Category: Advice

I did P90X. Here’s what I think

Tony Horton P90X

 

Note: Because of the ridiculous amount of bullshit, Beach Body-sponsored sites out there that claim to offer “reviews” of their products, that’s about all you’ll get if you run a Google search for “P90X Review.” If you notice an abundance of images, links, and bolded text, that’s me exercising the tiny amount of SEO knowledge I have to hopefully get an actual review to rank.

I began the now-decade-old P90X home workout program sometime in February. Since it’s now sometime in May (because math), that means I’ve completed it. I was inspired to do it not because of slick marketing or outsized promises, but something altogether simpler – I wanted to get back into better shape, and I was getting tired of trying to figure out a routine or regimen. Having someone else tell me what to do seemed a lot easier, in that regard. Plus, I was familiar with it – I’d “acquired” the program several years prior, when I was living in Connecticut with no gym access. I figured a known entity was better than investing a bunch of money (or a couple of hours waiting on the torrent) on something unknown, so I went ahead and said “yep, I’m gonna do this.” I work from home with access to a high-quality (as these things go) apartment gym, so I had no excuse. I’ll say, I’m pretty happy with it – for the most part.

Before I get into the nuts and bolts, let’s first take a moment to consider what P90X “is,” or what it means. When it debuted in 2004, to my knowledge there was nothing so widely publicized on the market that actually worked. Prior to P90X, home workouts were (and continue to be) jokes – Jane Fonda, step aerobics, Richard Simmons et. all, they all gave in-home workout programs a bad name. But P90X, rather than going the tired “lose weight easy!” route, took a novel approach. It said “this program is hard, and in fact we’re going to sell it by playing up its difficulty.” Rather than coaching you along, Tony and the demonstrators actually participated in the workouts and sweat alongside you – the message being “if we can do this, you can too.” After that, things changed. “Bootcamp” workouts became commonplace in globo-gyms, CrossFit caught on, Tough Mudders were created and in general people decided that paying money to have someone else work them until they puked was a swell idea. Whether they actually completed it or not, P90X finally sold the gym-shy a program that genuinely offered them a path to better fitness. In fact (and particularly for folks who patronize places like Planet Fitness, where working out is actively discouraged), P90X may well be a plane above what most people do in the gym.

Those are not insignificant details. Here’s how I feel about the program overall (reviews of individual workouts to come in a later post).

The Pros

First, the obvious – P90X “works.” That is, if you’re looking to get noticeably more fit than you already are, P90X will do that for you. I regret not taking a “before” photo (which the materials recommend), because the “after” would be night and day. I look noticeably fitter all over. I also appreciate the program’s honesty. For instance, they say explicitly that if you don’t follow the diet guidelines (which I didn’t really do), you will certainly be more fit, but you won’t necessarily look it. That’s an obtuse departure from other programs that promise results based on the workouts alone. It’s also pretty upfront about who exactly it’s for – if you’re not already in some kind of shape, you probably won’t get the maximum benefits from P90X. For a man, I’d say that you need to be able to do at least 20 pushups and maybe five pull-ups prior to the program to get much out of it. Otherwise, not only will most of the workouts be superfluous, but you’ll find yourself feeling defeated compared to the animals in the videos.

P90X also goes beyond paying lip service to the concept of “total body fitness.” There isn’t a body part or discipline that gets ignored. Even though there’s technically “no cardio” (although really, the whole program is cardio), your heart and lungs will take a beating. Upper, middle and lower body, it’s all in there. Nothing is overlooked, though some parts are paid more attention than others. Also worth noting are the great pains taken to

Tony Horton P90X Ripped

Tony looks pretty good for 45

really gear the workouts to the gym-shy (though this is also one of its shortcomings). In some cases, you’ll really be amazed at what you can accomplish without gym equipment or even weights. However, if you’re someone looking to get into more traditional weightlifting, I think this is a great foundation. Due to the emphasis on bodyweight and compound movements, you’ll come out better-prepared for exercises like squats, deadlifts and bench presses, and you’ll have the stabilizing strength to do them properly.

In general I look better, I’m stronger (to a degree) and my cardio is better – I couldn’t really be happier with the results (nor could my wife). However…

The Cons

It’s hard to call anything about this program a “con,” but it has its weaknesses. For one thing, there’s really nothing inherently unique about it – sure, you get results, but that’s true of any by-God exercise to which you devote 6+ hours per week. It’s also not something you want to do if you have a very specific “look,” or goal, in mind. If you want a “lean, athletic” look, or humongous muscles, you won’t get that because the program is very total-body focused. You’ll also learn that you can’t fight genetics – as much as I’d like that “Brad Pitt in Fight Club” look, my body’s gonna do what it’s gonna do, which is pack on muscle. Outside of an ultra-specific diet and exercise regimen, I’ll never have a “swimmer’s physique.” That’s fine with me, but don’t go into it hoping to become something you’re not. Tony does preach “8-10 reps for size, 12-15 reps for lean,” which, besides being erroneous advice (if anything, the opposite is true), is rendered moot by the sheer number of reps you’ll end up doing per muscle group. Also, don’t buy into the “muscle confusion” hype in the marketing collateral. Most experts say it takes at least 10 weeks before your body has exhausted its options for neurological improvement and the recruitment of other muscle groups to assist with an exercise and resorts to building muscle; the entire program lasts a total of 12 weeks. I mean, I definitely packed on substantial muscle mass, but I’m also a fast gainer.

Maybe most crucially, don’t do this program if you expect to gain a lot of by-God strength – it’s just not designed for it. Though mass and strength are to a degree inextricable, P90X definitely leans towards the former. It’s in essence circuit training, albeit an incredibly effective variety. As I mentioned, there’s no getting around doing a huge number of reps per muscle group, and due to the home-friendly (more on that in a bit) nature of the program, there isn’t a lot of room to modify things into the high-weight, low-rep range. Chest is probably the most notable offender: For whatever reason, the only dedicated chest work comes in the form of pushups, which are limited to your bodyweight unless you add a weighted vest or something. Obviously your reps will increase over time, but that’s a formula for size, not so much strength. Again, they’re not mutually exclusive (I can now stack the bullshit Nautilus chest machine in my gym with zero effort), but if you can bench 300+ now, don’t expect this to help much. If anything, you might lose a little on your max.

While it may well be the most honestly effective in-home workout program, you’re still going to have to make sacrifices in terms of money and space. In selling the program, they claim you only need a pull-up bar and some dumbbells (or bands). That’s technically true and sounds good, but consider the pull-up bar. Most people aren’t going to set up a dedicated rack with a bar on it, so that means buying one of those doorframe models. That’s ok, but how many people have a strong doorjamb that also faces the TV? Not many. Regarding the weights, saying you need “some dumbbells” is a little disingenuous. I’m fortunate enough to be able to workout in the middle of the day when my apartment gym is empty, and I

P90X transformation results

This is comically unlikely to happen to you

honestly need the entire suite of weights, from 10 lbs to 60 lbs (and I could even use more, if they had it). Most men will, and getting that wide of a range of weight in your home is an incredibly expensive endeavor, even if you buy those adjustable dumbbells. Each and every video has someone showing you how to use resistance bands for each exercise, but I can’t help but doubt how effective those actually are (especially for men). Doing lat pulldowns on a band is no substitute for pull-ups, no matter how you slice it.

Finally, the program is outright exhausting, and I don’t mean the workouts themselves (though they are). While they sort of nod in the direction of variance, there are only so many workouts in the program, all of them ball-bustingly hard. While things change a lot from phase one to phase two, you’re always required to do “Plyo,” “Legs and Back,” “Yoga X,” “Ab Ripper X” and “Kenpo X” weekly for all 10 “active” weeks. Yoga is too long (but tolerable), and Kenpo X is useless but benign, but Plyo, Ab Ripper and Legs and Back are fucking murder. Combined, they’re the only ways you work your legs and abs, and it’s easy to get really, really sick of them. I “acquired” the new P90X3 program for my wife, and it was a Godsend. I was able to sub in workouts for Plyo, Ab Ripper, Yoga and Kenpo, leaving Legs and Back as the only repeating one. If you didn’t do that, though, I could see it being really hard to stick with the program. It’s such a problem that if you go to Beach Body’s website, they have schedules for using “Insanity” as substitutes for the P90X cardio routines. I also take issue with some of the individual workouts’ makeup – it doesn’t make sense to me, for instance, to work chest, shoulders and triceps in one sitting (I can work triceps without my chest, but not vice versa).

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So that’s kind of my overview of the program. To be sure, don’t take the “cons” as reasons not to do P90X, unless you have very specific goals. It’s fantastic, and offers a genuine path to better fitness without the hassle of a gym contract. In the next entries, I’ll get into the specific workouts themselves so you can get a better sense of what you’re in for.

Wells Fargo wants to know why I won’t use their bill pay service

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 4.49.59 PMHere’s how I read that email:

“We see that you’re not using Bill Pay, a feature that millions of our customers use but you do not. We’d like to know just who the fuck you think you are, what makes you so special, and what gives you the right to not use Bill Pay. Please select one of the following as your primary reason for not using this great, free service that makes it nigh-impossible to leave our bank, and then we’ll respond with an email detailing why your selection makes you a sissy fag and isn’t really a reason at all, because Bill Pay.

Kindest Bill Pay Regards Bill Pay Bill Pay,

Bill Pay”

For those who don’t know, online bill pay is what banks refer to as a “sticky product,” along with things like online banking, your debit card, direct deposit, etc. They’re features that seem like they’re all upside for the consumer, except for the fact that they call them “sticky” because they make it really, really hard to leave their bank. Imagine if you had all of your bills running through their system, and then wanted to leave. It’s basically impossible to do without missing a payment, or overdrawing the account when you switch your money over but forget to turn off the automatic bill pay. Then it takes even longer to close an account, which is what they want.

It’s fine to use if you really value the convenience of having it all in one place, but just about every creditor and utility now has their own online payment options, or can set up the automatic debits on their end. I suggest you take advantage of that. Not only is it just as easy, you get fun emails like these from time to time.

If You Want to Get Stronger, Lift Heavier Weights

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I get tired of seeing people in the gym toiling away for countless reps with meaningless weights. Well, not tired, I guess. It doesn’t affect me in any meaningful way. They’re the ones who get tired. But still, it amuses (or more accurately, bemuses) me. People go to the gym to improve their physical fitness, and lift weights specifically to get stronger. Why, then, do people waste so much time doing 1,000 reps with 1 lb. weights when they’d be better served doing 1 rep with 1,000 lb. weights? The answer is because people, and their prevailing wisdom, are retarded.

Somehow, at some point, we got into our heads the idea that lifting big weights will make you big, and lifting small, sleek weights will make you small and sleek. Women are especially guilty of this. It’s probably due to the fact that yes, the largest weights in the gym are typically lifted by the largest people. In fact, the opposite is mostly true. Lifting a lighter weight to exhaustion will tell the body to increase the number of muscle fibers, thereby making you bigger. This has its benefits, namely increased size (if you’re looking for that) and muscle endurance. For some people, that’s really important. Anyone who works a job that requires them to lift moderate loads over extended periods of time, mostly. But for the rest of us, the casual weight lifters just looking to get stronger? Lift heavier.

Weightlifting, like any other physical exercise, is something we get better at with practice. If you practice lifting light things over and over, you’ll get better at that. Conversely, if you practice lifting heavy things fewer times, you’ll get better at lifting heavy things. Consider the functional applications of that kind of strength. Do you anticipate a time where someone will approach you and say “Excuse me, would you mind helping me lift this moderately heavy thing up and down several times?” Doubtful. Instead, you’re more likely to have someone say “Please sir, will you help me lift this extremely heavy thing beneath which I am trapped, so that I may live?” Suddenly, those bicep curls don’t seem like such a good idea. Big biceps are nice, but having a strong back, legs, and shoulder cradle is a lot nicer.

If you’re still of the “lift big to get big” mindset, maybe rethink your strategy. Why do 20 lat pulldowns when you could be eeking out 10 pull-ups? Why do a bunch of pointless leg extensions when you could power through a set of 5 heavy squats? I’m not saying there’s a problem with lifting for size, or that you can realistically have one without the other (you can’t), but remember: Lift heavier, and get stronger.

Recent Grads, Beware of “Marketing” Companies

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Though I’m by no means a recent college grad, like many of them I find myself nosing around for job opportunities so I can do things like pay my rent, feed myself, and drink with reckless abandon. Finding a job can be one of the hardest things in the world, but sometimes you think you’ve hit the jackpot – you apply for a position, and within days the company can’t seem to get ahold of you fast enough. They, despite having a name along the lines of “XYZ Business Consultants,” inform you that they’re a “marketing company.” Well shit, how cool is that?!? Everyone wants to work in “marketing,” right? Well, I’m here to tell you to watch out for these companies, because nine times out of ten, they are bullshit.

What they usually end up being are MLMs, or Multi Level Marketing companies. That’s just a fancy name for a pyramid scheme. This is how they work: As an employee, you go door to door, six days per week, selling something. It could be coupons, sports tickets, or services for a “known” company. You work strictly on commission (usually about $10 per sale), but your main focus is on advancement. You do this by doing well enough to warrant them sticking new recruits underneath you. The company grows not through the sales you make, but by the number of people you’re able to add to the base of your “pyramid” – that’s what makes it a MLM.

The interviews go something like this: You go to the office, and the “manager” speaks to you for around 15 minutes about the company, overhyping what they do and downplaying the real nature of the business (note that the script they follow makes them come across as very candid). If they like you (they will), they send you to the second “interview,” which is just you going out into the field with a salesperson. At any point, if either you decide you’re not interested or they determine you “don’t have what it takes” (there’s a lot of ambition/work ethic shaming that goes on), they will leave your ass in the middle of nowhere. I’ve seen this happen myself, when I was dumb enough to think these were legit opportunities. When the other “candidate” with me decided he was done, the salesperson just pulled over and left him somewhere in VA Beach. If you make it through the “interview,” you go back to the office around 8pm, where they’ll offer you the “job.” I declined, because I don’t entirely hate myself.

The “marketing” buzzword is how they draw young people in, so it’s important to know how that whole part of a business works. There’s advertising, which is what you see in print, the internet and on television. It’s collateral designed to compel you to take action and drive you into the arms of a salesperson. Usually, this is contracted out to large agencies that are very clear about being creative advertising firms. Then there’s sales, which is pretty straightforward. Whether inbound or outbound, the goal of sales is to get the customer to agree to a purchase. Finally, there’s marketing. Marketing can do a couple of things. One aspect is the creation of internal collateral. This can be anything from website or catalog copy, or brochures used by the salespeople. It’s their job, once a potential customer is compelled by an ad, to provide more information and act as the final push to get them into a sales situation.

The other function of marketing is for metrics-based sales planning. They’ll take sales results, online data, focus groups, and various other tests to help determine how and to whom the company should be positioning their product. This is the primary function of external “marketing” firms. They either already have data that would otherwise be costly to obtain through primary research for a company or, in the case of smaller firms, they have the capabilities to collect this data that the company simply does not. This is why a lot of recent grads, after joining a legitimate marketing firm, get jaded with the practice. It’s not glamorous and creative like they hoped. Instead, it’s pouring over spreadsheets to see which people, of which age group, in which geographic area purchased a given product or service.

The MLMs have gotten slick with their own marketing, and can appear as legitimate businesses. The one that contacted me recently had a nice looking web page where they even featured their management team, had a well-written (but vague) mission statement, and included links to their Facebook and twitter pages. Sometimes it can be hard to tell if you’re being courted by a MLM, but here are some giveaways:

  • They call themselves a “marketing” company, but their website makes little to no mention of their process/strategy. Even more telling, they don’t tout any kind of metrics-based approach. Remember, that’s the primary function of external marketers.
  • They talk about being a “sports,” “entertainment” or “business” marketing firm. MLMs want to attract type-A, competitive people (particularly men), and know that these are desirable fields for those types. Be especially wary if they say something like “You’ll do well here if you’re a former athlete.” In the sports and entertainment industries, the marketing is typically done in-house. Don’t think for a minute that it could ever be so easy to be considered for a marketing position with the Washington Nationals.
  • Their entry level position is called something like a “Junior Executive.” The people who glom onto MLMs tend to have a very inflated sense of self, while at the same time are too dumb to realize that what they’re doing is a scam. What kind of person could call themselves a “junior executive” while selling crap door to door with a straight face? That’s right, a self-important, go-getting moron.
  • They’re only hiring for entry level positions. This isn’t entirely unheard of, but realistically no respectable company has only ONE type of opening, and when they do they’ll usually come out and say that it’s entry-level sales (thereby disqualifying them as a marketing firm). When you see that, it’s a good indication that the only way to advance is by climbing the pyramid from within.
  • The management team seems young. At the place that contacted me, the “president” of the company couldn’t have been more than 25, and he only started there (at the bottom, of course) in 2010. His LinkedIn profile refers to the firm as a being in the “Marketing and Advertising industry,” while the “CEO” (only 27 himself) lists it as “Management Consulting.” In no way are two under-30 dipshits from middling schools equipped to run legitimate marketing firms.
  • They place heavy emphasis on “entrepreneurial spirit,” “unlimited income,” “a team environment” and “passion for advancement.” The first two are just codewords for “this job pays by commission only.” No reputable company would take a fresh college grad and place him in a commision-only sales position, because sales is a nuanced field that takes time to learn. The last two refers to the cult-like atmosphere MLMs cultivate. They do chants in order to get “psyched up” every morning. It’s a tactic used to promote group-think and hide the fact that you’re working six days per week for little pay for a sham company.
  • There are no real qualifications for getting hired. Real marketing firms look for people with genuine quantitative abilities. MLMs make their requirements, if they have any, intentionally vague and universal. They need to cast a wide net in order to find the few who will drink the kool aid.
  • Rather than emailing you to set up a phone interview, they call right away, or email and ask you to call them. The people who “advance” within the pyramid are by default the slickest talkers, so their odds of recruiting people increase when they can speak to you one on one, when you don’t have much of a chance to process what’s being said.

I’m sure there are more indicators, but these are the ones I’ve noticed. The bottom line is, use your common sense. If it seems too good to be true, and they’re a little too eager to talk to you, it’s probably a scam.

A Quick Little Frozen Food Lifehack

McDonalds-Chicken-McNuggets

I don’t want to say that I eat a lot of frozen chicken nuggets. Not because I don’t, but because I literally do not want to tell the world that I do so. Anyway, if you’re someone like me who (ahem) occasionally eats things like frozen chicken nuggets, you know that when preparing them, you usually have three options:

– Deep frying (no one is breaking out the deep fryer for 12 6 chicken nuggets)

– Microwave for a few minutes

– Bake at 400 degrees for something like 20 years

So you’re usually faced with choosing between the convenience (but mushiness) of the microwave, or the superior output (but eternal wait time) of the oven. Depending on how hungry you are, most people will cave and just nuke the nuggets. But you don’t have to! You can, in fact, have the best of both worlds.

Set your toaster oven to broil, and put your nuggets on a plate. Get them in the microwave for half, maybe a third of the time recommended by the manufacturer. When they’re done, transfer them to the toaster oven, and let them broil for a couple of minutes per side. Remember, this is food that’s already been cooked, and all we’re doing is heating it up. The microwave will thaw it out, and the broiler finishes the job and crisps up the outside. You get oven-quality results in a fraction of the time.

Once you get the hang of it, you realize that the same principle can apply to all kinds of frozen foods. Frozen french fries that only have oven instructions? Nuke them first and cut your cooking time significantly, finishing them either in the oven or on the stove. Given that frozen food was designed for the haggard, harried, and lazy, it only makes sense to find the laziest way possible to prepare them.

BOOM. Blogging. Nailing it.

Update on Advice-Giving Activities at AskMen and HeTexted

So, I’ve been busy lately, in a good way. “Man to Man” over at AskMen is doing pretty well. The questions have gotten more interesting, both for me and for the readers. I’m bummed that they don’t yet have comments up and running, because it would be great to get feedback and be able to interact with readers. I guess if you want to join in the discussion, for now you can like me on Facebook and follow me on twitter. If you missed the previous three installments, Links are below:

Why do people change?

Ian, I like your commentary. Riddle me this:

Why do people change? It seems that when I get involved with a woman and it turns into a long-term relationship (1+ year), they change! Either they get comfortable, gain weight, become tired all the time (leading to less sex), become more curt,or sensitive to things that I do or say, etc. I feel like I stay pretty stable in body/mind in the long term, but many women I have been involved with long term change on me. Is it my perception? Do you notice this in yourself or others? Is it a natural human evolution over a period of years or lifetime?

Thanks!

Yeah, that guy had an air of douche about him, but I go over it in pretty good detail.

Being the last Man on Earth

Ian,

My buddy and I were talking about what would happen if you were the last man on earth. Like, one day you wake up and you’re the only one. He thinks it would be tedious and exhausting because you’d be the biggest celebrity in the world. I think having the “responsibility” of repopulating the world would make it worth it. What do you think?

Matt

This was a fun one. I liked working through a hypothetical like that. I wish I got more of those questions.

Why can’t I produce restaurant-quality food at home?

Hey Ian,

So I’ve recently been living on my own and trying to save some cash by taking your advice and cooking more of my own food. The problem is, I can’t seem to touch the flavor of anything I get in a restaurant. I follow recipes to the letter, I have some decent gear, and I’ve even looked up “copycat” recipes for dishes I love. Still, I’m falling short. Any ideas? Am I just not good enough of a cook yet? I don’t know anyone in the restaurant business to ask. There’s no reason why I can’t produce something equally as delicious, right?

-Ryan

This was another fun one, and something I think a lot of people wonder themselves (I know I used to). Anyway, keep ’em coming. Send all questions to me at theianlang@gmail.com

In other fun news, there have been some changes over at HeTexted. The site got a huge facelift, for one, and they’ve also added some new features. Now, when you ask me or another bro a question, you have the option to make it public. I tentatively discourage this, as my experience so far has been that the peanut gallery gives pretty horrible advice. They’s also started a blog, where I’m featured every Wednesday. My latest post is here, where I talk about having friends of the opposite sex. If you want to get in on the conversation, you can comment in there using facebook. I think that’s a great feature.

That’s all for now. I’ll probably try to get back into regular blogging later this week.

Introducing “Man to Man,” an Ok Advice Column at AskMen

Started doing the advice column thing this week, and the first one is up at AskMen. They’re calling it “Man to Man,” which keeps with AskMen’s heavy-handed “better man” theme, but isn’t bad as far as advice column names go, I guess. The formula for any good advice column is a balance of seriousness and silliness, which is what I went for here. A sample:

Hi Ian Lang,

Here’s my question: How can I let a woman know that I’m only interested in having a sexual relationship with her without coming across as cold and insensitive?

Thanks,
Michael

As you can probably tell, this is the “silly” part. A snippet of my response:

If she were interested in this arrangement, that would probably be clear, so you must be talking about a scenario in which she wants a real relationship and you do not. If that’s the case, why do you think this is an OK thing to vocalize? No matter how you word it, you’re essentially telling this person that while you think her sex parts are dynamite, you’re less enthusiastic about her personality.  That’s a pretty sh*tty thing to say to someone’s face. Imagine if the shoe were on the other foot, and a woman told you that she appreciates your personality but doesn’t find you attractive enough to screw. Chances are you’d deny her invitation altogether, and maybe buy a fedora and grow a neck beard and start yelling about “the friend zone.”

So yea, that’s fun. Read the rest over at AskMen. Hopefully it takes off and I get more and more interesting questions to answer every week. It will be good for the readers, and good for the people who write in. So share, share, share and get me some more submissions, people.