P90X2: Taking workouts to the limit

Vicky Hallett
Fit editor, Express December 20, 2011

To give you a sense of what you’re up against if you attempt to make it through P90X2, the sequel to the phenomenally popular P90X fitness program, here’s a sample exercise: the four medicine ball push-up. Yes, that means having a ball under each hand and foot. “It’s like doing push-ups during an earthquake,” says Tony Horton, the 53-year-old former stand-up comedian who created the original program eight years ago.

That 90-day, 12-DVD regimen has sold 3.5 million copies, spawned an astounding number of before and after photos, persuaded politicians from both sides of the aisle to sweat it out together at the House gym and become shorthand for “really hard workout.”

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express. View Archive

Now it’s time for an even harder workout. P90X2 (Beachbody, $139.80), which shipped just in time for the holidays, is designed for folks craving more “muscle confusion,” a phrase Horton coined to describe the mishmash of moves designed to keep viewers’ bodies guessing.

What’s new for version two is that the cardio’s gone, replaced with workouts emphasizing a combo of speed, power and balance. And there are plenty of exercises Horton expects no one to be able to pull off on the first attempt, including lever pull-ups (performed with your body parallel to the ground rather than perpendicular) and a push-up variation he’s dubbed “the impossible.” “If you’re not in shape, it’ll be like climbing Everest,” says Horton, who notes that P90X2 is five days a week rather than six because anyone slogging through it will need the extra recovery time.

If you’re wondering who would pay to subject themselves to such a thing, meet 49-year-old lobbyist Stephen Sayle. The Capitol Hill resident bought P90X in September after pledging “to be in better shape at 50 than at 40.” It’s the challenges posed by Horton’s program that seem to be making that goal a reality.


The Med Ball Renegade Row exercise in Tony Horton’s P90X2 regimen (BEACHBODY)

“You do so many lunges you think you’re going to die,” Sayle says. But after more than three months of lugging his DVD player to Results Gym almost every day to complete the workouts, he’s a believer — and eager to take it to the next level.

He’s a typical P90Xer, as are young moms and college students and former athletes. The program appeals to a wide swath of folks who want to be told what to do without having to think about it, have the ability to work out where they want and when they want and know that they’re guaranteed to see results. Some also credit Horton’s goofy form of motivation that includes the occasional pterodactyl impression (although that’s not universally beloved).

But what really seems to set P90X apart from other DVDs on the market is that these workouts aren’t merely a way to lose weight or get healthier. They’re a kind of dare. Anyone can exercise, but it takes a certain level of persistence to keep up with such a demanding program day after day.

What worries Ed Ingebretsen, director of training at Results Gym, is that Horton’s encouragement to “Bring it!” can push people beyond what’s safe. “If you want intensity, jump out of a plane. Intensity doesn’t mean fitness,” he says. “Guys especially can blunder through something, and it can trash your body.” (Sayle admits that he developed tennis elbow from the huge number of reps of push-ups and pull-ups.)

Horton tries to temper overzealousness with his other motto, “Do your best and forget the rest.” He makes it clear there’s no shame in choosing one of the simpler modifications he offers of every exercise, or hitting the pause button while you figure out a move. And if something is deemed too risky, it’s cut from the DVDs. For instance, P90X2 viewers won’t see the four-ball pike press, a variation on the four-ball push-up that’s done in downward-facing dog position. It’s great for your delts, but not for your skull if you manage to smash your head into the ground.

The earliest clue of whether P90X2 is striking the same chord as the original will come in about three months, when the earliest adopters complete their initial pass through the program. They’ll be the first people to ever attempt it. For P90X, Horton worked with a test group for 90 days. For P90X2, he couldn’t be in any one place for that long and still manage a packed schedule that included traveling overseas to exercise with troops and writing his second book (“Crush It”).

If these people emerge buff rather than broken, it may not be long until we start seeing infomercials for P90X3.

More online Follow @postmisfits on Twitter, and read more fitness coverage at washingtonpost.com/wellness .

PAP: At the next level

P90X’s “muscle confusion” got a boost last month when the American Council on Exercise published results from its first study on the effectiveness of the program and gave it high marks.

But there’s a new term you need to learn when you graduate to the next level:
post-activation potentiation
(PAP for short). It’s been gaining popularity in the training world as a way to maximize your athletic performance, and it’s the basis of two of P90X2’s workouts.

A PAP sequence, Horton explains, is a string of exercises repeated several times. For example, start by holding dumbbells, step onto a bench and raise the other knee in the air, then step back down to the ground and sink into a lunge. Do 8 to 10 on each side. Next up is a skating movement, leaping from side to side “like a tennis player chasing a ball down,” Horton describes. Finish off the series with a side plank on your forearm, lifting the top leg up, and keeping your toes facing forward to isolate your glute for 30 seconds.

— V.H.

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