As many of my friends know, I have been diligently pursuing the P90X fitness program. This is an intense series of DVDs featuring trainer Tony Horton. It’s designed to get you into really, really good shape. For me, it has done exactly that. Many friends have been asking about my progress and I thought I would gather my thoughts about it here.
I have been working out at the gym and running regularly (including occasional marathons) for over twenty years. I always saw myself as being in “good shape.” But, mostly for reasons of vanity, I began wishing my upper body were a little larger.
Not only that, but in the past few years I have added a few pounds here and there, and my standard running pace has declined. Though a regular gym visitor, it had always been cardio exercises, never weight training. So I did not really know where to begin.
I started out like a lot of folks my age and demographic profile: I started seeing a personal trainer. This gave me a good introduction to a wider range of exercises and got me started with weights. But I could not afford to visit the trainer as much as I should.
Then, last winter, I began to hear a few of my friends talk about P90X. One friend in particular, Eric Jensen, was going through the program and had nothing but praise for it. Almost entirely on his recommendation, I decided to give it a go.
It took me a little bit of time to convince myself. I have never been a DVD-workout person. I like going to the gym — the whole experience, the access to locker room facilities, the sense of belonging to a crowd. Not only that, the P90X website (it is sold by a company called Beachbody which also developed the popular Insanity Workout) felt very “infomercially.” As I began to check out, I was offered many, many upsell opportunities and I actually abandoned the process a couple of times because I felt manipulated. Finally, though, I went through with the purchase.
Once I had plunked down the money for the system, I decided to give it a try. It is a serious commitment: six workouts per week, every week, for 13 weeks. I vowed to do my best to do the program “by the book,” and really give it a chance. I can do anything for 90 days, I reasoned.
I gave it just about the best shot I could. I did begin to modify a few routines once I had done the originals in the way they are presented, in part because I did not want to give up running. I also did not follow the diet suggestions as closely as I might have. Even so, I think I gave the program a fair shot and I can honestly say I “did it.”
P90X encourages you to track your progress, through a before-and-after fit test, before-and-after measurements, and through photographs. I considered not taking photographs, but again decided to go along with the suggestions as best I could. I am glad I did the photos. Even though I have professional colleagues who read this blog and who are not necessarily used to seeing me without my shirt, the photos speak volumes. (Avert your eyes if you wish.) Here is Day 1 vs. Day 90:
While I have not become Hercules or anything, you can see my stomach has tightened and I have a bit of a six pack, and my arms and shoulders have much more definition.
The biggest change has been in terms of strength. My progress with pull-ups tells the story. In my fit test, I was able to do 5 ½ pull ups before collapsing to the ground. In the first routine, I was able to do 12 pull-ups, assisted by having my feet on a chair. In my last routine, I started out with 20 pull-ups, with no chair. At the end of that hour-long routine, I did 12 more pull-ups, again with no chair. I never thought I could do 20 pull-ups. Ever.
- Pull-Ups: 5 on Day One. 20 on Day 90.
- Push-Ups: 23 on Day One. 44 on Day 90.
- Body Fat %: 21.3% on Day One (in the “yellow zone” for my age). 17.8% on Day 90 (in the “green zone”).
- Chest: 42 in. on Day One. 43.5 in. on Day 90.
- Belly: 41 in. on Day One. 39 in. on Day 90.
- Waist: 38 in. on Day One. 37 in. on Day 90.
- Right Thigh: 22.5 in. on Day One. 24 in. on Day 90.
- Right Bicep: 13 in. on Day One. 15 in. on Day 90.
What I Got When I Ordered
As I mentioned, there were lots of upsell prompts during the checkout process. I had to be careful to make sure I was only ordering what I intended. I decided on a package that included the P90X DVDs, a pull-up bar, a set of resistance bands, and one container (30-day supply) of the “Results and Recovery Formula.” This set up was just about right for me. You definitely need a pull-up bar and some kind of dumbbells or bands to do the program. I made the mistake of ordering the bands that it said “most men” order — they were too strong for me!
In addition to what I ordered, I went to Target and bought an adjustable dumbbell set (I used this more than the bands). I also broke out the mat from our Wii Fit to use for the yoga routines. Eventually, I needed more dumbbell, so I purchases another set. That allowed me to have two dumbbells of 20-25 pounds each for bicep curls.
I can definitely recommend the “Recovery drink.” It is tasty and really does help recovery. I have continued to order it from BeachBody each month, and plan on continuing as I go forward. (A key part of Beachbody’s business model is encouraging repeat orders of things, so I am careful not to sign up for anything I don’t want. But the drink is worth it.)
One suggestion in the literature is to buy push-up stands. I went ahead and did that, but did not end up using them. Also, as the program progressed, I really got into yoga and I bought a real yoga mat and groovy cork yoga block. (Affiliate links.)
While the equipment is interesting and all, the whole point is the workout program — the DVDs. The program is divided into three “training blocks,” each of four weeks (except the last). In any given block, during weeks 1-3 you alternate a weight-training day with a cardio day, then during week 4 (“recovery”) it’s all cardio. “Recovery” is not easy; the term just means you aren’t doing weight training.
The idea is to avoid any plateaus by doing enough of one block to master it, and then switch it up. So Block Two is different than Block One. Block Three is a mix of Blocks One and Two.
I’ll go into detail on each block below. But overall, Tony is a great motivator. He is not too in your face, and is a little goofy. Having said that, I am really glad you have the option of watching the DVDs with different configurations: normal (all dialogue and backing track); no music (but with dialogue); cues only with music (so you just get the exercise name, but no patter); and silence with cues only. Eventually, I got tired of Tony talking to me and did cues only, while playing my own music.
Tony does the workout with different people each routine, though some characters (like Dreya Weber) appear more than once. I believe all of the people actually went through the P90X pilot program; they are not actors pretending to do the workouts.
Each workout is at least an hour long. Many include an abdominal workout after that, which is another 12 minutes. Yoga is 90 minutes. This is a true commitment of time. I never skimped on the workout, except on one or two exercises that I just don’t like doing (for instance, there’s one called the “Groucho walk” that I just think is silly).
That said, I did come back to the DVDs and watch them on normal once in a while, to make sure I was still on form.
Also, life’s schedule does get in the way sometimes. Here’s how I handled that. If I had to skip a day, what I would do is call that my “rest day” for the week (normally the last day should be the rest day). If I had to skip two days in a row, I would cut out a cardio day and keep the weight training day. The block-by-block schedule in the sections below makes it clearer.
Finally, there’s a fitness guide and a diet guide, along with tracking worksheets. The guides are comprehensive and well laid out. The tracking sheets (downloadable) are terrific. Tony is a real stickler for writing everything down, and I am glad I did not let my anti-authoritarian side stop me. It felt great to have the sheets all filled in at the end, and to be able to see visible evidence of improvement. You can’t necessarily see it in the shot below, but all the numbers go up, up, up!
The first training block starts off with a killer routine that is basically push ups and pull ups. I believe it is designed to set the tone for the whole program — it is harder than I had ever worked before and some of my friends have said the same thing. Tony encourages you to take breaks and not to overdo it, and also encourages you by letting you know you will improve — and you will. He shows how to do each exercise using different equipment, and also how to modify them to make them easier. But even the modified versions are hard. For instance, in the first workout, you are doing as many pull ups and push ups as you can do, multiple times. (Different styles, but still.) For an hour. I knew I was in for something difficult after that first routine.
Here’s how the first block unfolds:
- Day One: Chest & Back; Abs
- Day Two: Plyometrics (insane jumping)
- Day Three: Shoulders & Arms; Abs
- Day Four: Yoga X (this is a modified “power yoga” routine)
- Day Five: Legs & Back (squats and lots of pull ups); Abs
- Day Six: Kenpo (a martial art)
- Day Seven: Rest or Stretch (I always chose Rest!)
The last week of Block One, week four, is all cardio: yoga, Kenpo, and one other routine called Core Synergistics — a very challenging and energetic routine.
After the second week, I tried going to the gym to do some of the weight training and pull up / push up routines. This became my favorite way of doing P90X. The tracking sheets helped because I took them along and they reminded me what I was supposed to be doing.
Here are my thoughts as I finished this block:
This second block was a little more challenging than the first. The cardio routines were all the same, but there were new weight training routines. Here’s how it went:
- Day One: Chest, Shoulders & Triceps; Abs
- Day Two: Plyometrics
- Day Three: Back & Biceps (a killer); Abs
- Day Four: Yoga X
- Day Five: Legs & Back; Abs (note we are doing Legs & Back in every week)
- Day Six: Kenpo
- Day Seven: Rest or Stretch (I rested)
And again, the fourth week of the block is all cardio routines: yoga; core; Kenpo
One of my “hacks” in this block was to figure out a good mix of Plyometrics and running. Here’s a video describing what I did:
This last block is a mix of the first two blocks. Week One is like a Block One week, then Week Two is like a Block Two week. This block is five weeks long so it goes like this:
- Week One: “Block One” style
- Week Two: “Block Two” style
- Week Three: “Block One” style
- Week Four: “Block Two” style
- Week Five: Cardio routines and you are DONE!
So that’s where I am. I could have probably called myself “done” at the end of Week Four in this last black (since that is the last weight training routine), but again I decided to try to be as legit as I could.
Results Moving Forward
My physical results have been remarkable. I am very satisfied. But the benefits of this program do not stop there.
- My expectation for how long a workout should be has increased. By working out for 60+ minutes every day for 90 days, I have a new habit. Now, when I start working out, I do not feel done after 30 minutes.
- My expectation for how hard I should work has increased. The P90X routines are hard. By working out that hard, every day for 90 days, I have developed a new habit when it comes to the effort I bring to working out.
- I know what to do at the gym. I really had no clue before, now that I really look at what I had been doing. Now I go into the gym with a plan. I know what I am going to do, how many times, and why.
- I know results come over time. I had been at a sort of steady-state level of fitness for so long, I did not have any experience with making changes. But I watched myself get stronger, bigger, more fit. I marked the progress. Now that I have seen it, I know it can be done. This has given me the confidence to take on new fitness goals.
- My diet has improved. While I did not follow the diet very well at all, I did take to heart the need to eat often, in smaller portions — but enough to fuel myself. And to focus on getting enough protein.
- I discovered yoga. My wife has been doing yoga for years and swears by it. She is incredibly fit. Yet I never tried it out. I did not see it as being “for me.” But P90X requires you to do yoga at least once a week — and I have come to love it. I am very thankful for this.
Okay, there you have it. I hope this has been helpful. I hope that you take from this article something that might help you on your own journey. Just pick an activity and start. Try it daily for long enough to dial it in. Your life can change.
Here’s a video a shot just a few days before the end of the program, reflecting on my progress (and also talking about Bikram Yoga):