P90X parent company Beachbody must be spamming the heck out of the TV infomercial channels this month, because I keep getting emails from readers asking if P90X is right for them based on my run with the program a few years ago.
To cut down on the amount of copying and pasting I have to do, I’m going to post my responses here for the edification of all future P90X Googlers. 😉
If you haven’t been working out too much in recent years, particularly with heavy weights, you should definitely try out the P90X fitness test first before you buy the P90X program.
P90X is designed for men and women who are already at goal weight (or at least within a few pounds of it) and in very good physical condition with no major physical limitations or chronic injuries who just want to get leaner and become even more fit. It will increase your strength, flexibility, and muscular endurance and probably decrease your body fat as a byproduct of increasing your fitness, but it was not designed specifically as a fat loss program. In general, it’s not for those who have more than 15 lbs to lose, those who have been completely sedentary for more than 6 months, or those who have only done cardio and yoga and only want to tone up. It’s a hardcore home boot camp system, and while there are a few modified movements shown to decrease difficulty, there is NO beginner ramp up included to get you from 100% sedentary up to the recommended P90X starting state.
The program is pretty strenuous, especially the Chest & Back (almost 100% pullups and pushups), Plyometrics X, and the Legs & Back workouts. If your fitness level — strength *and* endurance — isn’t pretty decent already, you won’t be getting your time or money’s worth out of the program. You also won’t look like one of their 90 day “After” photos in 12 weeks, because if you look closely, most of those guys and gals were already close to goal weight or UNDER it, had decent cardiovascular endurance, and had completed at least one round of Power 90, Beachbody’s beginner/intermediate program, or the equivalent. They weren’t using the program to get into shape from a couch potato starting point; they were using it to build even MORE muscle mass onto already-fit bodies and to burn off the last 5% or so of body fat obscuring their existing muscles.
Don’t believe me? Check out Beachbody president Jon Congdon’s photos and stats here. Notice that he already had decent-sized arms, deltoids, and pectoral muscles in his Before photo, and the beginnings of abdominal definition in his obliques. He was already fit, but slightly soft with a little bit of subcutaneous fat. He was not obese or out of shape, and neither were any of the other success stories used in the infomercials or web site.
P90X refines and improves a fit but still slightly fluffy physique in 90 days into a lean and ripped physique, but if you are carrying more than 10-20 lbs of extra flab, your results will not be as dramatic, especially if you follow the calorie recommendations from their meal plan which is geared more towards maintenance of current body weight than fat loss. As with any workout and nutrition regimen, the results you get will depend completely on your intensity and consistency in your workouts, and in your compliance and consistency in the kitchen.
My husband, for example, completed a round of P90X Classic last fall with about 85% compliance to the workout schedule but without following the meal plan. As a result, he lost about five pounds of scale weight, lost inches in his waist, gained some in his arms, shoulders, and chest, and dropped about 3% body fat, but definitely did not achieve dramatic “After” photo results. He was already at a good scale weight at 155 lbs and 15% body fat (he’s 5’8″) when he started, but he had never lifted weights in his life more than once or twice, and had very little upper body muscle development as a result. This made the upper body days pretty challenging for him. (In other words, I could do more push-ups than he could, and we pressed and curled similar weights.) The program added muscle mass to his physique, but not huge amounts of it. In my objective opinion, all of the males in the P90X infomercial started out with more lean mass than my DH did.
Download and take a look at the workout log sheets and try to do one of the workouts as a sample. I recommend the Chest/Back workout. Each exercise is performed for about 30 seconds. If you can only do 25-33% of the reps (or under 10 full pushups) for each exercise, you should probably look at trying the Power 90 program or something more like Body for Life or Turbulence Training for 12 weeks first to get your weight down and your fitness level up.
You can also get up to speed and drop a few pounds first using some of the free at-home workout plans I posted here:
Fitness on a Budget Part 2: DIY, Nearly Free, No Gym Required Workout Plans
If your fitness level is good despite having more than 20 pounds left to lose – i.e. You could probably run 2 miles in under 18 minutes without walking, you regularly lift some heavy weights at home or at the gym, you can do 30 pushups without pause if you are male or 15 pushups if you are female (The official P90X readiness test posts numbers lower than this, but in my experience, a woman who can only do 3 real push-ups from her toes before face-planting in the carpet will not be able to do enough reps on Chest and Back day to get much of a transformation), and/or you have completed the equivalent of one 12-week Body for Life challenge – then you might still get some good results with P90X even if you have to modify some of the moves. You should also be injury-free.
The only caveats if you are in the “heavier than recommended” category when starting the program are that:
a) Your results may not be as dramatic because you will likely have to modify the moves or do fewer reps until your fitness level and scale weight are more optimal.
b) You will probably have to do more than one round of the program to reach goal.
c) You may get seriously bored doing the same workouts over and over for more than 90 days.
d) If you want to lose weight on the program, you will probably have to reduce the number of calories recommended by the meal plan.
(Go ahead and start the program)
Extra Conditioning Needed
(Complete 12 weeks of Power 90, Body for Life, or Turbulence Training
for Fat Loss first)
- Self-motivated (can workout consistently alone)
- Within 20 pounds of ideal weight
- Have been exercising regularly (strength training with heavy weights
and performing regular cardiovascular training) for at least 3 months
- Healthy and injury-free
- Minimum 3 pull-ups for males; 1 pull-up for females
- Minimum 5 inch vertical leap (male); 3 inch vertical leap (female)
- Minimum 15 push-ups (male) or 3 push-ups (female; or 15 with knees
down, though this is SOOOO lame)
- Minimum 1 minute hold on a bodyweight wall squat
- Minimum 10 dumbbell bicep curls at 20 lbs (male) or 8 lbs (female)
- 2 minutes of jumping jacks, with the final 30 seconds performed as
fast as possible
- 20+ pounds over ideal weight
- Have not exercised regularly in over 3 months
- Have physical limitations, injuries, or chronic conditions which may
be made worse by high-impact activity or fast-tempo weight lifting or
- Cannot make the minimum scores on the P90X Fitness Test
I won’t discourage you if you are completely gung ho about buying and trying P90X, but please try to be realistic about your current physical condition, your actual fitness level today (NOT how fit you were in your prime as a college athlete 10 years ago), and the very real possibility of injuring yourself performing some of the exercises in the program (Pull-ups and plyometric jumping are rough on your joints) if you have been out of the exercise saddle for a while and are deconditioned. If you have any orthopedic knee, back, or other medical conditions that would make fast-tempo lifting with challenging weights or high-impact jumping questionable, please check with your physician first before starting this program. I know that all workout DVDs say this, but in the case of P90X, this warning should be taken seriously. I was in fantastic shape after almost a year of BFL-style workouts with heavy weights and hard interval cardio when I did P90X, and I still managed to screw up my left elbow and wrist for several months between the (too) fast lifting and the large number of pull ups and chins required in the workouts.
With all that said, I DO like the P90X system and had very good results on it (starting from a pretty high level of fitness and sub-20% body fat, however). It’s physically challenging, not too boring for three months, and comes with a decent nutrition plan complete with recipes to help you succeed. If you are in good shape already and want a home workout system that uses minimal equipment but still kicks your butt daily, you can’t do much better than P90X.