Tuesday, February 16, 2010

P90X Shoulders & Arms Review

After my first two days of P90X, I was worried I wouldn't make it through Week One -- let alone the entire 90 days. After all, my ass had been thoroughly handed to me by Chest & Back and Plyo. It wasn't until I encountered the Shoulders & Arms workout that I finally thought, "Hey! I can do this!"

After the jump: My review of P90X Shoulders & Arms.

Shoulders & Arms was a relief. Although many of the exercises were new to me, the basic moves were reassuringly familiar. This workout doesn't stray far from the comfort zone of anyone who's spent time doing set after set of dumbbell exercises at the gym; strip away all the bells and whistles, and you've got your basic bicep curls, tricep presses, and shoulder flies.

As a P90X rookie, this was a good thing. I was exhausted from the preceding workouts, and still trying to get a handle on the exercises and the new diet. A dash of familiarity was appreciated. Plus, it didn't hurt that Shoulders & Arms focused only on, well, the shoulders and arms, giving the rest of my body a chance to recover a bit.

Shoulders & Arms consists of five supersets of three exercises each -- one targeting the shoulders, one targeting the biceps, and one targeting the triceps. Each of the five supersets is performed twice by Tony and his minions (the "gorgeous" Dreya Weber, the oddly-dressed Daniel Haas, and the taller, less chatty version of Tony, Joe Bovino).

Without further ado, here are the fifteen exercises in this workout, in order of appearance:

First Superset:

Alternating Shoulder Presses: Begin in a standing position, holding a pair of dumbbells at shoulder-height with your palms facing front. Perform alternating military shoulder presses, such that your palm faces inward at the top of each press. Admire all the shaved armpits.

In & Out Bicep Curls: Using a pair of dumbbells or a resistance band, perform a basic bicep curl with your palms supinated (facing up). Then, turn your forearms out to the sides and perform a side curl. Repeat.

Two Arm Tricep Kickbacks: With a pair of dumbbells in your hands, bend forward at the waist, keeping your upper arms parallel to the floor. Touch the dumbbells to your shoulders, and then straighten your arm to kick back the weights. Your elbows don't move, and you entire arm should be horizontal at the top of this exercise. Repeat.

Repeat all three of these moves, and then move on to the next superset.

Second Superset:

Deep Swimmer's Presses: Starting in the position pictured above, press the dumbbells overhead in a twisting corkscrew motion. Start with your palms supinated, but as you extend your arms above your head, turn your wrists so that your palms are facing front at the top of the move. Reverse this motion to bring the weights back down, and repeat.

Full Supination Concentration Curls: Just like standard alternating bicep curls, but at the top of the move, turn your wrist so that your palm faces the outside of your shoulder, and get a good isometric squeeze in your biceps before lowering the weight. Repeat with the other arm, and keep going. Also, ponder why Daniel Haas's arms -- even when fully flexed -- don't look nearly as pumped as Tony's.

Chair Dips: With your hands on a chair or bench, your legs straight and your feet elevated, use your triceps to raise and lower your body. To increase intensity, keep a leg raised in the air.

This doesn't seem too bad, right? Repeat this superset before moving on.

Third Superset:

Upright Rows: Holding a pair of dumbbells with straight arms in front of your quads, lift them up to chin-level, flaring your elbows out to the sides. Yell at Tony and Dreya to get a room already. Repeat.

Static Arm Curls: Clutching a pair of dumbbells, keep one arm held static at a 90-degree angle, and crank out four reps of bicep curls with the other arm. Switch arms and do the same thing on the other side. And then repeat this entire sequence. (Incidentally, I'm not a big fan of Static Arm Curls, but only because I'm a weakling and suck at this move.)

Flip-Grip Twist Triceps Kickbacks: 

Lean forward at the waist and do a regular Two-Arm Triceps Kickback (just like in the first circuit), but then change your wrist position from pronated (palms down) to supinated (palms up) and kick the weights back again. Repeat.

I used to be embarrassed to admit that I use only a pair of 20-pound dumbbells on this move until I noticed that Joe Bovino does, too.

Rinse and repeat.

Fourth Superset:

Seated Two-Angle Shoulder Flies: From a seated position, do a standard wide shoulder fly, and then bend slightly forward from the waist before doing another fly. Keep going.

Crouching Cohen Curls: Grab a pair of dumbbells and get in a low crouch, placing your elbows just below and on the inside part of your knees. Straighten your arms and start curling. Try not to poop your pants.

Lying-Down Triceps Extensions: Lay down on the floor or on a bench, with dumbbells in each hand. Keep your upper arms vertical while lowering your forearms towards the sides of your head. Press the weights up, keeping your upper arms and elbows stationary. Try not to drop the dumbbells on your face.

Repeat the Fourth Superset.

Fifth (Bonus) Superset:

In & Out Straight-Arm Shoulder Flies: Alternate front and side shoulder flies. Marvel at the fact that the sweat pattern on Tony's wifebeater resembles the zigzag on Charlie Brown's shirt.

Congdon Curls: Tony obviously likes to name exercises after his buddies. (See, e.g., Mason Twists, Fifer Scissors, Dreya Rolls, etc.) But isn't it the ultimate kiss-ass move to name a bicep move after your boss?

But I digress. Congdon Curls are like mullets: Business in the front, party in the back. (Or put another way, regular curls on the way up, and hammer curls on the way down.)

Side Tri-Rises: Lie down on your side and lift your upper body off the ground by pushing off with one arm. Keep doing this to exhaustion, and then switch to the other side.

Repeat that sequence, and you're done!

The Shoulders & Arms workout is certainly no walk in the park, but it's a lot easier than Chest & Back or Plyo. (Even the P90X Fitness Guide acknowledges that Shoulders & Arms "might prove slightly less of a struggle.") If (like me) you're already used to going to the gym and cranking out a bunch of bicep and tricep moves, your socks are safe. They will not be blown off by Shoulders & Arms.

Depending on your particular fitness goals, Shoulders & Arms may be awesome or just okay. This workout is chock-full of isolation exercises that target just one muscle or muscle group at a time, so if you're already fit, trim, and looking to become a super-ripped bodybuilder, Shoulders & Arms may help you develop visually-separated, symmetrical muscles. But if your goal is to build mass and functional strength in the least amount of time, you'll probably want to focus on workouts featuring compound exercises (like Chest & Back). By recruiting more motor units per exercise, compound moves more efficient at boosting strength, torching calories and building muscle than isolation moves. They work larger groups of muscles at the same time, giving you more bang for your buck. (P90X Chest & Back is a perfect example of compound exercise workout.)

Personally, I always look forward to Shoulders & Arms -- but mostly because it's a welcome respite from the full-body beat-downs I receive from the other P90X workouts.

One last thing: Why is Daniel Haas wearing enormous combat boots?