Charles Staley over at T Nation has written an interesting article regarding P90X titled, "P90X and Muscle Confusion: The Truth"
I have read this article a few times now, wishing Charles stuck to a specific argument rather than trying validate his reasons why he believes going to a gym is superior than P90X for everyone. As a Beachbody Coach myself, most readers may think that I am just going to automatically jump all over this article and refute everything Charles has to say, but that simply isn't the case.
I think the article brings up some very valid points, ones that most people, from my experience, seem to overlook when getting caught up in the hype surrounding a fitness fad such as P90X.
Yes, I enjoy Beachbody products, and personally believe that they have many people tremendously, but they certainly aren't without their drawbacks or flaws. Although I am a Beachbody Coach, and therefore a "vendor" for products such as P90X, I have always wished to be as unbiased as possible when it comes to the information I share with my readers, so this article will be no different. In case you haven't read the article yet, I suggest you head over and read it in its entirety first, then check out my thoughts on it below.
You need to learn how to use the weights. The best exercises are like the best drugs – they not only have the most benefit, they also have the most potential downsides. In the case of weight training, one of these downsides is the skill requirement involved. As a reader of T Nation you probably already know that lifting weights isn't exactly as complex as nuclear physics, but again, we come back to perception. And quite often, the marketers of commercially popular exercise programs will fuel these misperceptions by taking advantage of popular myths and misconceptions.
Using various forms of resistance training isn't inherently difficult for some, there is definitely a risk of injury involved, and for most individuals, there is a sense of danger or catastrophe if done incorrectly when it comes to resistance training. Not only that, but being in a public gym can be daunting for some, especially those who wish to lose weight and have never stepped foot in a gym before. The fear of being watched or ridiculed by others is very real and apparent.
What are the options here? Well, one could pay for a personal trainer at a gym. However this option is not only costly, but can also be dangerous and daunting. From my experience, the certification and moderation of the personal training industry is spotty at best, and even if you find a trainer that knows what to watch for when it comes to safe and effective exercise, an individual is taking quite a large leap of faith, coming to a trainer asking them for help when they are, more than likely, feeling low about themselves.
Having said all of that, I agree with Charles' assessment here. Resistance training at home can be a dangerous endeavour for many. Even with the use of mirrors, recording and playback, mimicking what is on TV to the best of their abilities, etc., many individuals greatly lack in the "form" department.
As a Beachbody Coach and personal trainer, I have come across a wide range of individuals both as clients, as well as at live Beachbody events doing live workouts. I am dumbfounded at times, at how incorrect people can be at "exercising," not to mention resistance training. Even with my own personal clients, I can repeat form checks for specific exercises several times, yet an individual will continue to do the exercise incorrectly. The advantage there is that at least I am still there to point out the same mistakes and correct them.
It is amazing to go to a live Beachbody event, where participants are working out in a large group, and when I look around, although many of these participants are "Coaches" themselves, really are terrible at doing what they're doing.
Sure, you may think that moving around and getting active is fine and is better than nothing. But as the aforementioned article mentions later on, which I agree with, doing something when it comes to resistance training, can be dangerous if done incorrectly, especially repeated time and time again. Working out at home really can exacerbate these issues for many.
Lifting weights (usually) doesn't leave you feeling trashed. It might strike you as odd that I list this point as a downside of weight training, but the truth is, it might be the most powerful one from the opposition's standpoint. People expect pain, and exercise programs that fail to deliver on this expectation handicap themselves in terms of commercial viability.
Agreed. One of the biggest misconceptions I come across with training clients, as well as individuals I "meet" online to discuss home workout programs is that most people get upset or have a sense of "failure" if they aren't sore the day(s) following a workout. Muscle soreness (DOMS) is not an indication of how effective a workout is, it is an indication of your body adapting to a new stimulus. It is entirely possible to get an effective workout, or improve yourself without having sore muscles and walking funny for several days after.
The primary goal of P90X is to convince you that you don't need weights to build a great physique.
That's because, if the marketing minds at Beach Body can pull that off, the world is its oyster, because suddenly you don't need a gym membership, which means you can work out at home, and further, you won't need to invest any time in learning how to lift. And, as an added bonus, you're really gonna hurt. Sometimes a bit too much.
First and foremost, P90X is a fitness program, taking advantage of the tools people can use in their own home. Yes, I agree, it can be a bit misleading that in order to get the results seen in the infomercials can be achieved with just a pull-up bar and a few dumbbells, I argue that P90X is a great "gateway" program for many to learn some basics to getting fit with simple tools at home.
Over time, like me, people who have the space and resources available can then invest their money into building their home gyms to suit their needs. Spending money on owning your own fitness equipment rather than renting.
Most infomercial exercise programs have a common denominator: They capitalize on the most prevalent misconception that newbies have about exercise, namely, that it must hurt if it's going to do any good. Fortunately, as the creators of these programs have discovered, it's almost unfairly easy to cook up stuff that hurts. In fact, if I chose a random person off of the street, he could easily create a workout that would devastate the most gifted Olympic athlete.
Yup, agree 100%
If only it were that easy to create a training program that helps people become stronger, leaner, faster, and less prone to injury – those type of results require the expertise of an exercise professional, not a multi-level marketing convert masquerading as a fitness trainer.
Finally, it's helpful to have the ability to distinguish your goals from the costs of attaining them. I certainly don't object to people paying a price in the pursuit of their goals, but the price should never be the goal itself. See the difference?
Ok, but as discussed above, many individuals don't have the time, money, interest, or trust to go to a big box gym and pay a gym membership along with the money involved for a personal trainer to maybe show them how to move better and get in shape.
I would also argue that working out at home can be far cheaper than renting equipment at a gym, again, assuming that the individual works out at home safely.
Exercise really sucks the big one. I mentioned the potential downside of skilled movement earlier, but I've always found that learning skilled movement is far more rewarding and satisfying than jumping around doing various callisthenic moves. I think that's why so many people gravitate toward things like dance, martial arts, and yoga for fitness purposes – you get the chance to learn a skill as you get fit.
I share that same sentiment with those that I "Coach" and clients of mine all the time. Ultimately, the best exercise is the one that you enjoy, and therefore stick to. If you like mountain biking, do that. If you enjoy yoga, do that. If you enjoy martial arts, do that. However, none of these types of exercise programs involve lifting weights as this author is clearly trying to argue, is the only way to health and fitness or the ideal body. You know, because everyone who exercises does so to achieve an ideal physique.
Despite all the discomfort, your body isn't really changing much. Your mileage may vary of course. If you're a rote beginner and fairly weak, many P90X drills are in fact legitimate forms of strength training. Once your strength reaches a certain level however, you'll need weight.
Agreed. Progressive resistance training requires new stimulus to continually change and therefore improve your body. I don't see how this is a downfall for a program like P90X, however. As I mentioned above, as an individuals begins to get stronger, they can then choose whether or not they wish to expand their home gym and invest more into getting more equipment.
You could get hurt. I was unable to find data on comparative injury rates between P90X and other forms of training. I'm left with anecdotal reports from colleagues, friends, and clients, as well as own my understanding of exercise principles. Over the past few years, I've spoken to several orthopedists, MD's, and physical therapists who've expressed genuine concern about P90X based on the number of injured patients they see on a regular basis.
When P90X was initially designed and marketed, the goal was to create a home workout program for individuals who already have a decent level of fitness. Beachbody is a company, and although they warn those who are not physically ready to begin a program like this, will take your money in exchange for the program from anyone willing to pay.
This is a common problem, as far as I'm concerned, with human nature, not a home workout program in general. Time and time again, I experience individuals who finally reach their breaking point and wish to make a change right then and there.
Although it may have taken them years of neglect to get to a poor state of health, they wish to then make a complete 180 and improve their life in a short period of time. This usually causes individuals to make a drastic lifestyle change, including going as hard as they possibly can at a workout thinking that puking or pushing as close to unconsciousness "must be good" for the cause, when in actuality, it isn't entirely necessary. Again, this is a problem facing all forms of physical fitness, not just pinpointing one specific program such as P90X.
Please allow me a moment here, because there are so many great ways to destroy this claim, I'm not even sure where to start. Here's how I'll tackle it: Since I know many P90X converts liken themselves to being super-intense athlete types, maybe it might be instructive to look at how the typical Olympic athlete trains. Let's take the sport of weightlifting. When you look at a 3-minute video clip of great weightlifters in training, it's quite exciting and inspiring. You'll wanna go straight to the gym after watching these amazing lifters.
Being one of these lifters however, is a very different story. The truth is that, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, nearly all National and World-level weightlifters perform no more than about 6 exercises, and perhaps a few slight derivations of them. It's really like being a monk – if you've got even a speck of ADHD in you, you won't be able to hang. Every day is pretty much the same old thing: snatch, clean & jerk, pulls, squats. Every day. Over, and over, and over again.
This is a terrible comparison, in my opinion. An Olympic, or any serious athlete for that matter, is devoted to improving one, or a few specific attributes. P90X is a program that is designed to improve the overall health and fitness of individuals in a number of areas. An Olympic lifter wishes to improve their overall strength, etc. They certainly wouldn't go out and run 40 miles a week because that is not specific to their goals.
I would imagine that an individual looking to start a program like P90X has no immediate goals of powerlifting in the Olympics, so some variation to their fitness is by no means problematic (directly).
Muscle confusion isn't about preventing plateaus; it's about giving beginners enough variety so they won't immediately get bored and quit. And when you constantly vary your training, you might not be as likely to quit, but you're not going to make any real progress.
Fair enough, I agree. P90X is, again, about improving overall health and fitness in a number of ways, using limited resources found in a home gym. It does not make you "great" at any individual aspect, but can improve your health and fitness to a point where you can then hone in on something specific down the road, that is, if you wish and if it suits your needs/goals.
Now, is there any truth to the whole "muscle confusion" idea? Sure. In fact, I used to read about it all the time in Muscle & Fitness back in the 70's. It simply refers to the fact that a monotonous physical stimuli will lead to reduced adaptations over time, as compared to a more varied stimuli.
Where people go wrong however, is that they overestimate the amount and scope of variety that's really needed to minimize plateaus (eliminating them, contrary to P90X's marketing promises, isn't possible). The weightlifters I mentioned earlier simply vary their loads to accomplish that purpose. They don't, for example, do a 4-week "incinerator" phase, because if they do, they'll lose much of the progress they made previously.
Again, correct. I agree. The problem with this article is that the author starts it off by saying that "Muscle Confusion" is mostly B.S., yet then goes on to explain at how it is a marketing term used years ago that can be used to eliminate plateaus.
Most people need to realize that "Muscle Confusion", which is a form of periodization, has been around for a long time. Beachbody is a company, and as a company, they like to sell products by using buzzwords and catch phrases to their products to make them marketable. That is an open and free market my friend.
Of course a weightlifter would not use an "incinerator" phase from P90X (whatever that is), just as much as an olympic cyclist wouldn't spend weeks trying to improve his bench press...they simply do not correspond to their goals.
Having said that, just because something (like P90X) isn't appropriate for some (i.e. weightlifters) doesn't mean that it isn't appropriate and effective for others.
I think that the author misses the point of a program like P90X. Yes, nearly every single successful athlete, bodybuilder, powerlifter, etc. needs a well-structured and designed progressive resistance training program to suit their needs and goals. Athletes, especially, need a program that is specifically tailored to the needs of their sport, this is known as sport specificity training.
Having said that, there are many ways to approach a problem, in my opinion. If an individual, who is out of shape, or wishes to lose some weight, but either does not have the time or money to make a commitment to a gym with the "expertise" of a personal trainer, then a program like P90X can be a very viable option.
This argument that progressive resistance training needs to be done in a gym is weak, at best, since it is entirely possible for individuals working out at home to continue to add to the equipment used in their home gyms in order create progression for their goals. Not only that, but one thing that P90X does quite well, in my opinion, is use gravity as a form of resistance, since weights are not always an option.
I agree with the author, the best way to build a great physique is with progressive resistance training. However, this can be achieved in a number of ways, especially for beginners, those looking to lose weight, or even those who do not wish to be a part of a public/private gym setting.
In the world of big box gyms, there is the potential to hire a very knowledgeable and experienced personal trainer that is sympathetic to your needs and can design a program to suit your needs. However, this can be a costly investment.
On the other hand, individuals can make investments on their own, by building a home gym, and practicing safe and effective exercise technique at home, especially with the help of a good Beachbody Coach. Having said that, like the world of public or private gyms, it is entirely possible for an individual correspond with a Beachbody Coach that does not have much knowledge, or worse, shares incorrect information or exercise technique.