Category Archives: Fitness

Power 90 Is Not P90X

Tony Horton’s Power 90 is not P90X (or, as Jon Stewart calls it, “The PX90”).

When I first decided to get my weight under control, I immediately went looking for P90X. After reading the reviews on Amazon.com, I decided that my sedentary husk couldn’t support that type of intense workout. Luckily, a few of the P90X reviewers mentioned Power 90 as a viable alternative. After doing more research (mainly, reading Amazon.com reviews – they’re the Wikipedia of consumer product reference), I decided that Power 90 was for me.

What is it?

It’s an exercise program by Tony Horton. Power 90 came out three years before P90X. Most people consider it the basis for the P90X workout. The difference? Time, intensity, and variation. Where P90X runs 60-75 minutes per workout, Power 90 only takes 30. Where P90X has a dozen different workouts, Power 90 has only four (plus abs). Where P90X rotates over three phases, Power 90 only uses two.

Why start there?

It’s easier. Coming from an absolute sedentary state (with fits and bouts of binge eating and borderline alcoholism), I was absolutely not ready for hour-long workouts that included weights and pull-ups. Power 90 let me ease-in to the process of becoming healthy with shorter workouts – averaging about 30 minutes. There wasn’t a single pull-up in the routine. I got by using only a yoga mat and some resistance bands.

How’d it go?

The first few weeks were tough. The program is six days per week, alternating “sculpt” (strength training) and “sweat” (cardio-oriented) workouts. Looking at my progress calendar – a handy wall calendar that comes with the program – I self-rated my performance as a 3 or 4/10 for the first two weeks. After that, it was a steady climb to regularly hitting 9 or 10/10 by the ninth week.

The workouts aren’t hard, unless you’ve been sitting and eating non-stop for the past few years. Focusing on proper form was the most critical part of getting started. With the wrong form, you either don’t work the right muscles, don’t work anything at all, or just plain injure yourself. As someone with experience with chronic back problems, I know how that goes.

The two hardest parts of the workout were the yoga warmup and the ab ripper at the end. I had never done yoga (and I’m sure some might argue that the yoga I did for Power 90 doesn’t count), but it’s not as easy as it seems. Beyond those items, the cardio, while short, was intense. The strength exercises were the most fun. I’ve always enjoyed the feeling of delayed onset muscle soreness. Even though it’s not the best indicator of a good workout, I always found that soreness comforting – like a pat on the back for a job well done.

Yup, my actual measurement card.

Combined with my dietary changes and calorie tracking, I went from fat to reasonably fit. Maybe “relatively fit” is a better way of describing the change. I still wasn’t reasonably fit yet. Admittedly, I didn’t push the diet as hard as I should have. I was still regularly breaking my calorie goals, but not by much. Part of that was my metabolism finally figuring out how many calories I really needed, and part of it was because sometimes you just need a treat. It wasn’t a perfect diet, but it’s what worked for me.

Recommended?

Yes. Power 90 is an easy starter workout for anyone looking to get off the couch. The real key is to stay consistent. Do all six workouts each week, for the requisite 13 weeks. Keep a food diary, and watch your calories. Do these things, and you’ll be off to P90X in a few months. Personally, I went three rounds with Power 90 before moving on to P90X (which I’ve been using for two years now). Training my mind to stay focused, stick with it, and eat right was the hard part. Training my body came naturally.

Living Strong

I was always fat

I’ve always struggled with my weight. I noticed I was heavier than other kids back in the fourth grade. Well, maybe I didn’t notice as much as I was told that I was heavy. Fourth graders aren’t famous for being tactful. Things only got worse when I left my home town to go to a private school in the seventh grade. Not only did I leave my friends of seven years, I was entering the most socially brutal time in life as a chubby kid among several thousand new faces (it was a big school). Suffice it to say that I was teased, and that teasing caused a rather unfortunate spiral into the bottom of many, many french fry boxes.

After three years of eating, struggling, teasing, bullying, and an all-around “not great” experience, one of the few friends I had suggested that we join the wrestling team. It was my sophomore year in high school, so I figured that the extracurricular activity would be good for my college applications. I had no idea what I was in for. I didn’t know it at the time, but that experience would change my life. My time on the wrestling team deserves its own post, later. For now, let’s just say that I started my sophomore year at roughly 180lbs (on a 5 foot frame), and ended my senior year some 45lbs lighter, and a few inches taller.

16 Years hence, I’m healthier than I’ve ever been. It hasn’t been a smooth climb to fitness, but it has been insightful. About four years ago, after another major life change, I was back to square one. I was nearly 40 lbs overweight, and absolutely sedentary. I was eating and drinking as if each meal was my last: giant helpings of pasta, white sauce, all kinds of sausage, steaks, beer, wine, and more beer. I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize myself. Something had to change. The obvious first step was exercise. The less obvious zeroeth step was changing my diet.

Making the change

I read numerous articles about how nutrition science had changed since I was young. I remember the food pyramid we were taught in school: 4-4-3-2-1 of bread, fruits and vegetables, dairy, protein, and fat respectively. It turns out that I should have been reversing that order. Yes, I just linked to a ketogenic diet FAQ. The resource I used to plan my new diet isn’t available anymore, however it was similar to “keto,” but used a carb cycling method instead. I actually increased my fat and protein intake, and decreased my carbohydrates (save for two days per week of carb-loading). The idea behind the dietary change was to correct leptin resistance, and get my body to react properly to “feeling full.”

This is in stark contrast to conventional nutrition taught in the 80’s and 90’s: fat makes you fat, protein causes cancer, and if you’re still hungry you can fill up on rice. That last statement got me every time. I could eat rice until there wasn’t any left in the house. Why? Because I wasn’t full. My brain wasn’t getting the “I’m full” signal from consuming fat, because I wasn’t eating any fat. I was getting lots of calories, huge insulin spikes, and no real nutrition.

Calories in, calories out

Beyond modifying my diet, a friend of mine (also a personal trainer) made it clear that “calories in versus calories out” was the bottom line when it came to weight loss. While eating more fat and less carbs helped control my hunger, I still had to keep a food diary. For that: Livestrong.

For the past few years, I’ve been using Livestrong.com’s calorie and exercise tracker. At first, I used it because it had an iPhone app (all the rage at the time). Since then, I’ve migrated entirely to using it via the traditional web interface. Entering meals is just faster that way. It also seems like the only way to enter meals including custom recipes is to use the web interface. The iPhone app costs a few bucks, but using the web interface is free; signing up for an account is free either way.

Livestrong's iPhone App

After entering a few days of meal data (and being honest about it), it was easy to see how I stacked-up against my calorie goals. For the first few months, I was constantly pushing to beat my daily estimated calories by 200+, while keeping my sugar and carbohydrate intake low. Keeping a food diary is generally considered a very healthy way of losing weight. I didn’t think much of it at first, but it really works.

See it

I started to see results before I felt them. My moobs (man boobs) were looking considerably less pointy. Yes, I’m not afraid to admit that I had a serious case of pointy man boobs. My cheeks started to shrink back onto my face. According to Drew Carey, face fat is the hardest to lose. It’s true, but I seem to have misplaced the chins that prove it.

Feel it

What really turned the tide in my diet was when I first felt my metabolism start working properly again. It took about a year of maintaining the diet (with a few slip-ups and vacations along the way) when I noticed that eating fatty foods actually made me feel full. I ate a reasonable 10 ounce portion of ribeye steak, and actually felt sated. I didn’t want dessert. Later, I realized that after intense exercise, I was hungrier than usual. I could eat an extra 200 calories before becoming full if I was eating after a workout. Changing my diet really worked. Now, I only eat when I’m hungry, and have a good handle on that natural signal that tells me to stop. This happens to coincide with 3 meals/day, with one or two snacks.

Weight doesn’t matter

Why didn’t I mention any hard weight numbers after I changed my diet? Because it didn’t matter. I stopped using my scale over a year ago. Weight wasn’t a good indicator of my overall health. It is simply more effective to track my calories, eat only when hungry, and get a decent amount of fat in my diet than it is to weigh myself.

Keep going

I’m glad I shared my experience. Adding diet and exercise to my lifestyle was the biggest positive change I’ve ever made. Admittedly, making these major lifestyle changes was easy for me as a single guy, living alone, with access to the necessary fresh foods, exercise equipment, and copious free time. However, I suspect that the basic principles of keeping a food diary, and working to get control of your metabolism can work for almost anyone, in almost any situation.

The subject matter – especially diet and nutrition – is so deep that I can (and will) write another dozen posts on it. I’d also like to share my exercise routine, and some of my healthier recipes. Look for those in future blog posts. Thanks for reading!