Monday, July 25, 2011

P90X: An Epilogue

After my wife and I realized that our gym was a) getting boring, and b) kind of a dump, we decided to give something else a try.

Enter P90X.

My guess is that everyone has at least heard of the fitness program; I’d wager that most people who regularly stay up past 11pm have taken in some portion of their ubiquitous infomercial.

The basic gist is that you are to diligently follow the workout and meal plans (or, in P90X parlance, “bring it”) for 3 months. After this time, they promise, you'll be ripped, shredded, and altogether awesome.

The program appealed to us because they weren’t selling some BS, spend-45-minutes-a-week-in-your-basement path to fitness. There was no CGI showing how a $999 machine (12 easy payments!) made your abs red (working HARD!) instead of blue (not working!).

P90X has a much more honest approach: work really hard, push “play” every day, and you will get into great shape.

So we took the plunge, determined to follow the program as strictly as we could. Below are my semi-organized thoughts.

First Things First:
This program is no joke. It is HARD. You will be sore as hell for the first week or two. You have to really want to do it; otherwise, you’re wasting your money. Also, look at the “Fit Test” online to see if you’re ready to do the program. I thought I was in okay shape, but I barely passed some of their minimum qualifications for the program.

We bought the DVDs and literature on eBay (around $80). We bought a pull-up bar ($37) and a set of heavy-duty resistance bands ($70) on Amazon. We bought a yoga mat at Target ($10). We already had one yoga mat and a set of 15 lb. and 20 lb. dumbbells. Total cost was about $200, or 5 months of gym fees. Not exactly cheap, but we’ll never have to buy any of that stuff again.

The Workouts:
P90X comes with 12 workout DVDs. There are 5 resistance workouts (4 upper body, 1 lower body); 4 cardio workouts (kenpo/martial arts, plyometrics, core synergistics, and a generic one they suggest for when you don’t feel like REALLY working out); yoga; an ab workout; and a stretching routine.

The Program:
If you follow the workouts strictly, you’ll be going at it 6 days a week. My wife and I did over 90% of the workouts as scheduled, which required quite a lot of planning, discipline, and coordination. The workouts alternate between resistance and cardio for three weeks, followed by a slightly less intense 4th week. Then, the two upper body workouts are swapped for two different upper body workouts for a month; the final month alternates the two programs.

The workouts are, again, HARD. Our first workout was plyometrics (jump training), and I was winded after the warm-ups. I made it halfway through before I had to quit because I was tempting death.

Here’s something that will rule out P90X for a lot of people: it takes a LOT of time. If you follow the program strictly, here’s what a typical week would look like…

Monday – Chest and Back (60 min), Ab Ripper (15 min)
Tuesday – Plyometrics (60 min)
Wednesday – Arms and Shoulders (60 min) Ab Ripper (15)
Thursday – Kenpo (60 min)
Friday – Legs and Back (60 min), Ab Ripper (15)
Saturday – Yoga (90 min)
TOTAL: 7 hr, 15 min per week

It’s a lot. It can be a drag, especially toward the end. We did almost all of this, but usually the additional 15 minute ab workout is what fell by the wayside. To be honest, we have both admitted that we wouldn't have made it through if the other person hadn't been there for support, encouragement, and accountability. Also, knowing there was a finite 90-day timetable made it more bearable.

The Meal Plan:
Before starting the program, they had us calculate how many calories we’d need based on our weight and activity level. My calculations indicated that I would need to eat well over 3,000 calories a day, including some 12 oz. of lean meat every night for dinner. If I had a personal chef, I would have been glad to oblige. Instead, getting home and finishing our workouts after 7pm some nights meant we ate what we could. The recipes and such actually looked pretty good; I just can’t eat at 8:30 every night.

As it was, I followed a careful diet for the first 8 weeks of the program. I ate lean meats, nothing fried, lots of vegetables, extra protein. I stayed very close to the ingredients they listed in the plan. In two months, I had zero burgers, one order of fries, and two slices of pizza. I even limited my beer intake to about 2 a week. For me, this dietary discipline is as impressive as sticking to a workout plan 6 days a week for 3 months.

I also abandoned the diet after 8 weeks. Why? See below.

The Results:
Let’s be honest: most people get into working out to lose weight. If that is your goal, P90X is NOT the workout for you. After 8 weeks--and eating fewer calories than the program suggested—I weighed exactly the same as when I started. My wife GAINED a couple pounds. It was a little frustrating in that sense, because even though you know you’re improving your health it’s easy to get hung up on that number. It was really frustrating for my wife, because she wasn’t looking to add muscle.

And—here’s the positive part--we both added a lot of muscle. My biceps now have stretch marks. Women who work with my wife ask in awe if they can touch her arms. I can see actual ab muscles, even if they’re somewhat obscured by my something-less-than-flat midsection. After walking by a mirror at home, we sometimes have to stop because we see a new calf or shoulder muscle that we’ve never noticed before.

From a fitness standpoint, I in the best overall shape of my almost 36 years old. I nearly tripled the number of pushups I could do at the beginning. I went from being unable to do a pullup to being able to do sets of 8, partially healing a bum shoulder in the process.

Most surprising? I feel FAST. This is totally new to me. In my first softball doubleheader this summer, I was on 1st base and a teammate was on 2nd. On a base hit to the gap, I nearly caught him at home. It’s unreal. I feel like a damn gazelle.

So what now? I took a few weeks off from the madness to get my bearings. Last week I did a couple of the weight workouts to ease me back into things, though the heat has made it difficult to find the energy to do anything at full intensity.

However, I do think I will be doing at least some of these workouts on a weekly basis for the foreseeable future. No more 6-night-a-week madness, but something. There are enough different workouts to keep it interesting, and I worked too hard to let myself regress completely.

Questions about our experience with P90X? Feel free to post them below.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Gas Prices and Diminishing Returns

As everyone complains about gas prices, fuel efficiency is the focus of nearly every automaker’s commercials right now.

You’ll remember that this was also the case in mid-2008, as we experienced our first dose of $4/gallon gas. You may also remember that this fell by the wayside shortly thereafter. The speculative oil bubble exploded violently just as the economy tanked, cutting gas prices by more than half (to $1.60!!!) only six months later.

And of course, the market share of SUVs increased significantly as our short memories coincided with dealer overstocks and reduced prices.

I digress.

For now, high gas prices are back, which means fuel-sippers are hot items. But how much money will you save by driving one of these vehicles?

You’ll find that the law of diminishing returns comes into play here.

All numbers assume 12,000 miles/year and $3.75/gallon of gas. The savings are what you would save by upgrading from the previous mileage; i.e. a vehicle with 25 mpg saves $450 per year over a vehicle with 20 mpg.

You can see that the big savings come at the low end of the mpg spectrum: going from 15 to 25 mpg trounces the savings of going from 25 to 50 mpg ($1200 vs. $900).

Just going from 15 to 20 mpg ($750) nearly matches the savings of going from 25 to 45 mpg ($800).

I'm a big fan of saving energy and money (heck, it's the primary focus of my job), but the payback has to make sense. Before you run out and buy a new car, or try to decide between a hybrid and a standard engine, it's worth figuring out how much you'll actually be saving.