P90X phase 1 workouts, reviewed

Looking around the internet, I’ve noticed that very few “review” sites actually drill down into the workouts themselves when discussing P90X. I believe there are two reasons for this: One, most review sites are run by either beach body or beach body affiliates, and the “reviews” are just canned material telling you how great it is. Two, it takes time. There are a bunch of workouts, and to write about each of them would take a while. I  figured someone may as well give it a go.

To recap, P90X is so-named because the entire program takes 90 days, broken down into three 30-day “phases.” Each month is three weeks of intensity followed by a “recovery week,” except for the final phase which is four weeks of intensity all the way through. Here are the workouts for phase one and what I thought of them:

Chest and Back

This might be one of the best, fundamental workouts I’ve ever done. This is a tough workout, and it’s clear that by starting with this one Beach Body is trying to seek you on just how “extreme” the program is. The workout is two rounds of six sets of exercises per body part, so in total you’ll do 12 chest exercises and 12 back. That doesn’t sound like much, but the exercises are mostly pull-ups for the back, and ALL pushups for the chest. There’s no opportunity to reduce the weight to keep going; you just have to settle for fewer reps. Tony’s “tip of the day” in this workout is to pace yourself, and I agree. Just because you might be able to pump out 30 pushups once doesn’t mean you can do it multiple times, and wearing yourself out too early will only make it harder to put in good work later in the workout.

Also, don’t get sucked into trying to keep up with the monsters in the video. That’s a good way to feel really lousy about yourself really fast. Always push for one more rep when you think you’re done, but don’t feel bad if you can’t churn out 20 pull-ups in the last half of the workout.


Murder. Absolute murder. That said, this video is as good an example as any to mention that you shouldn’t be put off by the long runtimes on the videos. Though this one clocks in at over an hour, that time includes the warmup and cool down portions too. In reality, the actual workout probably takes about 45 minutes, which is plenty because it’s awful. You’re essentially hopping, squatting and jumping around for 45 minutes, and even Tony is pretty gassed by the end of it. It’s an excellent cardio workout, but it’s also monotonous – you do (I think) four exercises, and then you repeat. You also do this video on day two in every active week of every phase, and you will get very, very sick of it. I started subbing in “Triometrics” and “Agility” from P90X3 just to keep me sane. Some people also choose to swap in “Insanity” workouts, as well. This workout never gets any easier, either – even as your cardio improves, you’ll find yourself jumping higher and faster to make up for it.

Shoulders and Arms

This is basically the workout you do when you go to the gym but don’t really know what you want to do that day. It’s fine, it’s a boilerplate upper body workout. The moves go shoulders, biceps, triceps in that order, and then get repeated. This is probably the least-sweaty you’ll get during any P90X workout

Yoga X

To be honest I only did this once, because it’s 90 goddamn minutes long. Not only that, but the first 40 or so minutes are the same “sun salutation” over and over and over again. I’m not saying you should skip yoga altogether, but nobody needs to do yoga for an hour and a half every week. I used the yoga video from P90X3 (only 30 min), but you could use literally anything if you feel like you MUST make yoga part of your workout.

Legs and Back

Other than Chest and Back, this might be one of the strongest workouts in the program. Like Plyometrics, it also gets done each week regardless of what phase you’re in. I think what amazes me most about this workout is just how much work you can get done without weights, even in your legs. Some exercises have the option of adding weight, but if you’re lifting for strength I advise adding weight to every exercise and ignoring the rep requirements. Instead of holding little weights and doing 25 squats, for instance, get much larger ones and only do 10-12. You’ll do about twice as much leg work as you do back, with the sequences going “legs, legs, back, break.” I think pull-ups are the only back exercises you’ll do in this one, and some of the variations suck (particularly “corn cob” pull-ups).


This is a joke. It’s basically “Tae Bo,” if anyone remembers that. It’s only meant to be a cardio workout, and it kind of is, but it’s incredibly lame and there’s no reason for it to be an hour long. Do it if you want, but I started subbing in P90X3’s “MMX” workout, which is infinitely superior and only about half as long. Barring that, just go for a run or something.

Ab Ripper X

Can’t forget about this one. You’ll never do this on its own, but rather after the weightlifting workouts (chest/back, shoulders/arms, legs/back). It’s only about 15 minutes long, but it’s a tough 15 minutes. Don’t expect to find garden variety crunches, either – it’s a lot more like a Pilates workout than it is a traditional ab routine. For me, it focuses a little too much on the hip flexors, but I suppose they are part of the “core” and need to be worked too. Three times per week is probably a little much for this, but your abs will definitely get stronger.

Recovery week

After three weeks of brutal workouts, the recovery week is a welcome respite. Even though you shouldn’t be super sore following a workout by this point, you’ll probably be very bored with them by now. The recovery week isn’t supposed to be totally idle – the program has you doing yoga, kenpo and lots of stretching, and they introduce one new workout: Core Synergistics. It’s unlike any of the other workouts, and focuses very much on combination/balance moves. It is, however, very much like the workouts in P90X2, which I’m doing now. To be honest, after the first phase I didn’t do much during the recovery weeks. That probably hurt my results a little, but it was good for my sanity.

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