Updated August 6, 2015: One of my readers pointed out a math error I made in my pull-up calculations in the original post. This version corrects the overstatement of P90X pull-ups.
Back in February, March and April of this year we did a round of P90X3 blended in a hybrid with Insanity Max:30. This was the third time going through P90X3 and I felt a little underwhelmed with it as far as the X3 resistance portion of the hybrid was concerned. In fact, halfway through the hybrid schedule I even revised the P90X3/Max:30 Hybrid to add more resistance, particularly to the first month. Following that hybrid we immediately launched into the classic P90X/Insanity hybrid that we have completed several times. After a few days I welcomed that familiar soreness back again. It sure felt like the P90X resistance workouts were “bringing it” way more than the X3 routines, so I did what any engineer would do–I analyzed the data. And the data showed I was right.
P90X3 (16 different workouts not counting Cold Start or Elite Upgrade workouts, all 30-33 minutes each)
P90X3 is designed as an all-around comprehensive program starting off with a “foundational” phase which focuses on core, balance, agility, and stabilization, rather than muscle growth. In this phase many moves are done in unstable positions (on one leg for example) and with light weights. Agility X is a nice routine in this phase that works on forcing you to move from one unstable position to another without losing posture–it’s not a classic cardio routine like so many want it to be. The second phase of X3 focuses on classic weight training, hypertrophy, and includes more traditional cardio routines like Triometrics and MMX. For the most part the resistance routines are 10 reps each.
P90X (11 different workouts not counting Ab Ripper X, 45-58 minutes each with the exception of Yoga X which is 92 minutes)
P90x, on the other hand, gets right into heavy resistance in the first week and hits all body parts with workouts like Chest & Back, Shoulders & Arms, and Legs & Back. Most moves are done from a stable two-legged position which de-emphasizes the core. The second month rearranges the days of the week that you work various body parts but retains the heavy resistance approach. Plyo X is the centerpiece cardio routine. Tony describes two approaches to P90X: 1) 8-10 Rep Range for adding muscle, and 2) the 12-15 Rep Range for staying lean (this does not pertain to push-ups and pull-ups which are always maximum reps). I’ve done both approaches and included them in the data.
Comparing P90X and P90X3 Resistance Workouts
For the purpose of this analysis I compared only the 3 resistance workouts each week from :
- P90X3: Total Synergistics, The Challenge, CVX, Eccentric Upper, Eccentric Lower and Incinerator. I pulled actual data from my workout sheets from the X3/Max 30 Hybrid from February 2015 – May 2015.
- P90X: Chest & Back, Shoulders & Arms, Legs & Back, Chest Shoulders & Triceps, and Back & Biceps. For the 12-15 Rep Range data as well as the push-up and pull-up numbers I pulled actual data from workout sheets from June 2015 – July 2015. To get comparable 8-10 Rep Range data I used my workout sheets from May 2014 – September 2014.
I added up my actual numbers for 4 different variables:
- Number of Push-Ups: sum of all push-up types, whether on feet or knees.
- Number of Pull-Ups: sum of all pull-up types, whether with assist or without.
- Number of Weighted and Un-weighted Reps: total number of reps excluding push-ups and pull-ups; if a move used one arm or leg at a time I only counted the reps once.
- Total Weight Lifted: sum of (reps x weight) for all the weighted moves. For example, if I did 10 reps with a set of 20 lb dumbbells the Total Weight would be 10 x 20 = 200. NOTE: If the move required only one dumbbell to be held with two hands then I cut the dumbbell weight in half.
Block 1 (or Phase 1 or Month 1)
(Revised table 8/6/15)
Typical Block 1 weeks are shown in the chart. In a typical Block 1 week the number of push-ups and pull-ups are about the same. With the exception of CVX there are many more weighted and un-weighted moves in a typical P90X week too. I included CVX in this summary even thought it’s more cardio than weights. I counted up all the CVX reps to come up with the Total Weight number. Since I typically hold a single 10 lb dumbbell in CVX, I cut that weight in half and used 5 lbs in the Total weight calculation. Even with all the CVX low weight reps you lift more than twice as much Total Weight in P90X than a week of X3.
Block 2 (or Phase 2 or Month 2)
(Revised table 8/6/15)
P90X3 Block 2 includes Eccentric Upper and Eccentric Lower workouts where every move is 4 counts as opposed to a normal 2 count. To account for the additional “time under tension” I counted my reps and then multiplied by 2 to hopefully result in a meaningful comparison to the P90X Block 2 workouts. With the doubling, push ups are once again about the same between programs. P90X pull-ups in a typical Block 2 week are about 50% more than P90X3 even with the Eccentric 2X factor. The weighted and un-weighted reps and total weight are comparable between the two program after applying the eccentric doubling factor.
Results Over a 13-Week Program
What does this mean over a full 13-week program? Just what I thought: I am getting more work out of P90X vs X3:
(Revised chart 8/6/15)
Thanks to The Challenge I get more push-ups out of P90X3 than P90X, but pull-ups are another story–about 30% more in P90X.
(Revised chart 8/6/15)
P90X3 appears to have many more reps than P90X, both when doing P90X in the 8-10 rep range as well as the 12-15 rep range. But over half of the counted reps come from doing CVX 5 times in the schedule. Another 1170 reps are the result of doubling the Eccentric Upper and Lower rep counts to account for the 4-count moves. What you are left with is less than 3000 actual reps of weightlifting over the 13 week P90X3 schedule which is less than half what you get in a 13-week P90X schedule. No wonder I am sore again!
No surprise with Total Weight Lifted over 13 weeks. Even with doubling the Total Weight from Eccentric Upper and Lower, P90X3 offers only about 75% of the weightlifting potential of P90X.
What Program Should You Do?
P90X3 is a fantastic beginner-intermediate program for someone who is just starting out on their fitness journey. There is plenty of work to keep you growing for many months, and the benefits from the other 10 workouts that I didn’t discuss are tremendous. This program obviously is great for anyone who has limited time if the alternative is doing nothing. If you are looking to improve your all-around fitness, coordination and balance then P90X3 is for you.
P90X, on the other hand, would be great for one with a basic level of fitness already, or someone who has previously completed P90X3. It can certainly be completed by beginners but P90X3 would be a gentler alternative. If you are looking to grow more muscle then you will get better results with P90X than X3.
As far as fat loss, either program will work fine as long as you account for the reduced calorie burn in P90X3 by eating less. If you are not inclined to balance your daily calorie intake with actual exercise calories burned (meaning you are going to eat the same thing no matter which program you do), then you would lose more weight on P90X simply because you will burn more calories. Said another way, if you burn less but eat less you will lose the same as if you burned more and ate more. Click here to see my up-to-date HRM and Calorie Burn Database from my What’s the Hardest Beachbody Workout post.
How do you feel? If you have done both programs and have an opinion please feel free to share it in a comment below.