I’ve just come to the end of Week Two of a brutal, thirteen-week fitness/torture program known as P90X, which I am assuming stands for something like “The Pain of 90 Xecutioners”, or “Please, 90 Xylophones dropped onto my back is more than enough”. The program, widely recognized as only a slightly less cruel alternative to waterboarding, is surely only taken on by people who:
a) are sadistic;
b) don’t read English so thought they were buying a pair of UGGs or a George Foreman Grill;
c) hate their gyms and would go to extreme measures to find an exercise alternative.
I belong to group c), although I, too, wish I were the owner of a Lean, Mean Fat-Grilling Machine. My local gym can only be described as more pathetic than Eeyore the donkey getting caught in a bear trap in Pooh’s backyard. I’ve been paying £37 per month to work out on broken benches with weights that are falling apart, drink from a water fountain that thinks the hosepipe ban is still alive and kicking, and have MTV Dance blasted in my ears, with the same three God-awful songs on repeat, all three of which seem to be by Rita Ora who, incidentally, needs to add at least a few more words to her lyrical vocabulary, which currently consists solely of the words PARTY, NIGHT, DANCE, LOUDER, and HOTTER. Her music is becoming more predictable than the likelihood that Ke$ha has three or more STDs.
So, I decided to save my gym money and put it toward buying the P90X DVDs. I then decided to download the DVDs from a torrent for free, because I would rather not pay for things than pay for things. This came back to bite me in the ass when I realized I would have to fork out for dumbbells, then for another set of dumbbells when the first set was too light; for a pull-up bar; and for proteins on proteins on proteins.
Almost three weeks into the workout, though, I can honestly say I am enjoying it considerably more than going to the gym, which becomes stale after months and years of doing the same exercises over and over. This is, in fact, the whole theory behind P90X: it is based on the notion of “muscle confusion”. This (probably pseudo-scientific, which I am taking as 100% scientific) theory is nothing to do with asking your muscles perplexing questions on the meaning of life, but is about varying routines day to day and week to week so that your muscles are constantly adjusting to new techniques. Essentially, you’re keeping them guessing, and apparently they love the suspense. While going to the gym and performing similar workouts every week leads to the “plateau effect”, say the creators of P90X, this program keep muscles more bamboozled than a group of old folks getting lost on the way to the bingo hall and turning up at a Rick Ross concert.
Rick Ross, incidentally, has not been following the P90X regimen, though his body begs to differ. Celebrities such as Pink (sorry, P!nk) and almost-Vice-President-but-not-quite-so-tough-noogies Paul Ryan are apparently subscribers. Tony Horton, the designer of the program and “instructor” on the workout DVDs (torrent downloads) – not protagonist of Dr. Seuss sequel, Tony Horton Hears a Who – has also personally trained stars such as Ewan McGregor and Usher.*
*After re-reading the last two paragraphs, I’ve realized than I sound like a salesman or spokesman for the P90X DVDs. I feel I should make it clear that I am in no way being paid by P90X executives to make it sound good. Please refer back to my comparison to waterboarding to assure yourselves.
There’s no doubt about it – it hurts like a motherfucker. Cardio days may consist of plyometrics, which is the technique of “training muscle elasticity, power and explosiveness” – or, as I see it, jumping all over the place. Yoga is also categorized as a cardio workout, which I questioned before starting it, as I always thought that yoga was a rather stationary pursuit, focusing on deep breathing and meditation – the type of thing you could do while simultaneously watching an episode of Homeland or cooking a three-course steak dinner. I thought wrong. I think yoga loosely translates from the original Sanskrit as: “Excessive pain and tumbling over multiple times per minute”. I fell off my chair just thinking about it.
Cardio days are interspersed with weight training days, when the dumbbells I bought cheaply from Germany and which took their sweet time arriving – thank you very much eBay – come into play. Every major muscle group is targeted, with the most intense so far being the Chest & Back day, which essentially switches between push-ups and pull-ups. Who knew there were so many different kinds of push-ups? There are military push-ups, wide push-ups, narrow push-ups, push-ups with your hands in the shape of a diamond, push-ups with a monkey lightly tickling your belly button, push-ups while balancing a dozen eggs on your butt cheeks, and if they crack, the next set is push-ups with your hands resting on eggshells. There are almost as many variations of pull-ups, which I perform on the pull-up bar I crudely fixed – without screws or hooks – inside my bedroom doorframe. One day, the bar – which is pretty much being held in place by absolutely nothing – is inevitably going to collapse on top of me. I’ll be sure to capture it on camera and upload it onto YouTube for everyone’s entertainment, and will try to make sure it lands somewhere painful (groin) for maximum laughs. Oh – and after push-ups and pull-ups come a final set of exercises called throw-ups.
There’s also Ab Ripper X, a twenty-minute routine focused solely on the stomach muscles, added on to any days when there’s weight training involved. Ab Ripper X is the bane of my existence; it makes me grunt like Venus and Serena balancing bowling balls on their heads. From doing the Hip Rock ‘n’ Raise – kicking your legs straight in the air and then thrusting your ass toward the sky – to Leg Climbs – exactly what it sounds like: climbing up your own legs – you come to the conclusion that Ab Ripper X holds a personal vendetta against you and hates everything you hold dear (like sanity).
The only thing other than the countdown clocks that gets your through the savage workouts – which are over an hour, six times a day, mostly done after a long day at work – is Horton himself. Many reviewers ridicule his style, in that he cracks (cheesy) jokes and is constantly upbeat, even during 90-degree wall squats, which feel like Henry VIII is chilling on your quads while carrying his obese pet walrus – but I actually find his bubbly nature refreshing and motivational. I would rather hear his frequent chants of “BRING IT!” and “DO YOUR BEST, AND FORGET THE REST!”, and even watch as he compares cooling-down stretches to stirring a pot of lobster bisque soup, than follow a militaristic bootcamp sergeant yelling drills in my face as if I’ve just been drafted to Afghanistan and have twenty-four hours to sculpt a bullet-proof vest out of my pecs.
Still, the hardest thing about the program is not the exercises, but the nutrition guide. For the first month, the creators want you to avoid carbs completely. Is this some kind of sick joke? I’ve eliminated white bread and saturated fats (butter, cheese, chocolate, sugary drinks, fast food*), and have switched to 1% milk. But that’s where I draw the line.
*I may or may not have stuffed my face with Chicken Cottage (the poor man’s KFC) on Day Three of P90X. I also may or may not have eaten McDonald’s this past weekend – albeit the healthiest thing I could think of: two plain hamburgers. After promising myself to also give up beer for the three months, thus avoiding surplus carbs, I may or may not have had four or five in the last fourteen days.
So shoot me in my bulletproof chest-vest, then. My theory is, if I’m confusing my muscles, shouldn’t I be confusing my stomach, too? Grilled chicken and vegetables everyday will surely create a plateau effect; a bit of French-fried junk here and there is sure to confuse them. Right? Am I right, Tony? What’s that? Yes sir, 50 push-ups on eggshells with Henry VIII sitting on my ass coming right up.