The Busy Fitness Freak

Recently I had a conversation with someone at a nutrition convention at which I was speaking.  It was lunchtime and we were discussing the new nutrition program released by the company that had hosted the event.  This young woman had lost over one-hundred pounds on the program and looked fantastic (kudos to her).  She eventually started to ask about me and my wife’s natural bodybuilding and figure competition prep, specifically how we trained.  She had no desire to compete she said but wanted clues as to how to push her fat loss further along and achieve a more “toned” look.

To her amazement it was not as complicated or as time consuming as she thought.  Everyone assumes that to achieve competition form or your “ideal physique” you need to spend hours in the gym.   You don’t.  Neither I nor my wife did any more than 100 minutes of training each week during our entire 2012 competition season and both of us achieved our all-time best condition.

Just a Busy Bodybuiler

You see, I’m a busy bodybuilder…a very busy “Fitness Freak”.  Just to give some perspective, I own and operate a personal training studio where I carry out 40-50 sessions a week (purposely reduced from 60-70/week), I’m the president of a personal training education and certification company, a co-founder of a natural bodybuilding organization and a show promoter, a coach for other competitors, I write and do speaking engagements, take care of all the marketing for each of my businesses, do fundraising, and networking.  And these are only my business related pursuits, I have not even touched on my personal and recreational activities.

This list is not meant to brag, I know that there are plenty of other people who do what I do and more.  I use it to demonstrate that even with everything that consumes my day I can still body build at a high level.  The key is to determine exactly how much time must be spent training to develop your physique.  For me it is 90-100 minutes a week of weight training (I do not do any aerobic exercise).  The other major component of course is diet.  If you have your diet structured properly and give yourself enough time to lose body-fat slowly there is no reason to perform excessive amounts of aerobic exercise to burn calories.

I understand that for some, working out is their life, their passion, and they enjoy spending hours in the gym.  But for those who would like to pursue their ideal physique or compete in bodybuilding/figure in the midst of a busy lifestyle where spare hours are few, you can.  The first step is to move past the misconception of how much time is needed.  Real science dismisses much of the pseudoscience revolving around muscle development and fat-loss.

Just the Facts

Fact:  There is not a specific amount of time that a person needs train for in order to stimulate muscle growth.

Fact: There is not a specific number of reps or sets that need to be performed to stimulate muscle growth.

Fact:  Muscle development only occurs under conditions where intensity of effort and/or training demands are high.

If you understand these three facts then you can succeed as a Busy Fitness Freak.  As I mentioned I rarely train more than 100 minutes a week and I do not do any aerobic exercise, even during competition prep.  My workouts—as well as the workouts of clients I work with—are typically 30 minutes long and normally performed only 2-4 times a week.  The reason why is because of the three facts stated above, especially the last one.

The key to developing a time efficient training program is to keep intensity high by performing each set to (or close to) momentary muscular failure and continually finding ways to increase training demands.  Without a high degree of effort or a disruption in what the muscles are accustomed to there is no reason for them to become stronger or more resilient.  Let me ask, for what reason would muscles develop if they are not challenged?

Most serious trainees place heavy emphasis on weight progression, constantly trying to heave greater poundage’s from one workout to the next.  This has always been a focal point of every successful training program but it’s not the only thing that should be focused on.  In fact, we know through research that intensity of effort plays as big if not a bigger role than load since it is only when intensity is at or near one-hundred percent that we involve the greatest number of Fast-Twitch (FT) muscle fibers (Henneman’s size principle).

We have learned through the study of neurology that the more we perform certain movements (exercises) in the same manner the more we adapt to those movements and the more proficient we become at performing them.  In the IART’s publication Fitness Science Annual 2008, Brian Johnston explains the negative implications of neuromuscular adaptation for the intermediate and advanced bodybuilder, in the quest to develop more muscle:

In strength training and bodybuilding, a greater focus has been placed on neurological adaptation, or the skill factor and its effect. It has been suggested that neurological/skill factors are a consideration only during the beginning stages of exercise, with less impact or influence on advanced trainees…However, this is not the entire story.  Although the extent of neural factors may diminish, the nature of its role alters and becomes more finely tuned. To explain, the more muscle and strength a person develops, the more reluctant the body is to add more muscle and strength; and the more a person repeats the same exercises in the same way, the more skilled they become at those movements

Keeping the above in mind, as well as the importance of intensity, it should be apparent that a productive training regimen consists of varied, high-intensity exercise.  The, high-intensity + variation formula, is a dependable stimulus for muscle development but by no means is it the only factor.  We need to also consider recovery time and tolerance to exercise stress.  It’s the application and balance of intensity, volume, variation and frequency, relative to individual needs that determines a person’s ability to develop a strong muscular physique while living a busy lifestyle. …And earning the title of Busy Fitness Freak.

Personal Training Prediction

I’m no psychic but I’m willing to make a prediction.

Over the next 10-20 years one-on-one personal training studios will (once again) be the biggest trend in fitness.  Personal training has existed since Ancient Greece and there’s certainly nothing new about personal training studios.  They began to pop up in mass quantities starting in the late 70’s when Nautilus introduced variable resistance strength training equipment which made it easy to perform fast and extremely effective workouts under the guidance of a personal trainer who was educated in their high-intensity training protocol.

Jazzeridiots Make Their Debut…The Weight Lifters Laugh At Them

As new fitness trends emerged personal training studios dwindled as people made their way to Jazzercise classes and opted for outdoor running over indoor strength training (big mistake).  When doctors finally started to see the light—the same light bodybuilders and strength athletes saw decades earlier—they began encouraging people to lift weights because it provided greater health and fitness benefits over any other form of exercise.

Certified Baboons & Weight Training

Gyms and health clubs start to emerge out of thin air and they filled up with people looking to lift weights.  But the majority of these people have as much understanding about what to do as a baboon would.  This spawned the growth of the personal training industry and now you get a major influx of baboons that are “certified” to teach other people how to waste their time with wasteful exercise.   Add to this the uprising of affordable gyms and Crossfit and now you have an overcrowded mess of unsafe unknowledgeable lifters.

Personal Training Studio Doors Are Opening

This scenario has created a special space in the market for personal training studios.  Big gyms can survive with bad trainers but small personal training studio cannot.  Consumers recognize this.  More than ever they are taking their business to personal training studios that can offer a private or semi-private setting that is devoid of distractions, allows people to “get in and get out” and achieve results safely under the tutelage of a competent and professional trainer.  This market is certain to grow in the next 10-20 years as our lives become more complex, our personal time dwindles, and our need to circumvent the guesswork and “get it right the first time” increases.

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. 

Separating “Training” and the “Training Business”

I have a lot of friends in the fitness industry. (Actually I just lost one the other day but hey, some people need to alienate as many people as possible in order to help their brand stand out…I get it.)  One thing I always find interesting is that sometimes my fellow fitness professionals have a hard time breaking away from their long held beliefs.  They might question a few of them from time to time but rarely will it result in them making a change in how they train themselves and others.

The reason: business.

Many—me included—have built successful personal training businesses that center around a message.  This message is at the core of what makes the business tick, why people keep coming back, why others seek you out, and why others run in the opposite direction.  Just look at Crossfit.

In order to have people follow you and adhere to your recommendations, you need to be “all-in” and follow your own advice.  A big part of the message at our studio is that it doesn’t take more than sixty to ninety minutes of exercise a week to achieve a high level of fitness.   Some of my friends take this message of efficiency to another level by promoting fifteen to twenty minutes of exercise weekly.

When someone turns to me and says, “You must train every day, right?” I’m quick to point out that I rarely train more than ninety to one-hundred minutes a week, even during the bodybuilding competition season.   I remain true to what I teach and to prove a point in the process.  The point being—based on the way I implement exercise I can train less than the majority of fitness enthusiasts and bodybuilders and still compete at the highest level.

But let’s back up for a moment.  Did you notice in my response to the question I’m often asked I said “rarely”?

I do this not to be deceptive but to leave doors open to other possibilities.  Sometimes you need to set the business model (and ego) aside in order to focus on the training; to experiment or explore an approach that is outside of the model.  Or the other option is to hold steadfast to what you do, look like you have all the answers because you work within a very narrow system, and come up with reasons why the other methods are complete shit.

If what you uncover through experimental training works but doesn’t quite fit your business model it doesn’t mean the model is wrong and you have to abandon it or eat crow.  You may consider revising it, adding on to it, or keeping it exactly as is because it works for the niche you cater to and is what they want.   The worse that can happen is that you learn something which helps you to better comprehend the nuances of the art of exercise science.

[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.

Fit to Lead

I’ve heard countless definitions of leadership and descriptions of what makes a good leader and most of them, in some way shape or form refer to influencing, motivating and inspiring others to realize their full potential, accomplish a task, or work towards a common goal.  We find leaders in all areas of our lives.  They occupy the boardroom, work place, classroom, home, church, synagogue, and every other place we look for guidance or direction.

However one of the most overlooked aspects of being a great leader and the part which pertains to all of us is that great leaders demonstrate the ability to lead themselves.  They set an example as well as the standard.  The results you achieve through exercise and nutrition and your ability to remain disciplined about your fitness is a good measure of your ability to lead yourself.

Certainly there are many ways and other arenas in which you can demonstrate leadership but few have as big an impact on your personal well-being and those around you like fitness.  When people see you living a higher standard it inspires them to do the same.  If you’re a parent you know exactly what I mean.  Kids don’t listen they observe.  And whatever it is they see you doing is what they will adopt as their own behavior.

Whether you realize it or not–to some degree–you have the same type of influence on those around you; be it co-workers, friends, or family.  Show that you are fit to lead by leading yourself to be fit.

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.

Competition Shape…Minus the Competion (Lisa’s journey) – Entry 7


[Lisa]  This past week many either went back to school or have children who went back to school.  In my case I added teaching 3 college courses to my schedule.  As I sat at my computer, all day last Sunday, preparing lessons I felt the familiar tug of sweets calling my name.  I was not hungry, but eating has always been the way I have dealt with the stress of a deadline or the stress of anything for that matter.  The blog saved me once again.  I admit, even knowing I was going to be writing an entry for the blog, I was still tempted.  Two months in and 9 lbs. down I worry that I won’t be able to stay motivated for the long haul.  Years ago I lost 50 lbs. in a little less than a year.  I remember the excitement as the numbers went down.  I was able to stay focused and get to my goal.  Since then I have attempted to lose the weight I had gradually let creep back on numerous times.  I would last a few weeks maybe a month or so and then it was over.  I’m thinking I need some additional ideas.  Mike, I know competing is the motivator for you but is there anything else that keeps you on track?

[Mike]  It’s not important what motivates me, what’s important is discovering what motivates you.  In my book, PURE PHYSIQUE: How to Maximize Fat-loss & Muscular Development I wrote about this topic at length.  In short, everything we do—everything—is to achieve pleasure or avoid pain.

Nothing is more gratifying than looking in the mirror and knowing your present condition is a result of your own doing.  Conversely nothing can make you feel worse than looking in the mirror and admitting your present condition is your own doing.  You see there comes a point when external motivators (like fitting into a certain dress or winning a contest) are not enough and it is your values and standards that move you towards your goal or keep you from slipping backwards.

If you’ve been accepting sub-standards for yourself then it becomes easy to justify eating things you know you shouldn’t or when you shouldn’t, as well as skipping workouts or avoiding activities that are critical to your success.  Raising your standards and holding yourself to them is the key to staving off temptation.  If the thought of not achieving your goal does not elicit negative feelings that you would do anything to avoid rather than harbor inside then it might be time to assess what you value most.  Similarly, if achieving your goal does not elicit excitement and make you want to take proper action then it might be time to assess your values.  Namely your value of self.