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. I love that your advice is moderate and not making one extreme or another seem more amazing than another!! I also love that you don’t sell supplements (like Mercola or Adams). I agree that any exercise is better than nothing, but I also know people that over exercise (mostly cross-fit people), and they can’t understand why they feel like crap after a 1 hour work out 6 days per week!! lots of adrenal gland issues happening and likely the same people that are avoiding starches.

    I am a prof at a small college in Ontario and I often reference your posts!! I love to think about all the little details….your posts are in line with what I teach and I love reading your ideas! I posted my FB page above, click on it if you are interested in all the non-mainstream ideas…I post about diet and general health and GMOs that completely contradict everything that kids learn in school, because it is all wrong!, ha,

    My posts are not in as much detail about exercise as yours …..I talk a lot about food and physiology :)

    I really appreciate your posts about exercise even though I don’t click “like” every day, I read them and I think you are spot on!!

    Wendi wrote on November 7th, 2012
  2. I am 50+ and have been Crossfitting for the past 4 years. Injuries… yes, but not from my Crossfit workouts (injured from skate boarding with my 7 and 8 year old boys).
    The beauty about Crossfit is the scaling. If you don’t scale to your strength, endurance, and ability, you are not applying Crossfit correctly. My competition days are behind me. I am not trying to build massive muscle mass, or beat any strength or endurance records. I am into sustaining optimum health to enjoy the next 50 years with vigor, adventure and pure enjoyment.
    With that said, I find your BPF philosophy directly aligned with proper Crossfit application. Looking forward to your finished product. Cheers.

    Duane wrote on January 4th, 2013
  3. Just started primal eating January 1 and have lost 9 lb and approx 5% body fat in the 3 weeks so far. Loving the lifestyle and have found it really easy to follow. I am also doing p90x for 90 days to really get myself back to an acceptable level of fitness.

    My question is if following p90x and eating primal, should I skip the recovery drink? That 40 g of carbs is half of what you recommend for fat loss. I’m afraid that the recovery drink will cause me to go over 80g and maybe even 100g. Thanks for your time Mark and I look forward to hearing from you.

    Brandon

    Brandon wrote on January 17th, 2013
  4. Personally i am doing Crossfit Football now for about a year, this 5 days a week with 4 days strength work and after that regulary sprints as dwod or some auxilary work for time. Its more strength biased but you still stay fit. I preffer this to regular Crossfit as it has less elements that might lead to injury. Almost no kipping pull ups, no high reps box jumps, no sumo deadlift high puls etc.

    Jack wrote on May 2nd, 2013
  5. I have done p90x for over 4 years straight now with amazing results. I gained 50lbs of muscle and never lift over 35lbs. I have done the 6 day a week workouts every week for over 4 years. I have done p90x2 and I will also throw some insanity and p90x plus workouts in there just to mix it up. But after 4.5 years I have finally became stagnet with the workouts. I’ve been looking for something new to add to the mix.

    Moore33 wrote on June 14th, 2013
  6. My girlfriend’s massage therapist advised her against CrossFit because of the injury factor. This article addresses that problem perfectly. Thanks for being a resource that helps battle the conventional wisdom to which so many are still, unfortunately, enslaved.

    Rich Proctor wrote on August 4th, 2013
  7. I am 67 next month and have been crossfitting for 4 years. I was an athlete all my life, made a career as a U.S. Marine, and played competitive soccer until I was 45. I workout with a group of folks who are 20 – 40 years younger than me and, it’s true that there is a certain spoken and unspoken competitiveness from all. Too much resting and bad form are looked down upon equally. At my age, I really don’t care about beating anybody. I finish the workouts gasping appropriately, usually within 1 – 5 minutes of the leaders. I probably workout 4 days a week. I have strengths and weaknesses. The important thing I have found is that my weaknesses have improved and I am less injury prone because of it. I’ve become stronger though mobility is a challenge with some overhead exercises. In a 30 minute workout of, say, three rounds I am with the leaders during the first round. It’s after that I start slowing because of wind. If I get grief from anybody I play the age card. PB and the concepts in Mark’s Daily Apple have helped orient me in a holistic way that has a lot of appeal now that age demands more to accomplish the same thing that I did with much less effort when younger. I feel great and now know that these bodies of our can do nearly everything at a later age than most everyone supposes. I don’t know when that changes but I will continue to do this because life is so much more fun when you are fit. This video is 2 years old. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ap8KLb0pvBk

    Randy Webb wrote on August 10th, 2013
  8. I have been CF’ing since February, although I have been following PB for a lot longer than that. I started with PB fitness and progressed to a personal trainer along with running and yoga before I decided to try CF. The first time I tried it I was completely hooked and haven’t looked back since.

    Since I am in my 40’s it does take me longer to recover; I have also found that I typically can’t sustain the intensity or energy needed to do 3 days in a row… the only time I do is if I know I will be taking 2 or 3 days off afterwards. Otherwise I usually do 2 on 1 off, which seems to work really well for me.

    One needs to shop carefully for the CF gym they decide to join; while we chose one that was close to our house, it also happens to be one that has many qualified trainers and coaches whose knowledge goes far beyond the CF Level 1 training. This means that they encourage scaling, modifications, proper form and reduced intensity and in doing so, are promoting longevity in their members.

    Merry wrote on September 25th, 2013
  9. didn’t read all the previous comments, so forgive me if i’m repeating what’s already been said. but just because your crossfit box has a workout *available* every day doesn’t mean a given athlete is going in every day. from what i’ve read on the crossfit journal, and in how i practice it, and how the coaches at my box recommend, you do it a few days a week, NOT every day. yes, it’s always there, but that’s more to accommodate a wide variety of people’s varying schedules than because any one person is expected to do it every day. also, depending on the person, and how fit they are, the workouts will be exceptionally intense to a newer crossfitter like myself, but less so to a seasoned crossfitter. therefore, as someone becomes more fit, they are less susceptible to overtraining even if they go a little more frequently than my 3x/wk (M/W/F) schedule.

    one last point i should make is that, at its ideal core, crossfit is SUPPOSED to be an all-ages, all-abilities, fully scalable workout. in fact, there are plenty of articles and whatnot on the crossfit journal describing how you’re getting it wrong if you don’t properly scale workouts to your abilities. they give lots of specific examples and guidelines about when to substitute in lighter weight or lower intensity or simplified movements, and what proficiencies should be in place before attempting to learn certain other things. i have a feeling that maybe some crossfit boxes don’t heed all these guidelines, thus people are getting the impression of crossfit as something other than what it’s intended to be. but i can’t for certain comment on that, as i’ve only belonged to one box, and they seem to be sticking to the guidelines for scalability and safety, and we have lots of people from very young kids to the grandparents working out, and it’s awesome (and inspiring)! 😀 (although, admittedly, most people are in the 20s through 50s demographic.)

    jamie wrote on October 23rd, 2013
  10. For your Primal Fitness, may I recommend the 5 exercise (in a gym) program laid out in Body by Science by John Little and Doug McGuff. I am a 69 year old academic who for a variety of reasons had been unreasonably inactive for the past 15 years. It takes about 20 to 30 minutes at the gym once a week (I do a couple of extra exercises), and have built my strength back up to about where I was at 30. I was obese and am now merely overweight thanks to as close to the PB diet as I can manage with my life at present (commitments to parents who have inflexible eating habits, etc.), and am managing to lose about 2 pounds a month. I will pick up the exercise intensity as the weight comes off–I just moved into a townhome for my retirement that it next to a 3500 acre park, with about 700 feet of elevation gain, etc., so the walks will get a lot more intense. I still work part time–those PowerBall tickets keep letting me down, darn it–but try to consistently have a gym day and a long walk at a challenging pace another day. I have even tried uphill sprints on a portion of the walk back to the house. This winter, I may do a round on the ellipticals once a week in the evening–busy at the gym then though.

    Anyway, I am interested in additional exercise routines to take up and look forward to your PF.

    Steve Maxson wrote on October 7th, 2014
  11. Sounds fine and dandy, except for those of us that have significant physical limitations (both my ankles have had multiple surgeries/fusions). I wish that every blog, regardless of theories, would consider having just a tiny section on alternatives/adaptations that would accommodate the disabled and still allow for the benefits.

    Cathy C wrote on September 24th, 2015
  12. Hi!

    This is EXACTLY what the fitness scene is lacking :)

    A program that is reasonable sized to let you get your regeneration time needed, a program which focusses on durability and is not degrading your body but making it more healthy with a focus on growth and health. I was building this type of program for myself during the last three years, but it is always good to get additional input.

    Thank you so much, I am really looking forward to see your approach!

    Best,

    Gunnar

    Gunnar wrote on September 25th, 2015

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

© 2016 Mark's Daily Apple

Subscribe to the Newsletter and Get a Free Copy
of Mark Sisson's Fitness eBook and more!