My Dad Bod Rebuttal

Does anyone else feel like we’re living 21 Jump Street (the new one not the fantastic TV show I grew up with)???  Like everything we knew to be true is now false. What was once cool is now looked upon with disdain.

The Dad Bod is a sign of the times.

In 2013 women were attacking Maria Kang because she didn’t accept having kids as an excuse for not being fit.  Now we have women holding men with soft, flabby physiques in high-esteem, in part because it helps with their own self-esteem.  And the overwhelming majority of guys are more than happy to oblige because they now have a legit excuse to be a lazy lump of shit. seth-rogen1_3288147b   If you haven’t read the short article written by Mackenzie Pearson of Clemson where the dad bod phenomenon was first unveiled I suggest checking it out.  However everything you need to know about the dad bod can be summed up by this quote from the article:

The dad bod says, “I go to the gym occasionally, but I also drink heavily on the weekends and enjoy eating eight slices of pizza at a time.”

With all due respect to Ms. Pearson I have no problem with her taste in guys.  Even if his body closely resembles that of a slug.  What I’m disturbed by is the mentality attached to it.

It seems that raising one’s standards has become so painful and exhaustive that we as a society have decided it’s just easier to lower standards across the board.

Why strive to be the best version of yourself when everyone else says it’s perfectly acceptable to be average or less?  It’s as though we’ve lost all sense of pride. I’ve always believed that you are either growing or dying.  You’re climbing or sliding. There is no maintaining because everything around you is moving fast-forward whether you like it or not.  But it seems there now is a way to avoid the climb.

Blow the top off the mountain!

Sorry, but I can’t except that. And I thank God that He has surrounded me with people who would never accept that mentality either. So for all the ridiculous dad bod photos floating around here is my rebuttal.  These are just a few of my dad friends and their fit dad bods…

fit dad, dad bod, natural bodybuilderTop natural bodybuilders Shevon Cunningham (DFAC World Champion) and Wil Usher with their boys.

 Master’s Pro Natural Bodybuilder Eugene Ring with son and grandson.

fit dad, dad bod, Dave(2)Dave Wilson, C-level business executive and dad who has more excuses than most to be out of shape but n

fit dad, dad bod, natural bodybuilder, powerlifter fit dad, dad bod, natural bodybuilder, powerlifter
Bodybuilding coach and Powerlifter John Gorman hitting the gym with this boys.

fit dad, dad bod, natural bodybuilderThe dynamic natural bodybuilding father and son duo of Shawn Wolfe and Sean Coleman.

dad bod, fit dad, natural bodybuilder Francesco(2)Italian Natural Bodybuilding Champion and my good friend Francesco Paleari.

Natural bodybuilder, dad bod, fit dad, Mike Lipowski IMG_4852
Yours truly with my 11 month old son.

fit dad, dad bod, natural bodybuilder fit dad, dad bod, natural bodybuilder
Natural bodybuilding pro Vic Cuzzupe and his baby girl.  

I realize not every man aspires to look like or be a natural bodybuilder and that’s all well and good.  I am not implying that every man should.  We all live under a different set of circumstances and priorities.  But the glorification of the dad bod all over the internet is nothing more than a race to the bottom.

What’s next?  Will being broke and jobless be the new “cool” in 2016?

I applaud all the guys out there who refuse to accept the new dad bod standard and who train their ass off to be healthy and fit for their family. It’s the example they are setting for kids, not their physique, that is a testament of their character. Take a bow fit dads!

The Least Understood Stage of Fat-Loss

fat-loss, body-fat, natural bodybuildingWe all recognize that on some level fat-loss is more of a mental challenge than a physical one.  Typically, if you follow a plan you lose body-fat.  The trouble is following the plan.

One of the stumbling blocks that I haven’t heard any coaches or nutritionists talk about (which doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been talked about) that is common among nearly every individual—natural bodybuilder or every day Jane—is best summarized by a recent conversation I had with a female client who is prepping for her first natural bodybuilding contest.

She’s made incredible strides with fat-loss in the past 5 months.  But despite being her all-time leanest and extremely well defined by competition standards she said, “My body looked better when I was a few pounds heavier.” 

Similarly I’ve been told the same from non-bodybuilding clients who although overweight, reached a certain point in their fat-loss where their body looked—for lack of a better term—“awkward”, compared to being just a few pounds heavier.  Mind you they were still overweight at this point.

And I’ve noticed the same of myself during competition prep.  There typically comes a time early on in my prep when despite being leaner I’m not lean in the areas I need it most resulting in that “awkward” appearance.

This is a critical juncture for anyone losing weight because when you’re at this stage it is very easy to abandon what you’re doing.

I mean heck, if you don’t look as good as you did just a couple of pounds heavier, why keep pushing to lose more, right?

However this is the time when you have to ignore the mirror and keep pushing forward.  It’s an unfortunate fact that we lose body-fat indiscriminately.

You don’t get to pick and choose where fat comes off first.  And even more unfortunately, where you want it to come off most is usually where it comes off last.  This is the real culprit and reason for the disproportionate appearance being discussed.

So what’s the point?

The point is, don’t quit!

Don’t allow a momentary inconvenience or displeasure with your appearance prevent you from attaining the physique you desire most.  Celebrate this stage in your fat-loss because it indicates what you really want is right around the corner.

Why the Best Trainers Get Better Results than Everyone Else

Many of the best and most effective trainers and coaches take very different paths to make their trainees successful.  Which makes us wonder what they all have in common since their approaches can vary so greatly.

Take a deeper look and you’ll notice they focus their attention on two things…

The Big Picture and The Details

The philosophy each has pertaining to exercise is what guides their decisions about how to piece together all the exercise variables.

For me the big picture is all about managing and manipulating training demands to stimulate muscle growth and strength at each stage of a person’s life.  That means understanding how exercise fits within the schema of every other stress and activity a person is faced with and how to navigate the waters to help them reach their goals.

The philosophy that guides all my exercise decisions is that exercise should be prescribed in the least amount necessary to get the best or desired result.

What constitutes “the least amount” will depend on the goals, needs, current condition and tolerance to exercise stress of the individual.  It’s for these reasons I don’t adhere to one specific training method.

The details are things like lifting tempo, time under tension, reps, sets, frequency, load, muscle targeting, mental focus and intensity of effort.

Always Start with the Big Picture in Mind

Many weight training programs will work to a degree.  Whether or not you get the result you’re looking for depends on whether it was the right program at that time.

Whenever we dig into the latest research or read an article from our favorite fitness expert we can’t help but romanticize about the details.  How many reps did the subjects perform?  What percent of 1RM was used for each set?  How frequently did they train? Etc.

All of that is useful information, but it’s useless without proper context. You can’t simply throw shit together and hope it works, you should…

Plan the Details

One guy whose stuff I like to read and watch is Nick Nilsson.  Nick is called “The Mad Scientist of Muscle” and for good reason.

I was asked to write the forward for his book Muscle Explosion a few years back and the one thing I noted is that even though his training programs look bat shit crazy (and I mean that in a complimentary way), he is very calculated in his approach.   He sees the big picture and then goes nuts mapping out the details.

I’m not sure I could ever be as creative as Nick; I don’t think 99% of us could be.  But I don’t think you necessarily need to be in order to have greater success.

You just need to see the big picture, stick with a philosophy and then make sure the details are aligned with it.

Avoid the Shiny Object Syndrome

If you’re not getting the result you want, reexamine the details and your application of them or adopt a new philosophy.  Don’t jump on every new program or abandon what’s worked for each compelling piece of new information.  Not without planning for it so you can determine its true worth and relevance to the big picture.


Thanks for reading this far.  If you found this or any other information on this site useful, please scroll down and share it.  I’d greatly appreciate it!  :)

Why You Should Train Like a Bodybuilder Even Though You Don’t Want to Look Like One

I’m writing this for you, the mom, dad, man, woman, busy professional, student, and slacker (J/k I know you’re not a slacker. Slackers don’t read my stuff) who seek out the help of personal trainers and to my personal training brethren who routinely have to talk people off the ledge when it comes to training heavy and hard…like a bodybuilder.  The statement: “I don’t want to look like a bodybuilder” drives me crazy.  I understand where it comes from which drives me even crazier than when my wife insists on plucking my eyebrows.  (I don’t care what women say, that shit hurts.  I’d rather sit through 6 hours of tattooing.)

The conversation when a new client comes in—especially the ladies—typically goes like this after I’ve explained our inclination for training heavy and hard relative to their abilities (I’ll skip on all the niceties and small talk):

Client:  But I don’t want look like a bodybuilder.

Me:  You won’t…you can’t.

Client: Yeah but I see those women/guys on the magazines and I don’t to get that.

Me: Let me ask you.  Are you currently taking steroids, testosterone, or growth hormone that you obtained from a black market dealer?

Client: No

Me: Then I think you’re safe.  Genetically speaking 99.6% of people don’t have the genetic aptitude to get huge.  They don’t have the muscle fiber make up, muscle length, or in the case of women, the testosterone levels needed to pack on mass. Just look at all the teenage and twenty-something guys whose testosterone levels are shooting through that are TRYING to look like the guys in the mags never get there without PED’s.

(I point to a picture of me in bodybuilding competition shape)


Client:  That’s you!

Me:  Geez, don’t act so surprised.  Yes, that’s me about 10 pounds lighter than I am right now. 

Client: You’d never know you’re a bodybuilder.

Me:  (Think to myself: “Thanks again for reinforcing my bodybuilding inferiority complex,)  If you walked down the street and ran into one natural bodybuilder or physique competitor after another at best you would say they look like they’re in really good shape and that’s how you want to look.  Nothing freakish or unusual about them, just extremely shredded when it’s time to step on stage. 

Bodybuilding is an illusion.  Exceptionally low body fat levels and bright lights shining down on the body help muscles stand out and appear more pronounced.  Once the shirt and pants go back on they look like “normal” people (but we know even natural competitors are anything but normal).  Even the biggest and baddest natural competitors look like they could be your exceptionally fit co-worker or friend. 


The purpose of Bodybuilding

While people might not want to look like bodybuilders, training like one—from the standpoint of heavy loads and high intensity—is what results in the toned (I freakin’ hate that buzz word), and fit look they are aiming for and developing greater functional strength (dammit that’s two buzz words in one sentence, I’m going to have to take a shower after I’m done writing this).  So long as exercises are performed under controlled conditions with exceptional execution, minimizing ballistic movements, then training like a bodybuilder will do more to prevent injuries than cause them.  (If you want increase your chance of injury from lifting just do some of that silly shit people do on the Bosu and fit ball.)  The increased strength, muscular endurance and muscle development you achieve through “bodybuilding” will have a greater impact on more aspects of health and fitness than any other form of exercise.

In a nutshell, bodybuilding is all about improving your quality of life.  And besides if you’re not actively trying to “build” your “body” what the heck are you exercising for?

Different Way to Approach #Exercise

There’s literally hundreds of exercise methods, and every one of em’ has its own “spin”. Which one is right for you depends on your ability to answer the question, “What’s your outcome?”.

I believe in implementing various training methods to achieve specific results but anything put into practice is done with a single strategy in mind.  Check it out in this video I made for you.  (6 minute view)

3 Rules to Get Fit & Stay Fit

It’s not what you think.  Typically articles like this lay out a bunch of crappy no-brainer generalized suggestion disguised as “rules” and either you follow them already or never will.  I couldn’t do that to you because I can’t stand when a writer does it to me.  Instead I’m just going to give you the low down on the “rules for using rules to get fit and stay that way.”   How does that sound?  I only have three of them which means you should get through this quickly so can get back to Facebook and Twitter.

Rule #1 – YOU Write the Rules

Here’s the deal.  Generally speaking everyone knows what it takes to get fit. It’s a widely known fact that eating healthy foods, drinking plenty of water, exercising, and rest can result in a body that looks just as good as it functions.  Where things get murky is in the details.  There are no steadfast “rules” for how much or how little of everything we need so it’s up to us to write our own rules.

Rule #2 – The Rules Must Be Clear

People who are on the exceptional side of the fitness scale are not lucky.  At least–they are no more lucky than those that are on the piss poor side of the scale are unlucky.  The difference is their rules.

I can’t feel sorry for those that have horrible health and are out of shape because they don’t give a shit about holding themselves to any sort of standard.  Not those that are born with disease or a defect, those who control their destiny…like the other 96% of us.  Who I do feel sorry for are those who desperately want to have greater health and fitness but can’t seem to get out of their own way.  They exercise, they eat “healthy”, they sip on their water throughout the day and they even manage to get some sleep each night.  I feel sorry for them because they haven’t yet “got it”.

The differentiating factor between the group that wishes to have it and the group that has it or on their way to getting it, is how specific their rules are.  Here’s an example of “the rules” as explained by an individual from each of the two groups.

The “I can’t seem to get myself fit no matter what I try” individual:

  • Eat healthy most of the time.
  • Do some exercise every day.
  • Avoid drinking too much alcohol.
  • I should snack less and eat smaller meals.
  • I need to drink more water.

The “I have (or I’m on my way to having) a strong and healthy body” individual:

  • I must eat 4-5 times a day.
  • Every time I eat I must have at least 20 g. of protein, 20-30 g. of carbs, and 5-8 g. of fat.
  • I must keep my calories at or under 1,600 a day 5 out of 7 days a week.
  • Only 2 cheat meals a week.
  • I must weight train for 30 minutes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
  • If I go out with friends I only have 2 alcoholic drinks and then I drink water the rest of the time.
  • Never get less than 6 hours of sleep a night.
  • Drink no less than 64 oz. of water a day.

Don’t we all know two people like this!  One whose rules are vague and bendable and one who sticks to a specific set of measurable rules or guidelines.  It’s not by luck or chance that some people are fit while others are fat.  It’s the rules by which each person lives his/her life that determines the direction they move in.

Rule #3 – If You Don’t Know What Your Rules Should Be, GET HELP

It’s not easy these days to separate the bullshit from the rational diet, exercise and lifestyle advice.  There are certain things which are obvious and backed by years of research, like smoking cigarettes increases your risk for Cancer.  Other things such as the ideal diet or exercise program are not so obvious because there are so many of them.  And the truth is, just as many work as those that don’t work, and some require a lot of time and effort and others are efficient and easy to follow.

Get help from people who follow a specific set of rules themselves and are successful.  What they do may or may not be the perfect fit but at least you can glean from their approach what rules work for you and which ones might need to be replaced or adjusted for your objectives.  Not everyone can comply with all the rules or enjoy the foods on a Paleo Diet thus they will not be successful with it long-term. Finding a nutrition and exercise approach that will achieve your health and fitness objectives and make long-term compliance with your rules agreeable should be the goal.


Rules Can Change

Is it possible to have a different sets of rules depending upon external circumstances?  Absolutely!  My rules for how I eat on vacation are different from my every day rules and those rules are different from my rules during bodybuilding competition prep.  However what’s important to note is how much the rules change based on you circumstances and how often does it happen.

I know people who are excellent when they are home and on a predictable schedule but they also go away every 6-8 weeks for one or more weeks at a time and during such time they are completely erratic with their eating, exercise, and rest.  When they get back home they begin the process of being excellent again but it only gets them back to where they were before they left.  Their condition never improves beyond a certain point and so they remain frustrated.  If they are to make a permanent shift in their condition then they need to adjust their “away rules”.

What Are Your Rules?

If you came here to get some specific answers, some direction on what you need to do differently to get fit and fabulous then you’re probably pissed off at me.  You’re probably saying, “WTF Lipowski, couldn’t you just tell me what the ______ I need to do instead of this pansy ass cryptic shit that makes me have to think?”  The truth is yes I could’ve given you a list of rules but those would have been MY rules, based on what I believe to be ideal for ME.  You need to come up with your own…but if it makes you feel better I’ll leave you with a few of mine.

  • I must consume a minimum of 1 g. of protein and 1.5–2 g. of carbs per pound of body weight each day (off-season).
  • I must take in 25+ g. of fiber every day.
  • I must drink at least 100 ounces of water each day (125-250 ounces during competition prep).
  • I must weight train three times per week.
  • I must log my workouts so I can measure my progress from week to week.
  • I must get at least 6 hours of sleep each night Mon-Fri, and 8 hours a night on the weekend.
  • I can have 2 heavy cheat meals a week in the off-season but none during competition prep (I will have 1-2 re-feed meals instead).
  • I must stay within 10-15 lbs. of my competition weight during the off-season.
  • If I lose my way or overindulge on vacation or during the holidays then I must get back on my diet as long as needed to return to “normal”.
  • I must take my vitamins and supplements every day.
  • I must read food labels and make myself aware of what is in the foods I consume.
  • I must avoid consuming artificial sweeteners or using products containing toxic chemicals.

Although these are not all my rules I think you get the idea and I hope that adopting one or two of them as your own can prove beneficial for you. 

The New Way to Wealth Creation (Hint: it begins with a “P”)

The one piece of advice that has served every business that ever chose to implement it is the “10x’s Value Rule”.  To attract and retain clients or customers give them value that is ten times the cost of the service or product you are offering.   It’s simple, effective, and just good business practice.

The state of our economy has made the consumers more conscious than ever about what they spend money on and they are far pickier about who they do business with.  As a result businesses have needed to find ways to give more value or otherwise watch their business disintegrate.   Even though we never like to see businesses fail—especially small businesses—this situation has helped eradicate a lot of bad and “middle-of-the-road” businesses from the marketplace, leaving only those that bring real value to people’s lives.

However, if you haven’t been paying close attention lately you may have missed the paradigm shift.  Now that (mostly) everyone has become value driven, ten times value is what’s “expected” by the consumer.  Suddenly value has lost some of its WOW factor.  Which means something else has to take its place in order to draw the awareness of consumers and create a gap between the good and the great.  That something else is Purpose.

I’m not talking about a mission statement on the third page of the company’s operations manual or what they mention to a new employee upon hiring them.  I’m talking about something that’s bigger than the company or any one person in it.  A cause that employees, team members, clients, and customers alike can rally around.  Something that makes your team feel good about where they work and the work they do.  It makes the customer feel as though their money is not just supporting a business and its owner, but its supporting a culture and concept that lifts people up and makes a difference.  This is the new way to wealth creation.

The Questions You Ask

“Don’t like the results you’re getting…ask better questions.”  I first heard this when I attended Tony Robbins’ ‘Unleash the Power Within’ back in 2004 and it stuck with me till this very day, and will forever.  Up until that point I never really gave much thought about the questions I asked myself, or more importantly, the questions I was not asking.  It was after the event that the impact of this ‘question asking concept’ really showed it strength.

As part of my UPW entry fee I received a thirty-minute coaching session with a Tony Robbins Certified Life Coach, which literally changed my life.  Thirty minutes is all it took to realize something I had dreamed of doing since I was kid; which was to write a book.

It all happened because of the questions the coach asked and the honest answers I had to give.  Here they are in succession:

Coach:  What is something that you’ve wanted to achieve, or have been working on, but haven’t yet accomplished?

Me: Write a book.

Coach:  Why haven’t you done it already?

Me:  Uh, what?

Coach:  If you really wanted to write this book then why haven’t you?  What have you been doing?

Me:  Well I’ve written some of it.  I’ve got the first two chapters just about done.

Coach:  That’s good but you didn’t answer my question, why hasn’t this book been written?  What do you think is hold you back?

Me:  I’m busy and don’t have as much of time to work on it as I’d like.

Coach: How many hour do you sleep each night?

Me: About 7 or 8.

Coach: If you got up an hour earlier each day or went to bed an hour later that would give you 7 extra hours a week to work your book. At that rate do you would be able to finish at least a chapter a week and have the book completed in a few weeks?

Me: Definitely.

Coach: Great, but let’s face it, unless you really want to write this book you’re not going to schedule the time needed to work on it.  So why do you want to write this book?  What will it do for you?  Howe will it change your life? What will your life look like when it’s done? How will it affect others?

I answered all of the coach’s questions; it was hard to accept that I was not the driven, achiever I thought myself to be.  I wasn’t doing everything I could do, I wasn’t living up to my potential.  All this time I was kidding myself. It was a humbling realization.

The coach left me with a list of resources that would help me get the book done quickly but she made it very clear that it was up to me to take action.  And I did…immediately.

I wound up hiring Tony Robbins’ creative assistant, flying her out from California, putting her up in a nearby hotel for three days, and paying her to help me gather and organize the book.  All with money I didn’t have.

After I completed the manuscript I moved onto the next resource my coach gave me, which was a self-publishing company that would design, format, and help distribute the book to, B&N, and other retailers.  Once again spending money I didn’t have. (The book was picked up by Price World Publishing in 2010)

Pure Physique coverWhen all was said and done I had spent close to $9K to make a dream a reality and I don’t regret a single penny spent.  The fact is, you can always make more money or spend less somewhere else, but you don’t get to write your first book every day.

The point of this story is not to boast about my accomplishment but demonstrate the importance of asking the right kinds of questions.  Too often we ask ourselves self-limiting questions and wonder why we have so much trouble getting ahead; Why does this always happen to me? Why can’t I ever do this? Why does it have to be so hard? Isn’t there an easier way?  Will this ever get better? When will it happen for me? When will I have the time?  When will I have the money?

Change the questions you ask and you can change any situation. Self empowering questions move you towards your dreams, desires and the accomplishment of your goals.  What are some self empowering questions?  Well, asking that is a self empowering question!!!  But I digress.  The types of questions you need to ask are: What can I do today to improve my circumstances?  What do I need to work on in order to grow as a person?  Who can help me grow?  Who can help me reach my goal?  Who or what is taking away from time and ability to achieve? What can I do to improve the lives of others?  Why is accomplishing ‘x’ so important to me?  How will my life be better by accomplishing ‘x’?  What do I want my life look like 1 year, 3 years, 5 years, 10 years from now?  

There is no end to the list of self empowering questions we can ask ourselves and the more you ask the more you will receive.

Fitness Trends vs. Fitness Truth: P90X


It’s all about muscle confusion right?  Just keep doing different sixty minute workouts six times a week and your fat-loss, muscle building, fitness prayers will be answered.  At least that what the developer of the P90X series, Tony Horton, would have you believe.  As discussed in the first Fitness Trends vs. Fitness Truth blog the major mistake made among trendsetting workout programs, and the ultimate reason for their demise is ignorance of the 7 Principles of Exercise (intensity, volume, frequency, overload, specificity, diminishing returns, and individualism) and how they interrelate.   You might be able to fool people but you can’t cheat science.

Don’t get me wrong, not everything taught in P90X is wrong per se though I disagree with their overall approach to exercise and Mr. Horton does have a tendency to make many false or misleading statements such as “Do low reps if you’re looking for mass and high reps if you’re looking for lean [muscle].”  The concept of performing exercise with high intensity is one positive component to the P90X program as is adding variety to your routine so you don’t become accustomed to your routine which under certain conditions will result in plateaus.  When put into practice however, P90X takes valid concepts and misapplies them.

I will not go so far as to say that the program doesn’t work, it does…under certain conditions and to varying degrees.  However, nearly every exercise program “works” to some extent or has “some” effect.  That does not necessarily make it ideal or the most effective approach to exercise, especially in light of its risk/reward ratio and long term effects.  Keep in mind that what is tolerable over the short term might not (and rarely is) sustainable over the long term.  This is a major hang up for many people.  Because a program yielded good results over a period they begin to believe that their results will continue in the same direction or can be sustained on said program.

For a thorough examination of the pros, cons, and misapplication of P90X let’s look at how the program stacks up against the 7 Principles of Exercise.

Fitness Truth vs. P90X

At the core of every exercise program is the Principle of Individualism.  This principle states that exercise must be prescribed in accordance with the needs, goals, abilities, limitations, and preferences of the individual.  Whenever a program is created before you know anything about the individual who is about to partake in it you are already in violation of this principle.  P90X violates this principle on many levels as you’ll see in our examination of the other six principles.  That said I’ll be the first to admit that most people who are new to exercise or that have not exercised for a number of years will see results relatively fast doing almost any type of training program.  This is a very big factor in the success for those featured as P90X success stories.

Let’s be honest most of the people who undertake the P90X program are those that are under or untrained and looking for a way to get some direction and avoid going to a gym.  For the advanced trainee who has years of solid weight training under his/her belt P90X is unlikely to move the results meter unless it so happens—by sheer luck—to fall in line with their specific needs.

Be Intense…But Not Too Intense

Intensity is the possible percentage of momentary muscular and volitional effort exerted. The measure of how hard a person is working at any given moment during exercise.  P90X encourage its participants to exercise with a high level of effort which is great but they clearly misunderstand the principle.  If a person is truly training with their highest level of effort then they would be limited in the amount of exercise they could perform but the quality and effectiveness of that exercise in stimulating gains in muscular strength and size would be high.

Throughout P90X the trainee is prompted to not push themselves to fatigue; to be able to complete every repetition of every set.  Why?  Because if they actually pushed some of their exercises to momentary muscular fatigue (failure) they would not make it through the entire workout—in effect they would not need to perform as much exercise as is suggested.   It is at this point it becomes obvious that this is an endurance program and not for anyone who wants to develop muscle or strength.  (Note: while exercise will burn calories and can have a positive effect on the metabolism the success of P90X in burning fat is a function of participants following a calorie restricting diet and NOT the exercise program itself).

Since intensity is a function of a person’s mental capability to push themselves and work through discomfort the degree of intensity experienced from these workouts can be sufficient for those who are newbies or that lack the ability to push themselves to the level suggested by P90X.  For the experienced lifter or those accustomed to hard training already the intensity of this workout will be a step back.

If Some Is Good, More Is Better

Volume is the amount of exercise performed in a workout.  It refers to the number of repetitions, time under tension, and the number of sets performed.  Exercise volume is determined largely by an individual’s muscle fiber type, rate-of-fatigue, tolerance to exercise stress, and objectives (improved endurance, muscle hypertrophy, increased strength, etc.).  It is not farfetched to say that the overwhelming majority—if not everybody—who does P90X does not know their muscle fiber type, rate of fatigue, or tolerance to exercise stress because if they did they wouldn’t need P90X.  The only thing they may be clear on is that they want to be in better shape when they finish than when they start.

Why performing the appropriate volume of exercise is important is best explained by looking at it in conjunction with training frequency.  Frequency is how often exercise occurs.  P90X has trainees exercising 6 days a week.  Is this frequency of exercise really necessary?  Hardly.  Can and will it become counterproductive over time?  Absolutely.

As with volume, frequency should be a byproduct of individual’s muscle make up and goals.  The only thing the high volume, high frequency approach promoted through this program accomplishes is the burning of calories on a daily basis.  For those not adhering to a proper diet in which calories are at or below maintenance levels this extra activity may help in burning body fat but is unnecessary if in a caloric deficit.   Over the long run this frequency and volume of exercise has the potential to negatively affect recovery and will result in Diminishing Returns.

On a side note: there is absolutely no need for individual abdominal/core routines like that in P90X which involve 300 movements and last 16 minutes.  This is not only redundant but ineffective in furthering Ab development.  Plenty has been written on this subject so we’ll forgo going into detail.  The only points needing to be understood are that the Abs are  engaged in most every exercise (especially squats, deadlifts, pulldowns, and pullovers) and that achievement of the sacred six-pack is more a function of low body-fat than muscle development.

This Can’t Work Forever?

The Principle of Diminishing Returns explains that exercise that exceeds the minimum necessary to produce a (potentially) optimum response is pointless as it relates to the best interests of the individual.  Because the volume and frequency of P90X is fixed the chances of the program resulting in a lack of progress after (or before) the ninety days are completed is very high.

When you fail to regulate training demands (i.e. intensity, volume, frequency) according to your needs what do you think happens?  You stop getting results.

When you fail to regulate training demands what else could happen?  You could regress.

It needs to be understood that exercising an hour each day, six days a week is not a recipe for success for everyone based on the principle of individualism and for most people will result in diminishing returns if adhered to for too long, as validated by the science of stress physiology —and serve as a waste of your valuable time.

Confusion over “Muscle Confusion”

ConfusionMuscle confusion is touted as the secret sauce of P90X.  The theory is as stated on the Beach Body website (the producers of P90X) is that “P90X uses targeted training phases so your body keeps adapting and growing. You’ll never “plateau”—which means your body will never get used to the routines, making improvements slow down or even stop.”

Sounds great…in theory.  Muscle confusion is nothing more than a gimmicky way of expressing the benefit of variation in an exercise.  It is true that variation can help break through plateaus and avoid boredom but one needs to be careful in how much and how often variation is applied.  This is best explained by examining the S.A.I.D. Principle.

The S.A.I.D. (specific adaptation to imposed demands) Principle states that the nature of the exercise program will place specific demands on the body that leads to a specific resultThis is why someone who wants to build muscle for the purpose of being stronger lifts weights instead of doing water aerobics.  It’s why someone who is training for a marathon runs does long distance runs each day instead of sprints.  What you do determines what you get.

So what do you get from P90X?  You get a lot of endurance training in the form of rep pumping high volume weight training, calisthenics which they attempt to pass off as “plyometrics”, and cardio kickboxing.  You get a workout that over time will help you get good at, or at least accustomed to, doing a lot of exercise.  You are likely to become more physically fit but only up until a certain point (which is true of any exercise program) and in a specific way (i.e. improved endurance).  There’s nothing inherently wrong with this but make no mistake, although you are lifting weights in some of these workouts you are not going build much muscle if that is what you are looking for.  If you are looking to improve your strength you are not going build much of that either unless you are completely new to lifting weights.   These workouts are all about endurance.  Even if you’re focus is on fat-loss these workouts as with any other will do little to burn body fat unless it puts you in a caloric deficit as already mentioned earlier.

The S.A.I.D. Principle not only relates to the nature of the workout program but the exercises themselves.  For the beginner and intermediate trainee it is important to perform the same exercises, and workouts, for a period of 4-8 weeks in order to make neuromuscular adaptations.  Simply stated you must become skilled at performing an exercise so that you can adequately stimulate the target muscles.  Until the skill is learned you will engage unrelated and outlying muscles minimizing stimulation to intended muscle group.  In getting it wrong P90X actually got it right in this instance.  Meaning their focus is on variation but it’s only in the type of workout being performed (i.e. weight training vs. calisthenics vs. cardio kickboxing vs. yoga).  When performing the weight training workouts as well as the others the trainee is repeating the same movements over and over again.  In this way they are getting the opportunity to learn the exercises and make the necessary neuromuscular adaptations…just hope it’s the right ones.

The most fundamental way to stimulate gains in muscular size and strength is through overloadOverload is the application of progressively greater demands through regular progression.  In a traditional weight training program overload is achieved through an increase in the amount of weight lifted, repetitions performed or time under tension.  P90X does encourage its trainees to up the ante and make the exercises heavier which is definitely one bright spot.  They also suggest at times adding more volume to this already high volume routine but ignore how this impacts the program on a whole and more importantly the person following it.

And Technique?

A major drawback of P90X is the poor weight lifting technique that a newbie could easily establish from the onset.  (Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of people who have decades of weight training experience that also have exceptionally poor technique—much of which they developed in their first year of training.)  The demonstrated performance of weight training exercises in these videos are best described as “rep pumping”.  Meaning there is no real emphasis or focus on the muscles being trained, it’s all about pumping out reps in a certain amount of time.  It would be easy for someone to assume based on what they see in the video—not what they hear—that the most important factor is to pump out a certain number of reps instead of slowing things down and putting concentrated effort into the movement.

Over time this can result in injury as well as diminished effectiveness of the exercise.  To be fair, the same situation can arise from following any training program in which proper technique is not first learned.  The inability to properly perform ones exercises is the reason that so many trainees are quick to add extra exercise when results begin to stagnate.  If better at targeting the intended muscles and getting the most they could out of each exercise then additional exercise to make up for poor exercise would be necessary, reducing the likelihood of incurring an overuse injury.

P90XFor advanced trainees that have developed a high level of lifting proficiency and have reached the upper limits of how much weight they can lift, frequent changes to their training can help to disrupt homeostasis and present the body with a new set demands from which it must adapt.  This is where the “muscle confusion” concept comes into practice.  That being said the changes must still comply with the exercise principles and be in alignment with your goals.  Random changes or workouts for the purpose of confusion will in fact confuse the body but likely to have negative consequences or no impact at all.  Change needs to be deliberate, planned.  Check out the IART books APEX and Tactical Fitness to learn more about how to implement variation as a plateau busting tactic.

Final Thoughts

They say that the “X” in P90X stands for “extreme” but the only thing that’s extreme is the amount of activity performed and how often you have to do it.  There is a tremendous amount of mysticism built around this program which is sure to contribute to the already mass confusion surrounding exercise. When it is all said and done we will be left with legions of people who tout the greatness of P90X and preaching the importance of muscle confusion but don’t know what aspects of the program work, what doesn’t, what’s necessary, what’s not, what’s true, what’s false, and why.  What won’t change however is that the Principles of Exercise Science will always stand firm and trump the next trend.

Fitness Trends vs. Fitness Truth

The 21st century version of a Richard Simmons’ ‘Sweating to the Oldies’ workout in neon clothes and pop music

Choose a trend…any trend.  Choose Zumba, CrossFit, P90X, Insanity, Body Pump, or whatever else might surface in the next twelve to eighteen months.  Exaggerative claims of the superiority of each fitness trend compared to the tried and true are made in just the same way Jazzercise, Tae Bo, and Buns of Steel were said to be the greatest fitness discovery since the last fitness discovery.   Despite their varied take on exercise the one thing these trends have in common is that they are just trends.  Many will die off and some will survive by taking on new form fifteen years from now, but none will ever enjoy as much popularity or acclaim as when they first surfaced.   However, regardless of what trends come and go the fundamental principles of exercise never change.

The idiot brigade, violating the principles of exercise and looking like fools in the process.

The fundamental principles (intensity, volume, frequency, overload, specificity, individualism, and diminishing returns) are the judge and jury when it comes to deciding the fate of fitness trends.  Violate one or several of these principles and its life in prison without parole or the death penalty.   Although the average individual seeking to get in shape might not fully understand these seven principles or how they interrelate, they’re smart enough to recognize if what they are doing is yielding the result they want or not.  If it is not working or has stopped working then some aspect of the program is in violation of the principles.  It is at this time we see the rightful demise of the heralded fitness trend.

Here’s a brief overview of the 7 Principles of Exercise Science:

  1. Intensity The possible percentage of momentary muscular and volitional effort exerted. The measure of how hard a person is working at any given moment during exercise.
  2. Volume – The amount of exercise performed in a workout.  It refers to the number of repetitions, time under tension, and the number of sets performed.
  3. Frequency – How often exercise occurs; whether in general or for a specific muscle groups.
  4. Overload – The application of progressively greater demands through regular progression.  This increase can come in the form of how much weight is lifted, reps performed, TUT, or frequency.
  5. S.A.I.D. (specific adaptation to imposed demands) – The nature of the exercise program will place specific demands on the body that leads to a specific result.
  6. Diminishing Returns – Exercise that exceeds the minimum necessary to produce a (potentially) optimum response is pointless as it relates to the best interests of the individual.
  7. Individualism – Exercise must be prescribed in accordance with the needs, goals, abilities, limitations, and preferences of the individual.

Each of these principles are present in every exercise program.  The extent to which they are applied and balanced relative to the person’s goals and recovery ability will determine the program’s effectiveness.  To the educated fitness professional or trainee who understands this it is easy to spot the flaws in fitness trends like those mentioned and predict when, how and why they will fail in the long-term.  In upcoming blogs we’ll breakdown some of these trends individually to show the difference between trends and truth.