Product Review: P90X
I’ve always found the fitness industry somewhat comical. It seems that regardless of how worthless or ineffective a product may be, as long as an advertisement includes color coordinated bar-graphs, half-naked models training in a dungeon-esque facility, and a narrator with an oddly deep voice the product will inevitably be a massive success.
A recent example of this phenomenon is P90X, the “scientifically proven training method utilizing muscle confusion techniques, guaranteed to get you shredded in 90 days!” In addition to the never-ending barrage of commercials and advertisements showcasing ripped dudes smiling from ear to ear while performing the most intense bodyweight circuit I’ve ever seen (am I the only one who finds the smiling creepy?), the misleading claims made by P90X and other programs of the sort (i.e Insanity) are simply a marketing ploy.
To be honest, I would rather shove my own head into a freshly produced steaming pile of horseshit than answer another question regarding the efficacy of the P90X program. Repugnant humor aside, it’s difficult to express how irritated I get every day when I inevitably receive a comment such as, “Hey Jordan, I’m trying to get back in shape and my brother just finished P90X with all of his bro’s…he loved it! He and his boys got totally shredded and I was thinking I should do it too…what’ya think, bra?”
While I would like to reply with a snarky remark, doing so would unavoidably cause this person to get butt-hurt, bash me on facebook via status updates, and possibly even de-friend me, so I simply respond with “the best program is one that will allow you to experience long-term success,” and leave it at that.
At this point you should have a clear understanding of my feelings towards P90X. However, I’ve yet to fully explain myself. In an attempt to end any confusion regarding P90X as an effective training program, the rest of this article will be devoted to explaining why I view P90X as a waste of time, effort and money.
Is It “Effective?”
As you may recall from my article Back To The Basics: Creating An Effective Fat Loss Program, I outlined my personal definition of what the word “effective” means in regard to a fat loss program. Just in case you forgot, the definition bears repeating here.
In the context of this article, the word effective implies that the program:
1) Produces “significant” results
2) Allows for strength and muscle mass maintenance/gains
3) Facilitates long-term success
Keeping the above 3 requirements of an effective fat loss program in mind, let’s take a look at P90X.
First and foremost, P90X is a form of high intensity circuit training. The standard program involves training 6 days per week for a minimum of 1 hour per day. The training, which mainly consists of intense full body movements and plyometric exercises often performed to complete muscle failure, requires little to no extra equipment apart from light weights, resistance bands, and a chin-up bar. The circuits are extraordinarily taxing and barely permit rest periods of 10-15 seconds between sets.
Needless to say, P90X takes exercise to an extreme.
While some people may use P90X and experience simultaneous weight loss and strength gains in the short-term, these results can primarily be attributed to the rapid gains seen by all novice trainees. What many gym “newbs” fail to understand is they can/will see immediate and significant results by following any training program. However, attempting to follow severe programs such as P90X for an extended period of time will eventually lead to an overall loss of strength, increased risk of injury, and burnout.
P90X utilizes a tremendously high training frequency, intensity, and volume. The goal of this program is to burn as many calories as possible thereby putting participants in a substantial calorie deficit. As such, this exercise induced calorie deficit allows P90Xers (?) to lose weight without meticulously monitoring their diet. Seems like a good deal, right? Train hard and burn so many calories that you can eat more or less ad libitum and still lose fat? Might as well order my DVD set right now!
Unfortunately, training in this manner holds numerous limitations, one of which forces us to make the distinction between weight loss and fat loss.
As described in my article A Realistic Look At Progress: Fat Loss and Mass Gain, the terms weight loss and fat loss are by no means synonymous. Below is an excerpt from my article describing the differences between the two terms:
Weight: When you step on a scale the number displayed is your entire body weight. This includes everything: organs, muscles, bones, water, stomach content, and body fat are all being measured. Your weight is the sum total of everything you are composed of.
Fat: Fat is…well, it’s fat. The amount of fat a person carries depends on a variety of factors including age, gender, and genetics. An extremely lean male may have a total of 6% body fat meaning only 6% of his entire weight is fat tissue. On the other hand, a morbidly obese individual may have upwards of 40% body fat meaning 40% of his total weight is made up of fat tissue.
When fat loss is the goal, net weight loss is relatively insignificant compared to total fat loss. While high intensity/high volume training programs such as P90X may contribute to a certain degree of fat loss in the short-term, overtime the extreme training and subsequent caloric deficit combined with a lack of handling maximal loads will inevitably lead to a significant loss of strength and muscle tissue (i.e. weight loss). As the program goes on and lean body mass continues to break down, a host of other problems may begin to arise including decreased metabolic rate, increased likelihood of weight regain, injury, and self-doubt.
I’ve said before and I’ll say again, the importance of preserving of muscle mass while dieting cannot be overemphasized. Whether you’re a male, female, athlete, or recreational fitness enthusiast is irrelevant…any fat loss program which causes a significant loss of strength is not only a waste of time, energy, and money, but is detrimental to your overall health and wellbeing.
This brings me to my next issue: P90X Can’t Account For Individual Factors
P90X is short for Power 90 Day Extreme (yes, I laughed at the name too). As the name suggests, P90X is simply a 90 day program intended to generate rapid weight loss and (hopefully) improve body composition.
But I have a couple of questions:
- What happens when the 90 days are over? Do you regress to Disc 1, or would you simply repeat Disc 12 for the remainder of your training career?
- What if, like most people, you don’t have the time to devote 6+ hours/week to high intensity physical activity because you have further obligations such as taking care of your family and going to school/work?
- What happens if you get injured and can’t perform certain movements? Are you supposed to push through the pain and do the program as best as possible, or should you use your injury as an excuse, call it quits, and munch your way into a food induced coma?
- What if you’re sick and your nose is so stuffy you can barely breath!? Do the 15 second rest breaks allow for sufficient nose-blowing action?
P90X is advertised as a one-size-fits-all program. However, a major drawback with these types of training routines is they can’t, and don’t, account for the needs of each and every individual, a concept touched upon by Dr. Mel Siff in his book Supertraining, called cybernetic periodization.
Essentially, the term cybernetic periodization refers to the capability to adjust a training program on any given day based on how a trainee feels. For example, say you hurt your back playing with your children and you have a training session scheduled later that evening. As P90X has no clue you are injured it will inevitably provide you with whatever training program is scheduled next. However, a well informed coach with a flexible training approach may be able to change things on the fly and give you an appropriate training routine to aid in a speedy recovery and get you back on track.
Having the ability and knowledge to effectively utilize cybernetic periodization is an extraordinarily important and often overlooked aspect of any successful training program. Unfortunately, pre-designed training routines such as P90X are incapable of being tailored to the individual on a daily basis. It doesn’t matter if you catch a nasty cold, strain your shoulder, or need to skip a workout…P90X can’t possibly know how you’re feeling or your current life circumstances. No matter what, the DVD will prescribe the exact same training routine, at the exact same intensity, at the exact same time. Always.
Where is The Progress?!?
Perhaps my biggest beef with P90X is that it simply can’t promote long-term progress. First and foremost, as the name suggests, the program is 90 days long. Let’s assume you actually do get shredded in 90 days…then what? Where do you go from there? Do you just perform the same workouts for the rest of your life? What if you want to take a week off? What if you get severely injured and can’t complete the training routines as arranged? Unfortunately, life will always throw us curveballs and there will always be set-backs. Having a flexible program and being able to roll with the punches is absolutely necessary for long-term success.
Furthermore, as I alluded to earlier, there is a complete absence of maximal loading. While P90X uses “minimal equipment necessary” as a selling point, the fact of the matter is that the body can only adapt to the load placed upon it and handling relatively maximal loads is essential to making long-term progress. Does this mean you can’t make progress with body weight workouts? No. Does this mean any program that doesn’t include heavy loading is a waste of time? Absolutely not. However, in order to see long-term progress, whether your goal is fat loss, mass gain, improved athletic performance, or bettering overall general health, incorporating maximal lifting into your routine is too valuable to ignore.
Finally, training at an exceedingly high frequency, volume, and intensity is almost always a recipe for disaster. While it can be beneficial at specific times throughout a training cycle, trying to do so for months on end will result in decreased performance, impaired cognitive ability, burnout, and often injury. I have personal experience with taking training to the extreme and it just about ruined me. I’m certainly not suggesting you go to the gym and be lackadaisical with your routine, but when you’re in this game for the long-haul, sometimes you’ve got to learn to put a muzzle on the voice in your head always telling you to go “harder, harder, harder,” and start listening to the one that’s yelling “smarter, smarter, smarter!”
In all fairness, I have to say the one thing I really like about P90X is that it shows people in order to reach a goal you have to give it your all. There is no slacking. There are no excuses. You either do the work or you don’t. While I in no way agree with the program design or the methods used by P90X, I do admire the hard work and sacrifices people make in order to complete the program. That being said, I can say with the utmost of confidence, if the people who can adhere to P90X were to bring the same intensity and motivation to a well designed strength training and nutritional program they would see extraordinary results, far beyond what they could ever achieve with P90X or other programs of the sort.
I hope through reading this you have not only learned why I generally dislike programs such as P90X, but also how to analyze training programs from a well-informed standpoint.Whether or not a training program is optimal is not dictated by how much pain is endured or how much sweat is produced, rather it is determined by the needs of the individual and how the program progressively and systematically pushes him/her to transform a weakness into a strength.
Never Minimal. Never Maximal. Always Optimal.