My life changed one night when a minor emergency landed me in the ER. At 3:00 a.m., with nary a book or a post-2001 magazine to be found in the hospital waiting room, I spent two hours gazing at a TV screen featuring the most ridiculously cheesy (but undeniably fit) man, leaping side to side and up and down, doing a beyond-human number of chin-ups, and promising to get me in the best shape of my life!
Tony Horton, I learned, is a celebrity fitness trainer. His hour-long direct response ads for the P90X fitness program are the most frequently aired infomercials in America, and in that moment I understood why. While my good sense told me to look away, I was riveted by Tony’s goofy antics, his unnaturally firm hair, and a steady stream of before and after photos—P90X success stories—first showing pudgy, pokey men and women, and then their svelte rippling likenesses after 90 days.
Looking down at my own pajama-clad-self slouched in the waiting room chair, I discovered what camp I fell into. I’d just moved back to Canada after three years in Great Britain, and London’s pubs, pies and pints had made their mark on my 5’2″ frame. I had a bona fide muffin top—or perhaps more accurately, a scone top, with a big dollop of clotted cream.
Not one for late nights, infomercials or fitness fads, I may have been the last person in North America to hear of Tony and his P90X extreme workout series. But on the off chance that I’m not, I’ll share my findings: designed for people who are already relatively fit, P90X is a series of intense hour-long workouts that use a principle Tony calls “muscle confusion” to optimize your fitness. Not much different from cross training, it simply means constantly switching things up so your body never adapts to a particular move and you don’t plateau. The 12 P90X workout videos are a mix of cardio, strength training, and stretching. The program is divided into three 30-day phases, each with three weeks of intense strength and cardio training, followed by one yoga-filled recovery week. At the end of 90 days, Tony guarantees you’ll be in the best shape of your life.
It’s the kind of promise that should set your red flags flying, no matter how drugged and sleepy you are—but in that emergency room, my vanity trumped my common sense, and nothing has been the same since. A week later, my husband Dean and I were in possession of our own 12-part video series, raring to go.
Before beginning any sort of fitness regime, there are obstacles to overcome. For me, the great barrier was the idea that I’m not one of those people. You know, THOSE people (the ones who are awake at 3a.m., who watch infomercials, and who actually respond to them). Or worse, the kind who do all of the above and then lack enough shame to write about them on the internet.
Bottom line: P90X is not cool. Moves have silly names like Superman/Banana, Wacky Jacks, Crunchy Frog, and Sneaky Lunges. You pray no one will walk in while you’re doing them, but, as Tony promises, by the end you’re “dripping with sweat and feel like a million bucks.” Even now, seven weeks in, I tip my head and sheepishly shrug while explaining why I’m declining the office chocolates and stuffing my gob with peanuts all day. But they say acceptance is the first step.
In the case of P90X, the second step is pain management. For the first two weeks I couldn’t lift my hands above shoulder-height, or walk up stairs without the help of a handrail. When Week 4 rolled around—labeled as a “recovery week”—I was thrilled at the prospect of a few muscle-soothing yoga sessions. To my dismay, it turned out to be 90 minutes of intense lunging, reaching, and sweating—undeniably the toughest workout in the lineup!
Yoga was tough. Even tougher was adapting to a completely new lifestyle—fitting more than an hour of exercise into each day, and utterly overhauling my diet. The P90X nutrition plan prescribes only one serving of dairy and one serving of carbohydrates each day. Having yet to stick to a nutrition plan that didn’t include a semiweekly potato chip binge, carb-withdrawal consumed me for nearly a month. Integrating more protein into our diet to replace the carbs and dairy took a lot of work and forward planning.
Not that our quality of life has suffered—pizza night has been replaced by steak night. I might miss the ease of a simple pasta dinner, but I certainly don’t miss that awful bloated feeling that comes after devouring a giant bowl of penne. To keep the meat-influx from pushing our grocery budget to the limit, I’ve started experimenting with protein alternatives like tofu, beans, and nuts. The results are mixed—the nut-stuffed squash was a fail, while the chickpea patties were a roaring success—but dinnertime is always an adventure.
Okay then. P90X is tough. It takes time, lots of energy, and lots of forethought, but let’s cut to the chase. Why bother? Or, the real question on your mind: does P90X actually work?
I cannot deny that, just over halfway through the program, my body is changing. After three years of fretting over jiggly bellies and love handles, my midsection is, frankly, firm. Around week six, my abdominals put an appearance, and they’ve actually stuck around. I have unfamiliar, bulgy biceps. I think it’s working.
I’ve become increasingly convinced that Tony Horton is a robot (with his tireless pushing up, pulling up, speed squatting, karate kicking, etc., etc.) but I have yet to tire of his bad jokes, or grow bored of his high-energy workouts. On all counts, from Camp Regier, P90X is living up to its lofty claims, and we’re loving the results.