Updated: June 4, 2015

Workout Review: P90X - What is P90X? How does it work?

If you've watched late night or weekend cable TV, chance are you've seen ads for the P90X workout and exercise videos over the last year or so. They feature a lot of real before and after success stories from people who have used their program. They feature a lot of fit people working out hard in a pretty tough looking gym-setting. And they feature some rock and roll music in the background, making the whole thing look pretty cool and inviting. And it has worked -- they have sold a lot of these DVD and video workout routines. But what is P90X? Can you handle it? How does it work? What are the workouts like? How much does P90X cost? Do you need special workout equipment for P90X? We'll do our best to answer all those questions and more in this guide as we share our real life experience using P90X.

P90X review

P90X Workout Routine

P90X (with Tony Horton) stands for "P"ower, 90 days, Xtreme. At heart, P90X is a 90 day intense workout program involving a lot of cardio exercise, stretching and yoga, weight lifting and pull-ups and push-ups, serious 3X per week abdominal routine, and core strength focus. The program is brought to you by the folks at BeachBody.com, and complements the other collections of video workouts they offer like Hip Hop Abs, Rockin' Body, and Turbo Jam. So yes, while they are in the fitness and exercise business, and they want to sell you products, P90X is not some feel-good, pretend exercise program -- it is some serious stuff and produces serious results, but more on that later. How much does P90X cost? It costs $120 direct from BeachBody (they usually offer free shipping), but we saw quite a few on sale at Ebay for about $80-100 used. So what do you get for your money? P90X is a collection of 12 DVD workouts, each about 1 hour long. It also includes a complete nutrition and diet plan (the 3 Phase Nutrition Plan), which is very thorough, with detailed meal plans and nutrition information to help you achieve your goals of losing fat and building muscle. And you get worksheets to track your progress. The workouts are:
  • Chest and Back
  • Plyometrics (jump training)
  • Shoulder and Arms
  • Yoga X
  • Legs and Back
  • Kenpo X
  • X Stretch
  • Core Synergistics
  • Chest, Shoulders, and Triceps
  • Back and Biceps
  • Cardio X
  • Ab Ripper X
If you are used to working out for 30 minutes or so, it can be a real stretch to keep the intensity up for a full 60 minutes. And you'll be working out 6 days a week for this 90 day period. The workout routines were designed and are led by fitness trainer Tony Horton, who is in peak condition in his mid-40s. The workouts are all filmed on a rough looking gym set, with Tony and 2 or 3 others working out with him, showing different techniques and style (ie, slightly easier moves, or using resistance bands instead of weights). Overall, the mood is light-hearted but intense, and it definitely keeps you motivated. The people on the screen may be super fit, but they are sweating and struggling just like you are. In terms of equipment, you need a pull-up bar (you can buy one for about $50 - check out our review page for pull-up bars for more details), a yoga mat, some dumbells or resistance bands, and optionally some push-up stands for better wrist support and more range of motion when doing push-ups. The only other thing you need is to -- "BRING IT" as they say, show up each day and put in the effort. You can buy the P90X system from Amazon.com here -- we saw some used ones for under $70.

Before you begin, you need to take the P90X Fitness Test to see if you are ready for this kind of extreme workout. It starts with a heart rate monitor. Then there is a pull-up test -- you should be able to do at least 3 for men, 1 for women. Then you measure vertical leap (reach up and touch wall, then jump and see how much higher you can reach) -- you should have at least 5 inches for men, 3 inches for women. Then it's push-ups -- men should crank out 15 minimum, women 3 (or 15 knee push-ups). Then a flexibility test - how close can you get to your toes when sitting down with legs outstretched? You should be no more than 6 inches away for men and women. Then the wall squat - can you hold yourself squatting with back against the wall for 60 seconds? On to bicep curls - men should be able to handle at least reps of 20 lbs dumbells, women 10 reps with 8 lb weights. Ab test - be able to do 25 in and outs (sitting mostly up, lift legs off floor and bring knees to chest, repeat without letting feet hit ground). Finally, do 2 minutes of jumping jacks, going as fast as possible during the last 30 seconds. So you can see that the required fitness level is not too extreme, but people who are too overweight and out of shape will have a tough time with it. You can download the P90X fitness test right from their website: http://www.beachbody.com/images/us/local/products/p90x/p90xFitTest.pdf. My feeling is that the program is marketed to middle age folks, say early 30's to late 40's, who are already in decent shape but who want to push themselves and really regain some of the shape and strength and endurance they had when they were younger.

On To The Workouts - What is P90X Like?

So enough background info - what are these workouts like, how does the program work? The training program is broken into 3 phases. In each phase, you do 3 weeks of workouts and then have a week of recovery before moving to the next phase. Phase 2 adds two new workouts that you haven't seen before, then Phase 3 combines Phase 1 and 2 so you are doing all the different workouts during the final month. There are 3 weight/muscle building workouts each week, alternating with cardio and stretching workouts. On each weight lifting day, you also get to do something called Ab Ripper X - an additional 15 minutes of 340 varieties of ab crunching moves. Again, most of the workouts are 1 hour start to finish, except for Yoga X which is 90 minutes. So when you add on Ab Ripper, you are working out for almost 80 minutes 3 days a week, 90 minutes one day, and 60 minutes the other 2 days, with one day per week for rest or stretching. What does this mean? Time commitment. This thing takes some time to do it properly, so if you have a rushed schedule and can't commit to working out each day, you will have a tough time making progress. I think my story was similar to most - I had been going to the gym to workout 2-3 times per week for many years, just staying in decent shape without really pushing myself very hard or trying anything new. I wasn't very flexible, couldn't touch my toes. Could probably afford to lose 10-15 pounds. So I decided to try P90X to see how hard I could push myself and what the results would be from 90 days of straight, intense exercise.

Once you pop in your first DVD and start the Chest and Back routine in Phase 1, you'll see that even the muscle building routines are a big cardio workout as well. There are 12 sets of exercises to complete, and then you repeat and do them again! Apart from the occasional 30 second water break, you have only a 10-15 seconds between exercises, so you are in constant motion, lots of sweat and heavy breathing. You will definitely want a water bottle and a towel nearby. Each DVD begins with a warmup and stretching session for about 5 minutes, then you get into the hard work. There is also a cool down section at the end for a few minutes as well, so your real workout time will be 45-50 minutes out of the hour. Each session has a timer slider at the bottom of the screen, showing how much time is left for each particular exercise, and how much time is left in the whole workout so you can track your progress. Love 'em or hate 'em, you'll find yourself doing a lot of pull-ups and push-ups. In week #1 I could do just 6 pull-ups -- 6 weeks later, I could do 14. The good news is that you "do your best" - if all you can put out is 6 push-ups, that's what you do, record it, and go for 7 next week. So most of these workouts are as hard or as easy as you want them to be, since you work at your strength level and pace. During those first weeks especially, you will have to push pause and give yourself a little extra time to breathe. And you WILL have sore muscles all over your body pretty much throughout the first month -- I'm talking serious pain in your glutes walking up and down stairs after doing Plyometrics or the Legs and Back workout, chest and arms that are always tender to the touch. I really struggled to get through these workouts the first week or 2, but after the first month I started feeling pretty confident and way stronger, way more flexible. In my opinion, the Plyometrics workout is the most challenging -- I am literally fighting for breath and exhausted by the time it is done. Yoga X is very challenging as well if you have not done it before -- a lot of those moves that look simple require so much strength and balance, it really works your body. The point is, you do see progress each week as your endurance and strength builds, and if you are committed, you begin to look forward to these workouts each day as you move through the calendar. I found Tony, even in taped format, to be inspirational and motivational, even if his jokes get a little tiring after you hear them for the 18th time.

P90X Results

You see a lot of people giving testimonials on the P90X commercials about how their bodies have changed, and I think I believe them. Like I mentioned before, I went from being able to do just 6 pull-ups to almost 15 over the course of 60 days. Without even following any special diets, I lost 8 pounds in the first 45 days. I think you must burn 500-600+ calories in these hour long workouts, and at 6 times per week, I was buring WAY more calories than I did from just going to the gym twice a week. In terms of flexibility, I made huge gains, going from not being able to touch my toes to being able to putting my palms flat on the floor. Another good example is the Ab Ripper X workout. The first week, I had to rest during the 1st move, the 2nd move, the 3rd move, etc.. Those ab crunches just exhaust the muscles and you can't go on. But by the third or 4th time doing it (you do it 3 times per week), suddenly I was getting through the first move with no breaks, then the first 3 moves with no breaks, and now I can do all 350 moves with only having to skip maybe 10 out of 350 for mini breaks. That is real progress, and you can see it and feel the accomplishment of it as you achieve it. Overall, I was very impressed with this collection of DVDs, very impressed with the results, and I will continue to mix these routines into my regular exercise regimen. If you are looking to get yourself into peak condition and you have the time and commitment to follow this program, I recommend it. Tony Horton has done a great job with P90X, and it can literally change your body and life. OK, so you are ready to buy P90X -- you can buy the P90X system from Amazon.com here - they have good prices, plus you can even pick up a used copy at about half price.