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I know that I’m not the first person to write a blog post about this topic, and I also won’t be the last, but I feel as though I at least have something worthwhile to share on the topic. A lot of the articles that I’ve read online are from one side of the argument. Albeit from qualified fitness professionals, their bias shows through in the article. I come from a (somewhat) unbiased position as I have had degrees of success with both programs. So without further ado…
- In the beginning
Over the past few years, P90X has been all over television with their infomercials. If you haven’t seen one of them, you are highly skilled at avoiding television during off hours. P90X is a 90 day working program delivered via DVDs by a trainer named Tony Horton and a company called BeachBody. If you are to believe their marketing, the success of P90X is due in major part to something known as “muscle confusion.” The concept is based on changing the workout routines every 30 days, so that your body does not suffer from any plateaus in weight loss, strength, or conditioning. These changes occur twice to complete the 90 day cycle.
In early 2009, I was faced with a dilemma. I was a fat slob and I was about to get married. Knowing that I would be looking at my wedding pictures for the rest of my life, I started going to the gym after work and spending about an hour on the elliptical machines. With a string desire to not be photographed as a slob in a tuxedo, I realized the elliptical machine wasn’t going to cut it, so I acquired a set of the P90X videos, and I got started. It was obvious right away how out of shape I was. Being unable to do ten push ups in a row, or 2 pull ups is very eye opening.
The program is very easy to follow. You press play on the video and you write down your reps on the worksheets that come with the videos. Each time you repeat an exercise, you try and beat your last attempt. This is very straightforward stuff, but it works, mainly because it isn’t easy. The Chest and Back workout is an intense (although self-paced) amount of various pushup and pull ups. The Legs and Back workout, which comes up later in the week, works squats, lunges and more pull ups. The last of the “strength” workouts is shoulders and arms, and just like Tony Horton calls it, is a “glamour” workout chock full of bicep curls and tricep extensions. Fans of functional movements are probably having a good laugh right about now.
The strength workouts are scheduled every-other day with “cardio” or stretching workouts in between them. There are two main cardio workouts with P90X, a plyometrics workout and “Kenpo X“ which is basically a cardio-kickboxing hybrid. The remaining videos on the program are Yoga X, Core synergistics and Stretch X. After completing the first week, congratulations, you get to repeat the exact same routines for 3 more weeks. The “muscle confusion” of P90X does’t begin until the 5th week, when the workouts are shuffled around, and instead of a workout of Chest and Bank, you do Chest and Arms. These are the types of changes that I always came across in my time in and out of gyms since high school. Some people would workout different body parts together, and it seemed to come down to preference, but I would always hear that you should “change things up.”
- Back to my story as a slob
I had about two months to get in shape for my wedding, so I didn’t even have the full 90 days to dedicate to my “transformation.” In that time I lost twenty pounds, a couple of inches pretty much everywhere, and when it came time for my wedding photos, I was happy with the way they came out. I’m not surprised that P90X has had a lot of success for two main reasons, first it isn’t easy and secondly there is an expectation that results take 90 days. But what the program lacks most is motivation. I brought my own motivation to the table. My proof is in my post-wedding results. By results I mean the slow nine month return to slobhood. All of the weight and inches I lost before my wedding was back on by my one year anniversary. Despite trying to connect with other people doing P90X in the beachbody.com online community, I know longer had any interest to put on the videos, listen to the corny jokes, and workout in my livingroom.
- On to the next one
So what about Crossfit? I started doing Crossfit five months ago, and one thing it doesn’t lack is motivation. I took the plunge on a Saturday morning because Crossfit Santa Clara offers a free class that anyone can attend to give Crossfit a try. I don’t remember the exact workout that we did, but I know it involved a lot of box jumps. A lot of box jumps. But I realized right away that this wasn’t like any other gym I had been to, because it felt like a community, not just strangers working out. And it was also hard, but not like P90X was hard. P90X is hard because you are doing pushups alone on your livingroom floor that you struggle with. Crossfit is hard because you are working your body past points where your brain may have previously told you was the limit.
Why have I stuck with Crossfit so much longer than P90X? I don’t have a wedding to motivate me anymore. I don’t have any particular event in the future to be in shape for, yet I continue week after week to get in better shape than the week before. I think a big piece of this puzzle is one of the biggest differences between P90X and Crossfit, and it comes from the first two words of Crossfit’s “definition,” CONSTANTLY VARIED. Constantly varied, functional movements executed at high intensity. When I show up at my Crossfit box, the chances are good that I will be doing a workout that I have never done before. I now look forward to checking the web site before bed so that I know what tomorrow’s workout will be, and possibly dream about it. I know for a fact I never dreamed about any P90X workouts.
I’m not trying to knock P90X here, because as the title infers, I consider my experience with P90X to be a success. I had a goal and it assisted me in reaching the goal. But if my goal had involved staying in shape for the rest of my life, it would have failed. P90X has people that it appeals to, that prefer to workout at home, without heavy weights, etc
But too me Crossfit appeals to me on too many levels. I already touched on constantly varied and how it is a motivating factor for me. Another reason is the scientific look at “work.” You are more likely to hear “force times distance divided by time” in a high school physics class than in most weight rooms, but it is right at home in a Crossfit box. This, along with the idea of GPP or General Physical Preparedness, and “increased work capacity over broad time and modal domains” and you have completely won me over. I’m a data guy. I’m a statistics guy. Getting in shape and allowing me to get nerdy with it, and I’ve died and gone to heaven. I’ve probably lost a lot of readers at this point, so I will move on.
Another thing I prefer about Crossfit is the olympic lifting element. In the short time that I have been doing crossfit, I have really enjoyed practicing my clean and jerks and snatches. As well as all of the individual components of these like the front squat and overhead squat. This kind of heavy weightlifting is entirely lacking from P90X, albeit by design, I still think this is a flaw of the program. Though I wouldn’t recommend learning Oly lifts on a DVD either.
- In conclusion…
In summary, there are reasons for choosing P90X and there are reasons for choosing Crossfit. If price is important to you, then P90X may be your choice. In this digital age we live in, any product can be stolen, but even if you purchase it from Beachbody, the costs aren’t that high. On the other hand, Crossfit can also be free by just following the workouts posted on the main crossfit.com site. Although you would need to provide any equipment necessary for the workouts. On that note, here is a list of Crossfit workouts that don’t need equipment! To me the choice is very easy. I can’t see myself ever following video workouts again. P90X, Insanity Workout, etc. They just can not replace the expertise of on site trainers who specialize in functional movements, and develop programing for their community based on their proven results.