it will be in the club's best interest to offer it