Thursday, December 30, 2010
Gear Review: P90X and Its Relationship to Competitive Running
UPDATE: Gear Review: P90X Final Thoughts is now up!
A friend of mine had a question asking whether P90X is a good supplement to running as her Facebook status today, and it gave me the idea to post up a review of P90X on my blog. Now, before I start, I want to say that I'm about 8 weeks into P90X, so I have not yet completed the program. However, I have done all of the workouts multiple times, and have a pretty good idea of what's going on by now.
P90X, or Power 90 Extreme, is a workout program developed by Tony Horton for the Beachbody fitness company. It consists of 12 DVD workouts and relies on equipment that you can have at home (dumbbells, resistance bands, pull-up bar). I have dumbbells ranging from 5lbs to 35lbs, and that seems to be just fine, but I wouldn't want a smaller range than that. It's built on the premise of muscle confusion, that is, it changes up the exercises so your muscles don't get too used to a certain workout. The first three weeks have one set of workouts, the fourth is a recovery week, the next three weeks have a second set of workouts, the eighth is a recovery week, the following four weeks mix up the workouts from weeks 1-3 and 5-7, and the last is a recovery week. A typical non-recovery P90X week consists of three strength training days, one day each of plyometrics, yoga, and kenpo karate, and a stretch/rest day. Each workout is about an hour, though the 15 minute Ab Ripper X is added to the three strength training days, and Yoga X is about 90 minutes. There are three possible programs, including classic, lean, and doubles, which change the workouts slightly depending on your goals Additionally, many of the moves have modified versions if the normal version is too challenging. Finally, there is a nutrition plan included that I will not review, since it was a low-calorie plan that I didn't follow at all since I was doing additional bike work while doing P90X, and because I figure that even though I'm carrying around a couple extra pounds more than I like to race with, they'll come off when I start running again. That and I feel like starving tendons that are hopefully trying to heal is a bad idea.
First of all, the P90X strength training workouts are pretty intense. I've done quite a bit of strength training in the past, but nothing like this. Each workout focuses on a certain muscle group (e.g. shoulders and back) and goes after it with minimal rest. While the focus on a single muscle group isn't anything new, I normally give myself more rest between sets. However, I was able to get used to the rapid-fire routine within the first two weeks. I have definitely put on arm mass since starting P90X, and I know for a fact that's not from the bike trainer. My quads and glutes have also gotten significantly larger, but I'm not sure if that's from P90X or the trainer (or both). Come to think of it, this is probably the main reason I'm above racing weight. I'm sure some of it is fat, but I've definitely bulked up too. That probably doesn't happen if you follow the low-calorie nutrition plan, but apparently more food = more muscle. Plyo X is also a great workout, and done right, will probably have you breathing by the end. Finally, Yoga X has some good poses that will really work your stabilizer muscles.
However, I don't like every P90X workout. Kenpo X isn't a workout. Maybe I'm somehow doing it wrong (though I don't know how I could possibly be messing it up), but it doesn't get my heartrate up, and it doesn't challenge me. The Cardio X workout that is used for the doubles utilizes a few moves from several of the other workouts, and feels disjointed and without a focus. The core workout that is done on the recovery week is disappointingly easy compared to the other strength training workouts, though that may be why it lands on a recovery week.
So the original reason for this post was to answer the question as to how P90X fits into a running training program. My short answer is...it doesn't. The time and energy needed for P90X would be better used elsewhere. That's not to say that strength training doesn't have a place in a running program, because it does. Doing some strength training or yoga or plyo can go a long way to help prevent injury. And many runners devote a ton of time to doing strength training, strengthening stabilizer muscles, drills, stretching, and the like. However, during actual running training, everything else that's not running should be a supplement, and P90X is too much to be a supplement. You want supplemental work to make you stronger for running. You don't want it to compromise your running workouts or hinder your recovery, and P90X is intense enough to do both.
P90X is a good program if you have three months where you're not really focused on running but want something to do fitness-wise. It's probably a lot for a total fitness newbie, and I believe Beachbody offers the regular Power 90 program for people who aren't quite, as Tony Horton puts it, "P90X ready." However, if you're in serious running training and have a goal race where you want to perform to the best of your ability, your time and energy is probably better spent elsewhere. I may finish P90X, I may not. I guess it all depends on how my recovery goes.