Friday, September 18, 2009

Reality Check: Ripped in 90 Days?

Earlier this year, Gina Kolata wrote an article for the New York Times explaining that despite marketing claims, it's "not really possible" for an exercise system to drastically change a person's body in just six to twelve weeks.
“To make a change in how you look, you are talking about a significant period of training,” Dr. Kraemer said. “In our studies it takes six months to a year.” And, he added, that is with regular strength-training workouts, using the appropriate weights and with a carefully designed individualized program. “That is what the reality is,” he said.

And genetic differences among individuals mean some people respond much better to exercise than others, said Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky, an exercise researcher at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He added that although he does not think the before-and-after photos in ads are doctored, most people will not change so markedly no matter how hard or long they work. “I believe they are taking the top one or two people out of thousands,” Dr. Tarnopolsky said.

People who did change their bodies say six months is a bare minimum to see real change.
But wait: Doesn't P90X get flabby couch potatoes "ripped" in just three months? The P90X guidebook's very first sentence says flat-out that "This program is for you, if you want to get toally ripped and get in the best shape of your life." And we know from user testimonials -- not just those featured in infomercials, but also those posted online by independent P90Xers -- that after 90 days, people have six-packs and bulging biceps, right?

Maybe not.

Fitness blogger (and former P90Xer) Begin to Dig recently posted a very thoughtful critique of P90X, focused in part on the art of "before" and "after" photos, as well as the question of who actually gets "ripped" using P90X:
So knowing that we need to get to a low body fat % to get the "get ripped" look, and knowing how much caloric deficit we need to burn FAT (as opposed to just lose weight), and knowing that there's such variation of caloric deficit with P90X and that at the most it's calculated to drop about a pound a week of fat, AT BEST, what does this tell us about the likelihood of getting ripped on P90X?

If all the fat a person needs to lose is 6-12 pounds to achieve the ripped body fat percentage, then it's possible to get to the Ripped Place in the 90 days. Otherwise, it won't happen.
In the end, both Kolata and Begin to Dig end up at the same place: in order to get "ripped" in 90 days using exercise systems like P90X, you need to enter the program with relatively low body fat. Otherwise, you'll need to seek an alternative program, or plan on completing at least one additional round of P90X.

In fact, the P90X materials hint at the same thing, stating that "P90X is an extreme fitness program designed for individuals in top physical condition and health." The program's guidebook also suggests that P90X is for those who "meet the minimum physical requirements outlined in this guidebook" -- suggesting that anyone who can meet P90X's standards is in "top physical condition and health." Yet the requirements described in the P90X Fit Test aren't exactly difficult to achieve. For example, the Fit Test sets forth these "P90X Minimum" requirements:
  • 3 pull-ups for males / 1 pull-up for females. Oddly enough, despite the "P90X Minimum" label, these pull-up standards don't actually appear to be requirements at all. The Fit Test says that "many people won't be able to do any pull-ups when starting P90X. You'll get more out of the program if you can do pull-ups," but according to the guidebook, it's okay if you can't.
  • 5 inch vertical leap for males / 3 inch vertical leap for females. Really? If a guy can jump a mere five inches off the ground, he's in "top physical condition"? According to this website, a vertical leap of less than 12 inches for men and 8 inches for women merits a rating of "POOR."
  • 15 push-ups for males / 3 push-ups for females (or 15 knee-version push-ups). Again, these requirements are below other published standards.
It's understandable why P90X has set the bar so low; BeachBody wants as many people purchasing and using their products as possible. But after reading post after post on the message boards from P90Xers who are frustrated with the lack of dramatic change in their bodies, I have to wonder if their expectations were unfairly inflated.

Personally, I'm happy with what I've gotten out of P90X thus far. I started the program with about 11 percent body fat, which means I was in the "sweet spot" for P90X: I didn't have much fat to shed to start seeing some results. The variety in the workouts have kept me engaged and committed to my exercise routine. I'm seeing positive changes in my strength, balance, flexibility and body composition -- and seeing my progress has boosted my motivation to get into even better shape. I'm also certain that anyone who follows the P90X diet and exercise plan for 90 days will see improvement -- how could they not?

But does the hype match reality? Can anyone who diligently follows the P90X plan actually get "totally ripped" in just three months? My conclusion: Probably not. While some P90X users will get "totally ripped," it appears that users who enter into the program with more than 15 or so excess pounds of body fat shouldn't expect to see the same "ripped" results after just three months.