P90X workout and diet program is not for everyone

Tony Horton, creator of the P90X workout video, works out with his fans at the intercontinental Hotel in Addison, Texas, in 2010.
Tony Horton, creator of the P90X workout video, works out with his fans at the intercontinental Hotel in Addison, Texas, in 2010. MCT

Fast food and beer had been gooifying my midsection. Ample man boobs were beginning to bulge. What muscle tone I’d manage to retain from workouts in ages past was dissolving.

My 40th birthday was in about six months, and all I could see ahead of me was more chins.

That’s when I fell in with Tony Horton. Lots of guys my age fall for the LA-based fitness baron, who at 55 looks as though he spends his weekends karate chopping pillars of granite into sculpture.

Horton is the face of P90X, a workout and diet program that promises to turn you from flabby to fabulous without expensive weight sets, treadmills or surgery. All in 90 days.

Ordinarily, I’d pay little attention to programs like P90X. I was never swayed by fad workouts.

But P90X was different. This one was for real, I was told. And not by just by the testimonials of models posing and flexing by swimming pools in the ads. By people I knew.

Chances are you’ll find at least one of your friends waxing endlessly about going through P90X.

So when a buddy agreed to loan me his DVDs, I gave P90X a try. I promised myself I’d stick to it like religion. At worst, I’d be working out. But I remained hopeful that in 90 days I’d be grating cheese – with my abs.

At first blush, Horton was annoying with his nonstop strings of catch phrases: “Do your best and forget the rest!” he says, balancing on one leg while holding a platter full of kittens on his finger tips. “Just keep pressing play. You’ve got to BRING IT.”

Surprise, it worked!

But God help me, after a couple weeks I warmed to it. Horton actually offered useful tips. And it really was a good workout. Routines I’d tried in the past all became drudgery – repetitions of the same exercise again and again. P90X is effective because it relies on “muscle confusion,” Horton says. Faced with repeating the same activity over and over, the human body adapts and becomes accustomed to an exercise, so your results tend to plateau after a few weeks.

Horton and group of smiling, spandex-clad lackeys throw a variety of activities at you. Over the course of a typical week, you do push-ups, pull-ups, ab exercises, plyometric (jump training) moves, yoga and fake karate, where you kick, throw punches, etc.

Each workout lasts anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half, and by the end you’re a sweaty pile of soreness.

And it worked! Pounds began to disappear, my waistline shrank, man boobs began to retreat and arm muscles started to swell. I still couldn’t shred cheese with my abs, but I felt better than I had in months.

And then my feet swelled to the size of toaster ovens.

Are you ready? warns “when the P90X guidelines are not followed correctly, the workout can quickly become dangerous.” It lists muscle, joint, tendon and ligament injuries, along with cardiovascular dangers as potential perils.

For its part, P90X seems to take the danger of its routines seriously. Each DVD includes a lengthy warning at the outset, instructing viewers to consult a doctor before starting any new workout. If you pay attention to Horton’s goofy talk during the workout, he offers sage advice on form designed to prevent injury.

Also, Horton admits P90X isn’t for everyone. Unless you can do the right number of pull-ups, push-ups and such, you’re supposed to start with another kind of workout before attempting P90X. (Of course, you don’t learn about this until you watch the DVDs. If you don’t know about the fitness test before paying $150 for the set, and you don’t meet their standards, the suggestion is to buy another set of DVDs.)

Of course, I didn’t pay attention. I didn’t need the remedial class. I was going to be Super Bill, so what was the use of starting out at Jimmy Olsen level? I was no stranger to exercise. Once, during the Reagan administration, I jogged. I lifted weights once shortly after weights had been invented. Certainly I could handle a box of DVDs.

“You’re doing too much,” my body said during the first week. My chest ached while I brushed my teeth, my legs seemed likely to fall off as I climbed stairs.

Participants are also supposed to adhere to a stringent diet that cuts out carbohydrates and dairy and boosts protein. The cost of following the P90X diet blew my budget, so I decided to create my own diet to mimic the P90X goals. So now I was a nutritionist. Made sense. I was a C student in high school health class.

That’s the real danger of workout-at-home videos, which have been tried-and-true staples for fitness addicts since at least Jane Fonda. You have no real supervision. You are your own guide, and if you’re like me, you’re bound to get lost in the wilderness.

So as I sat propping my two toaster-sized feet over the weekend, it occurred to me that maybe I was missing the important aspects of Super Bill. Super Bill should be fit, sure, but more importantly, shouldn’t he be a Super Boyfriend? A Super Brother? A Super Employee?

Maybe I didn’t need to do 300 push-ups a day. Maybe just a walk.

After the swelling goes down.