“Bigger, stronger, faster” is a great slogan, but from a training perspective, you don’t want to try to achieve them at the same time. The P90X training system addresses mass, strength, and speed together. This is fine for most of us, but if your objective is to target only one of these areas, you’ll want to customize the program. This is the first in a series of articles discussing how to customize P90X for different goals.
One of the beautiful things about P90X is its versatility. It can be molded into different things. The program offers you three training options: classic, lean, and doubles. These training schedules target different end goals. If you’ve been to our Message Boards, you’ve also seen us design programs for other objectives like skiing, triathlons, or gaining muscle. This series will teach you how to create your own specific training plan.
To understand how we’ve created P90X you must first have a basic knowledge of how all training programs are created. The principles discussed today will be used no matter what the goal of your program will be. So make sure you save this article, because it’s the basis of everything that will follow. Note that this is the most technical article in this series.
No matter what your goals are, I always recommend a full round of P90X as designed because it builds such a solid foundation. No matter your objective, simultaneously conditioning all of your body’s energy systems improves your capacity for targeted fitness. A quick explanation of why will help you understand all the other principles we’ll discuss later.
“Energy system” is a term for the various physical functions that your body engages in. You’ve heard of these referred to as Vo2/max, anaerobic threshold, and so forth. While understanding them is important, we’ll skip them for now except to note that training them separately reaps larger improvements than training them together. This is true even if you’re training for a sport that uses multiple energy systems at once. However, it’s important that your basic fitness foundation is up to snuff prior to this specialization; otherwise, your fitness level will never reach its potential.
The reason for this is your body’s capacity for improvement. The goal of a foundation phase is to improve each area of the body to a baseline fitness level before embarking on a targeted program. You may not care how your aerobic system functions, but if it’s conditioned properly, it will allow you to train more effectively in your anaerobic system. Failure in building your foundation will lead to one of two things: either you’ll lack the fitness to train to your potential and you’ll plateau quickly, or you’ll create a fitness imbalance that will lead to injury. Therefore, a foundation phase of training should be the base of any fitness program regardless of your overall goals.
In all my years in the fitness industry, I’ve yet to see one program that builds as strong a foundation as P90X. It targets your aerobic and anaerobic systems equally. You work on hypertrophy (muscle growth), power (strength), stabilizer- and core-muscle strength, as well as balance and flexibility. No matter what your end goals are, working off of an X foundation stacks the odds of success in your favor.
Periodizational training came about when we figured out how long your body could continue to make improvements in one realm or another. It’s all based around a progression curve where three things happen. First, you adapt to training (the adaptation phase). Next, you make rapid progress once your body masters the style of training (the growth or mastery phase). Finally, your body no longer makes improvements because it’s too good at the chore you’ve given it, rendering your training too easy. Your progression curve then levels off, which is called a plateau.
There are many different ways to periodize a workout program, which we’ll get into as we start to specify. For now, just know that periodization is vital to get the most out of any program. Whether a foundation program or a specialized program, all physical training follows the above progression curve example.
To keep your body from hitting a plateau, you must overload your system during each workout. Adding weight or intensity over time is referred to as progressive overload. In the simplest sense, each workout should be slightly harder than the last. When you can no longer achieve this, you’ve hit a plateau. Progressive overload is not a phase of training, but it’s essential for each phase to work as planned. It’s something that happens from exercise to exercise and workout to workout.
Following the above progression will eventually lead to a plateau, no matter how precise your training is. When this happens, your fitness will only improve if you let your body recover or, more appropriately, do exercise that promotes recovery.
A recovery phase of exercise generally consists of low-level workouts to help your body rebuild itself. Sometimes, depending on the plan, this can be more intense exercise that is focused on a different energy system (such as P90X’s “recovery week”). Regardless, the phase should continue until the body is rested, at which point a new block of training should start.
Putting it all together
When you design a program, you want to use a periodized approach. Always begin with a foundation phase, during which you can assess your ability to do the program you’ve designed. P90X gets you ready for high-level training, but some of you may still need to get ready for the X. Most of Beachbody’s programs are foundation phases for P90X, especially Power 90. And most of our entry-level programs have an easy phase to build your foundation, like Start It Up! for Slim in 6.
Beyond the foundation, you want to schedule something that is targeted. P90X is trying to improve many energy systems at the same time, so it is structured differently than, say, a program that is designed for you to run 100 meters at your fastest, squat a personal record, or run a marathon. We will get into how you’d structure a program for different purposes, but the point of today is to understand that there should be a targeted structure.
Finally, no matter what your program is, you should design it so that it gets progressively harder and includes recovery periods, and even cycles, so that you avoid hitting a plateau and continually get fitter.
Every workout program you design will touch on each thing we’ve covered today, whether you plan for it or not. Knowing these principles helps you design around the inevitable, resulting in more improvements, shorter plateaus, and fewer injuries. These are your baseline principles for customizing P90X.