Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
5 Mar

P90X and CrossFit

Nearly every day I get emails from readers about P90X and CrossFit. Most are favorable, some not so much, but mostly, people just want to know if these fitness programs fit within the context of the Primal Blueprint Fitness methodology. In this article I’ll explore what’s great about P90X and CrossFit, and then I’ll voice my nit-picky criticisms and explain how I think both can be improved upon.

It’s often said that any movement is better than no movement, that simply getting up and being active is better than sitting on the couch and stewing with guilt and self-reproach. For the most part, I agree with this assessment. It’s imperative that everyone be active, even if it’s just taking nightly walks or using the treadmill at the gym. But “just any old movement” isn’t ideal. Ideally, we should be performing movements that support, enable, and enhance quality of life. Our exercises should make us stronger, faster, and more capable of accomplishing just about any physical feat the world throws at us. They should be enjoyable (pleasure-giving), brief (without sacrificing effectiveness), sustainable (lifelong), immediately accessible (to young, old, and untrained), and infinitely scalable (from beginners to elites). A fitness program, then, should meet these benchmarks.

Do P90x and CrossFit qualify as good fitness programs?

Absolutely, yes; they’re better than 95% of the other stuff out there. They both include high-intensity interval training, full body resistance work, endurance development, and mobility. They’re very clearly laid out for trainees who need structure to make progress. Buy the DVDs and you get the full P90X package; log onto CrossFit every day and you get access to the daily workouts free of charge. Tony Horton (of P90X) is one of my best friends, and I’m the guy who showed him the beauty of interval workouts. I also designed the P90X recovery drink, which, I’m told, is more addictive than crack (too sweet for me). The PB eating plan works perfectly with CrossFit, which is probably why we have so many supporters from that camp. All in all, there is definite kinship between the PB and the other two programs. There are many mutually shared interests, directions, and focuses. There’s a lot of crossover. Both programs get people up and moving – and amidst our culture of sedentarism and sloth, I can’t get upset with that.

P90X promises a beach-ready body: defined upper body, ripped abdominals, reduced body fat. For many people, it delivers on each. If you’re interested in building muscular endurance (not necessarily raw strength), or if you’re a former athlete with a good amount of muscle underneath a couple years’ worth of flab, P90X might be right for you. If you want an ass-kicking workout that leaves you panting and heaving and sore all over the next day, P90X will provide it. You’ll certainly be able to do more push-ups and pull-ups by the end of it.

CrossFit promises to forge hybrid gymnasts, powerlifters, and runners – all around athletes who can perform Olympic lifts, complex gymnastic moves, then get up and run a 10k (and make a respectable finish). CrossFit generally doesn’t produce elite, specified athletes, but it produces guys and girls who are stronger, faster, and more powerful than almost everyone else. Some people think that’s a criticism of CrossFit, while I think it’s one of its strengths.

As I noted above, I get a ton of reader emails about both CrossFit and P90X; in the Primal world, they’re probably the two most popular programs out there. Some people are pleased with their results. They get stronger, fitter, healthier, and better-looking by following them. But others aren’t so happy. These other readers talk about being burnt out, overworked, overtrained, or even injured. As much as I admire both programs and their creators, I think both could be improved upon.

Now, is it the program, or is it the user? Who do we blame?

As usual, there’s a little from column A, a little from column B. Assigning the totality of blame to either CrossFit/P90X or the trainee is silly. Acknowledging both the limitations of the programs and of the users is the far better option. CrossFit isn’t a perfect fit for every possible trainee, nor is P90X guaranteed to work for absolutely everyone who tries it – and that’s totally fine. But it also means that neither CrossFit nor P90X are ideal paths to fitness. In my book, remember, a fitness program should be lifelong and accessible to everyone. (Note that accessible doesn’t mean one size fits all.)

It’s commonplace for online discussions of fitness to descend into screaming matches laced with profanity and hyperbole, buttressed by rigid ideological stances that refuse to budge. This won’t be that.

You’ve heard why I like CrossFit and P90X – and I do like them, believe me – but this is where we diverge:

Sustainability

A program you can’t keep doing is hardly a program worth doing. Fitness should be a lifelong endeavor. It’s not just for the young bucks with limber limbs and supple, indestructible ligaments. It’s for the oldsters, the washed up athletes, the wide-eyed beginners, the moms, the dads. As it’s actually practiced, I think P90X is probably too much to do as a lifelong program. It isn’t even advertised as such, to Tony’s credit; it’s billed as a crash program designed to get you lean in 90 days (which it does well). To anyone currently doing P90X – do you expect to be repeating the cycles into your twilight years? Over an hour a day, six days a week? I just don’t think I’d have the stomach for that for very long.

Overtraining

I harp on the overtraining issue all the time. Next to inadequate or nonexistent training, overtraining is the biggest issue plaguing most trainees. If you don’t give your body enough downtime to recuperate, you’ll find it very difficult to get stronger/faster/quicker/more powerful. You may see some improvement over doing nothing at all, but you could just as easily undo any progress. Both CrossFit and P90X prescribe near daily high intensity training. Certain individuals relish the workload and even thrive on it. Some people can bounce back from a day’s workout and be ready to demolish their body all over again the next day. I think the 3 on, 1 off CrossFit schedule and the 6-days-a-week P90X schedule have their place in a training regimen, but they can easily lead to overtraining – especially if you go 100%. Intensity is important in training, but I worry that six days a week of over an hour of daily high intensity training will venture into diminishing returns territory for many trainees.

Injury avoidance

I hate injuries. I hate downtime. I work out in order to fuel the fun stuff – the Ultimate Frisbee, the hikes, the paddleboarding. As such, if my fitness efforts result in an injury that prevents me from playing, those fitness efforts are counterproductive. I love CrossFit, but people do get injured. Either they don’t have their forms locked in, or they’re going too hard for too long, but injuries do occur. CrossFitters will plainly admit that there is an inherent danger to going all out, day in and day out, and that’s actually part of the appeal. But at my age, I’m not interested in pushing my limits. Judging from plenty of reader emails, there are other people that feel the same way. If you’re a relative newbie and decide to do CrossFit, don’t just launch into the complex Olympic lifts, especially at high reps. I’ve seen overeager beginners do this, and they often mess themselves up.

The Need for Glycogen Replacement

Because my business background is in supplement design, I was brought on the P90X team (7+ years ago) to create a recovery drink that fit their demographic and the recovery requirements to allow someone to go hard nearly every day for 90 days. Simply put, if you’re doing P90X as prescribed, your body is going to need to replenish depleted glycogen. I am no longer associated with the company that markets P90X (although my likeness is shown on all the in-home products talking about replenishing glycogen) and, of course, my own ideas about how much we ought to be working out are different from P90X. If you work according to the PB, you don’t need to replenish glycogen with post-workout feedings of sugar. And you shouldn’t.

So, what makes my upcoming Primal Blueprint Fitness program better?

I suppose the honest answer is that we’ll have to wait and see. I announced my plans to launch Primal Blueprint Fitness later this year just this Wednesday. It won’t be until the program is in the hands of users and they’ve had a chance to incorporate it into their lifestyle that we’ll be able to make a fair assessment. That said, PBF is being designed to be a comprehensive, full-body fitness program that focuses on brevity without skimping on intensity. Primal Blueprint Fitness is CrossFit for the rest of us; it’s P90X without the massive time commitment. It’s about getting the best results with the least amount of input. See, I’m interested in helping as many people as I can, so I’ve designed it with everyone in mind. I’m sick of watching people hobble around with canes or old injuries. I want to see seniors bounding up stairs. I want to see people get six packs without actively trying to. More than anything, I want people to get stronger, fitter, and healthier. The athletes can scale things up and increase weights or reps, while the less advanced can just use bodyweight, but everyone will be doing the same movements that our bodies are designed to perform. Best of all, you’ll be able to follow this program for life, under any circumstance fortune throws at you. You get injured? There are workarounds. Growing older? You can simply scale things down. Out of town and away from equipment? Use your bodyweight. Beginners can instantly jump in. You get plenty of rest, coupled with plenty of intensity, for the best results with no overtraining. You get plenty of instruction on the more complex movements, to avoid injury. And, of course, it’s designed specifically with the PB eating plan in mind.

While you await the release of PBF follow the Primal Blueprint Fitness principles, use the specific workouts listed here on MDA as a guide, and if you’re looking to make your P90X and CrossFit workouts more Primal break things up with more rest, more play, and more low-level aerobic activity.

I greatly admire CrossFit and P90X, and they’ve produced some excellent athletes. If you’re a CrossFitter or P90Xer and it’s working for you, keep at it! I just think that a lot of people could benefit from a slightly different approach – a fitness program geared toward sustainability, functionality, and overall health. Fitness based on Primal movements, on the precise activities that comprised Grok’s day-to-day existence, distilled down to maximize effectiveness and minimize time commitment. Stay tuned!

Let me know what you think. What are your experiences with P90X and CrossFit? Are you ready to give Primal Blueprint Fitness a try? Thanks for reading and Grok on!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Agree re P90x – extremely hard to sustain over long periods – I like to do the lifting, plyo, and yoga videos and take like every other day “off” for a bike ride or a hill climb…

    Denis wrote on June 17th, 2010
  2. For my training I want the most effective (guess I’m not alone here)

    p90x wrote on August 1st, 2010
  3. great stuff on here…I’m really enjoying the positivity this site has. I have done, and loved, P90X, but agree it is tough. I’ve modified it like so many on here and have included everything from snowboarding to rock climbing for my off days (off being either either yoga, plyo..though I enjoy the plyo, or kenpo). I’m going incorporate the heavier weight, 5 rep sets and abbreviate the workouts and slow down the movements…sort of PB meets P90X meets Super Slow and see what happens.

    I still have too much sugar and carb in my diet, but it’s going to be nearly impossible for me to convince my wife to get rid of it. She knows it’s evil, but probably won’t budge on it. We’re in pretty good shape, so I suppose it isn’t the worst to cheat a little.

    Daniel wrote on August 12th, 2010
  4. Great write up. It’s a bit surprising there aren’t more balanced articles on this topic out there. I actually did a quick comparison of the two based on their popularity in Google: http://www.functhat.com/2010/08/crossfit-vs-p90x-according-to-google/

    Keep up the good work!

    Phil wrote on August 17th, 2010
  5. That’s because most people are afraid to do CrossFit!!

    Craig wrote on August 18th, 2010
  6. Hello, I completed p90x and followed it strictly about 2 mounths ago and after I joined my local crossfit gym. Heres what I found in myself, P90x is awsome it toned me up gave me muscles I didnt even know I had and gave me great flexability I felt and still feel awsome. So I went in to crossfit with the idea that I was up to par to do this kind of workout….. wrong! crossfit kicked my butt it was like starting all over from scratch again, now mind you I had no down time between the two programs and I was sore every where. To me p9ox lacks the cardio, endurance, and definitely lacks the lower back workouts wich is verry important to have! I still love them bolth but when it comes down to whats hard and whats easy crossfit is definitely much much harder then P90x. Then I look at it this way too crossfit some times lacks the consistancey of developing the certin body areas on a regular basis and I have noticed I have lost alot of my push up strength and pullup strength I had built up from P90X but at the same time my cardio has gone through the roof and my lower back is getting stronger now too… hehe To me I love them bolth and have a hard time choosing wich one to do, so I have devised I new hybrid workout that will be combining the 2 together and I’m going to see if I can regain that strength I feel I lost and at the same time keep my cardio and endurance up also wish me luck and I have worked in plenty of recovery time wich I feel I would need alot of! Thanks for reading!

    Adam wrote on August 19th, 2010
    • I think what people forget is that starting any new program often makes the previous program feel less difficult. This is often a result of getting used to a new program rather than the inferiority of the previous program. My suggestion to many P90Xers who want to step it up: move through the exercises with more explosiveness and with less rest. I did the legs and back w/o yesterday in about half the time the video takes. I didn’t rush through it, I was controlled, but I left out two of the exercises that I don’t find particularly helpful and I was much more explosive in the movements. Just a thought.

      Dan wrote on September 26th, 2010
  7. P90X really is a great workout system. I have a few friends that have tried it and they all said it produced amazing results. I’m starting the program right after Thanksgiving!

    Cool Springs Galleria wrote on September 27th, 2010
  8. The 1st four months I was with crossfit I had 4 different injuries. I am even now recovering from a knee and foot injury. Now I don’t entirely blame crossfit as part of the problem was my being over zealous without being properly trained. Last week I went to a crossfit in Denver whose apporach was totally different from the Crossfit i attended. They were entirely focused on training you to your level of ability rather than pressuring you (though subtle) to complete the Rx. I learned more there in two seperate WODs than I had the entire time at the Crossfit I am attending now. My point is that you must be comitted to proper and safe coaching if you operate a crsossfit affiliate as you are ultimately responsible for each of your member’s health. If you’re not willing to face and dedicate yourself to proper coaching and training then you shouldn’t be in business.

    Vic Salazar wrote on November 28th, 2010
  9. Does Greg Glassman even workout???

    Doey wrote on January 24th, 2011
    • LOL I think that Greg Glassman looks like hell. I don’t think that he does the Crossfit workouts but I don’t believe he claims to either. But I do think that Crossfit is a great program regardless of whether or not Glassman actually does his own workouts.

      Laura wrote on January 24th, 2011
  10. No, Glassman doesn’t workout and yes, he looks like hell. Crossfit is a good program for a while but, your body will eventually break down in the long run. “Everything works, nothing works forever.”

    Steven wrote on January 25th, 2011
  11. I have no doubt that both P90x and CrossFit can help you drop pounds and get in shape quickly, but I have to agree with Mark in that these programs are not sustainable for the vast majority of people.

    In that respect, they become “fad workouts”, giving good results in the short term, but once the workout is abandoned (like most “fad diets” are), the results evaporate and the individual is back at square one.

    Sure, some people will be able to do these workouts for years, but they represent a very small percentage of the population.

    Just as when you choose an eating style, pick a workout program that you can continue for the rest of your life!

    Rob wrote on March 6th, 2011
  12. I just wanted to offer up another CrossFitter’s view on this post specifically to 2 things. First, rarely do CrossFit WODs last an hour. If you are a member of a CrossFit gym, then you know what I’m talking about. The first half of your workout will be a light warm up and then a strength exercise – lifts. Generally your high intensity workout is around 15-30 minutes of that hour. So you won’t be spending 6 hours of high intensity work a week. More like 2-3. Second, beginners should never try to exceed logical weight starts on lifts. More than a 10lb increase in a week is generally too much. My gym monitors closely what kind of weight we do on a regular basis.

    Lynsay wrote on March 11th, 2011
  13. I recently found some interesting differences between the two on Google Trends. I wrote a blog entry about it: http://thepinchpoint.com/?p=144
    It highlights the sustainability issue.

    Blaj wrote on April 1st, 2011
  14. I love that you brought up active beats inactive in almost all cases.

    What people need to do is become more rounded. I’ve trained bodybuilding, powerlifting, track, football, basketball, crossfit, mma, yoga and triathlon.

    If i dont feel like going all out crossfit, i may revert back to some bodybuilding things i have learned, or i may plain just go heavy in the weight room. i may take the day off and just do yoga, or run, or play a sport??(like he said thats why we work out…)

    What im getting at is that if more people knew more about multiple styles of training, they wouldnt need to complain about getting burnt out, being too old, being too fat. learn to scale. learn to listen to your body, and have the knowledge to supply it. if it wants a light day give it a light day. the problem is most people need someone to set up their light day for them. they dont know what to do “instead”.

    spencerbrett wrote on August 22nd, 2011
  15. I’m so glad I found this site. I’m in week 7 of P90X and was curious what to do when it’s over. I was considering CrossFit, but it’s very, very expensive to join. I’m all set with P90X and I don’t have to go anywhere. I like some of the suggestions for a modified P90X workout. I was concerned that it’s not sustainable as a lifestyle. But, 3 or 4 days a week is easily doable. I heard that Tony is releasing a modified P90X program that is only 5 days a week. That might be something to check out.

    Jerry Frazier wrote on October 24th, 2011
  16. My training has never been about losing weight as I’ve always been quite an active person. I’ve run 5 marathons and next is up in Stockholm next summer. I also play soccer and have been going to gym before 2009 for several years. When I stumbled up to P90X in a TV commercial in late 2009 I immediately got interested. I did some googling and felt that it couldn’t be a miracle program/diet and decided to give it a try. Many of the programs out there are all about losing weight. That aspect is also advertised a lot with P90X, but once I started doing it I realized that it really is more a full-fledged improve-your-fitness program. It’s based on hard work and promises nothing more than result if you commit!
    I followed the program through quite strictly and only missed a few workouts on the 90 days (or a bit longer in my case). On some days when I just didn’t have the time I shifted workouts for next day to have a morning and evening workout. Something though made it easier for me. I had two vacations (ie Christmas) in the middle so I got two total weeks off. But that way I was able to push play the rest of the time day after day. Results were that my weight didn’t change a bit, my fat percentage dropped by half a percent, but I felt great! Certainly I was able to do more pull-ups, push-ups and sit-ups. Although my cardio side got a bit worse.
    Later on I have been doing the exercises randomly not following the program for two years now. And now when I started my second round I noticed that I still do better than when starting my initial round. So if you don’t do the exact program all the time the workouts make great supplementary for any other training.
    This time around I plan to do the doubles but doing mostly other sports as the double training like swimming, badminton or something alike. But it is true that the P90X requires you to be fit and committed for the 90 days. And that has been hard for me too. I started the second round already last year, but I got injured playing soccer and that round ended at that point. I also can’t see this as a training regimen for marathons. There is too little room for running and it’s impossible to put weekly long run of over two hours in there and follow the program. So for me the P90X as a 90 day routine is a wintertime program only. When it’s cold and dark outside and the “summer activities” aren’t there to mess things up 
    What I like about P90X is that it’s a comprehensive program with intense workouts. Also I like yoga which I otherwise wouldn’t do. Stretching is only a plus for all training. The plyometrics gives me some more bounce and is good cardio also. That’s my few cents. CF I haven’t been able to try because I don’t have a suitable workout place for it. P90X makes my living room a bit sweaty though :/

    Lupa wrote on October 25th, 2011
  17. I forgot to write that I also tried Insanity going through it last spring and it was insane. IMHO it was too much anaerobic cardio per week. I was a lot more run out during that program than P90X. I think that P90X is more all round well balanced program. Why I tried it was, that it’s one month shorter and I needed more cardio training for the summer. But it was too much for me. Some good individual exercises there too though!

    Lupa wrote on October 25th, 2011
  18. Here is my take on the debate:

    Giasone wrote on March 13th, 2012
  19. This is an interesting article and I appreciate the insight. I just finished round one of P90X and starting round 2. Right now, there is nothing as good and as tough as P90x for me; I’m VERY much into it and I LIKE that it is extremely tough and a hardcore commitment. I missed my 4:15am wakeup call this morning which means now I have to workout tonight and won’t be done until 11PM AFTER I have handled the kid duties. But, I’m relishing it… it’s crazy.
    I am just learning about CrossFit but reading this artile has piqued my interest for life post-P90x. To be honest, I want to do at least 2 full rounds of P90x (no omissions). I only missed ONE day my first round. I expect the second to be the same. Then I’m looking at exporing Insanity or P90x2 or both. I’m going to be 42 in August and I want to be in the best shape of my life for the rest of my life. I set at a f***ing computer 8 hours a day, I damn well better be doing something productive when I’m not wasting my life away here. I secretly feel bad for my coworkers who aren’t doing anything outside of work and I’m SO GLAD I have taken on the challenge!
    I can see changing up the P90x routine to maybe 5 days (2 days of rest interspersed). Probably cut KenpoX to start. I think PlyoX is killer and extremely important for stamina, sweat, tears :)
    I have bookmarked this page because I’m interested in what you come up with, Thanks!

    Greg wrote on April 17th, 2012
  20. Great article about P90x! I have the DVD set and really like most of the exercises. What I don’t like is spending nearly an hour a day working out. I agree with Mark that this is not what I want to be doing for the next 40 years of my life.

    Every now and then I will put the P90X DVD in my computer and do the hour routine just for fun. Once a week is enough for me.

    I have been using the Primal Blue Print for over 2 years. I try to keep all my workouts simple and fun. I know longer go on long 6 hour runs. My longests runs are an for an hour or 2 once a month. My favorite exercise is the sprints!

    I found the “Sprint 8 Workout” on Mercola.com. I sprint for 30 seconds and rest for 90. Since I have been a long distance runner, it was easy to transition to this. I only do these 1-2 per week as they are super intense. 8 sprints tire me out.

    I used to feel guilty taking days off for rest. Now, I can take an entire week off and still feel good.

    I never have to worry about weight as I eat Primal. Since going Primal, my weight dropped from 190 back to 180.

    Being 51 and still being in excellent shape is fun. I go for walks with my wife and kids. We hike in the mountains.

    I am so glad that someone told me about the Primal Blue Print. It’s the best!

    mark wrote on October 25th, 2012

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