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P90X, the new crown jewel of infomercials, has had remarkable results in inventing a new way of training, but most experts will tell you its success relies on going back to the basics and developing a workout with sound fundamental principles. It is the way real athletes stay in shape, and it’s no gimmick.
Tony Horton, the modern-day Richard Simmons and the creative force behind P90X, a $400-million-a-year fitness empire, thinks it’s all about keeping your muscles guessing by combining strength, power, agility, endurance and flexibility in a single, thorough program. Horton was one step ahead of recent research that suggests we should move away from the “slow and low” approach and start relying on fast-paced, high-intensity training.
However, Horton brought something else to the table when challenged with the creation of a method responsible for keeping millions of people busy with their workouts: His contagious energy, athletic mindset and a clear message that wipes clean the idea of “easy fitness”. There are no magic pills here, only sweat and a commitment to proper nutrition can provide the answer to your goals.
Rethink Your Workout
1. There’s a boom in High Interval Intensity Training (HIIT). It's been known to help shed more fat and increase excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. However, most people still don’t know how to apply this method to their workouts. What would be your best cardio and strength-oriented HIIT programs? And would they feature the same exercises and duration for both women and men?
HIIT has become really popular. We have P90X 2 coming out soon, and it has the PAP routine: Post Activation Potentiation, which is a combo of different exercises at different rates. It falls somewhere between aerobic and anaerobic training. We’ve finally learned that aerobics alone won’t do the trick. It’s a combo of everything, including flexibility. Most people are used to working 45-85% of their max heart rate, but HIIT takes you into an anaerobic zone.
What I like to do for my lower body: I have a Versa climber, a treadmill, a jump rope area, a heavy bag, a ski machine and a slide board. Just by going from one machine to the other, you’re creating different levels of heart rate. Sometimes I’ll change the number of times I’m doing each, to keep my body guessing. For instance, I’ll set my timer for 1 hour and do 3 minute intervals on each machine. But you can do it at the gym with just 3 machines or so.
Upper body is trickier, your upper extremities don’t recover as quickly as your lower ones do. I’ll start out with simple slow pushups and then throw in some clapping pushups. But then I’ll go right on my back or my butt since my upper body is exhausted. Or do side crunches and then jump back to a pull up exercise where the first series of pull ups are very clean.
HIIT can be very problematic if someone doesn’t already have great form. It is designed for people who are already well conditioned and want to take it to the next level. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. Just make sure you have the right coach, the right mentor and that you’re not over training if you’re adopting it as your new fitness program.
2. What are your best exercises to work out the legs, chest-shoulders, arms and back?
For legs: Plyometrics. It’s like HIIT for your lower extremities. I like to do the Jack-in-the-box knee tuck. It’s as intense as anything you can do. It’s a full squat with hands on the ground, you leap as high as you can, you tuck your knees to your chest, while your hands are somewhere between waist and chest level.
For chest and shoulders: My favorite move right now is a four-med-ball pushup. You need to practice several times before getting it right. You put each hand on a med ball, and each foot as well. Use the hard ones, never the soft ones. Its like doing pushups on four bowling balls.
For arms and back: When you’re working your arms, your biceps are rarely used for anything athletically challenging. But if I’m going to do arms, I’m going to do stabilizing moves. I stand on the flat side of a Bose ball (with the round part against the ground), and do “21s”, a high rep exercise. Grab dumbbells and do bicep curls, but during the first 7 reps your arms are hanging at the bottom, and then you lift your bottom so it’s parallel to the floor (half way up). Finish up with 7 high reps, where you go from parallel to high (fully curled). Then you do 7 full-range, low to high. As per the back: The greatest moves you can do for your back are pull ups.
3. I've heard you say in interviews that you feel yoga is very important. How do you convince more men to reap its benefits?
Guys who don’t know anything about yoga have all sorts of opinions about it. It’s about learning how to be patient in the moment, even when you’re miserable or stressed out. The reason I can do all those pushups and pull ups is because of the yoga. Women are smarter than guys when it comes to this approach. They understand how many things yoga is accomplishing in a single move. Running does one thing right. Yoga does many things right, all at once. If you combine them all, you’ll live forever.
ABC Diet Plan
4. Diet can amount to 80% of the equation when the goal is to have a ripped body. What’s the best diet guideline to follow, in general? Is there any food in particular that you MUST include in your diet?
It’s all about avoiding alcohol, processed meats, refined flours and sugars. I’m not saying you have to be free of all of them, but if you cut most of that out, that’s step one. Step two, eat as many fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats as you can at each meal.
5. Do you believe in supplements? If so, which ones are a must?
The goal of supplements is: If your diet isn’t perfect, you have to supplement it. A lot of our meals are processed, frozen, overcooked, or simply not nutritious enough for us to exercise hard seven days a week. If you don’t exercise, you probably need them less.
6. We know that the hardest thing for people is to remain motivated. What’s your best piece of advice to keep going?
My motivation is asking “What do I need to do to get better?”, rather that watching video of athletes doing amazing things. That always makes me want to work out for an hour. Sometimes its competition, surrounding yourself with like-minded people. I don’t do a single workout by myself. My main motivator is to engage in meaningful competition with my friends, to see how well we all do.
Just Do It!
7. What does your book "Bring It!" offer people who are already into P90X?
It’s sort of an addendum. When you get P90X you get a workbook, but you don’t get my philosophy about why you should use it. The book offers education and inspiration. It’s how I think about the lifestyle, how I approach it all. There’s a fitness quotient at the beginning of the book that can reveal something about who you are and where you want to go at this stage of your life. A - beginning. B – striver. C – warrior. The diet program I give you is very strict. It’s really a Tony Horton encyclopedia about how I live.
8. What’s your take on all these reality shows on weight makeovers? Are we pushing overweight people too far? Are these shows telling the truth behind what it means to accomplish those weight-loss goals?
I think it’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, they can be good because they show what you can achieve. People who have struggled with their weight for a lifetime can turn that around. But I also think they can be very dangerous because many of them fail to address the deeper issues about why these people got as huge as they did. Most of the subjects taking part in these shows don’t have the tools to keep the weight off. A lot of them single out the importance of winning their season, with total disregard for making actual lifestyle changes.
Marta Montenegro inspires people to live healthy lives by giving them the tools and strength to find one’s inner athlete through her personal website MartaMontenegro.com. She created SOBeFiT, a national fitness magazine for men and women, and the Montenegro Method DVD workout series – a program she designed for getting results in just 21 days by exercising 21 minutes a day . Marta is a strength and conditioning coach and serves as an adjunct professor of exercise physiology at Florida International University.