Tony Horton with bands in the X position, with P90X and beachbody logos

The first time I heard about the P90X programme was when I was browsing through my Facebook news feed, and one of my friends had posted a before and after picture after apparently following the P90X programme for 30 days. He was what I would describe as “skinny fat” – he was a relatively skinny guy but he also had a seemingly high body fat ratio, and had quite a few visible flabby bits. The progress he had made however in the first phase of the P90X programme (30 days in) was pretty impressive! Already he had started to shed some of the fat around his abdomen revealing the top of his abs, and he looked much more defined around his chest, shoulders and arms. I didn’t have much time to investigate it any further at the time, so it wasn’t until a few months later that I really looked into the P90X programme. See below just one example of a before and after photo after 90 days (very impressive, I’m sure you’ll agree!):

p90x before after

The P90X Infomerical

I had fallen asleep watching the discovery channel one night, and I woke to the P90X infomerical as the channel changed to late night teleshopping. I couldn’t help but be interested in what I saw. At the time I was experimenting with my own high intensity circuit training programme, and I was having a lot of success with it. The workouts in P90X  seemed to be a well balanced series of circuit training routines, but they were much more rounded than anything I had put together, and they were supported by a great nutritional programme and an advanced cycling system they refer to as “muscle confusion”. Basically the P90X programme is a follow up to the original Beachbody programme called P90 – a 90 day fitness programme. The “X” in P90X stands for “extreme”, and there is no doubt that this is an extreme workout. The 90 days are split into three 30 day phases. At the end of each phase, the workouts are changed/mixed up and the diet is changed (the calories remain consistent, but the ratio of protein/carbs/fats changes). This cycling or muscle confusion as they call it, prevents you from getting a plateau in your results. Anyone that has worked through a fitness programme before will know that you tend to hit a plateau around week 6-8, and you need to swap things around to keep progressing.

A comparison of a traditional workout graph versus the P90X muscle confusion plateau buster

The above graph shows the comparison of 2 graphs. The first is a graph of the typical results you get from traditional workouts, with a nice increase in results at the start of a programme followed by a plateau. The graph on the right shows the P90X results graph based on the principle of muscle confusion, where the results improve with each phase of the P90X programme, getting you maximum results in a minimum amount of time.

The P90X philosophy

So already the P90X programme had already struck a chord with me, as the philosophy behind the workouts matched my beliefs and concurred with the success I had recently had myself. The other aspect of the P90X programme I liked is the concept of building muscle to burn fat. Yes there is a lot of aerobic exercises in P90X that burn a lot of calories, but there is also an equal amount of anaerobic exercises where you are encouraged to lift heavy weights and really push yourself. I think most men certainly like this idea, although a lot of women are initially put off by the idea of adding muscle and are worried about adding “bulk” to their frame. This certainly is not a problem. It is much more difficult for women to build muscle in the same way as men, and the results achieved by a lot of the women in the testimonial videos (and my own wife!) are really impressive. They look toned and slim, and not “bulky” in the slightest.

Finally, there is the motto of “Bring It”. All the makes of P90X ask is that you put maximum effort into the routines. You can probably make your way through the programme with only moderate effort and still get good results, but you will get out what you put in, and if you really give it full intensity for the duration of the workout you can get really exceptional results. The “Bring It” message comes up at the start of each routine following an intro from trainer Tony Horton to help get you pumped and into the right frame of mind for giving your full effort to the workout. Anyone attempting the P90X programme really should keep this in mind. There is a point in the workouts where you have a mental block which says “I can’t do any more”, or “this hurts too much”, but with the right mentality you can push through this and realise that you are capable of much more.

The P90X workouts

The P90X programme is split into 12 workouts across 12 DVDs. Each workout is just shy of an hour long which includes the warm up and cool down. On the anaerobic work out days, you also have the “Ab Ripper X” routine to complete (3 times per week) which is about 17 minutes long, and the “Yoga X” routine is probably close to 90 minutes long. The workouts include:

  • 01 Chest and back: This is a series of push ups, pull ups/chin ups and dumbbell exercises, designed as an intense strength and definition workout for the upper body.
  • 02 Plyometrics: Plyometrics is basically “jump training” and has been described as the “X” in P90X. This routine is hard work, but it’s also really good fun and dramatically improves your fitness.
  • 03 Shoulders and arms: A tough combination of curls, presses, flyes and much more to really work your shoulders and arms.
  • 04 Yoga X: A yoga routine that really helps balance the P90X programme. This helps with strength and flexibility as well helping your body to recover.
  • 05 Legs and back: This contains some really great ways of working your back and legs without the need for big weights
  • 06 Kenpo X: An intense cardio routine using Kenpo punches & kicks, a fun way of training your endurance, coordination and balance.
  • 07 X stretch: Almost like a simpler/easier version of Yoga X, designed to increase your athleticism and strength while aiding recovery and avoiding injury
  • 08 Core synergistics:  A core workout with exercises you’ve probably never seen before to really improve your core strength
  • 09 Chest, shoulders & triceps: A combination of compound and isolation exercises to really target specific muscles
  • 10 Back & biceps: All your “for show” muscles are worked here, for some t-shirt busting exercises
  • 11 Cardio X: This is a much lower impact, but still a tough and fun cardio routine
  • 12 Ab Ripper X: Probably the hardest ab routine you’ll come across. Even now I still struggle to complete all the exercises in this routine

Although the Ab Ripper X workout comes on a separate DVD, it is also included on the anaerobic workout DVDs so you don’t need to keep swapping DVDs all the time which is really useful.

P90X: Extreme Home Fitness

I’ve always been an advocate for home fitness.  Over the years I have purchased a lot of gym equipment such as a bench, barbells, dumbbells, a heavy bag etc and now have pretty much all I need aside from the occasional extra plates that I need for the barbells as my strength increases (oh and I would love a squat rack, but I think that would be taking advantage of my wife’s generous nature!). Now although I believe there are a lot of advantages of working out from home, I was extremely sceptical about home workout DVDs. I’ve seen many people buy these “celebrity fitness DVDs” that come normally just after Christmas, such as a soap stars new dance routine or yoga workout designed to help you shed the festive pounds around your waist. I’ve not been impressed by anything like this.

P90X however, is completely different. First of all there is the great man himself who I have really mentioned yet; Tony Horton. Tony had his own fitness company called ASH (the initials of his name, Anthony “Tony” Sawyer Horton), and he was a personal trainer to a host of celebrities including Billy Idol and Bruce Springsteen to name a few. Tony is the life and soul of the P90X programme, and it’s the energy and enthusiasm that he brings to the workouts that really help to make them so good on top of the solid foundation of the workouts themselves. Throughout the DVDs he provides information, banter, jokes, cues and more. Once you’ve done the workouts a few times, there is the option on the DVD to simply play it without any sound (just the music) but I enjoy listening to him and leave it on.

Tony isn’t the only person in the DVDs though. In each workout he is supported by 3 other members, most of which were chosen from the trials. Each person has a different level of ability, which is great because you get to “compete” with different people each time, and they will perform the exercises in different ways. I’ll get on to this later in the “modifying p90x” section.

Finally the workouts are supported by a band that plays appropriate music in time to the workouts, and this really helps to get you pumped and in some cases provides a rhythm for the workouts. On the first DVD there is some really cool heavy metal music, the Yoga has a series of relaxing ambient sounds, plyometrics has some more quirky tunes that almost makes you feel like you’re playing a game on the Wii or something. It’s all very clever the way it has been put together.

The equipment you’ll need for P90X

If you read the reviews or listen to the P90X coaches, they make out that you only need 3 items. This is true, however I have split up all the equipment you will need into necessary and optional items.

Necessary

  • Dumbbells: You’ll need a range of light to heavy weights. I use a range of 12kg – 30kg weights.
  • Pull up / chin up bar: I recommend a chin up bar such as the Iron Gym that sits in your door frame, without needing any permanent fixings
  • Yoga mat: You’ll need this for Yoga, Ab ripper X, core synergistics and X Stretch

Optional

  • Push up bars: You can do standard push ups but these aren’t great for your wrists and have a smaller range of movement. You can also use your dumbbells.
  • Yoga blocks: If you’re not very flexible, Yoga blocks can help with some of the stretches so you can perform the movement without needing to be supple enough reach to the floor
  • Resistance bands: My wife prefers using these over dumbbells, and for some exercises they work better than dumbbells.
  • Heart rate monitor: Really great for monitoring how hard you working and how many calories you burn
  • Powerblocks / bowflex / adjustable dumbbells: Changing the weights on dumbbells can be a pain, so an adjustable dumbbell set will work really well.

P90X Nutrition

As well as getting a team of industry experts to put together an awesome training routine, Beachbody also got a top nutritionist to put together a really powerful and easy to follow diet plan. Based on your body rate and lifestyle, a simple calculation will work out which tier of nutrition programme you should be on. There are three phases of the P90X nutrition plan (one for each phase) with different ratios of protein/fats/carbs. A suggested meal plan is provided, and it’s pretty easy to follow and also really tasty! You can of course put together your own meal plan, but I would recommend having a good read through the nutrition guide before you do.

On top of the standard meal plan, P90X nutrition guide also recommends using a number of supplements. This includes a standard protein drink (a high protein diet is required, especially during the first fat shredding phase) which is the best way of increasing your protein intake easily without consuming additional fats and carbs. A vitamin supplement is also recommended to keep your immune system high and prevent you from getting ill, which happens to a lot of people when starting a new and intensive workout plan. Finally there is the P90X recovery drink. The official drink is very good, having a 3:1:1 ratio, that is high is carbs, protein, antioxidants, vitamins and more. It should be taken immediately after a workout; there is a short window after a workout when your body is craving replenishment, and this contains everything is needs to immediately aid recovery. The only issue I have with the official drink is that it’s really expensive. There are plenty of alternatives you can use (see some of my suggestions below), and if you’re on a tight budget then I have heard that chocolate milk is quite a good substitute!

Modifying P90X

There are lots of ways that you can modify P90X to cater it specifically to your goals, however this isn’t the kind of modifying I was referring to. Basically, there is a reason why there are 4 people in the DVDs, as they are all performing the exercises in slightly different ways. Tony will always perform an exercise the standard way as it was intended, and initially this is what I would recommend trying to do. One member of the team will be performing the exercise in a slightly easier way, i.e. using the bands instead of doing pull ups. Another member will be performing it in a slightly harder way, i.e. on pushups they may raise one leg. Finally, one member of the team will perform a specific variation i.e. a low impact alternative. Throughout the programme I would recommend modifying as required, initially performing slightly easier versions to get through each workout, and then modifying each time to create a progressive increase in difficulty. This is another thing that makes P90X so brilliant, as it makes it accessible to people that are out of shape, but can also be very challenging even for the fittest gym rats!

P90X tips, advice and things I’ve learned

Having done P90X twice now, there a few things I’ve learned, and there a few issues I had to overcome. I thought I would share these with everyone and that it might be useful reading if you’re thinking about starting the P90X programme.

  • Yoga X: This is a really hard aspect of P90X, and I really struggled with this. It’s challenging in a completely different way to the other routines, but boy is it hard work. A lot of people I’ve talked to skip the Yoga routine. They give excuses as to why, but the real reason is that it’s hard work and the benefit of the routine is not as obvious. P90X is a very carefully thought out and planned routine, and Yoga plays a key part in it’s success. Make sure you do it!
  • The scales are not your friend: After the first 2 weeks of P90X, I weighed the same on the scales and was gutted. Surely after all that hard work and dieting I should have made some progress!? Well, I had made progress; I had built as much muscle as the fat I had lost and this evident both from my body fat measurements and the results I could see in the mirror. When tracking your progress, take measurement and take photos. The scales can be deceptive, and it is a classic mistake to believe that because your weight is the same that your not making progress.
  • Use the worksheets: You can download and print off worksheets to track the reps and weight used in each workout. Track everything, and use the sheets to make sure that the following week you are progressing. If in a previous week you did 12 reps with a weight, try increasing it a little so that it’s more challenging but your still within a 8-12 rep range.
  • Check the planner: I read through the planner at the start of P90X and thought I knew exactly what to do. When I got to week 4, I realised that my workouts should have changed for the end of that phase, and it set me back a week. Even if you think you know what is coming up next, check and make sure.
  • Use a calorie counter: Don’t guess or make approximates with your calorie intake. If your calories are too low you won’t build muscle, and if they are too high you won’t lose weight. I used an iPhone app called “myFitnessPal” which allowed me to set goals (calorie intake, as well as ratios of protein/carbs/fat) and this worked really well.

Issues I had with P90X

Doing P90X wasn’t all plane sailing. Here are a few of the issues I had:

  • Learning the routines: When doing routines for the first few times, I found I needed to watch first and work out what to do. Trying to do the routine, particular Yoga X, while learning on the job left me tangled up in knots and quite frustrated. Try looking at your TV while holding some of the Yoga postures!  Have a watch of the DVD before actually starting.
  • Changing dumbbell weights: There are a lot of changes between heavy/light weights. In the DVD they have a rack of hex dumbbells and just choose a suitable weight. I have 2 sets of dumbbells, but I still have to swap some plates around for particular exercises which is a pain at times. Using something like Powerblocks or Bowflex weights could solve this issue, but they are expensive bits of kit!
  • Space: Although space wasn’t an issue for most of the workouts, I really had to plan where to position myself for the core synergistics workout. I have quite a big front room, but if you have a small space this could be an issue for you.
  • Oddly sized door frames:  I bought the official P90X pull up / chin up bar, only to discover that it didn’t fit quite right in my door frame. I think my door frame was about 2 inches to narrow. The Iron Gym fits perfectly, but doesn’t have the same additional handles. As it turns out this isn’t too much of an issue, even with wide grip pull ups, but it was annoying.

Does P90X work?

Yes it does. It really does. I got into great shape doing P90X, and it’s the kind of shape that everyone notices. Around day 45 we had a really hot day here in the UK, and I gleefully put on some summer clothes to go out and enjoy the sun. I was shocked to discover that the t-shirt I put on was tight across my chest, shoulders and arms. Really tight. My wife laughed when she saw it. The shorts I tried on which were normally quite tight (I used to undo the top button at barbeques) now hung low around my hips and needed a belt. Lots of people commented about how much weight I had lost in my face, which over 45 days I hadn’t noticed. In the same time period, my wife lost 14 lbs of excess weight she had put on during the pregnancy of our baby boy and looked fabulous.

I was reluctant to recommend P90X to anyone until I had completed it, but I was getting so many compliments I had to reveal my secret! Before I knew it, I had people buying copies everywhere including my Dad who is in his late 50′s, and loads of my friends and work colleagues. Some of them didn’t follow the routines as closely as I had, but even so, they still started to get good results.

It’s worth pointing out the P90X is not for everyone. Although you’re following the DVDs and following a clear diet plan, it’s a big commitment and requires a lot of effort. You will do perhaps 7 hours of exercise per week, with only one day off for 90 days. A lot of preparation and planning is required for the nutrition plan. You have to get into the right mindset to complete the workouts. It’s hardcore, and definitely deserving of it’s “X” status. However, if you want results, this programme will help you get them and there is no doubt in mind that it really works. If you think that this is perhaps too extreme for you, take a look at some of the other products offered by Beachbody such as the P90 or the 10 minute trainer programmes.

P90X has a huge following in the US, with millions of copies sold. At the moment there seems to be more of a cult following in the UK, but I expect that a lot more people will be taking this on in the near future. Once you’ve completed P90X you can do it again and again. Alternatively there are other programmes that you can do as well such as the “insanity workout”, and there is going to a P90X2 coming out sometime soon.

P90X: A complete list of everything you need!

So hopefully you have found this useful, interesting and perhaps you’re now thinking about starting the P90X programme? If so, here is a complete list of everything you need including links to some of the cheapest suppliers / prices I have found. Good luck, and if you’re going to start the programme then don’t forget to………. “Bring It!”

P90X – Complete programme with nutrition guide and planner

Dumbbell set

P90X – Official pull up / chin up bar

Equivalent P90X pull up / chin up bar

Iron Gym pull up / chin up bar

Yoga Mat and blocks

Push up bars

Resistance bands set

Heart rate monitors

Powerblock sport 9.0

Bowflex dumbbells

Selectabell dumbbells

Protein drink

Recovery drink

Sports vitamin supplement