On April 22, 2011, I completed my 90 day odyssey with Beachbody, LLC’s P90X home fitness regimen. In this post I will document my motivations, impressions, results and advice for those who might be interested in pursuing improved health and fitness with P90X. I am not a Coach and I’m not affiliated in any way with Beachbody, LLC or any of its products. What I am is a satisfied customer.
P90X was released to the market in 2005 and has been an early leader in the growing home fitness segment. Who hasn’t watched one of the ubiquitous P90X infomercials while channel surfing through the wasteland of late night TV. While it’s not a cult or a Religion, it has made an impression in popular culture. And those who have completed the program often speak of it, and their experience with it, in a quasi-religious fervor. The lead protagonist, self-described “fitness clown” Tony Horton and his minions guide the viewer through a 90 day, 12 DVD journey of pull ups, push-ups, squats, lunges, core work, plyometric jumps, kenpo and yoga routines. It’s a challenging effort that yields positive results for those who apply themselves and finish the program. Beachbody’s marketing claims that completing P90X will leave you in “the best shape of your life” and I tend to agree. I was possibly in better shape 30 years ago at age 18, but I am definitely in better shape now than any time in the past 20 years. And I’ve never been stronger than I am now.
P90X has been a very successful product for Beachbody, LLC accounting for almost half the sales of the private company’s $430 million 2010 revenues. As of November 2010, 3 million copies of P90X have been sold for an estimated $420 million. Its success has spawned a broad array of niche DVD products offering fitness solutions for seemingly all demographics and age groups. In my opinion, it’s a great thing that a business can so successfully offer viable solutions to address the dire state of personal fitness in our country today. In the United States, we are experiencing a health and nutrition epidemic. Obesity is out of control and growing. As of 2010, over one-third of adult Americans were obese. Fewer and fewer engage in a routine exercise schedule. Ignorance relating to nutrition and the growth in restaurant, fast and junk food consumption only compounds the problem. As a result, incidence of heart disease and diabetes is on the rise. Left unchecked, the United States may, for the first time in its history, soon experience a decline in the average live expectancy of its citizens. The Nation can’t regulate itself out of this condition, but individuals certainly can and have successfully improved themselves with committed effort by completing P90X and similar programs.
P90X is very demanding for those new to the program. For most people it introduces radically more exercise than they’ve done before along with dramatic lifestyle changes with respect to diet and nutrition. This change can get overwhelming, very fast. And the all too common result is P90X fatigue, and failure to complete the program.
Why People Fail
From scouring the web and my experience in Beachbody’s message board, I think it’s reasonable to state that 60-75% of those who attempt P90X fail to complete the 90 day program, at least in their initial attempt. Some people initially fail to complete the program, but upon reflection of the root causes of their failure, go on to complete it. The causes of failure are no doubt as varied as the individuals who make the attempt, but following are some of my observations gathered from experience and time spent on the teambeachbody message boards:
1) Failure to Commit. I suspect many people purchase P90X on a whim after hearing about the product and deciding it could possibly get them to some vaguely defined goal to lose weight and get ripped in the not too distant future. The main problem here is the failure to commit to a clearly defined goal. Many in this group never even start or quit shortly after starting and realizing P90X is demanding of one’s time and effort.
2) Perceived Lack of Time. No doubt, P90X is demanding of your time. I think many people who fail take the position that they don’t have time for P90X. But it’s really a failure of perspective because you’re not investing your time and effort into P90X at all: you’re investing in yourself. When you consider time for pauses and the abdominal exercises in Ab Ripper X, each P90X routine easily consumes 90 minutes of your day. Add a shower to clean up and it’s suddenly two hours. Preparing your meals at home surely adds time as well, no?
Well, we all have the same number of hours in each day of our lives and it’s ours to choose how to live those hours. On average, Americans spend 2.8 hours per day plopped on the sofa watching TV or surfing the web. And, really, you were going to take a shower anyway, right? What about all that time preparing food at home? That was my favorite bit of folklore. How much time do you waste sitting in restaurants?
- Driving to the restaurant
- Waiting to be seated
- Waiting for your drink order
- Waiting to place your meal order
- Waiting for the meal
- Dealing with issues around the meal (wrong meal; incorrectly prepared; where’s the ketchup?; will someone PLEASE refill my drink?)
- Waiting for the check
- Paying the bill
- Driving home
This is easily a two hour adventure. Even fast food requires the driving time. I don’t care who you are or what your situation is, if it’s important to you, you will allocate your time accordingly.
3) No Accountability. This is similar to failing to commit, but it’s driven by the result of succumbing to temptations over time. You start out following the program, but ultimately yield to the relentless opportunities to veer off course. These could be unsupportive friends and family placing demands on you that are inconsistent with the demands of P90X. Or, failing to schedule your time, so workouts don’t happen. Both these examples are the result of a failure to declare your mission. Unless you commit to define yourself as the person who is doing this thing called P90X, then it’s just too easy to slink off into the shadows and hide.
4) Instant Gratification is NOT Forthcoming. In our society, we want everything NOW. Through the miracle of the microwave, even bottle fed babies are now conditioned to get their milk within 20 seconds of their first shriek. So people quit after 20, 30 or 40 days, discouraged that they can’t make the cover of Sexy Abs Magazine, or worse, because they’ve gained weight. People respond to the program at different rates depending on your baseline fitness, age, diet, adherence to the nutritional guidelines and effort expended in the routines.
5) Overdosing on the X. Some people have the opposite problem–they completely upend their lives and quickly become overwhelmed by P90X. In an overzealous attempt to undo a lifetime of poor health, nutrition and fitness, they immediately engage 100% in all aspects relating to P90X. When you completely change your eating habits and your time allocation while punishing your body by asking it to perform the various P90X routines each day, you’re setting yourself up for failure. You will be too tired. You will lack the mental fortitude to continue. You will burn out.
6) Pressing Too Hard. Going for the glory, many people injure themselves lifting too heavy weights with bad form. They get injured.
7) Not Eating Enough. When you introduce a new activity like P90X into your life you dramatically increase your baseline caloric burn. Your metabolism increases as well. Add in additional activities like running, biking, swimming and you can easily burn over 1,500 incremental calories a day. Under-eaters get sick.
8) Not Getting Enough Sleep. As Tony Horton says, “take care of your body, and it will take care of you.” All that exercise exacts great demands on your body and it needs adequate time to recover. Under-sleepers get sick as well.
Why People Succeed
P90X is certainly a demanding physical effort. But I believe the biggest demand is MENTAL. Hitting PLAY, day in and day out, regardless of how tired, sore and cranky you feel is a big challenge. Setting aside the time, planning ahead, always thinking about diet and nutrition, in addition to normal life demands, is taxing. So how do people overcome these barriers to success?
1) They Commit. Take pride in the fact that you are doing this for you and no one else. I can’t imagine gasping my way through Plyometrics with a vision of someone else’s happiness in my head. Define your goal. Make sure it’s realistic. If its weight loss, I think a goal of losing 15-20 pounds over 90 days is realistic. I lost 10 pounds, and I didn’t even want to lose weight.
2) Set up a schedule that works best for YOU. Structure your P90X schedule so your rest day falls on the day where P90X would most likely conflict with the rest of your life. For me, this was Saturday, when I typically play tennis, go hiking, or pursue some other physical activity. So my P90X week always began on Sunday.
3) Modify as Needed. Modify your schedule as needed for travel and your physical condition. Use elastic bands when weights are not available, switch up the sequence of routines, lower reps and weights as needed to avoid injury, extend a phase. Again, do what makes the most sense for YOU.
4) Pace Yourself. If you follow the program and stick with it your fitness will improve. Don’t be impatient. Those who realize this don’t attempt to cheat gains by pressing too hard and ensure they are getting enough calories to fuel the furnace.
5) Accountability. This is another way to commit. By committing, you are now defining yourself as this person who is going to complete P90X. Help yourself by not keeping it a secret. Tell everyone you’re doing it. Fear of the embarrassment of having to later admit that you didn’t complete P90X can be a big motivator. I set up this Blog, linked it to facebook and availed myself of the teambeachbody message boards to share my accomplishments, questions and frustrations with other like-minded people.
I began P90X on January 23, 2011, half way through my 48th year. I’ve always been pretty thin and relatively active with tennis, hiking and biking. I have a fondness for Spaten Lager and fatty foods with a nice helping of carbs on the side. I’m six foot tall and have been weighing in at or around 165 pounds for the past several years. But as I hit my 40’s the great decline asserted itself. I was getting sicker more often. I was getting winded playing tennis. Dissipating heat in summer tennis was a growing issue. My knee kept getting injured introducing stabbing pain when backpacking down a mountain slope. My belly was beginning to look as if I were entering my second trimester. Gravity was winning.
I was confronted with the brutal reality that unless I did SOMETHING to reverse this trend, my days of tennis and hiking would be numbered. Several years ago, I joined a nearby gym and engaged the services of a trainer. After almost a full year of on and off 3 routines a week and lots of step ups and hack squats, my knees had regained some semblance of strength and stability. To my satisfaction, backpacking was no longer a painful experience. Unfortunately, my tennis game continued to decline with my aerobic capacity. I have always hated running and ellipticals and treadmills are about as entertaining as watching paint dry. So, cardio was never a big factor in my workouts. Despite this, I could hike up a mountain all day long until there was no more mountain. But short, bursty, plyometric moves–the stuff of tennis—not so much.
As is common with gym memberships, my routines grew repetitive and boring. Trainers came and went through the revolving door. It was really impossible to build a productive relationship with a trainer. I was gaining little knowledge about how to apply my time in the gym to best effect. Three days a week, turned to two, then one, then just a few times per month. There was always a reason NOT to go. I felt I had peaked from the benefits gotten by the gym.
P90X had been in the back of my mind from my business travels, watching the infomercials when I couldn’t sleep. Maybe it was the jet lag, but it struck me as a viable program. I also have a friend, Bob, who successfully completed P90X a year ago and spoke convincingly of its benefits. I figured something, ANYTHING, requiring at least an hour of exercise, six days a week, mathematically HAD to produce results. I found the concept convincing and I spent almost no time researching what types of exercises were involved and what level of fitness was necessary. I did research the cost of the DVDs and the equipment required and recommended for maximum benefit.
As it turned out, it didn’t take much effort to research sources for purchasing the P90X DVD set. You can purchase it for $140 direct from Beachbody.com or Amazon.com. Some people on forums proudly proclaim they procured the product at no cost from this torrent or that. This is morally reprehensible. P90X is intellectual property and its owners rightly deserve compensation for their efforts. Because I feel the product is so good and comprehensive, I hope they become obscenely wealthy from product sales.
Since I had no prior experience with Beachbody and its products, I opted to purchase the DVD set through Amazon. I have never had any customer service issues with Amazon and they are therefore my “go to” company for most online purchases. Also, I had a greater sense of trust from the likely more objective customer reviews posted on Amazon.
Having decided to attempt P90X, I purchased Bowflex SelecTech 552 Dumbbells, a pull up bar, exercise bands and a yoga mat with the intent to get started as soon as everything arrived. The idea of finishing by May seemed appealing. And I did start within a couple of days of receipt of all the materials.
At the onset, I did have a reasonable goal in mind which was: to maintain (or even gain) weight, lose fat and build muscle and overall strength. I took the initial fit test, easily passing everything except pull ups, at which I failed utterly, achieving a count of zero. Despite this shortcoming, I felt reasonably confident that I could do what was required by P90X. My main concerns about potential barriers to completion were 1) accountability and 2) nutrition.
I was concerned that life would compel me to miss a day or two of P90X and that two days missed would turn to a week, and a week into two. Death by a thousand cuts. So, knowing myself, and not wanting to duplicate my gym membership experience, I felt it was vital that I establish a highly structured mechanism that would ensure my accountability. I have some experience developing and maintaining websites for my business and personal pursuits and long had a vague interest in learning how to set up a blog. I just never had an excuse to go down that road. The concept was simple: establish a blog and shout my intentions and activity from the rooftop to the world. I’m not delusional. I know no one cares what the heck I am doing, certainly with respect to P90X. But I just employed the blog as a mental trick to motivate me to push forward, knowing it would be harder than I imagined.
I also availed myself of the teambeachbody message boards where there is a rich and supportive community of like-minded people going through the program and tracking at or near whatever timeframe you are in. It’s a great resource for questions, reinforcement and accountability.
With respect to nutrition, my main issue was frankly I had never made any concessions in that regard. I ate and drank what I wanted when I wanted. I had the hollow leg syndrome. But with 40 comes a slower metabolism and the gradual accumulation of belly fat. So while I knew nutrition was an issue, I had no record of addressing the problem. Also, I’m married and have a teenage son. I did not want to inflict my lifestyle choices on them in any extreme way. I addressed the nutrition issue in phases, to avoid overwhelming myself.
Step 1 was to acquaint myself with the P90X Nutrition Guide and just try to eat less junk, drink no soda, reduce alcohol consumption, lower carb and fat intake and increase lean protein.
Step 2 involved learning new recipes at the rate of maybe one or two per week, purchasing more whole foods, fruit and vegetables and eating out less.
As I grew more confident with the various P90X routines, I proceeded to Step 3 and began to invest more time tracking food and calorie content. I used myfitnesspal.com, a free resource for tracking one’s daily food consumption. This was very edifying. Prior to using this tool, I had no idea how many calories I was consuming or if I was even close to the recommended carb/fat/protein ratios. I was shocked to learn that I needed to dramatically increase my protein intake and lower my fat and carb ratios.
I did not formally define these “steps” or establish any sort of “nutritional timeline.” Rather, the process unfolded naturally as I was mentally prepared to enhance and improve my knowledge. This made a world of difference for me and will pay big dividends going forward.
Over the 90 days, I lost 10 pounds while gaining muscle. So I had more body fat than I thought. Again, this was against a goal of maintaining my weight. I still have a modest amount of belly fat, something I’m now confident I can beat with additional time and effort. Candidly, though, I was shocked how hard it was to reduce belly fat to the extent I did.
Looking back at my early blog posts, it’s clear I had no idea what lay ahead. I had no experience with plyometrics, yoga or kenpo and no clue what exactly was involved. Yet these proved to yield major performance enhancements for me. The aerobic, cardio and movement in plyometrics and kenpo produced quick and tangible gains in my athletic performance on the tennis court. I am no longer winded after a long point or losing my legs in the course of a match. I have successfully had opponents 20 years younger than me gasping for air, hands on knees, after a rally while I’m bouncing the ball at the service line in position for my next serve. THAT is a great feeling.
The biggest surprise for me was yoga: 1) its hard, 2) it improves your ability to breathe properly and 3) it is fantastic for dealing with the inevitable shoulder, neck and back tightness that develops from all the resistance routines. I always feel physically at my best upon completion of Yoga X.
Like most people who progress through P90X, over time, I realized gains in reps and/or weight when working through the various routines. The thrice weekly Ab Ripper X exercises became a routine, if hated, process. For me, however, the biggest—and most chart-worthy—gains were in the pull up department. As flatly stated earlier, my initial unassisted pull up count was zero, and there it hovered for several weeks. But, despite the numbers, I was getting stronger. By using the chair to get up and performing as many negative pull ups as I could each round, each week, I was getting stronger. I also used a band and pulled on that for 25 reps, both rounds of each pull up type through the entire program. For those of you out there frustrated with your inability to perform pull ups, look at my chart below. It wasn’t until week six that I was able to perform any positive number of pull ups. From that point forward, results increased exponentially. By Week 12, I achieved 61 cumulative pull ups in the Legs & Back routine.
These results show even more dramatically when my cumulative weekly pull ups are revealed in the chart below:
Fit Test Results
Note that the vertical leap in my Fit Test results was limited by the ceiling height of my basement. My “Day 90” In and Outs would have been higher except for the fact that I did 30 “Crunchy Frogs” before I realized I wasn’t doing the correct exercise!
Take it a step at a time. Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to change everything at once. You’ll burn out. With the routines, start out with the goal of learning the correct form. You’ll have plenty of time to focus on reps and weight. Failing to get the form right will only lead to injury and you will likely give up on P90X.
With respect to nutrition, focus on incremental improvement. Read the nutrition guide two or three times. Acquaint yourself with the concepts. Go after the low hanging fruit by radically cutting back (or eliminating) all junk, and fast food, sodas, candies and things we all know aren’t good for you. Next, start buying more whole, unprocessed foods such as lean meats (tenderloin, turkey, chicken and fish), fruits and vegetables. Eat out less. Start preparing more meals at home; bring a prepared lunch to work. Try a new recipe from the P90X nutrition guide to get a sense of ingredients and portions. After you’ve learned a recipe, try another. Reduce carb and fat intake. Increase protein. Over the weeks and months you’ll develop a whole new set of healthy, tasty meals you can quickly prepare. Over time, I found that my cravings for junk and fatty foods (even pizza) have been reduced dramatically. I now find myself thinking of junk food as “the enemy.” It’s extremely difficult to burn off a pound of fat. A single pound of fat is equal to about 3,500 calories. Not coincidently, I imagine, that’s about the same calorie burn you realize huffing and puffing your way through an entire week of P90X. After having worked myself to exhaustion a few weeks into P90X, I found the siren song of the Twinkie to hold far less appeal.
As you succeed, you will come to realize that P90X is not a 90 day program. Rather, it’s a vehicle with which you can, in a relatively short time, dramatically improve your fitness, and quickly get schooled on exercise techniques and nutritional guidelines you can use for the rest of your life. It’s sort of a boot camp for laying the foundation of the “new you.”
Equipment, Supplements, etc.
I have the Bowflex SelecTech 552 Dumbbells purchased on eBay, Set of 5 Source Premium Latex Resistance Exercise Bands Tubes Cords w/ Door Anchor and Exercise Manual. I plan to start after the Iron Gym Total Upper Body Workout Bar – Extreme Edition arrives. I also ordered a yoga mat.