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Review: ChaLEAN Extreme

Posted by wmagnus On May - 4 - 2009


Chalene Johnson is one of the hardest working people in fitness. She created the TurboKick gym programs, turned those into TurboJam DVDs, has a clothing line, started a production company and so many other projects springing from her training that keeping track is impossible. Her presentation style is bubbly and warm. She comes across as knowledgeable and approachable.

Unlike prior Chalene Johnson videos, ChaLEAN Extreme puts all the emphasis on free weights. The routines are all about technique and for this reason alone can make an excellent starting point for people looking to move beyond the treadmill and elliptical machines they have been working out with.

Editors note: At the time this was originally posted, neither of use were Beachbody coaches and we had no ties to the company. Bridget became a coach in September of 2009. Dr. Magnus retains his independent status.

The Kit

Opening the box proves to be almost as exciting as unpacking an Apple product. All of the materials are neatly packed. 7 DVDs, 2 books, a thigh toning band and set of calipers for measuring body fat are shipped from Beachbody in a box that is practically form fitted to the purpose.

Fat Burning Food Guide

Chalene provides an old school, low fat, 5 meal per day food program in her guide. There is nothing revolutionary here, but there are over 80 recipes targeted at people on the go. Prep times are short and there is something to appeal to nearly any palate. While not encyclopedic, it does provide an excellent jumping off point for healthy eating.

Muscle Burns Fat Guidebook

This book, which fits neatly in the case with everything else in the program, gives you a complete outline of what is to come. Equipment lists and exercise descriptions are detailed throughout. The calendar for the program is in this manual. The calendar starts on a Sunday or Monday depending on how you read it, though shifting to other day starts can be easily accomplished. This book also provides places to record progress as well as guide pages for placing photos of yourself throughout the program. Beachbody programs are generally big on before and after photos and ChaLEAN Extreme is no different.

Burn Basics/Band Basics/Healthy Eats & Kitchen Makeover

This DVD provides an overview of weight lifting techniques in general which is handy to the novice. Chalene goes on to detail how she lays out her own kitchen to focus on healthy eating and provides some video demos of recipe prep, biased far too heavily on processed ingredients for our tastes though some will find it handy to avoid any real cooking.

Burn Circuit 1/2/3

The Burn Circuit kicks off  the 90 day transformation with light weights and plenty of slow focused reps to get into the routine that Chalene has created. This routine is about visible change in a short period of time and the Burn Circuit targets high visibility muscles like the deltoids and triceps to make the point. Chalene’s presentation style can be polarizing as her target audience is clearly women. There is a token man in the back row but viewers are almost never presented with how much weight he is lifting. There are plenty of admonishments about how women don’t bulk up which of course they don’t, but reminding is never a bad idea. Proper form is explained and emphasized throughout. Plan on 30-40 minutes for these workouts.

Burn It Off!/Recharge

Burn It Off! is very much a Chalene Johnson standard workout. Lots of jumping and kicking and leaping about. This routine, while challenging and cardio intensive is not so much so that a moderate fitness level cannot keep up. The problem with Burn It Off! lies in the fact there is no explanation or training, if the viewer has done a TurboJam/TurboKick workout in the past then the sailing will be smooth. If not, then plan on being lost the first few times through this video and struggling to keep up. Recharge is Chalene’s take on a stretching and flexibility workout. It isn’t bad, but viewers who have done even moderate levels of yoga in the past will find it lacking. Chalene provides encouragement throughout. Unfortunately, the “modifications” she points out provide essentially no stretch at all even for the relatively inflexible. Chalene clearly believes that flexibility is not trainable saying as much on several occassions in the DVD series, something these authors do not agree with. Plan 27 minutes for Burn It Off! and 21 minutes for Recharge.

Burn Intervals/Ab Burner/Extreme Abs

Burn Intervals is a mix of TurboKick style routines with light weights. This hard core cardio will burn the calories and leave you knowing for sure that you have worked out. Plan about 45 minutes for Burn Intervals.  The ab routines are hard core. Ab Burner acompanies the first few weeks to be replaced with Extreme Abs as the program progresses. Both routines bias toward the obliques which will result in a nice line and the beginnings of a six-pack. Plan 10 minutes for Ab Burner and 16 Minutes for Extreme Abs.

Push Circuit 1/2/3

This is the second month of weight routines. Videos again run 35-40 minutes. The exercises involve heavier weights and fewer reps. A quick search of the Internet shows that most ChaLEAN Extreme users find real progress in this month. Weight goes from stable to dropping and there are visible changes in musculature during this phase of the routine. Again, Chalene focuses on high visibility muscles but adds biceps, pecs and back to her target groups during this month of heavier lifting.

Lean Circuit 1/2/3

Month 3 returns to lower weight and 10-12 reps. The exercises become more complicated in this month involving both upper and lower body at the same time. Lean Circuit 1 pulls the surprise of requiring a chair as a piece of equipment, something required no where else in the program. Be ready for this curveball. Some of the moves become quite complicated and fiddly as Chalene involves as many muscles as possible in each move. The results are not to be reckoned with but performing some of the moves could take until week 3 of the month to master. Balance is definitely part of the program, those with yoga experience will benefit from a shorter learning curve during this much more difficult month. Be warned, the workouts in the Lean month run longer between 40 and 45 minutes.

Extreme Motivation (Audio CD)

Depending on what you expect out a CD titled ” Extreme Motivation” you might or might not get anything out of this. If you are expecting something along of the lines of a Tony Robbins style “Awaken the Lean Person Within”, you won’t find that here. Instead, this audio CD is about an hour of Chalene providing some insight into how and why here program works as well as coping strategies for getting over the lifestyle hurdles that might get in the way of weight loss and fitness. The CD amplifies a problem found throughout the program, that Chalene speaks to wives and mothers first and everyone else second. Those not fitting this demographic may not get much from Extreme Motivation.

Her Take

This is not my first experience with free weights, though it would be for much of her target audience. I like the attention to form and guidance on slow reps (no momentum = more work = more muscle). I did not attempt the program with resistance bands; it is doable, but looks a little cumbersome. For best results, stop doing the “modifications” as quickly as possible! Also, pay attention to what happens to your body. If you find that a particular muscle group gets out of proportion, adjust your weight accordingly. For example, my quads tend to get a little “thick,” so I have to ease off them. I’m not wild about the cardio, ab, and flexibility segments, but I like the muscle definition the weight routines provide.

His take

For me this wasn’t a first outing with free weights either. I did discover quickly that I wanted to be going one step above whatever Chalene was using. I was frustrated that Chalene doesn’t regularly mention what weight the guy in the back row is lifting. I can ignore her bias to speaking to women especially during the motivational speeches during the warm up and cool down segments of the workouts. During the first 30 days, I discarded Chalene’s cardio and Recharge routines in favor of cardio and stretching from another program. For me, her Turbo style just isn’t my thing and she places too little emphasis on serious stretching to keep me challenged. I do imagine that I will be revisiting the 90 day weight circuit repeatedly in the coming months and years as that portion of the program is so solidly designed that it can remain challenging for a long time.

Buy Chalean Extreme At Amazon Now.

6 Responses to “Review: ChaLEAN Extreme”

  1. […] six months of weight training using a customized schedule of Chalene Johnson’s ChaLEAN Extreme, next week we will be changing over to the latest Beachbody product, Shawn […]

  2. Great writeup… ChaLEAN Extreme is the real deal and is every bit as effective as P90X in my opinion.

  3. Is there any before and after photos from ladies or men in the age group of 40-45?

  4. wmagnus says:

    There are plenty of pics available through http://www.fitlike.us/

  5. How fast am I able to see muscle definition?

  6. bmagnus says:

    That depends on a lot of things, including how hard you work, what your diet is like, and what kind of shape you are in when you start. However, I think you will find that your strength is much improved by the time you finish the first 4 week block. If nothing else, a lot of people are surprised by just how much it turns out they can lift during that first month! According to Chalene herself, most people see the biggest changes to their physique during the second 4 week block, which features heavier weights for fewer reps.