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. 

Defining Your “Why”

Beth Colucci, IART Fitness Clinician


If you have ever set a goal, or at least thought about it, you’ve probably heard or read about setting SMART goals.  I personally believe setting SMARTER goals is a bit more effective when the focus is on your fitness. I’ll explain what the “ER” stands for in just a moment but first for those that need a refresher let’s take a quick look at what a SMARTER goal is.

S – Specific – what exactly is it that you want to achieve?

M – Measurable – how will you measure your progress?

A – Attainable – are you being realistic about the goal you’ve set for yourself?

R – Relevant – how will reaching this goal affect your life?

T – Time Boundwhen would you like to achieve your results by?

E – Energy Driven – how many calories (energy) will you eat, and how much physical energy (exercise) will you put in?

R – Results – did you achieve your goal?  Why or why not?  [Obviously, evaluating this step comes at the end of your time frame.]

When you set a SMARTER goal, you know where you want to go…but do you know why?  I’m not talking about a simple reaction such as, “I want to look better.”  I challenge you to dig deeper than that.  Really ask yourself WHY you are working so hard and taking steps toward a healthier life.  Are you working for a better you to…

  • Set an example for your children?
  • Feel better physically and mentally?
  • Extend your life to be around for your grandchildren?
  • Get off medication?
  • Give yourself more happiness and confidence?
  • Diminish or even erase any ailments you suffer from?

Whatever your reason, find it!  Without this intrinsic motivator, it’s easy to forget why you started your health journey in the first place.  Trust me when I say that I too have set goals for myself and let them fall to the wayside because they didn’t actually mean anything to me.  However, any goal I have ever set that really meant something to my present and future I have been sure to attack it.  Why the difference?  When I know why I am pushing myself, I can continually remind myself what I want and why it’s important to me.  That connection is key.

Every single person on this planet has a goal for themselves, whether emotional, physical, monetary, relationship-wise, etc.  Take the time to define a SMARTER goal you have for yourself, and then take some extra time to figure out why you want to achieve that goal.  This may take minutes, hours, or even days.  Don’t rush the process, or you’ll only end up faking it.  Once you’ve discovered what’s driving you, try writing down both your goal(s) and your “why(s)” and post it somewhere where you will see it every day.  The visual will spark your intrinsic motivation over and over.  Watch and see how your WHY will drive your actions, and your goals will seem all that much easier to conquer.

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 Amazon.com, 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.

[Poof!] My Shape…Gone in an Instant

You create your fitness plan, you stick to it for 3 months, and then you piss it all away in two weeks. That’s my story and I’m not ashamed of it.  It’s a story that will deliver a massive dose of reality and teach you a lesson if you’re willing to sit here and read it for the next 4 minutes.  As I sit here typing away on my laptop I have to laugh at how quickly I was able to reverse three months of hard work.  Seriously, three months of tracking my food intake and gradually getting my body near competition form, GONE after just 2 weeks of indulgence.

poofThe two weeks were comprised of my wedding and honeymoon so by no means do I kick myself over all the eating and drinking I did.  Heck, Corrie-Beth and I spent 7 of our 10 day honeymoon in Napa Valley and Sonoma so you better believe we were drank a lot of wine!  And the meals were pretty damn good too.

So what was the damage?  A nine pound increase in body weight and all the definition in my abs and arms had disappeared.  Granted at least 3 of the 9 lbs. is retained water which can be eliminated within a week by pushing my water intake up to around a gallon per day but unfortunately the rest of the weight (fat) will take a lot longer to get back off.


I can already hear some of you saying, “But you’re already in good shape it’s not that big of a deal”.  To which I say, “It’s all relative”.  I have certain expectations and standards which if not met or maintained have the same emotional impact as anyone else who looks at them self and is disgusted with how out of shape they’ve become.

I knew it would happen, I’ve been here before.  In the early years of my bodybuilding career I would spend six months prepping for a show only to binge my way out of competition shape in less than a week.  Over more recent years I’ve learned that if I (as well as most people) can keep from letting one day of binging or cheat meals turn into 2, 3, 4, 5 days or more then maintaining that ideal condition that I worked long and hard to achieve is easy and doesn’t require being on point all the time.  But once you start rolling downhill it’s very difficult to stop and the unfortunate consequence is having to start all over.

Fitness PlanThe idea of starting over can be a little demoralizing if you don’t have the proper mindset.  As I said, I would never give up all the great breakfast, lunch, dinners, wine, beer, and spirits I indulged in over the two week wedding/honeymoon period.  In fact I had planned for it.  All the dieting I had done over those three prior months was in anticipation of all I would do and was a way of mitigating the damage.  I knew from the very beginning that at some point I was going to have to “start over”.  Since it is exactly what I expected it eliminates the pain of feeling like “I blew it”.

The situation—and the emotions that accompany it—is similar to saving thousands of dollars over the course of several months or a year for a vacation you’ve always wanted to go on.  When the time comes to actually pay for the vacation the money suddenly disappears from your account, or the envelope of cash you’ve been saving it in.  You knew it was going to happen, and you would never give up the vacation just to hang onto the cash, but you’re still left with that slight bit of sadness that all you saved is gone in an instant.  It doesn’t make the vacation any less enjoyable it’s just an unavoidable feeling…just like putting weight back on that you worked hard to lose. But the great thing is, if you’ve done it once you can do it again and if you’re committed, the next time should be much easier since you already know what to expect.

7 Lessons Learned from the Bodybuilding Stage


When I started my career as a personal trainer at the ripe young age of twenty-two (I really can’t believe I’ll be thirty-six this month.  Look ma’ I made it! J) one of the very first actions I took was to enter myself into a natural bodybuilding contest.  I had wanted to bodybuild ever since I watched Lou Ferrigno as the Incredible Hulk in the mid-eighties television series.  Then of course there were the professional wrestlers in the WWF like Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior who became another source of motivation before I started “investing” what little money I earned at thirteen years old on muscle magazines. But I digress.

My reasoning for entering the contest was two-fold.  First, I always wanted to look like a bodybuilder so it only made sense to do what bodybuilders do…compete.  Second, and the stronger of the two reasons, was to gain experience and knowledge.  I reasoned that if people were going to come to me with the expectation of achieving six-pack abs, defined muscles, or to simply get lean and muscular, then I better know and understand all that goes into the process.

After 14 years of competing it is impossible for me to place a value on the lessons I’ve learned from getting up on stage. What I have gained through those experiences cannot be learned in a book or in a classroom. The lessons can be categorized two ways; physique development and self-development.  While my initial interest was regarding physique development I quickly learned that self-development works in tandem with physique development—sometime preceding it, sometimes resulting from it, and sometimes working side by side with it.

Here are my top 7 lessons learned from the bodybuilding stage:

  1. Fat loss takes time but needs to be approached with a sense of urgency While losing weight slowly is necessary for maintaining a healthy metabolism and ensuring that the weight you shed is fat and not muscle, don’t use this as a reason to get complacent or justify poor decisions about eating or exercise. With few exceptions the metabolism is very slow to get started, often taking 4 or more weeks just to build enough momentum result in consistent weekly fat loss. And that’s if you’re doing everything right!
  2. Track everything.  As the old adage goes, you can’t know where  you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.  While keeping a food log and keeping track of your calories, carbs, protein and fats might seem like a royal pain in the ass, it is the only way to figure out exactly how much you can or can’t eat without disrupting your fat loss efforts.  Don’t try to guess…it doesn’t work.Journal
  3. Until you change your mind you cannot change your body.  The body has a funny way of following what your subconscious believes to be true which is why I can’t stress enough the importance of developing self-belief and having a positive self-image.  I have never had a competition season in which I didn’t improve upon my condition from the previous season.  I attribute this to first seeing myself better than I once was the previous season and then taking actions on achieving it.
  4. Have a strong “why” It’s easy to stay the course and do whatever is necessary to achieve your goal when you have a clear-cut reason for doing so.  Getting up in front of a bunch of strangers with less fabric covering you than what you would wear to the beach was, and continues to be, a very big reason “why” I’m so intent on not screwing up my diet or missing workouts.  Just wanting to “look better” or “get a little leaner” is not incentive, it’s a wish.  Attach it to something bigger that will keep you doing the not so fun stuff and now you have a why.
  5. This s#%t is hard!  Make no mistake about it, you have to work your butt off and be disciplined to make even minimal gains.  Showing up is not half the battle it’s about 1/10th of it.  You need to constantly outwork yourself in order to make forward progress. Accepting this reality will help minimize frustration when you’re not achieving results at the rate you think you should.
  6. You are always IN-season.  One of the most common traits amongst top competitors is that they focus just as hard on their diet and training in the off-season as they do 3 months before stepping on stage.  By living the lifestyle year round it makes getting into competition shape much easier and faster and makes the damage done by an occasional night out on the town or going out to eat almost World's 2012 (125)non-existent.
  7. Support systems are a necessity.  As stated in lesson #5 this stuff is hard, but it can made much easier, and your likelihood of success is greatly increased by having one or more people working towards similar goals alongside you.  Conversely nothing can thwart your efforts faster than resistance or ridicule from family members or friends.  Be sure that the people surrounding you understand how important your fitness goals are to you and to respect your decisions about the way you eat and how you spend your time.

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.

Competition Shape…Minus the Competition (Lisa’s Journey) – Entry 11

Lisa had texted this pic to me with following, “I’m wearing Melissa’s coat (her youngest daughter). Please note, it’s buttoned”.

[Lisa] Hello December.  The holidays are upon us.  I will start this entry by saying, “Yes Virginia, you can lose weight during the holidays.”  Five months down and 21 lbs. gone.  I lost 3.8 lbs. in November.  I did enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner that included stuffing, pumpkin ale and a piece of apple pie for desert.  However, I woke up the next day and realized Thanksgiving was over, time to get back to my food plan.  I also need to mention that, although I did have the aforementioned treats on Thanksgiving, I had small portions and still recorded everything in my food log.  Last year I continued eating like it was still Thanksgiving straight through until Christmas when I transitioned into eating like it was Christmas through the New Year.  The tears set in on January 2 right after I stepped on the scale.  I am determined NOT to start 2013 the same way.  Mike is doing his part, adding new methods of torture; I mean training so I am never bored!  I am enjoying being able to wear mediums instead of large size clothing.  My daughter Melissa recently told me that she does not care how much weight I lose she will not allow me to wear a bikini.  Hmmmm, sounds like Mom has a new goal.   Might be just what one needs to stay focused.

[Mike] I think it’s easy to see that 2013 will not start off for Lisa the same way 2012 did.  It can’t!  And that’s because Lisa finally has the two things going for her that everyone needs to be successful at transforming their body…and I am not talking diet and exercise.  It is a goal and a plan for completing it.

Just look at the difference this has made between last year and this year.  Last year: no goal, no plan and Thanksgiving turned into a six week free-for-all and an inevitable backslide forcing her to have start all over in January.  Depressing.  Yet this is how it will be for an unfortunate majority of people.  This year: a goal and a plan for navigating through the holidays without depriving herself and a New Year in which she’ll start around 25 lbs. lighter than she was this past July.

Oh and to address the “add on” goal of getting into a bikini…I love it.  What better goal than to make your children uncomfortable about what you will wear in your 50’s that you couldn’t wear while they were growing up.