Tuesday, September 1, 2009

P90X Critique Part 2 0f 3 - WIll you really "get ripped"?

Does P90x work - when measured against its own claimes: does P90x get one "ripped" in 90 days? This article reviews the exercise and diet plan of P90X to get at that question - but really it's about providing a way to assess any "body transformation" or "12 week" program to see (a) if what's on the label is what's in the tin and (b) if what's in the tin matches what your goals for a program. You'll find criteria about two key components of such programs, diet, and nutrition, and how to assess the degree to which each of these components is likely to deliver the claims a program promises to deliver, and for whom.

The following therefore is more or less a worked example of applying/deriving this assessment via a critique of P90x - a program billed as an "extreme" workout (+ diet) specifically designed for practitioners to 'get ripped.' It's pretty detailed, so long. It looks at the exercise program first and then the nutrition program in the context of its promised results.

In Part 1 of this reflection/critique of P90x we looked at the core P90x concept of "muscle confusion". We also poked at the rationale behind a few of the "bring it" program's routines within this "muscle confusion" context. The conclusion was, based on what's known about physiological adaptations that occur in a 12 week program by novices/deconditioned athletes - P90X's target market - muscle confusion is basically a marketing gimmick.

In this second of this three part series, i'd like to look at the concept of "getting ripped" that is a key part of the P90X delivery promise.

In Part 3 we'll look at alternatives to the two core parts of P90X, but in the right order (a) diet (from places one doesn't usually think about diet - it's not just about the food) and (b) workout practices (they're both practices)

As i said in part 1 and will say so again here, there's nothing wrong with anyone wanting to do - or actually doing - P90X or similar- the routines are "not considered harmful," to draw on a computer science trope (at least not too harmful - we'll see more in part 3b).

What we might ask about P90X is does it deliver what's on the tin? Will anyone who passes the P90X fit test and is therefore deemed "ready" to do P90X "get ripped"? - and in P90X's definition, that pretty much means, at a minimum, have a six pack.

P90X suggests that if you follow it's program, you will be "transformed" from "regular to ripped" in 90 days. That's its formula: do the workouts; follow the diet. So we're going to look at each part of that formula against some objective criteria for ripped-ness.

Basic necessities of Getting Ripped by which to assess P90X capacity to deliver:
There are fortunately only two things involved in getting ripped, level of importance listed here:
  1. bodyfat percentage - known bf% level for being able to see muscle definition
  2. muscle density/mass - what will be seen beneath the skin once at that bf%

If you want to skip the rest of the article here's the recipe for 6 pack abs:

  • Get a diet that will get you below 10% body fat if a guy and below 15% if you're a gal. See part 3a for nutrition approach suggestions
  • Do either this abs hypertrophy routine as prescribed, or get this book, bullet proof abs, and do its routines. Both have been tested. But NOTHING will show without getting down to that bodyfat %.
For a more wholistic approach which will give you the 6 pack as a side effect of other work, that's part 3b (forthcoming). But here's a preview of one of the approaches to be discussed.

As to why this is the recipe, well that's in the rest of this article.

Results from this article:
  • Based on this assessment criteria, at the end of this article a person will have some tools with which to assess the claims of an exercise / diet program to deliver the promised results.
  • With these tools the person will be able to make an informed choice about whether that program suits their goals.
Why this assessment template?
First, there are tons of 12 week programs out there, all promising grand things. Where do we get our information about what works in these programs? Usually from the programs themselves. But we saw in the first part of this series that P90X's key concept "muscle confusion" is more marketing than fact, especially in the context of deconditioned or novice trainees. So are the before and after shots for P90X's amazing transformations that seem to be portrayed also a gimmick? How can we make this assessment.

Second, i'm guessing that folks who choose to do P90X or other 12 week transformations may know about as much about how fat loss and hypertrophy really work as i did when i started the program: less than i thought i did, and so pretty accepting of the way P90X presents each of these: exercise first, diet second, bf% is just a measure of progress.

The reality, as we'll see, is very much different: diet has to be first, exercise is second and bf% is, in the context of "getting ripped" a very specific target, and one that can be reasonably calculated to determine the length and intensity of a program to deliver desired results.

So to begin, let's begin with where P90X puts its energy first: exercise.

o Muscle Building Very Basic Basics.
P90X doesn't come out and say that it's a muscle building program - and that's good, cuz it's not (more on that in a moment) - but most of us think that the term "getting ripped" implies building muscle.

Likewise, those men's before and after pictures in P90X (like the ones fo JonC, left) seem to imply that muscle mass will accompany the program. Hmm.

There's a lot we don't know about how muscle growth works, but there's a couple of things we do know: to build muscle we need two things: caloric surplus and appropriate muscular stimulation to force an adaptation. In this case, that adaptation means laying down new muscle fiber and so getting some muscle growth. Muscle growth also pretty much requires eating more rather than less: we want more body mass - in these case muscle tissue - the resources for that tissue have to come from somewhere. For us, that's the right nutrients - i.e. food.

Muscle in Two Parts:
  1. We create a demand for adaptation (more myofibrils) by the right type of stimulus: hypertrophy inducing effort.
  2. We then need to provide the the building blocks to support the adaptation.
This two step is important:
  • we can eat all we want to support muscular adaptation, but if we're not pushing our muscles appropriately to adapt, then they have no reason to change (grow/get bigger). The result is we'd just get fat.
  • The converse is also true: even with the best hypertrophy program going, if we're not providing the right material to feed the growth, muscle building will be stymied.

That said, here's a factoid from Christian Thibaudeau's excellent and recommended discussion of mass building: with someone (read male in this case) totally committed to muscle building, getting diet and workouts just so, the range of muscle building to expect is .25 to .5lbs of *dry* muscle per week. In the real world that non-fat weight would show up with an additional 40% from additional water/gylcogen. So ten pounds of muscle shows up more like 14lbs on the scale. But whether 10 or 14 pounds of fat free mass let's call it, at .5+ pounds a week, 2 pounds a month, that also means five to ten perfect months to get that 14 pounds.

Here's another factoid from that article - a person sitting at say 120lbs of lean mass (weight minus fat) would need to eat 2440 calories a day to start growing mass with those optimized workouts.

UPDATE Sept 28 '09 - Dustin in the comments below asks why does one have to be in caloric surplus? Let me bring the reply up here. First, read Thibadeau's article above with the reference to a construction analogy for how muscle gets built.

Again, a lot about muscle building is still being worked out, but there are some basics: doing sufficient work to cause hypertrophy of whatever kind means that muscle fiber is getting damaged - torn down in the body building lexicon. That damage triggers muscle cells to signal to related cells to say we need to expand the capacity of some of these muscle fibers cuz they're being asked to do more. Without the right fuel in the system for that growth to happen, it doesn't happen. So let me continue Thibaudeau's analogy now:

Perhaps you just decide you want a bigger garage, so step 1, you knock down a wall of your garage (like what workouts do to muscle - they really do wreak havoc with muscle fibers). Now what? Perhaps that wasn't the best first step, but now you need more bricks (protein) and you need some funds (carbs) to hire workers and expertise to get the space rebuilt.

Turns out, perhaps without the best planning, you only have a set amount of bricks to do do the job - and you only have a set amount of cash right now to pay for the labour.

So effectively, you're short on cash and your short on bricks, so your project manager says "this is the best i can do" and rebuilds the wall more or less to its former level and gives you a bit more room at one end of the shed with clever use of storage and a few extra bricks it was able to scrounge.

Please NOTE. I'm not saying one can't build SOME muscle in caloric deficit. I'm saying it's NOT OPTIMAL. All things being equal it is sometimes possible to build lean mass when in a caloric deficit but it is really sub optimal.

Why should be clearer now: if our focus is to burn fat, we're going into caloric deficit, and our system is working to maintain energy levels and keep systems going. It's not going to have the resource to give over to a big construction job at the same time, when a lot of those resources that would in surplus be used for building are being used for maintenance and fuel.
Assuming that P90X was designed to promote muscle mass gains (it isn't), at the best, a normal guy would put on 3-6 lbs of muscle plus another 1-2 ish of water/glycogen. So 5-8'ish pounds. And that's in a program where one is eating to GAIN mass combined with workouts to produce mass. Is that P90X? No.

Even before we get to the type of workouts, a basic question we might ask is, is the diet in the program one of caloric surplus or caloric deficit? So whether you gain muscle on P90X or not will largely depend on how much of a caloric deficit - or not - you're in during the program. That discussion is below.

Generally, P90X aims to have a person in caloric deficit - without which fat loss will not occur. Period. So here's a potential contradiction, not unique to P90X, but certainly rather brushed under the carpet in this case: if muscle mass building requires caloric surplus, but the program keeps someone in caloric deficit throughout, how can muscle be built? This isn't a Zen Koan. The inverse may help: if one is eating enough for muscle building, what kind of caloric deficit is going on and what kind of fat loss is occurring?

Another question: if P90X runs a person into caloric deficit, how explain those before and after pictures that *seem* to show more muscle mass at the end of 90 days?We'll come back to these questions. First, let's look at how we might understand what kinds of muscular adaptations P90X promotes.

Kind of Strength Foregrounds Kind of Muscle
Another part of the muscle building adaptation is type of load, rest, volume and recovery. As we said above, to get new muscle fibers to be laid down, there has to be a demand for that kind of growth. As we saw in part 1, also, the type of adaptation in the first 8 - 12 weeks of a resistance program for a neophyte is mainly neurological. That means muscle that already exists is learning how to support the loads. Only once the challenge goes beyond that initial adaptation, effectively, does new muscle get laid down IF the challenge requires that adaptation. Does P90X require that hypertrophy adaptation?

o P90X: endurance training disguised with weights.

In the P90X program, 3 out of the 6 days a week are "resistance" oriented workouts (the other three are "cardio" oriented). But what kind of resistance training are we talking about? Turns out they're something known as circuits.

Circuits in general are usually about putting several exercises together, doing one set of each exercise with little rest between moves. The weights used in each of these sets has to be sufficiently light to be able to move between exercises with limited rest.

Indeed, in P90X resistance workouts, the rep ranges are anywhere from 7 to 12. The only instruction on how to pick a weight is so that one will "feel the burn" in the last couple of reps.

Based on the above template, we get the following in the resistance routines: 20+ minute circuits, 1 set per move, mid to high reps, critically: no rest between sets. At most, there is 60 seconds active recovery between circuits 2-3 circuits.

We've said these workouts are circuits but when rest between sets is taken out of the equation for this kind of period, we're looking at endurance or stamina training rather than muscular strength.

Let's look at how "strong" is used as a term in P90X. "Stronger" throughout the P90X program is largely defined by being able to endure, keep up, do as many reps of a move as Horton and Co perform with as little rest as possible over the course of the hour. That's endurance strength. The adaptations developed in the muscles are mainly aerobic in nature, which means that the muscles get,

* Increased aerobic enzymes
* Increased mitochondrial density
* Increased capillaries
* More efficient contractions
* Possible changes in fiber type (e.g., fast twitch to slow twitch.
Endurance is an important capacity for an athlete - the ability to keep going in an activity is pretty critical. Indeed, for someone just starting out on an exercise program, endurance strength is often the first phase of a program that will eventually get to other kinds of strength, like hypertrophy, speed and power. It's foundational.

Foundational. Basic. Upping oxidative capacity. Not building mass, but improving the muscle's capacity to use oxygen which means greater work capacity for longer. That sounds great for health but doesn't sound like a "getting ripped" program, though, does it? And saying that, are circuits the best way to build this capacity?

Here's an assessment of the kinds of circuits P90X uses for training:

We can draw several conclusions from the analysis of groups of individuals who have participated in studies involving prescribed circuit training for a prolonged period of time.

* Circuit training is not optimal for increasing cardiovascular fitness when compared to High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
* Circuit training is not optimal for increasing cardiovascular fitness when compared to cardiovascular training when the heart rate is at the target heart rate
* Circuit training is not optimal for forcing anaerobic adaptation when compared to a strength training program
* Circuit training is not optimal for forcing aerobic adaptation when compared to an aerobic training program
* Circuit training is not optimal for increasing muscle size when compared to a hypertrophy-based training program
* Circuit training is not optimal for increasing strength when compared to HIIT or a regular resistance training program
* Circuit training is useful for burning additional calories and stimulating blood flow to the limbs
* Circuit training is useful for squeezing lots of exercise into a short time frame
In light of everything you just read, can anyone actually benefit from circuit training? The answer is yes, but obviously the benefits are not optimal for experienced athletes. Subgroups of trainees such as the elderly, young, rehabbing, novice, or obese athletes might do well circuit training optimized in the following ways:...
# Goal #3: burning calories and fat.

Since we are not able to burn fat unless we are working aerobically, most circuit training programs will not suffice unless each exercise is performed for a duration of at least 4 minutes. In this case we can only hope to burn calories, and possibly a little fat, by moving rapidly to each exercise station and maintaining a steady rhythm. Ultimately the client will be exercising not at, but close to, the anaerobic threshold.

The above Goal 3 Sounds like P90X's "resistnace" workouts (and all the other P90X workouts, too, for that matter). That latter point then is as close as P90X comes to having an effect, and it's not strength per se or muscle building. It's endurance: keep the movement going to keep the heart rate up for periods longer than 4 minutes; improve oxidative capacity (ability to burn fat).

Recap on P90X Circuits
SO what have we learned? Circuits are, at best, novice routines, or for sick or rehabbing, or obese. THis doesn't sound like the deconditioned x-jock population P90X is supposedly targeting. So, P90X, as point 3 above, has tuned the workouts for what? Fat burning. Not muscle building.

Our question at this point might be, are these kinds of circuits the best way to burn fat for a deconditioned jock AND add "lean muscle" that the diet guide says will make up for not seeing much of a change on the scale?

Consider this: in a 24 week program study designed specifically to look at the effects of single set style circuit training vs periodized multi-set program, the lean mass changes for women were 2% lean mass gain over that 6 month period vs 8% gain with the alternative protocol. Likewise percentage body fat went down by 10% in 6 months (eg, someone at 24% went to 21.6%) vs 25% with the alternative protocol (that 24% person wend to 18%).

So, these workouts are *mainly* fat burners/endurance builders, and don't seem to be necessarily the best approach to optimize fat burning or lean mass building. In part 3 we'll look at some of these alternatives in more detail.

Aside: P90X+ Let me cue up here that the P90X+ program is very similar in kind to P90X: 5 more P90X style workouts, but with fewer people on the set. These workouts are to mix into P90X. So one effectively re-does P90X, swapping out some P90X routines for the new ones. So, once more into the breach: more circuits, more little rest between moves. So, effectively, more of the P90X endurance same.

P90X - resisting muscle growth?
We now have a sense of what it takes to build muscle: caloric surplus - we need more to build more; and we need specific types of load/recovery/volume for muscles to grow. In looking at P90X, we see that the type of strength it's geared to building is endurance, not hypertrophy. The muscular adaptations are around fuel consumption - better oxidative/fat burning capacity - rather than mass building.

In sum, based on their design, P90X workouts - including the "resistance" workouts - are circuits, tuned for fat burning rather than muscle building.

Questions a person considering P90X might have at this point are therefore
  • a) does the P90X workout focus on fat burning match one's goals?
  • b) if so, is the P90X circuit approach the best way to achieve these goals?

Another question might be "but what about getting ripped? doesn't P90X deliver at least on that?"

At the top of this article we looked at getting ripped as body fat percentage first and muscle growth second. Ok, it's not delivering on muscle growth per se, so time to look at the diet side of P90X and we'll come back to its fat burning disguised as resistance training.

o The simple formula for a 6 pack? Body Fat Percentage
While i don't think he coined the term, colleague Rannoch Donald of Simple Strength may often be heard to say "there are no secrets." So here's a big non-secret to 6 pack abs: body fat percentage.

What P90X does not come out and say ever, anywhere, is that for a guy to begin to see his abs, he has to be at about 10% BF (in my experience of the guys i've worked with, it's actually below 10%); for gals, we have to be at about 15% or less. It's really that simple.

I wish i had known this at the time i was doing P90X. Rather than focusing on dropping 10 pounds, i might have looked into how feasible/healthy it would be to drop 10% body fat in 90 days, and how to optimize that. That *might* have helped me figure out right there if Kenpo-X and Plyo-X were the best ways to achieve that goal, or if maybe looking into diet-x might have been more profitable.

Indeed, what more and more research shows is that the only way to get to that ripped level BF% is calorie restriction. Calorie restriction (ie, diet) comes first; exercise is second. P90X of course doesn't say this fact either. It's selling "muscle confusion" first; nutrition way second.

o P90X Diet Math
This is not to say that PN doesn't get diet. PN has a diet book. And it's a corker.

What the Nutrition Plan for P90X says about the role of nutrition in getting ripped is as follows:

Why Diet Matters P90X® Nutrition Plan A large body of scientific evidence shows that diet and exercise work hand-in-hand to promote fitness and physical performance. One reason for this symbiotic relationship is the energy equation. When you expend more calories than you consume, you burn body fat (aka "stored energy") and build lean body mass—but because you need energy to exercise, every calorie you eat must be of the highest quality to get you over the hump.:
Well, as we've seen, ya don't always build lean body mass just because you're burning more calories than you consume; and as we've seen, ya don't always build lean body mass when you're working out and reducing caloric intake, either. .25 - .5 pounds a week if EATING to gain that muscle.

Please let me note again that one can gain lean mass while in caloric deficit. It's just not a lot. If one is gaining .25 lbs by eating for gain, and working out for muscular growth, how much fiber can be built when eating for loss and doing endurance not hypertrophy workouts? It's a real challenge.

So what's the P90X diet advice?
IT's amazing. Every 4 weeks, the macronutrient ratio changes - to match the demands of this incredible program:
Phase I: Fat Shredder - Days 1-28
Phase II: Energy Booster - Days 29-56
Phase III: Endurance Maximizer - Days 57-90

The above phases map to the following macronutrient ratios:
Macronutrient Goals in Each Phase
Phase I - Protein 50%, Carbs 30%, Fat 20%
Phase II - Protein 40%, Carbs 40%, Fat 20%
Phase III - Protein 20%, Carbs 60%, Fat 20%

How are these ratios achieved? By one of two ways: either follow the portion suggestions of how many portions of each type of macro nutrient to have, or by following the meal plans so even less to think about. Just eat exactly what it in the book, when it says to eat it.

Indeed, the portion approach is not unique to P90X but it is complex: Have X portions from the Protein group; Y portions from the Carbs and Z from fats.

This number of portions approach is to help avoid calorie counting. But the result also means that there are only three "sizes" of menu to fit everyone. Not exactly optimized for fat loss. Consider the following.

Calories Per Day - Three Sizes fits All
Here's how a person determines how many calories they're going to eat a day - what their Total X+Y+Z portions will equal.

Nutrition Level Chart
EA = 1800-2399 = Level I 1800 calories per day
EA = 2400-2999 = Level II 2400 calories per day
EA = 3000+ = Level III 3000 calories per day

Who is losing anything here and by how much? Hmm. This means someone who requires 2399 calories for maintenance in Level 1 will suddenly be on a 600 calorie a day deficit. In 6 days of workouts, that's 3600 calories - a little better than a fat pound. Someone who's closer to 1800 cals for maintenance will be losing far less in that week. Maybe nothing following this meal plan. And indeed, there's a real potential Achilles heal to this approach. IT's how one's Level is calculated: it assumes that ALL P90X workouts burn 600 calories.

Let's look quickly at how one figures out their energy level.

Determining Your Nutrition Level
1. Calculate your RMR
Your Body Weight x 10 = RMR
2. Calculate your Daily Activity Burn
RMR x 20% = DAB
3. Calculate your Energy Amount
RMR + DAB +600 CALS for p90x workouts = EA

Now, RMR stands for resting metabolic rate, and i have yet to find anywhere where it is simplified to body weight times 10, since it regularly takes into account height and other constants, etc, but let's set that aside and just go with this formula.

Here's an example:
1. a 140 lb gal of unknown height has an "RMR" of 1400
2. 20% is 280
3. 1400 + 280 + 600 = 2280 calories.

So that puts the person in EA of Level 1, 1800 calories a day. That would be, all things being equal, a 480 calorie a day deficit, which over 6 days, is 2880 calories, not quite a pound.

A gal at 130 is also in EA Level 1, and also told to eat 1800 calories, and that's only
1300+260+600= 2160, a difference of 360 cals a day, which in 6 days is 2160 - even further away from a pound a week.

A smaller gal at 120, 1200+240+600 = 2040 calories now at 1800, is eating only a 200 calorie a day deficit.
That's 1200 in a week, three weeks to lose a pound.

And that's IF those workouts are really 600kcals a piece. They are not. Or let's put it this way: it depends. Yoga X at about 80-90 mins is 200 calories; Kenpo-X, at 45 mins, is maybe 275 - 435. If you're totally "bringing it" maybe a bit more. So your heart rate is pushing it's aerobic envelop.

This math begins to explain the 6 pounds total i took off during my religious observation of P90X doubles - where i was keenly going for 600 cals a day from double workouts.

Special Case:
If someone is in the EA Level 3 of "3000+" of course potentially coming down from say 4250 a day to 3000, the possibility is that, all things being equal, one will be losing 2.5 ish pounds a week, 30 pounds over the 12 weeks.

o Body Fat X
P90X says that weight of course is "relatively meaningless" since a better measure is body fat percentage. Why? P90X doesn't explain in this guide why body fat percentage is more important than what's on the scale. We're simply told body fat % is the measure of progress.

So how does P90X use body fat %?

In the "relatively meaningless" way one uses weight? that it goes down? That's pretty much it. With one sweetener. It provides three body fat ranges for folks to feel really successful after completing the program:
Fit, Athlete, Elite Athlete.
Nice correlation implied: if you have a BF% at the third level, maybe you're an "elite athlete" (No question asked of course that if you have that BF% and you're not an elite athlete what else might you be?)

But there's no correlation between Body Fat % and ripped. It does not come out and say that unless you hit that "Elite Athlete" bf% range, you will not be seeing that 6 pack. It's that simple.

BF% - supposedly important to P90X, but based on who and what army? A few questions a person may have at this point about a program claiming that bf% change is critical may be:
  • If body fat percentage is so important, and the meaningful way to measure progress, what are the expected body fat % changes on this program for men and women?
  • IF it is that important why is it so cavalier about how to take these measures? The guides don't actually tell anyone how to do this - the closest it comes is to say "get a caliper"from their web site.
o Nutrition Confusion?
Other than just maybe/maybe not caloric restriction, the P90X diet guide seems to reflect Nutrition Confusion, perhaps to match the exercise program's muscle confusion, discussed in part 1. Over the course of 12 weeks, as said, the macronutrient ratio of the program changes 3 times. There are arguments in the data about why a person would want to start with higher protein and lower carbs and then by the end of the program invert this, but not really.

  • Fact: we know that if you're in caloric deficit, you will lose weight.
  • Fact: we know that in short term programs (8-12 weeks) that higher protein diets *throughout* the program tend to have slightly faster higher initial weight loss than other programs, but that after that period, loses level out.

Here, the idea seems to be (it's not explicit), is that to kick starting the diet, bringing up protein and reducing carbs, will fire up fat loss. Hmm. But after that first month, because people will have been working so hard, they'll need to keep brining up the carb level to have the energy to survive it. There's a few notices about extending a given phase if one wishes, but the guidance is pretty much stick to the plan, stan.

Haven't seen the studies to support this kind of short term mix-it-up. Nutrition is complex. But a higher level fact we do have the resources to say is that fat loss happens with caloric deficit. Is that really achieved in the P90X diet plan?

And let's look at those figures again: the predicted weight loss on this program is 6-12 pounds. A half pound to a full pound a week. That's it. Unless you're in the 3000+ a day with a serious + a day. Honey, i can get you on a diet tomorrow with NO exercise involved that will guarantee to meet or double those numbers. No sweat. Literally. So what is someone doing on P90X if the goal is to get lean, to "get ripped"?

o Is What's on the Label What's in the Tin? Is this a Getting Ripped Diet?
P90X promises "getting ripped" as part of its objective.

If we can accept the premise that caloric deficit is required to reduce fat in order to see one's 6 pack, a key part of the "getting ripped" concept, we have to ask if P90X will really deliver this result?

Based on looking at the differences in caloric deficits to be achieved of just a few points of the Level I scale, for instance, it's pretty clear that the amount of caloric deficit to be achieved in following this program is likely to be highly variable, and likely at most about a pound a week for the people at the outside of the Level, and likely considerably less given that the caloric burn calculated for each workout is exaggerated.

Who will get Ripped on P90X?
Knowing that we need to get to a low body fat % to get the "get ripped" look, and knowing how much caloric deficit we need to burn FAT (as opposed to just lose weight), and knowing that there's such variation of caloric deficit with P90X and that at the most it's calculated to drop about a pound a week of fat for anyone who starts at eating 2999kcals a day, AT BEST, what does this tell us about the likelihood of getting ripped on P90X?

IF all the person needs to lose is 6-12 pounds to achieve the ripeed body fat percentage, then it's possible to get to the Ripped Place in the 90 days.

Otherwise, how can it happen?

Now, we know that *if* one gains lean mass and doesn't lose ANY body fat, their BF% goes down. True enough. But how much lean mass can one reasonably gain in 12 weeks with P90X such that it will effectively overwhelm X% of fat? So let's just put that one to bed.

Effectively, unless you're already close to that goal percentage can P90X deliver "ripped" or just the "getting" part of getting ripped?

And if the best it can deliver for the majority is the "getting" towards ripped, again, a person might ask, is P90X the best way to do it?

o Those Before and After Pictures
Given everything we've looked at above, let's come back to a few of those before and after pictures.

For Women, let's take Amanda for example.

We don't know her stats. That is we don't know her starting BF% or her final one, but what's changed in this photo? What don't we see? A six pack. The abs are angled. Is there less fat? yes. Is there more definition. Yes. Does it look like she's lost more than the 6-12 pounds? No. Has anything else, beside the expression on her face, and the sucking in of the gut changed visibly? No.

Then there is KatieV. Again, what's changed?
IS katie sucking in her gut in the day 1 photo? How about on day 90? Is she already pretty lean? Look at the waist circumference at the hips. Much change? So while the photo looks really cool, the *actual* change is not incredible. And since the arms haven't seemed to have changed, i'm guessing weight loss, a good base of fitness already, and with three days a week of endurance abs on top of all the rest of the workouts, the abs will show. Congratulations! This participant hit the sweet spot.

Is this result what any gal who passes the P90X fit test can expect? As we've seen, realistically, that would depend on a number of factors, particularly starting BF% and realistic expectation of caloric deficit over the 12 weeks. If one starts at 24% bodyfat, will P90X take a person to 14%? No. Remember in the research above 6 months of a slightly more intense workout regimen than P90X net 2% lean mass improvement, 10% bf% reduction. That's 21.4% in 24 weeks, not 12.

And with the guys?
What about their before and after photos?
Really look at the photos. From angle, to lighting, to mass, what's going on? Mainly body fat changes?

Without having access to the actual measurements from before an after we don't really have anything concrete to go on about the degree of change. What we can see is that most of the guys posted as P90X success stories already have some muscular definition in their before shots, even though pose and lighting is not optimized to show this before aspect. Look at the second gentleman in the picture above. He's plainly experienced at workouts and is already at a lower body fat %; he will likely be building lean mass out of the gate, and trimming body fat by the little he needs for the lighting in the after photo to create an effect. Nice lat flare.

The above photo crit is not to take away from anyone's accomplishments on P90X, but to put the results - and expected results - in context, and to look at these photos with a greater reality lens, based on the little detail we actually have.

Not that there aren't some rather wild whoppers on the P90x site.

"Lost 30% body fat" sounds fabulous in this picture, doesn't it? But let's put it in context. We can see some of DavidC's abs - so there's a fat level of 10% or a bit less. That means that a guy who is already skinny, as he seems to be - say at 12% minus 30% of that = 8.4 percent. Definitely in ab-seeing zone. That seems like a very high result to me for someone who's already skinny, but let's take it as true. The point is that he begins the program already close to a Ripped bf%. All the guys in the success stories seem to do so. Well they have to, don't they?

So what's going on with his shoulders that do look bigger? Gotta love all those pull ups.
As we've seen, based on what we know about muscle building, it usually requires caloric surplus AND it requires a program designed to facilitate muscle building adaptation and P90X is mainly an endurance program with a wee bit of hypertrophy-oriented training thrown in.
Since what we see is mainly in the shoulder and arms, and some fat off the waist, well, the diet might also just be at that right place where the caloric deficit was minimal to support muscular growth from the most repeated moves in the "resistance" section: pull ups and push ups (we'll come back to this in part 3). Again, well done. Unusual, but well done. Why do we so rarely see people's legs in these shots, hmm?

In general, what we do know, when we really look at these photos is that we are not seeing people make super weight loss changes OR muscle mass changes. These are relatively close to lean people, getting more lean.

Another question might be: if one is in this happy position of being within sight of lean-ness, is P90x the best way to get there?

o Summing Up: P90X and getting Ripped.
If we start with the simple premise that the main ingredient of of "getting ripped" - signified by 6 pack abs - is first to achieve a particular bodyfat% and second to have some hypertrophy of muscles to show through the skin, then we can assess P90X.

We've seen that P90X is *primarily* a circuit training program that's been tuned for fat burning, not hypertrophy - even it's Ab Ripper X program is endurance rather than hypertrophy. As such, despite the X and extreme labels, P90X workouts are conservative: rehab, novice, obese friendly. Surprising, isn't it? The very stuff of fat fit boot camps.

We've also seen that its diet plan is *very* conservative in terms of weight loss. 6-12 pounds total in 12 weeks.

Thus, we might ask,
  • for whom is P90X likely to be a "get ripped" success story?
  • is P90X the best way to achieve this result for this group?
  • what are other people supposed to do who want to 'get ripped'

To the first question we already have the answer: people already close to that target body fat percentage.

To the second question, we've already had some sense that P90X may not be the best way to get the results in promises. Part three will look at alternatives, which will include nutrition alternatives, as the short answer is yes, there are other what one may even call more balanced alternatives to P90X.

To the third question, well, answer two does here as well.

So what do we have?
Program assessments:
  • - Where is the Diet plan? what are its predicted deliverables?
  • - how is progress measured?
  • - what are the predicted changes in these measures over what period?
  • - what kind of workouts/rest periods are being presented? - endurance/power/hypertrophy
  • - what kind of transformations are predicted from these workouts? what are the measures?
If the above answers aren't clear in the program descriptions, that might in itself be a Big Red Flag of the Caveat Emptor variety.

My hope is that with the above information, folks are better able not only to assess the claims and supposed results of P90X with a critical eye, but ANY workout program.

So, next time an infomercial promises you'll lose fat in just a few weeks and it's promoting a device or an exercise routine, look at where the diet plan is hiding. It's usually something like "combined with diet and rest" or something similar.

If the device or program promises muscle gains, again, look for the diet plan AND look at the type of routines being promoted. Are they hypertophy inducing, strength and power or are they, like P90X, safe, novice, fat burners, dressed up as hypertrophy or strength or power?

o Alternatives?
At the end of the day, while P90X is fine for what it is - a novice boot camp type endurance/foundation workout - it's a 12 week program. It's a package that uses bells and whistles around marketing illusions like muscle confusion, nutrition confusion, lots of moves, lots of workouts, and lots of diet changes. It seems it's got all these components to keep us busy, entertained, and hooked enough to buy the product: there's a lot of stuff in here; it must be great.

And then if we actually use the program (most people buy health dvds and don't use them, apparently), that variety is there, perhaps not only to keep us engaged but again to think we must be doing something great to achieve our goals.

As we've seen however, P90X, despite all the hoopla, is actually a conservative program. Circuits are safe; the nutrition program is safe. No major changes; no law suits from health risks. Is it the optimla approach to achieve "getting ripped" - safely?

Let's put it this way, if after looking at what's on the label and comparing it with what's in the tin, and you decide you might not want to do P90X but you still want to get lean, add some muscle, get strong etc, you may want to consider some alternatives.

In part three, i'll go over a few examples of programs and approaches both for workouts (part 3b) and nutrition (part 3a let me know what you think of this one - i'm kinda happy about it) so again, a person looking for an approach will have more information with which to assess whether a program is right for them.

See ya next time.

Related Posts:


Steve Corso said...

Hi,mc--I really enjoyed this analysis, especially the discussion of the before and after photos. One thing (I may have missed it if you mentioned it) that one can tell other than lighting manipulation is the fact that several of the participants appear milk-bottle white in the before pic, and then have a suntan in the after pic. Anyone who has been around bodybuilding at all knows the importance of a tan to bring out any muscular definition under lighting, whether it is onstage or in a photo. The other thing, as I believe you did point out in one of the ladies' pictures is the simple act of flexing. If we look at the gentleman who reports the drop in cholesterol, his before picture has his right hand resting comfortably on his hip, arm and shoulder relaxed while his after picture had him in a "side biceps" pose, flexing arm and shoulder. ANYONE can make themselves appear bigger this way. Additionally, he seems to be slightly closer in photo 2 than in photo 1, again, giving the illusion of hypertrophy. If you've seen the movie "Bigger, Stronger, Faster" there is a very revealing segment done on how these photos are manipulated and the narrator/director actually poses for his own beore and after photos on the SAME DAY! The difference is amazing. Errol Morris would have a field day with these photos.

I wrestled at 134 pounds in college. I also ( about 3 years later) powerlifted at 176 pounds.If you saw a photo of me at 134 and one at 176, I would appear far more muscular and certainly more defined at 134, despite the fact that I was in reality much larger at 176.Muscular definition, in a photo, or a set of photos which are not actually a direct comparison, is a tremendous optical illusion in terms of giving an appearance of increased muscle mass, when all you are really seeing is increased muscle visibility.

I'm all for any program that gets the inactive to become active, as you said, but this really is more than a bit disingenuous in its claims, in my view.

Great analysis. Thanks.

dr. m.c. said...

thank you for reading and for your thoughtful comments. much obliged you took the time.

fbomb said...

Great post -- this is shaping up to be the most informative, thoughtful and thorough assessments of the P90X program out there!

I bought P90X about a month ago and am enjoying the variety and change of pace from my regular hypertrophy-focused weight training routines, but your critique has really opened my eyes to the limitations of the program and the gimmickry of the marketing. I started with a low BF% and am in the "sweet spot" for P90X, so I'll stick with P90X through the 90 days: (1) because I'm finding it fun, (2) I could use some endurance training, and (3) to get my money's worth, but I'm looking forward to hearing about alternatives in Part 3.

dr. m.c. said...

Thanks Henry, for finding your way to b2d and commenting. Glad you've found something useful/usable here. All the best moving to the end of the program, and see you at part 3.

You probably know this but if you hit the "subscribe" by email button on the side bar you'll get notices automatically of new posts here, so you'd be alerted automatically when the part 3 post is up :)


Unknown said...

This is one the best reviews/critiques and source of information on P90X I've read, and its a pity it doesn't show up on page 1 of google searches (due to all the P90X sellers).

I really liked the scientific basis, with lots of links to other interesting articles, and you seem objective. Looking forward to part 3, any idea how soon you'll have that up?

dr. m.c. said...

hi Extra_Crispy
thanks for taking the time to write.

the more the post gets sited/linked/visited, the better chance it has to move up the google ranks, so please share the link if you like it :)

Part three is getting big - it may become part 3 a) nutrition b) workouts unless i can find a way to break it down.

i'm not sure when it will go up exactly - but if all goes well, before the end of the month

you could subscribe to the blog for an automatic update to be mailed to you, too.

best, mc

Dustin said...

Really interesting blog. Thanks for the insight.

Quick question, can you please reference or lead me to the scientific articles that prove muscle growth can only occur during caloric surplus? Thanks!

dr. m.c. said...

Dustin, i don't think anyone said you can't gain muscle when you're in caloric deficit, but that it's really really sub optimal.

If you looked at the Thibaudeau article cited, you'll see that. As said up there, highly recommended

So let me continue the analogy: suppose a storm knocks a wall of your garage down (like what workouts do to muscle)
You decide you'd like not just to rebuild it the garage wall, but extend it. Make it bigger. You only have a set amount of bricks to do it however - and they won't stretch that far, and you only have a set amount of cash right now to pay for the labour. And that won't cover the extension plans even if you did have the bricks.

So effectively, you're short on cash and your short on bricks, so your project manager says "this is the best i can do" and rebuilds the wall more or less to its former level and gives you a bit more room at one end of the shed with clever use of storage.

That's us trying to build muscle on a diet. It's an analogy.

Books: brooks' bionenergetics fifth edition
exercise physiology, mcArdle and crew
also any book on sports nutrition esp. ones put out by human kinetics
just about anything with kraemer as a co-author

of all of them, i think Thib's analogy is the most elegant. hope that helps.

thanks for stopping by.

Dustin said...

Hi MC, thanks for the response.

While I appreciate the analogy/story you've told for understanding the concept, this does not provide anything backed by scientific research. As a PHD, you understand analogies are pretty useless without scientific support.

In other words, the only way the analogy works in this case is if building a garage is truly similar to the way our body builds muscle. It would be nice to see some scientific studies/research on this matter to see if you truly do need caloric surplus in order to build muscle.

Your entire premise that P90X can't be used to build mass is contingent on this.

As you stated:

"There's a lot we don't know about how muscle growth works, but there's a couple of things we do know: to build muscle we need two things: caloric surplus.... Pretty clearly, P90X aims to have a person in caloric deficit.
So here's a potential contradiction, not unique to P90X, but certainly rather brushed under the carpet in this case: if muscle mass building requires caloric surplus, but the program keeps someone in caloric deficit throughout, how can muscle be built? "

dr. m.c. said...

forgive me,

i do believe that i gave you a set of references at the bottom of the last post: i am citing what at this point is basic, pretty much accepted physiology, which if you look at any ONE of the sources i site will take you through that process.

And i don't think i'd have proposed an analogy if it wasn't a model of the process being described - CT goes into more detail with it. Indeed, some of my research is in using analogies to explain models. but that's an aside.

So i'm not sure what you're not getting.

Also, i'd like to be sure you are hearing me:

i have not said you cannot gain lean mass while in caloric deficit; i have said that it is sub optimal for trying to achieve this.

And as you quote, the question is, if you're in caloric deficit, which p90x will have most participants in, how can you build muscle?

The rest of the article is an attempt to answer that question.

So again, not sure where your question is? The science is in the books i've ref'd.

If you take a look at the sources i've referenced in reply to you, and you are not satisfied with an explanation, please let me know?

Am i assuming too much that you know that exercise tears down muscle fiber - quite literally - when pushing it to adapt and build new structures? hence the knocking down the wall to build the extension?


dr. m.c. said...

PS Dustin
you may find some of the sources here useful.

dr. m.c. said...

Just found this related post on photos and before/after cynicism

the blog title alone is worth a visit.
"yet another stupid p90x blog"


guy said...

hi, this seems like a huge waste of time on your part! it seems like you couldn't handle the workouts so you spent all your time trying to discredit this program instead of trying it for 3 months and seeing if it works first hand! I've worked out most of my life. When i did p90x i went from 205lbs 23%bf to 175lbs 6%bf went from curling 35lbs to 65lbs I can do over a hundred pull ups! hundreds of push ups! I now climb mountains with ease jog 10kms without much fatigue my recovery time is less then a minute for intense cardio. My shoulders & arms are larger I have a six pack! if you join beachbody.com you can see real peoples results with measurements! yes anything you do for 90 days strictly will give you results but not like this! I now do this program twice a year to mix up my other routines! it's great a little hard on your shoulders & knees but most things that work are! anyway I hope you post this! I have my doubts you will! and my advice is try it for 3 months to get some first hand knowledge! and push yourself if you want results! oh and tony is super annoying! lol

dr. m.c. said...

hi guy

i think you must have missed the first couple sentences of part 1 where i write:

"This is a several-part follow up review of P90x two plus years after completing it and learning a whole lot more than i knew then about our bodies, nutrition, health and fitness"

At no point do i say that p90x does not have an effect, eh?

The questions are
a) what does p90x mean by "getting ripped"
b) what can one expect when looking under the packaging to what's in the tin?
c) are there other ways to achieve the same or better results?

Glad you've had a great experience with the program.


Anonymous said...

I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts. I do think though that you focus *way* too much on "getting ripped" and muscle building claims. P90X is not for that! Why can't you just state such and leave it at that? You focus so much on what you *think* P90X promises, that you don't even see what it really promises. It's not what you seem to think. Maybe your dissatisfaction with the program is because you did not realize how it is designed or what it is for.

Beachbody makes it clear though.

A direct quote from the Fitness Guide:
"What Can You Expect?
* To get in the best shape of your life.
* To develop skills, coordination, and flexibility you never dreamed possible.
* To sharpen your knowledge of smart eating and discover healthy eating choices."

Three expectations, that's it. Nothing there about getting ripped nor about building muscle.

In the section on Ab Ripper X: "In spite of what pop culture would have us believe, showing off your 6-pack is the least important reason for doing ab and core work." Again, fitness is the focus, not getting ripped.

From Beachbody's own P90X newsletter, displayed publicly and clearly on beachbody.com:
"P90X is not a system designed for mass." "ultimate gains in targeted areas, like muscle growth, are compromised to provide a program that improves all of your body's physical energy systems"

Though it is thorough and you obviously spent a lot of time preparing this critique, in protesting so much against claims that are not the focus of the program, the critique loses some relevance and credibility.

dr. m.c. said...


P90X has a great defender in you.

It's intriguing to me that you think i focus too much on claims that p90x makes about its program on one part of its site (eg, getting ripped), rather than its own counter-claims elsewhere on its site -

Is it reasonable to expect someone who is watching the ads, looking at the before and after pictures of participants is going to trawl through to find no. 11 of a newsletter?

IT's intriguing that these promo materials use "getting ripped" repeatedly in its in your face advertizing and infomercial, and then, once one has the product, the caveats come out eg "getting ripped" isn't the main reason to do this; or that muscle mass is sacrificed for energy systems work. uh huh.
BUT - what's in that article for mass is what's in the DVD's - how to adjust your rep volume for more hypertrophy. the trad 8-12 reps per set.

I don't know who wrote that newsletter but the advice given there is HORRIBLE and dated and largely wrong. SO more reason that P90X and their posse are not the best coaches:

" Do each set to failure (if you can add enough resistance; if not, get as close as you can), and don't exceed your targeted number of reps. "

Ok, well, no not really. In fact, pretty much not at all and only under very particular circumstances.

For an overview of rest, load and recovery in current best practice, this review may be helpful.

But heck if p90x is not about muscling up, why even introduce "muscle confusion"

But even setting all that aside, there's more going on in this review i hope than simply saying why "getting ripped" is only going to happen under certain conditions that may or may not be met by doing p90x.

Personally when i talk with folks about p90x, they haven't had your view - they defend the claims on the label. Hence the desire to go into what's actually in the tin. I'm sorry that didn't come across.
(tho i do have an issue with bait and switch advertising, don't you?)

My hope is that people reading will get a greater understanding of WHAT p90x is (largely a cardio circuit) and WHAT kind of results one can expect, WHY that's the case, and WHAT some of the alternatives are.

So, as said, putting on a sock puppet on the left hand to say "get ripped" and then the one on the right comes out after you dig into the package post purchase, or if you dig dig dig through all the newsletters, just doesn't seem right - so i wrote this for those of us who look at the infomercial and the main web site, and (not unreasonably) draw conclusions about a purchase from that.

And after looking at the crap about hypertrophy in that newsletter, gosh, i don't think that's helped the cause. "As we touched on last time, hypertrophy training simply increases the size of the muscle. Strength training increases the efficiency of the muscle."

Really? It's like the oldest pop press myths in the book. Sorry - in any strength training their is hypertrophy. What contributes to HUGE size of bodybuilders in the pop press? Why junk. What contributes to size of non-steroidal body builders? why volume. If folks are serious about bb'ing, check out sources dedicated to it, like Huge in a Hurry or the Hypertrophy Specific Training or EDT. There are WAY better sources - trustable sources - than a throw away newsletter moment.

We only get one body. Why not find the best sources to help us go where we want to go with it. And if you still decide you want to trust p90x, well ok, but perhaps being able to put it in context relative to what it's doing and what other options are available is a good idea. hence these posts.


dr. m.c. said...

by the way if the URL above isn't working to get to the rest/recovery article relative to different kinds of strength,
here's a quick version


Greg said...

OK, how do I get to part 3? So far, I've read your critique of P90X (and agree with what I've read), but because the links to 3a and 3b don't work, you've not given any solution (or alternative) to P90X (which is what I was seeking when I found your posts initially. I've just finished week 10 of P90X, and I will finish the program. But I want something different (that works better at developing muscle, without the marketing hype) to move to after my 90 days are up.

dr. m.c. said...

Hi. THe diet alternatives are here

the alternative workouts are here

sorry you had trouble with the links


Sean said...

It really depends on your goals. I've actually just completed the program so speak from experience.

Previously I had approx over 20 years of weight lifting experience but was never BIG (6' tall but very small frame) and 'ripped' once for a period of about 2 years. Squatting 350-380 for 10 rep sets and benching 250 for the same. I then had a 12 month layoff and my bodyfat had bloomed to around 25%, totally deconditioned, too much good food, wine, whiskey and song.

Results from one 90 day round of the program were a weight loss of 20lbs and a lean mass gain of 3lbs. Final bodyfat at 10% so abs showing but no 6 pack.

There's a few things I'd say:
1. The program IS hard especially if you do things like: increase weights (I use backpacks/rocks for lunges/bricks for throwing moves/heavy bodylastics bands (300lb set) and when you are doing proper weights some of the workouts ARE murder. Legs and back with proper weights and no rest between sets...
2. I estimated the workouts burning only 400cals, not 600 in the book and programmed my diet accordingly. I also used a thermogenic (Caffeine, Sida, Green Tea).
3. I knew about diet already.
4. I knew about suppliments already.
5. I knew what training to failure actually meant and I DON'T 'feel the burn', you don't with heavier weight and 7-10 reps.
6. I've stuck genuine, undoctored, badly lit LOL photos and progress photos up on the new UK P90X users website which, AFAIK (may be totally wrong here), isn't affiliated. Main stats - arms, legs chest etc are approx the same as when starting, waist reduced by 6 inches, hips by 2.
7. No, THIS ISN'T a bodybuilding program. But those aren't my goals anymore and they're not for probably 98% of people out there who are going to buy this thing..although it can be if you tailor it.

Conclusion: The program is by no means ideal, it can't be, it's one size fits all. However it DOES work and in many years of experience I have yet to experience something with its general level of efficacy across the board. Certain principles it advocates such as muscle confusion, you can take with a pinch of salt but the whole thing DOES stop you and your body getting in a rut with the slight changes along the way. I didn't believe the low carb switching to higher carb as the program went on - I've always done it the other way around but believe me, at 60 days on you really DO need the extra carbs and the odd thing is most of the fat loss comes in the last 30 days too. Something I still have to understand.
The videos get very annoying very quickly I have to say BUT they do make sure you keep pace which imo is key for this type of training.

So overall I DO recommend it but it IS a big commitment, and I don't know if Joe Average IS going to keep at it and with enough intensity, some of the workouts are just horrible, legs and back WILL make you puke and pass out if you do it right and personally I HATE torture yoga...

dr. m.c. said...

i'll go with you most of the way
esp being conservative about the calorie estimates for the workouts.

on your analysis that "if you do it right you will puke" is exactly where as a coach i tend not to go - perhaps you're kidding

it's interesting that for a program that "worked" it seems you did quite a bit of tweaking for 1.6lbs a week - well within the 1-2lb loss by diet alone?

as for period of loss - weight loss is pretty consistently non-linear. everyone hits the ramp a bit differently it seems

Way to go with 20 pounds though. Really appreciate the measurements provided and the notes where the changes were and where they aren't.

May i point you to a couple programs by Geoff Neupert as a post p90x getting on?

and thanks for sharing your experience.


Anonymous said...

I've been working out for years. doing the same old thing Monday was national chest day 12 sets, Tuesday back 12-15 sets. So forth and so on. I had a big upper body w definition. I never did cardio or minimal cardio... I weighed about 227 to start the program and at the end of the program I weighed 195 @ 5'11".

I'm satisfied with the program I leaned up, I have a tones upper body, I don't have abs, nor did I expect to have abs but my gut is and love handles are much much smaller. The bottom line is the program worked for me and it did what I wanted. So for the average person it works. I didn't gain much more muscle than I already had but that muscle became ripped". my chest remained at a 46" and my bis remained at 17" but again were ripped not just big. In sure this is what the average joe is looking for. Just wanted to give my tgoghts

Unknown said...

I am always in favor of a skeptical review, including one of P90x.

And yet, in reading your critique, I cannot help feeling that you too have an axe to grind. It is surely fair to point out that the TV ads for P90x focus on attractive people doing exercise, exploiting our collective desire to look “sexy” like them. Then again, the media also sells everything else from automobiles to chewing gum in the same way. Caveat emptor.

But when (for example) you suggest that P90x makes exercise into a higher program priority than diet, that's simply untrue. Frankly, I spent more than a year dithering over whether to try P90x, precisely because the promotional materials and various Tony Horton interviews assert that diet is more important to P90x than exercise, when it comes to achieving weight loss, fat burning, ab definition, etc. That was not a message I wanted to hear. Tony Horton and you are on the same page there, I think.

This being said, many people on-line say that they have lost more weight on P90x than you're suggesting ought to be the case. So either they’re lying, or else there's an effect there that's hard to reconcile with direct reference to the scientific literature.

Which frankly makes me skeptical of the scientific literature, or at least the use of it to dismiss real world phenomena that don't seem consistent with the research. The history of science has plenty of examples where entire fields of study have adopted distorted views of reality, only to be deconstructed over long periods of time and gradual accumulation of contradictory evidence. I can think of several reasons (other than fraud) why clinical trials suggesting very different patterns of exercise (or nutrition) results from P90x might be internally sound, but nevertheless inconsistent with the results that P90x appears to produce.

Whatever. When you assert that P90x is really a "novice boot camp type endurance work-out," one that is "low risk" and best suited to the needs of niche groups such as the elderly and some obese people, that seems wildly misleading to me. Whatever else P90x is, it's certainly not for people who aren't reasonably fit to begin with, in the pure functional sense of being able to do some push-ups and pull-ups, to reach fingertips moderately close to their toes, etc. More than anything else, P90x seems to me to be a fitness regimen intended for people who want to be *more* functionally capable at all of those things, as one primary goal of their exercise. And if the end result of P90x is to get larger numbers of people motivated to do vigorous exercise for an hour a day while eating cleaner, particularly people who otherwise might not do so, it seems to me that that’s actually a positive argument in favor of all the marketing hyperbole, rather than a negative argument against it.


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