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, 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.

"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."

Chalene 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!"