It’s entirely possible that younger readers haven’t even heard of P90X, and for good reason — it’s nearly old enough to be an antique. Launched in 2003 via inescapable infomercials that every night owl at the time was familiar with, P90X (and Tony Horton, the trainer and co-creator) is now synonymous with home fitness the way long-forgotten names like Tae-Bo and Jane Fonda used to be.
That distinction isn’t without merit. For starters, it was one of the first programs of its kind to be all but explicitly targeted at men. The “X” stands for “extreme,” after all, which I assure you was a savvy marketing ploy back in the TRL days. More broadly speaking, it was designed for people who were already in shape as opposed to couch potatoes too lazy (or embarrassed) to go to a gym. This was not “6-pack abs in just minutes per day.” This was supposed to be hard. Its difficulty was its selling point.
While hard, it’s also simple: 11 workouts, spread over a 6 days a week, 90-day schedule that switches things up every 30 days. Equipment? Just some dumbbells and a pullup bar. Its simplicity was used to underscore a kind of sinister sales pitch: if you can’t get fit at home, with minimum equipment with very explicit instruction, what chance do you have at an endless, sprawling gym? Given that BeachBody (the company behind the program) sold some 4.2 million copies by 2010, I’d say it worked.
But despite its history, how well does a 14-year-old home workout product hold up today? Ignoring minor quirks like the fact that it wasn’t shot with HDTVs in mind, or that some of the cast’s workout attire has no business outside a turn of the century frat house, the question is the same now as it was then: can you get results from a workout without ever leaving your living room? I revisited the program (I’ve done it before) to see if time has been kind to it.
Who’s It For
Not a lot has changed in this regard. At it’s core, P90X is still designed to appeal to the person who, for whatever reason, would rather workout at home than at a gym. As far as why that may be, the reasons are myriad. Maybe you’re embarrassed about your current physique, and would rather no one else saw it. Maybe you don’t live near a gym, or don’t have the money to pay a fee every month. Either way, it promises gym-quality fitness without the need for a gym.
It’s also good for guys who (and this is why I like BeachBody products, personally) may know how to work out, but would rather have someone else tell them what to do every day. This may have seemed like a concession or a weakness years ago, but with the popularity of CrossFit and its WODs nowadays, P90X remains a viable option.
Who it’s not for? Beginners. While its XXXTREME qualities are a little overblown and you can definitely modify every move based on your abilities, you’re not going to get the most out of it if you can’t do a single pull-up or pushup.
Why We Love It
Freedom: At its core, P90X is a workout program that can be done anywhere there’s a screen and roughly 6×6 feet of space. Its emphasis on bodyweight exercises means you don’t need much to get started. And while resistance bands are far from a perfect substitute for dumbbells, they work well enough for P90X to be an option even when you’re traveling.
Room To Grow: A P90X workout should never feel easy. Not feeling fatigued? Do more reps at bodyweight, or pick up heavier dumbbells. Heart rate not where it should be? Jump higher, and faster. The workouts are specifically designed with modifiers to not only make them easier, but also harder if need be.
An Eating Guide: While it’s unlikely you’ll ever experience the kind of transformation that would get you featured in the program’s “before and after” shots, you’ll definitely never get there if you don’t eat right. Both the physical and digital versions of P90X come with a very detailed eating plan that, if anything, has a little too much information. It’s macro-focused, though, which should make it compatible with some of today’s more popular diets.
Old Fashioned: While P90X sells itself with buzzwords like “muscle confusion,” in reality there’s nothing weird happening here — it’s basically circuit training, using moves and splits experienced fitness enthusiasts will likely be familiar with. That’s a feature, not a bug. There’s no sense reinventing the wheel when the fundamentals always work.
What You’ll Need
- Pair of dumbbells
- Pull-up bar
- What’s Included
- 12 workouts on 12 DVDs
- “How To Bring It” introductory video
- Three-phase nutrition plan
- Detailed P90X fitness guide
- P90X workout calendar
P90X may have aged gracefully, but not perfectly. For starters, the workouts all clock in at around an hour. That may not sound long to the average gym-goer, but it’s kind of a long time when you don’t have to worry about commuting to the gym and showering before you leave. Plus, several other programs from BeachBody (like P90X3, Insanity: Max30 and 22 Minute Hard Corps) promise similar results in 30 minutes or less. If you’ve done any of those workouts, the pace of P90X will feel positively glacial in comparison. You can whittle the actual workouts down to about 45 minutes if you skip the warm-up and cool-down, but of course that’s at your own risk.
P90X also has weaknesses depending on your goals. Want to build muscle? You will, to a degree. Want to lose fat? These workouts are definitely calorie burners. But if you’re a dedicated lifter looking to specifically build strength, you may want to look elsewhere. The high-rep, moderate weight nature of the program is great for pushing your muscles to hypertrophy, and on certain exercises a savvy lifter can modify the reps and weight to meet his goals. But when it comes to chest and legs, two of the biggest muscle groups for weightlifters, there are NO weighted exercises — it’s all bodyweight. Great for building stamina and some nominal size and strength, but you’ll never break any squat or bench records this way.
Similarly, there’s no cardio in P90X. Well, there is: “Plyometrics” is basically cardio via jumping, and there’s both CardioX and KenpoX workouts, an aerobics and cardio kickboxing workout, respectively. But the latter two workouts are dreadful in terms of intensity compared to the rest of the workouts, leaving Plyo as the only true option. And given that it’s present in every single phase of the 90 day program, you’re going to get sick of it. Quickly. The circuit-training nature of the program means your heart rate should never want for much, but if you’re looking for a way to replace your running or biking routine, this probably isn’t it.
In general, it’s a superb workout for people looking to improve their overall fitness levels (at home, and cheaply), but it’s not anything more than that. Then again, it never claimed to be.
Due to its success, the original P90X spawned a few offspring. P90X2 is a more advanced, sports science-y version of the original, and BeachBody doesn’t recommend tackling it until you’ve completed the original. That’s a bit extreme, but having done it, I can say that it definitely tests the body in ways that P90X’s straightforward exercises do not — if P90X’s pull-ups and push ups seem daunting, you probably aren’t ready for X2. P90X3, on the other hand, is basically an updated version of the classic. The workouts are shorter (but faster-paced) and hit on many of the same areas, but also add several new elements (cardio and weighted chest/leg exercises among other things) that just might make it a superior program. P90, a remake of the Power 90 workout that spawned the idea for P90X way back when, is a good option for beginners.
Outside of the P90X family, similar total-body cross-training programs include 21 Day Fix, 21 Day Fix Extreme and The Master’s Hammer & Chisel. Those are another review for another day.
Where To Buy
The P90X Base Kit can be purchased at BeachBody.com for $119.85.