I have done multiple rounds of P90X and P90X Plus over the last few years. Joe Bovino of “Shoulders and Arms” fame has thrice sat down to interview with me. And, at the time of this writing, I am amid my first round of the newly released P90X 2. Suffice it to say I am categorically familiar with the P90X franchise and its campy cast of characters. In the following text I offer a summary of the programs, my subjective evaluation of P90X as a multi-time grad, my thoughts on instructor Tony Horton, and musings on individual P90X workouts.
Summary of the Programs
P90X: P90X is a DVD-based fitness system produced by BeachBody. It hit the market in 2004; by 2005, it was viral; today it is so widely lauded that it is a part of our modern pop-culture. The program consists of twelve DVD workouts designed by Tony Horton, a workout calendar, a workout guidebook, and a nutrition plan designed by Carrie Latt Wiatt.
BeachBody marketing gurus tout P90X as a means to get ripped in a ninety-day period. To do P90X as prescribed you must work out and eat a healthy diet for thirteen weeks. At the onset of the program you, theoretically (to an extent), get to tailor your eventual outcome by choosing one of three different program schedules—Classic, Lean, or Doubles—to which you will subscribe the duration of your P90X journey. Classic is probably the most popular. It features three cardio and three strength workouts per week. Lean also features six workouts per week, but it is more cardio biased than Classic. Doubles is the Classic schedule with additional cardio workouts thrown in three times per week.
Each DVD routine takes about one hour to complete providing it is not repeatedly paused. Exceptions are “Yoga X” which is one and one-half hours long, and those routines that are done in succession with the twenty-minute “Ab Ripper X” workout. Regardless of the schedule you choose (Classic, Lean, or Doubles) you are expected to workout six days per week—a weekly time commitment of seven to eight hours if you follow the Classic or Lean schedule, more if you follow the Doubles. Each routine is led by the venerable Tony Horton. Accompanying Tony is a rotating set of sidekicks he affectionately calls “the kids,” most of whom were culled from the pre-production P90X test group.
Good nutrition has a heavy push in the P90X program. Tony speaks to it often during the workouts, strongly suggesting you heed the instruction presented in the nutrition plan guidebook. Said guidebook lays out two distinct dietary approaches you can choose from or toggle between: pre-planned menus, or nutrient block schedules whereby a certain amount of protein, carbs, and fat servings (blocks) are allotted each day.
A main tenet of P90X is “muscle confusion”; an adjunct of “nutrient confusion” is prescribed in tandem. Simply put, Tony has you change workout rotations every few weeks so your body does not adapt to a given routine—the logic being that the body continually improves so long as it is consistently given new challenges. Similarly, the prescribed diet changes three times over the course of the program, each change emphasizing a different macronutrients ratio.
P90X Plus: P90X Plus is a five-DVD workout set created to augment P90X. Though you could treat Plus as a solitary set, it was not designed as a standalone system. BeachBody intends for you to incorporate Plus workouts into your P90X schedule to create a hybrid P90X/Plus program. Like P90X, Plus workouts are filmed on a set, and they feature Tony and a couple of his “kids.”
P90X One on One: P90X One on One is a set of workout DVDs that can be purchased singularly, or in volume sets. Unlike other P90X products, they are unscripted, they only feature Tony Horton, and they are filmed at a home-gym setting rather than on a traditional set. At the time of this writing there are three volumes of One on One discs, each containing twelve DVDs. Given there are thirty-six different discs, One on One workouts could easily be used as their own system. The intent though is for you incorporate them into P90X to create a hybrid program.
P90X 2: Where P90X Plus and One on One were essentially created to integrate with and enhance P90X; P90X 2 was created to be a stand alone program—a new and improved P90X. It is structured the same as P90X in that it is a ninety-day program that includes twelve DVD workouts, a workout guidebook, and a nutrition plan. P90X 2 is filmed on a set, and it stars Tony Horton and a new batch of zany “kids.”
My Subjective Evaluation of P90X as a Multi-Time Grad
I will start by trying to answer two prevailing questions. Is P90X effective? And can you really get ripped in ninety days if you follow the program? Defining broad efficacy is difficult given there are varying forms of measure. Personally, I have experienced good results from it. I believe it to be effective for most—most being those who do not have major heart issues, and who are reasonably able-bodied. For those who leave a canvas of osteoporosic dust on their Craftmatics every morning, P90X may not be suitable. To answer the oft asked, “Will it make me ripped?” Sure; maybe. Why the ambiguity? In my opinion there are too many variables at play to offer a definitive answer. If you begin your P90X journey reasonably fit, and with a fairly low percentage of body fat, you will likely emerge from it ripped at the ninety-day mark. If you begin it terribly unconditioned and or obese, you will undoubtedly emerge from it in far better shape, but probably not ripped.
T (my wife) and I completed our first round of P90X a few years ago. Prior to this virginal run through, I had seen BeachBody’s P90X infomercial 987 times. Ninety percent of Americans had seen it 987 times. I usually assume infomercial products to be shitty—the progeny of hack inventors and b-list celebs—and the bumptious hosts hawking them to be morally corrupt (no intended defamation to the postmortem reputations of Billy Mays, or the affable—yet “morally corrupt”—Don Lapre). Given my intense skepticism, I never gave P90X a lot of thought or credence. T urged me to do a little investigation though. Many of her colleagues are P90X’rs, and they have touted its merits to her repeatedly. Dubious, I dedicated an hour to Google research. To my surprise, I found stellar reviews and little criticism. So, a couple of days post investigation I tracked down a new, unopened, P90X program on Craigslist.
We went into our first round of P90X on the heels of a brief exercise hiatus, so as expected the first week was tough for us. It was very tough in fact—both from the standpoint of establishing an early workout timetable (we decided on a 5AM schedule), and from the physical tax of the workouts. I did not fully know what to anticipate before starting the program. I think I had it in my head that the workouts would be fairly easy—sort of a lightweight cocktail of Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons type moves. Suffice it to say my preconceived notions were quickly eradicated. I ended my first week sore and a bit humbled.
As we progressed in the program our workouts became mechanically easier, yet they remained physically challenging—a good thing. We adhered to the workout schedule verbatim our first month. Our second month we skipped a few workouts here and there—primarily the exceedingly lengthy “Yoga X” routine. Our third month found us in the winter holiday season; and, given the typical demands of said time of year, we continued to skip a few workouts on occasion. Notwithstanding our less than perfect compliance, we both still realized appreciable gains in strength, endurance, and muscularity. I am certain had we adhered to the workout program exactly as prescribed, and had our diets been a bit tighter—we did not follow the P90X diet; we just ate fairly clean and unprocessed—that our results would have been quite stellar (my second round of P90X confirms this). When all is said and done, what do I think the pros and cons of the program are? I will start with the pros; there are quite a few of them.
- The production quality of the DVDs is good—somewhere between Howard the Duck and Avatar. The workouts are well filmed; there are readable on-screen countdown timers for each exercise; the music is subtle but appropriate; you can turn off all unnecessary commentary by Tony and the “kids” if you choose; and the DVDs are indexed so that you can easily queue to the beginning of an exercise.
- The format of the workouts is well conceived. They all start and end (save for “Yoga X” and “Ab Ripper X”) with stretching; and their substantive parts generally follow a nice curve with slightly easier exercises at the start, harder ones in the middle, and then slightly easier ones again at the end.
- The variety of workouts prescribed each week keeps things interesting. I became very familiar with each routine after a month or so, but with twelve different DVDs in rotation my interest was always held nonetheless.
- Tony, against his best efforts to the contrary, is tragically unfunny; which paradoxically makes him kind of funny. I think it is this odd brand of “funny” that makes him fairly motivating. I am convinced his personality is a big factor in the success of P90X. Bottom line, he is motivating, knowledgeable, and he puts emphasis on form and safety which I appreciate.
- The diet outlined in the nutrition guidebook is easy to follow. More importantly, it is fairly easy to sustain over a long period.
- A personal pro: both T and I seem to experience positive body changes every time we do P90X.
- The time required to complete the workouts is considerable. Trying to fit an hour-plus daily workout in six days per week is nothing short of stymieing. As a counterpoint, many CrossFit workouts can be done in less than thirty minutes a day. When T and I do P90X, 5AM workouts become de rigueur. Both she and I have busy daytime schedules, and our wondrous daughter tends to demand considerable attention in the evenings—especially mine. Since she is still young she actually thinks I am tremendously cool like Jesus or Santa Claus. I want to hold on to that as long as I can.
- When amortized over ninety days, P90X is costlier than many three-month gym memberships. The program itself runs over $100; then, unless already owned, you must purchase a pull-up bar or resistance bands, and at least a few dumbbells. Of course if you do several rounds the math bounces back in its favor.
- My nutrition guidebook has several typos, mitigating its credibility. I suppose I may have a pirated copy given that I bought my program off Craigslist. (A quick web search will show there is an abundance of pirated programs on the market.) If it is not pirated though, the typos in it are inexcusable.
- A personal con: Tony Horton, while generally funny (see pro above), can sometimes leave me wanting to commit malice. Then there is his “kid” Katie from “Back and Biceps.” I am sure she is likeable enough in everyday life, but in “Back and Biceps” she is a source of significant irritation. Suffice it to say, if the shrill, sycophantic demeanor she displays in P90X is not just a stage persona, then I would just assume play naked twister with a bunch of porcupines than I would interact with her.
Overall, I firmly believe that P90X’s pros outweigh its cons. It is a well structured program that demands hard work and dedication. And let us face it, hard work and dedication is what it takes to get fit. Eating celery soup, and drinking carbonated aspartame while planted on a couch in front of an episode of Jersey Shore is perhaps an easy and entertaining fad diet, but it will not make you fit and healthy. P90X is not “fad diet easy”; it is perhaps as entertaining as an episode of Jersey shore though—you know, given Tony’s ridiculous acting career, Maren’s hardcore porn stardom, etc?
My Thoughts on Tony Horton
To me, Tony is an enigma of sorts. Everything I like about the guy comes with a counterpoint. Does he know what he is doing? Absolutely. But does he subtly rub it in your face? Absolutely. Is he motivating? Absolutely. Can he at the same time be a bit condescending? Absolutely. Does he think he is fucking funny? Absolutely. Is it reality that the only thing fucking funny about him is that he thinks he is fucking funny? Absolutely; though I will give him credit for his occasional attempts at humor while off the P90X camera.
Is he professional? Yes, save for his frequent and skeevish ogling of his female “kids.” Does he somehow manage to speak clearly and inspiringly while performing ridiculously hard, heart-pounding, exercises? Yes. Does he also manage to speak clearly and attempt to inspire while impersonating Arnold Schwarzenegger, Groucho Marx, and various pterodactyls? Yes; unfortunately. Does he wear douchie tinted glasses? Yes.
Bottom line, Tony is polarizing. This fact notwithstanding, I would still be honored to meet the guy … to workout with him. I respect him; I get the impression he genuinely cares about helping people improve their lives.
Musings on Individual P90X Workouts
Chest and Back: I like this workout a lot. Most of the routine is based on body weight movements—push-ups and pull-ups. It is simple, almost old-school, yet highly effective. All you need is floor space, a pull-up bar or band, a chair, and a couple of dumbbells. “Chest and Back” holds distinction for me as the only P90X workout I have done that has caused me to vomit. It was an early morning about 5:45 AM. T and I were about forty-five minutes into the routine when it happened. I had worked myself to such a weakened state that I had to stop dive bomber push-ups so I could throw-up all over our garage / home-gym floor. The aftermath was so enticing that it compelled T to say nothing more than, “I am done.” I will always remember her uttering those embracing words before opening our garage door and vacating, leaving me in a puddle of my vomit on the cold concrete floor. What a truly great workout! Oh, and lest we forget, “Chest and Back” features “German Potato Soup” Maren, adult film star extraordinaire. Go ahead, Google her.
Plyometrics: In my opinion this is one of the toughest workouts in the P90X library. For those unfamiliar, ‘plyometrics’ is jump training. Tony does a nice job infusing “Plyometrics” with a variety of movements—movements clearly applicable to myriad sports. “Plyo,” as Tony calls it, features two of my favorites of his “kids”—Pam the Blam, and Erik Stolhanske of Super Troopers and Beerfest fame. Pam shows near perfect form in virtually every exercise she does. Erik, an amputee, competently tackles “Plyo” with a prosthetic leg.
Shoulders and Arms: This workout effectively supersets a number of tried-and-true dumbbell exercises. I like its simplicity, and I think it is one of the easier routines to follow for those who want to workout in exact cadence with Tony. “Shoulders and Arms” features the ever-ripped, ever-ogled by Tony, Scandinavian looking Dreya Weber of The Gymnast fame, as well as my buddy, US Chick Expert, Joe Bovino.
Yoga X: Simply put, this is the routine I like the absolute least. Alas, it is the routine I should do the most. “Yoga X” is long—arguably too long—and it is tough. Unless you are a tenured yoga practitioner this workout is likely to be a serious challenge. It features one-percent body fat Adam, the crush-worthy Audra, classic car restorer Daniel Haas, and Gumby’s sister Shawna.
Legs and Back: This is one of my favorites. I have always enjoyed toggling between upper and lower body exercises within the same workout. Tony does a nice job of putting a new spin on a number of old-school calisthenic leg exercises in this routine.
Kenpo X: “Kenpo X” is a moderately effective cardio workout. It is not my favorite; but, it certainly is not my least favorite either. The routine offers a lot to take in. I could see the intricacies of some of the punching and blocking movements it features tripping up the non-dexterous. “Kenpo X” features Compton shirt wearing Vanessa, perma-grinner Tony Lattimore, and Wesley Idol, a tall teddy bear who shows habitual disinclination to exertion. (Ironically Wesley is the real life Kenpo expert who served as advisor to Tony when he developed the routine.)
X Stretch: I love this routine. If a Lilliputian ever wants to heighten, doing “X Stretch” just may be their ticket.
Core Synergistics: This is a great routine. In my opinion it is the most rounded full-body workout in the P90X library. It allows you to hit all major muscle groups without completely punishing any one body area.
Chest, Shoulders, and Triceps: “Chest, Shoulders, and Triceps” follows a similar recipe to “Shoulders and Arms.” It is a solid routine, but alas I have a hard time staying focused through it. For some reason I always fixate on the points in the workout—chair dips and triceps extensions—where Tony inexplicably, and without self-correction, calls his “kid,” Dave, by the wrong name of Sean. Who the hell is Sean?
Back and Biceps: “Back and Biceps” is a good routine, but it is not a favorite. In fact I am three times more likely to oversleep on mornings I schedule “Back and Biceps” than I am on mornings I schedule “Shoulders and Arms.” “Back and Biceps” introduces us to “interior designer Katie”–my most loathed of Tony’s “kids.”
Ab Ripper X: “Ab Ripper X” is a highly concentrated and effective core-blast routine. Tony’s cringe-worthy comment, “I love it, but I hate it” is an apt sentiment of how I feel about “Ab Ripper X.”
Cardio X: “Cardio X” ranks a 6.5 on a one-to-ten scale for me. I like it, but I like “Plyometrics” much more. “Cardio X” is a hybrid of some of the easier moves from “Yoga X,” “Kenpo X,” and “Plyometrics.”