Flip on the TV, read a magazine, search the Internet. Everywhere you look, there’s an ad for P90X. If you’re engaged with fitness, you’ve been exposed.
What’s more, the ads are highly alluring: chiseled bodies against stark, black-and-white backgrounds. Who can resist?
Here’s the thing, though: The program actually works. Behind the promotional smoke and mirrors is an effective, well-designed regimen of home-based exercise built on sound physiological principles. One month in and already I’m noticing real differences.
It took me a while to get started. Weeks after the $150 DVDs arrived, I was still debating whether I really wanted to commit to 90 days of grueling exercise. Reports of serious soreness from friends who’ve tried it didn’t help, especially as P90X would have to augment my ongoing training for spring and summer races.
Then there’s the diet. Unlike many exercise programs, P90X is a lifestyle. To do it right, you have to plan your meals carefully and devote a lot of time to measuring and cooking. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself spending more at the grocery store and ponying up for official-brand energy bars and recovery drinks.
Yet here I am, 30 days into it, raring for more and astonished to have surpassed so casually my initial goal of two weeks.
For those who haven’t heard of it, P90X is a series of exercise videos produced by a company called Beachbody. The program features Tony Horton, a fitness instructor known for a few mainstream film cameos and exercise titles such as “Power Half Hour” and “Great Body Guaranteed!”
Physically, Horton embodies the kind of sculpted, muscular build most men long for. On camera, too, he’s got an engaging way about him. A bit corny, perhaps, but definitely motivating.
Unless you order the deluxe package, which includes drinks, energy bars and equipment in addition to the videos, you’ll receive a set of 12 DVDs and two booklets detailing the diet and workout plans. The booklets include a basic fitness test to determine whether you’re up to Horton’s “Bring It” challenge: to exercise hard for an hour straight, day after day.
As far as food goes, you can observe the rules by cooking Horton’s recipes or breaking down your diet into categories and portions. The guidelines are exceedingly thorough but can be tailored to various caloric needs.
Or you can imitate me and simply eat healthy and drink a protein shake after hard workouts. Remember, though, I’m not trying to lose weight.
Equipment-wise, you don’t need much. But a chin-up bar or a set of exercise bands and a few free weights, ranging from light to heavy, are mandatory. Additionally, Horton asks for a heart-rate monitor, push-up handles and yoga supplies, but none of these is critical.
More important, you need the right space. Ideal is a large room with a TV, plenty of square footage to jump around, and some kind of overhead fixture on which to do pull-ups or hang your bands. I’m doing chin-ups in the bathroom, because that’s the only place my chin-up bar will fit.
Most of the workouts target a specific muscle group, but a few, such as plyometrics and kenpo, challenge the entire body. Most last about an hour. There’s also a 90-minute yoga disc and a 15-minute “Ab Ripper.”
The idea is to keep your muscles “confused” by establishing a weekly routine and then repeating it until your body gets used to it, at which point it’s time for a new combination.
All of which is easier said than done. When I started, I’d never done so many push-ups, pull-ups or squats in my life, let alone anything resembling plyometrics or martial arts. Even now, I’m still performing many exercises in modified versions, and yoga continues to kick my butt.
These days, though, the painful soreness I used to feel has given way to pleasant physical echoes. My form, I think, is improving, and I’m feeling the burn exactly where and when Horton says I should. If anything, I probably need heavier weights.
And P90X isn’t interfering with my running and cycling. On the contrary, I find myself having more energy than usual.
Best of all, I’m starting to see results. I’m not bulking up significantly, but that’s not what I’m after. The muscles in my chest and arms are peeking out, and I’m gaining strength and mobility in my shoulders and hips. Already I’m doing twice as many pull-ups as before.
One aspect of P90X has gotten harder: staying motivated. When I started, I was so excited, I couldn’t wait to get up an hour early every morning. Now the alarm goes off and I’m tempted to stay in bed. Once I get up and moving, though, I never regret it.
It’s the same with P90X. You have to get past the initial hesitation. The slick packaging, tough talk and rigorous rules are daunting, but underneath it all are healthy eating habits and good old-fashioned exercises people have been doing for ages.
The gimmick is there’s no gimmick.
THE PLAIN DEALER Every P90X journey begins here, with a set of 12 DVDs featuring fitness trainer Tony Horton. The videos offer workouts targeting specific muscle groups or whole-body routines such as yoga, stretching and kenpo.
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