P90X and Running

P90X AND RUNNING   By Tim Scitti

Chances are you’ve seen or heard of P90X. The programs developer, Tony Horton is everywhere from radio and print ads to QVC and infomercial land discussing the benefits of P90X.  Mention P90X to anyone and chances are they know what or who your talking about.  You may have wondered if this program is beneficial for runners, or more specifically if it would be beneficial for you.

Opinions on P90X and running  are numerous and varied. A search on popular running site forums for P90X will give opinions ranging from  “It’s a total waste of time for runners” to I know someone who (or I) tried the program and it seemed awfully hard”, to  “ It’s the greatest thing ever (I don’t know why it would benefit you)”. Let’s attempt to evaluate the program for runners based on its merits.

The P90X workout program includes 12 different workouts that are structured over 90 days. Most workouts are around an hour with the exception of the yoga day that is about 90 minutes.  The workouts use free weights or bands and a pull up bar. They are rotated throughout the 12 weeks, which I will elaborate on later. I will segment them according to their relevance to running;

Group A: 1-Chest and Back, 2- Shoulders and Arms, 3- Chest, Shoulder, and Triceps, 4- Back and Biceps.

Group B: 1-Legs and Back, 2- KenpoX, 3- X- Stretch, and 4- Ab Ripper X.

Group C: 1- Plyometrics, 2-YogaX, 3- Core Synergistics, 4-Cardio X.

At first glance, Group A which includes workouts consisting primarily of push ups, pull ups, and various arm, chest and back exercises would seem to have little relevance to running.  While these workouts would not typically be considered essential for runners, it’s important to remember that they do develop upper body strength which minimizes fatigue and stiffness in the shoulders and arms which allows you to maintain better form and run faster and more efficiently, especially over longer distances.  The benefits of general strength/cross training have been well documented in recent years.  This is also especially important as a runner ages and they lose muscle mass and their body composition changes. Strength /Cross training will help slow down that process.

Group B exercises have some specific benefits for runners and will be discussed in greater detail.

1/ Legs and back are a series of 8 circuits that generally include an upper leg, lower leg and pull-up or weight exercise. These include lunges, squats, calf raises and several that are plyometric/yoga oriented.

2/ Kenpo  is a kick boxing workout that includes kicking and punching.

3/ X- Stretch is an overall stretching workout that will help keep you limber and flexible.

4/ Ab Ripper X- 16-minute abs/core workout that usually accompanies the strength training workout 3 days week.

Group C includes workouts that would be beneficial to most runners and include the following:

1/ Plyometrics contains an assortment of jumps, squats. leaps and other movement exercises to develop leg strength, explosiveness and cardio.

2/ Yoga is a 90-minute workout but the benefits to runners should not be discounted. The initial 45 minutes includes mostly movement exercises that will improve balance, strength, flexibility and overall fitness. The last 45 minutes focus on overall stretching with particular benefits to hamstrings, quads, hips, calves, and feet as well as upper body. Although the time commitment is a consideration, this exercise will improve all areas of fitness and performance. You will notice changes from the first week.

3/ Core synergistics is an overall workout with primary focus on the core area. The benefits of core exercises have also recently been well documented.  This workout includes push ups, lunges, squats, rolls and other core related movements.

4/ Cardio X includes a mixture of yoga, kenpo, plyo, and core synergistics exercises meant as a supplement for additional overall cardio development. 

P90X comes with 3 variations of schedules, classic, lean and doubles. Each variation has a set schedule for 3 weeks, a rest week, and then a modification where some new workouts are used. This affords the “muscle confusion” referred to in the advertisements.  In other words, by modifying the workouts you avoid a “plateau” effect.

The question most runners ask is whether they would become better runners by incorporating P90X into their running program or by doing more running specific exercises.  There is not a right answer for everyone, but there are some training principles that should be taken into consideration.

For the purposes of this article lets segment runners into 2 very broad categories, those who run primarily for fitness and those who run competitively. I would refer to fitness runners as those who run primarily because they enjoy it and it helps them keep in shape. They may occasionally enter races, but their primary focus is not on race times or place.  Competitors would be more inclined to follow a running schedule incorporating various types of training with performance based goals typically in the form of races  throughout the year.

Would P90X benefit either type of runner?

I believe both types of runners would benefit from a strong foundation of fitness, which enables them to train more efficiently.   Failure in building your foundation will typically lead to 1 of 2 things, either you’ll lack the fitness to train to your potential and plateau, or you’ll create an imbalance that will lead to injury.  P90X will target your muscle growth, strength, power, as well as balance and flexibility. Runners who only run or do run oriented exercises tend to have overdeveloped hamstrings and calves and underdeveloped quads, shins and upper bodies. P90X will even out your fitness.  

The fitness runner will benefit by being stronger and more efficient as well as having improved overall fitness. P90X is a good base exercise in place of running for a period of time or as part of a modified schedule.  When they return to running they will need to redevelop some of their aerobic fitness, but this will come back quickly with their improved overall fitness.  This schedule can be implemented in cold weather when getting outside can be difficult and indoor running can be tedious. Fitness runners will also benefit from a small break in running and stressing other body parts. They may find a renewed passion for full time running when they return.

Fitness runners who want to lose weight would benefit from the classic schedule as resistance training and aerobic development will assist in losing weight. If you’re fairly fit, the lean version of P90X will focus more on strength without mass and explosive cardio.  Please note that all strength exercises offer options for those interested in more fitness than mass.

For the competitive runner using a modified P90X schedule would provide a strong foundation for increased performance.  Most competitive runners would benefit from a reduction in running for a period of time  while establishing a stronger base as part of a periodized schedule.  Unfortunately most competitive runners without a coach don’t use a periodized schedule where their training is laid out in phases. In the absence of a periodized schedule, runners tend to adapt to their training and plateau.  A periodized running schedule like the periodized P90X schedule will stress certain segments , allow recovery and then stress other segments to fit into overall fitness.

If you structure P90X into an off season or pre-base training segment of your training  begin with the classic structure with little to no running for the first 3 weeks. This would include the following;

Block 1; WEEKS 1-3

Day 1- Chest and Back, Ab Ripper X (ARX)

Day 2- Plyometrics

Day 3- Shoulders and Arms, ARX

Day 4- Yoga X

Day 5- Legs and Back, ARX

Day 6- Kenpo

Day 7- Rest or X Stretch.

Recovery Week

Day 1- Core Synergistics

Day 2- Plyometrics

Day 3- Yoga X

Day 4- Legs and Back

Day 5- Core Synergistics

Day 6- Easy Run and X Stretch/Yoga

Day 7- Rest or X Stretch.

Block 2; WEEKS 5-7

Day 1- Chest, Shoulders and Triceps, ARX, Easy Run

Day 2- Plyometrics

Day 3- Back and Biceps, ARX, Easy Run

Day 4- Yoga X

Day 5- Legs and Back, ARX

Day 6- Longer Run and X Stretch

Day 7- Rest/X-Stretch

Recovery Week

Day 1- Core Synergistsics

Day 2- Run and X Stretch

Day 3- Yoga X

Day 4- Run and  X Stretch

Day 5- Core Synergistics

Day 6- Run and X Stretch or Yoga X

Day 7- Rest/X Stretch

Block 3; WEEKS 9 & 11

Day 1-  Chest and Back, ARX, Run

Day 2- Plyometrics and Easy Run

Day 3- Shoulders and Arms, ARX, Run

Day 4- Yoga X

Day 5- Legs and Back, ARX, easy run

Day 6- Run and X Stretch

Day 7- Rest/ X Stretch

Block 3; WEEKS 10 & 12

Day 1- Core Synergistics and Run

Day 2- Cardio X & Run

Day 3- ARX and Run

Day 4- Yoga and Run

Day 5- Legs and Back, ARX

Day 6- Run and X Stretch

Day 7- Rest, X/ Stretch.

You will notice that the schedule eases into doubles for  the second half of the schedule.  By that time you will have a sense of how your body responds to the P90X  workouts and can modify your runs as needed.   Run workouts within this schedule should be scheduled according to your goals and abilities.

If you are closer to a race and time doesn’t allow it, modify the schedule according to your needs.  You could also transition from the classic schedule for a block to the lean schedule and then into a hybrid as above.  As you get closer to peak racing season you may transition away from P90X into running only, or incorporate yoga or core synergistics into a weekly schedule for maintenance and injury prevention.

There is a nutrition guide that comes with the program that is primarily designed to assist in losing weight and  getting toned. This may be fine for some fitness runners, but more competitive runners will probably need to increase their  carbohydrate intake, particularly if they are at or near their goal weight. Again, experimentation is recommended.

I have discussed this program with 2 nationally recognized running coaches and both agree it is conservative in its approach and will assist in development of fitness foundation.  While P90X is not the answer for everyone, most runners will benefit from the overall fitness development and it’s impact on their running. A consultation with your running coach or family physician may also be prudent depending on your circumstances.

Reviewing P90X and individuals running results on the Beachbody message boards (parent company of P90X and other fitness programs) brings numerous results of posting of runners who are using P90X while training. Most runners indicate improved times and performances while using P90X. There are also various schedules and ways to implement P90X into your running. You can also follow my blog at teambeachbody.com/runtimpa.

Tim Scitti is an Independent Team Beachbody Coach and the opinions above are his own.  Feedback or questions about P90X/Running are welcome at runtimpa@Beachbodycoach.com.  Schedules and some content courtesy of Steve Edwards, Fitness Advisor, Beachbody.

About the Author: Gina Meyers

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