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The P90X System

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The P90X System: What It Is

The P90X system is an intense home DVD exercise program that says it can give you a lean, ripped body in 90 days.

But it's not for the faint of heart -- or the very out of shape. Getting fit the P90X way means working out 6-7 days per week, with each workout lasting about 1-1½ hours. And the workouts are so rigorous that you're asked to take a fitness test before ordering the P90X system, to see whether you're up to the challenge.

What exactly is the P90X system? For $119.85 (made in three payments of $39.95 each), you get 12 workout DVDs, a 100-page fitness guide, a 113-page nutrition plan, and a 90-day calendar to track your progress. (You'll need some additional equipment -- a pull-up bar, dumbbells, resistance bands, and an exercise mat.)

The P90X workout system is sold by Beach Body through its web site and via television infomercials. Beach Body offers a 100%, 90-day satisfaction guarantee, though you'll still have to pay shipping costs if you end up returning the P90X system.

The P90X System: How It Works

Each workout is presented in a circuit format, in which you move from exercise to exercise with little rest in between, thus keeping your heart rate up. The strengthening DVDs target certain parts of the body each day: chest and back; then shoulders and arms; legs and back; chest, shoulders, and triceps; and back and biceps. Other DVDs focus on plyometrics (explosive "power" movements), Kenpo kickboxing, cardio fitness, abs/core, yoga, and stretching.

For example, the "Chest & Back" DVD is a 53-minute workout that works the chest muscles with variations of the push-up, including traditional push-ups, wide-stance “fly” push-ups, and push-ups done with your hands close together. It targets the back muscles with variations of the pull-up or pull-down exercise done with resistance bands, including pull-ups/pull-downs with your hands at shoulder width, wider, narrower, or reverse grip. It also includes rowing exercises done with dumbbells or resistance bands.

The 59-minute “Plyometrics” workout is the most intense in the P90X system. After a lengthy warm-up, this cardiovascular routine leads you through a series of jumping moves that primarily work the lower body. You'll need a good pair of shock-absorbing shoes and a soft landing surface for this one. (Because it's high impact, skip it if you have lower back, hip, knee, or ankle problems.)

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Even the P90X yoga workout is intense: It's 90 minutes long, and quite challenging, especially to those not accustomed to yoga.

The P90X system is based on the concept of "muscle confusion," which means varying the workout schedule and introducing new moves so the body never fully adapts. This is similar to the periodization techniques athletes use to get their bodies in top condition. It also has a basis in science; research suggests that workout programs that offer variation bring greater benefits than those that do not.

What this means is that over the 90-days of the P90X program, you'll change your weekly workout schedule every 3-4 weeks. You can also tailor your routine to the kind of results you want - focusing more on strength, cardio, or going the super-intense "Doubles" route of two workouts in a day.

The classic P90X program involves 13 weeks of alternating the three following weekly routines.

Weeks 1-3, and weeks 9 and 11:

  • Day 1: Chest & Back and 16-minute Ab Ripper DVD
  • Day 2: Plyometrics
  • Day 3: Shoulders & Arms and Ab Ripper
  • Day 4: Yoga
  • Day 5: Legs & Back and Ab Ripper
  • Day 6: Kenpo
  • Day 7: Rest, or Stretching workout

Weeks 5-7, and weeks 10 and 12:

  • Day 1: Chest, Shoulders, and Triceps; Ab Ripper
  • Day 2: Plyometrics
  • Day 3: Back & Biceps, Ab Ripper
  • Day 4: Yoga
  • Day 5: Legs & Back, Ab Ripper
  • Day 6: Kenpo
  • Day 7: Rest or Stretching workout

Weeks 4, 8, and 13:

  • Day 1: Yoga
  • Day 2: Core Synergistics
  • Day 3: Kenpo
  • Day 4: Stretch
  • Day 5: Core Synergistics
  • Day 6: Yoga
  • Day 7: Rest or Stretching workout

To determine whether you're capable of completing this regimen, Beach Body offers a fitness test on its web site. The test suggests minimum requirements for various exercises, such as push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups. If you don't meet the criteria for P90X, Beach Body recommends that you begin with a less intense program, such as their Power 90 workout DVDs.

The P90X nutrition plan that accompanies the fitness DVDs has three phases you can follow at any time, based on your current fitness and nutrition level:

  • Phase 1, the "Fat Shredder," is a diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates and fat.
  • Phase 2, "Energy Booster," calls for a more balanced mix of protein and carbohydrates, along with a small amount of fat.
  • Phase 3,"“Endurance Maximizer," has higher levels of complex carbs, a moderate amount of protein, and a small amount of fat.

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The P90X System: Pros

If you're already fairly fit, the P90X system is an excellent workout for losing body fat and increasing muscle tone.

Instructor Tony Horton does a nice job of explaining each exercise. The workouts can easily be done in your home, without a lot of equipment. Although the workouts are tough, you can pause the DVD if you need more rest.

The variety of DVDs allows you to change your workout frequently, which keeps you on your toes and prevents boredom.

The exercise and nutrition regimens are easy to follow, as workout schedules and daily eating plans are laid out in the booklets. The nutrition booklet also includes a variety of recipes.

You'll get a great workout with each DVD if you can maintain such an intense level of exercise. If you're a fitness enthusiast, you’ll enjoy the challenge of completing the 90-day program.

The P90X System: Cons

The P90X workouts are designed for healthy people in good physical condition. They're not intended for people with chronic diseases, the obese, or people with physical limitations.

In addition to the $120 cost for the P90X system, you'll need to buy some basic resistance training equipment if you don't already have it (the weights, bands, pull-up bar and mat). And, as with any home-based exercise regimen, distractions can often interfere with your workout.

If your fitness goal is primarily to gain muscle size and strength, you'll likely see greater benefits with traditional strength training that includes a variety of types of resistance exercise equipment. Because of their circuit format and minimal equipment, the P90X workout DVDs are mainly geared toward improving muscular endurance, muscle tone, and cardiovascular fitness.

The circuits target one body part right after another, which is great for a muscle-pumping/toning workout, but not ideal for increasing strength. For optimum development of muscle strength and size, it's recommended that you rest at least 1 minute between each set to fully recover so you can lift maximum weight on the next set.

As for the P90X nutrition plan, phases 1 and 2 are essentially low-carb diets, which most nutrition experts don't recommend for the long term. The nutrition program’s designer does not appear to be a registered dietician, and the diet plan is not based on the standard Food Pyramid recommendations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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The P90X System: Bottom Line

The P90X workout system sounds simple -- just follow the program for 90 days and you'll be more muscular and leaner than you ever imagined. But these challenging workouts require lots of dedication to complete.

Beginners, or those who are seriously unfit, probably will not make it through the rigorous schedule and should instead begin with a less intense workout.

If you're fairly fit and dedicated to completing the program, you will see results. But, as with any exercise program, the quality of those results will depend on how much effort you put in.

(Michael R. Esco, PhD, CSCS, HFS, is an assistant professor in The Department of Physical Education and Exercise Science at Auburn University Montgomery, in Montgomery, Ala. His opinions and conclusions are his own.)

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