Wednesday, November 14, 2012

From Bruce Lee to High School sports to Tony Horton: My expereince with the P90x program

Officially, I am a P90x graduate.  I have completed all 13 weeks of the program as outlined and stuck with it, Doing “My Best and forget the rest” as Tony Horton would say.  But more importantly I learned more about my body and fitness programs than I ever thought I would through the process.  As a result, I want to share with you my experience so you too can be more knowledgeable about your health, fitness, and make informed decisions for your benefit.

I decided to take the P90x challenge because I had hit a serious fitness plateau.  Earlier in 2012, I became seriously ill and that month and a half of sickness really hindered my ability to eat right, exercise regularly and mentally set me back also.  As Bruce Lee put it “The Mind and Body must both be inbalance” for one to be at maximum fitness and health.

After being sick, I slowly rebuilt up my fitness levels and re-established my diet.  Although my stamina and strength were regained after 3 months of working out I was not seeing or feeling the results I once had before I became sick.  I knew I had hit the wall after two different sessions in which I ran then played basketball then ran again for over 2 hours straight then afterwards was ready to throw up.  Even in my years of high school or college sports I had ever felt like this or had this much trouble whipping myself back into shape.  At one point I was sitting in my shower leaning against the wall thinking to myself “What is wrong with me?  I’m doing everything right yet I gain no improvement and I feel like death!”

It was at this point I realized I needed to change what I was doing.  For me, working out is my release, my “drug”, my way of handling all the stresses in my life.  I had express to others in the past my interest in trying the P90x program.  I was familiar with Beach Body and Tony Horton’s programs but had never followed through with doing the program, instead incorporating elements of their workouts into my workout program.  The idea of “transforming” my body intrigued me.  I was tired of letting my ego get in the way, it was time to man up and say “My way isn’t working anymore.  I don’t want to plateau, I want improvement”.

Me on Day 1 of P90x
My first obstacle to cross was financial.  I know Beach Body and other fitness programs/instructors need to make a living, but when you don’t have a money to spend, its hard for many people to buy fitness programs or join gyms.  Thanks to my friend for letting me use their P90x Cd’s, weightlifting bands, and pull up bar, I was ready to get started.

My second obstacle was lifestyle planning.  In order to do the P90x program, you must commit to it full-heartedly.  P90x requires 6 days a week with different workouts ranging from 52-92 minutes in length.  As a result, one must plan their days and eating schedules around the program.  This is especially important because the cardio routines Plyometrics and Kenpo X are intense, so when Tony Horton says you must make sure you wait “atleast 90 minutes” after eating before doing the workouts, he is NOT kidding around.  I will tell you from personal experience, eating a crunchy peanut butter sandwich, strawberries, banana, and walnutswithin 90 minutes before doing the Plyo workout is a BAD idea.  Just to let you know.

My third obstacle before starting P90x was separating ego from commitment.  In order to get results from the program, you need to live by two of Tony Horton’s mottos:

1. “Do your best and forget the rest”: You are working out for yourself, not to show off or entertain anyone else.  If you overdue it you could injure yourself or make yourself gas and run out of energy to finish.  Because you overdue it you will hinder your progress and not get the best results.

2. “Quality over Quantity”: Tony is right, just because you can’t do as many repetitions as he and his “graduates” on the video do does not mean you won’t get serious results.  Making sure you do each workout with the proper technique and listening to your body is key to make sure you maximize what P90x can do for you.

So before I started I promised myself two things: That I would do the entire program as outlined and finish from beginning to end, all 13 weeks; also that I would take no protein or performance supplements.  As someone who has never taken any steroids or performance enhancers of any kind (even the ones sanctioned as clean by the IOC, NFL and other sports organizations) I knew the temptation would be there to use a protein drink or order a workout supplements.  I wanted to do everything naturally from my diet to my recovery drink after each workout (which you will find is necessary so, again, don’t let your ego get in the way of results).
                                                                       P90x Day 30

The entire P90x program is based on the workout concept of “Muscle Confussion” (the P90x commercials explain this detail) so every day is a different workout and you only stick with one 6 day routine for no more than 3 weeks than you changeup.  A typical P90x week (except for the “rest” weeks) consists of day one focusing on chest and back or shoulders, day two being Plyometrics (Cardio Jump Training), Day three focusing on Biceps and Back or Triceps, Day Four being Yoga X, Day five focusing on Legs and Back, Day Six being the Kenpo X Cardio routine, and Day Seven being a day for Rest or X Stretch  (I recommend the later for atleast the first few weeks, it helps your body recover from the hard week of workouts quicker).

Going into the program it’s good to realize your strength and weakness: I knew I would have trouble with pull ups and pushups (I busted my rotator cuff when I was in my early teens) and anything involving my legs (since I have numerous past knee injuries) while I figured I would do well with Yoga and Kenpo routines (Because of my Martial Arts and Gymnastics backgrounds) while also excelling at upper body workouts (I’ve been weightlifting since I was 15 years old). 

P90x is a 90 day program, consisting of 13 weeks.  Seems like a long time at first, but after the first 3-4 weeks you get use to it and don’t mind it being so long until the last couple weeks (which I will explain later).  But on Day Two, no joke, I was ready to quit!  Most of my life I considered myself in shape and able to perform at any workout or sport.  I just met my first major challenge of P90x: Plyometrics.  Plyo, otherwise known as Cardio Jump Training, is an extreme, intense 58 minute workout routine that pushes you to the limit.  After the first two rotations of Plyo (or 20 minutes in) I wanted to quit.  I thought “Why am I doing this to myself?  I can’t do this program, this isn’t worth it.”  Instead of quitting, I sucked it up.  And man am I glad I did.
P90x Day 45

I came to find out that the programs that I thought would be hardest for me (Plyometrics, Chest and Back) actually became two of my favorites.  While Yoga X and Legs and Back became two workouts I couldn’t stand!  Why?  Because P90x commercials, promotions, and even Tony’s speeches are not fully accurate in why and how P90x program improves your body and health.  Now stop everyone, I did not say they lie or mislead people.  P90x is geared towards people who want to get into the best shape of their life and are ready to make the commitment.  But what they do not explain to people before the program is the real reason why “Muscle Confussion” works: When you do intense workouts, alternating muscle groups over the course of weeks and months, what you are doing is MORE than getting into the “best physical shape” of your life.  Instead, what you are doing is not “transforming” your body, instead  you are “Maximizing” your body.

As we know, not everyone’s body is the same.  We are all born with strengths and weaknesses.  As Tony Horton puts it “Don’t say ‘I cant’ instead say ‘I presently struggle with’ and over time someone who could only do 2-3 pull ups will eventually do 10, 15, 20 or more!”  Through P90x program you will maximize your body’s muscle potential.  Muscular strength is the foundation of all forms of physical fitness.  When you can develop both fast twitch and slow twitch muscles properly, you can end up with what some call a “Physical Specimen”.  If your goal is to look better than the guy or girl at the gym, then your ego is more important than maximizing health and fitness. 

 Let me use myself as an example: Ever since I first injured my knees I knew I needed to build strength in my legs to make up for the weakness of my knees.  There was a point in high school I was leg pressing 780 pounds 15 times and could easily squat 600 lbs.  Not bad for a guy with busted knees.  But during Week 5 I had a “painful” epiphany while doing the Legs and Back routine.  I was doing Sneaky Lunges (basically 24 lunges on your toes the entire time) and I felt like shorts were getting stuck on the skin of my legs.  I thought “That’s weird” so I decided to put up my shorts while doing the lunge.  To my disgust and surprise while in the lunge I saw my skin stretching so much over my quadriceps my muscle was about to rip through my skin!  Aside from the fact I was a bit disturbed, it was also painful and I stopped immediately.  Come to find out my Quad, Hamstring, and Calf muscles were so developed and muscular that through P90x I had turned any body fat I had in my legs into more muscle and I was board line hurting myself instead of “transforming” my body.  That’s the moment I began to do some more research and learn more about “Muscle Confussion”, “Maximizing Muscle”, and body fat relation to fitness.
P90x Day 80

After refreshing my memory from high school health and college anatomy classes along with re-reading my Bruce Lee books I realized the true key and driving force behind P90x and why it really works for many people while for some it doesn’t work: “Mind over Matter”.  This old concept is core to the history and philosophy of Martial Arts, Shintoism, and Buddism to name a few ideological “isms” from the Far East.  The concept that if you envision an outcome you will eventually make that outcome a reality.  The goal of the individual using P90x should be to get into the best shape of THEIR life, not to look as good or better than the guy or girl on TV or at the local gym.  Because the reality is “looking” the best is not “being” the best physically. 

 An example of this reality is those “Ripped, sculped” ab routines you see advertised on TV and online.  Yes, you could have a six or eight pack abs and looked hardcore ripped with doing those workouts and changing your diet while adding a couple supplements.  But that is what is known as “showcase” muscle, not “practical” muscle.  What those programs don’t develop is the interior abdominal wall that protects the organs and diaphragm underneath you abdominal region.  All of those crunches and “ripping that abdominal” is all great, but what if someone punches you up into you abs and make impact with the diaphragm underneath your lungs?  Or if you parents  who have kids, those kids jump on you when you least expect it, then what?  Those “ripped” exterior abs will not protect your organs or diaphragm.  While doing gymnastics, martial arts, and P90x develop all muscle groups, most importantly, essential core muscle, which is the region from the pectorals to the top of the quadriceps.  In developing all of these muscles, you are less likely to suffer injury and will have less pains and aches in all areas of your body.

This is why having the biggest muscles and most ripped body is pointless if those muscles aren’t useful.  That’s why Bruce Lee was faster and stronger than anyone he faced in International Martial Arts competitions, yet he was usually shorter and smaller than many opponents.  Bruce Lee maximized his muscular abilities to the point that in episodes of the Green Hornet from the 1960’s and many of his movies, they actually had to slow down the footage so you could see Bruce Lee perform some moves, he was that fast! 

A modern day example is before I ever did P90x a female friend of mine made a comment how its “ashame” I didn’t have a six pack.  Knowing she was a former cheerleader and had some strength, I told her to punch me in my “abs”.  She was afraid she would hurt me, I told her “Do it!”  As a result she hurt her hand punching my “not a six pack” abs.  Through years of gymnastics, martial arts, and well-balanced workouts in high school and college, I had developed my muscles to be “useful” not just for show.
           After first workout Post-P90x

In the end, this is the real results of P90x, to maximize you in the areas of physical fitness, overall health, and mental balance.  When you walk into the program with basic expectations and you work hard and commit to the lifestyle, you will get amazing results.  In order to maximize your health, you have to commit to a lifestyle that encompasses what you eat, how you eat, how you sleep, how you exercise,  when you exercise, etc.  It means you are making a commitment to yourself to be the best you can be.  Not looking like someone from a movie or tv show.

A few final points about P90x:

-By the end of the program, I developed a “hate” for Yoga X.  “X” stands for “extreme” and the balance and moving postures become laborious and tiresome to do when you have done it for 13 weeks!  Because of my knee injuries and foot surgeries, Yoga Balance is hard for me, especially when I spent half my life learning balance in terms of Martial Arts, Baseball, Basketball, Soccer, and Football.  Yoga Balance is similar to Ballet balance; it uses different leg muscles and different center of gravity.  So be prepared to find that Yoga X is a struggle.

-Meanwhile, Kenpo X is a lot of fun and I enjoy the workout.  But some of the moves are hard to pick up.  As someone who did not learn the Kenpo form of karate, the types of kicks and punches are different from Shotokun Karate, Muay Thai, Tae Kwon Do, Kung Fu or other attacking Martial Arts.  Personally, I modified some of the moves Tony Horton showcased to accommodate my Martial Arts background.  For those who don’t know, martial art disciplines such as Kenpo Karate, Muay Thai, Tae Kwon Do, and certain forms of Kung Fu all have different ways they teach foot placement for balance during kicks and punches.  If you have been instructed and drilled to kick and punch a certain way then are shown in an exercise program to do it “their way” it’s not exactly easy to do it the same way as the video.  But since another one of Tony Horton’s slogans is “Modify, Modify, Modify if you need to” I did so.  And you need to also if you find any of the workouts difficult.

-After doing numerous pull ups and push up over the period of 13 weeks I have found my back is in better condition.  I use to have periodical back problems that I typically found to be “cured” through stretching, annual visits to the chiropractor and buying new sneakers.  Now, I have less back pain as long as I maintain good posture while sitting, standing and sleeping.  My back doesn’t feel weak anymore.  It feels as strong as the rest of my body!  I was only able to barely do 5 pull ups when I first started.  Now I can pump out 2 rotations of 12-18 depending on the variation.

-If you have ever had ankle or knee issues, then you may at times have calf tightness and once in a while suffer from the infamous “Charlie horse”.  If this is the case, stretching the Calf and Achilles tendon by doing the “Downward Dog” yoga maneuver may not be enough or work for you.  It didn’t for me.  I like to stretch my calf standing up and pushing against the wall with split legs.  You will find that some of the stretches in P90x are not enough for you so I suggest do what works for you before you start the workout.  Also, Tony Horton says “Do what works for you, variety is the spice of life!”

-In the Core Synergistics video, Tony makes the comment “You may discover this is your favorite workout”.  While it’s not mine, as someone who has worked out, played sports, and done numerous forms of exercise since I was in single digits age wise, you have to take what you can from the program in the “Post-P90x” world.  I found since that combining Kenpo X with Ab Ripper is a great workout for me on Cardio days.  I have kept Plyo as a cardio workout because it really does kick butt and if you continue to do the program, watch how much better you are when you play sports with those who think they are in shape.  It’s worth the looks on their faces alone!  I recommend find what workouts or exercise concepts help you maximize your potential and keep them.  Carry those into your workouts post-P90x and you will be able to maintain, if not improve some more, what you have accomplished with P90x.  Just know that the program is not made for people to do continuously, your body does need a break, I know!  As Tony Horton says “Take care of your body and it will take care of you!”