Published on March 21st, 2013 | by James Fell0
Exclusive Interview with Tony Horton of P90X
Tony Horton is a champion of fitness to millions. In this exclusive interview he shares his secrets for lasting health and fitness.
There are many paths to six pack abs.
On the bizarre end of the spectrum, we have rocker Iggy Pop, who used heroin (which massively suppresses appetite), prancing about on stage, and sex with groupies to achieve his ripped midsection. I don’t advise such an approach. At least, not the heroin part.
Seeing your six pack is mostly about food, but exercise still plays a critical role. Precisely what form that exercise takes is up to you. Aquacise probably isn’t going to cut it, but if it’s all you can handle, and you use it as a gateway to evolving your workout regimen to more intense forms of activity, then it’s a fine place to start. Where you end up is your choice. As this article shows, Olympians achieve their abs via a variety of activities, such as swimming, kayaking, sprinting and speed skating.
It’s all about finding your passion, and this is something Tony Horton – who is both a decade older than me, and more ripped than I am – knows a lot about.
If you want to inspire people to be fit, it helps if you can be entertaining at the same time.
“In university I was a wannabe actor and a wannabe jock,” Tony told me. “I used humor as a way to communicate; I like to make people laugh.” Tony has been a stand-up comedian, even during workout time. “There are other trainers who their approach just doesn’t resonate with the masses,” he said. “All I do is make hard fitness fun.”
Tony, who used to frequent the Mecca of bodybuilding known as Gold’s Gym in Venice Beach, CA – where champions such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno trained, has been a trainer to numerous celebrities, such as members of Fleetwood Mac, Billy Idol, Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen.
I’m seeing a classic rock trend here. I approve.
One of the first questions I asked Tony came out of research I’d seen showing that people who work out at home, alone, have the lowest adherence rates for exercise.
“People lack a plan, purpose and accountability,” he said. “If you have those three things you’ll be successful no matter where you do it. A reason a lot of people fail is because their purpose sucks. It’s too much about vanity, the scale and the mirror, and not enough about health and fitness.” I do think that vanity can be a partial motivator, but it’s got to be integrated into an overall approach to your body that gives equal weight to health and physical performance. I agree with Tony that it’s more about improving quality of life than looking good. Although looking good is one helluva perk.
But still, the commercials for Tony’s P90X DVDs do seem to tout appearance as a prime result.
“I’m not part of the marketing team,” he explained. “Most people stick with it because they learn along the way that being ripped is only what it’s partially about. For the average person that doesn’t know better that’s all they know. The reason they continue to exercise is not necessarily about the ripped thing anymore. It’s about the quality of life. It has to work above and beyond being ripped.”
I get this. The whole getting ripped is almost a bait and switch. What good trainers really want to do are change people’s lives for the better, and if the quest for six pack abs is the initial impetus to get going on a healthy path, then it can be a good motivator.
One of the things I’ve always preached is tortoise over hare. I’m an advocate of slow and steady winning the race, so I asked Tony about the 90-day approach and the claim of “Get absolutely ripped in 90 days.”
“You have to call it something and you have to give people a start date and an end date, so you want to start up a program to make them accountable,” he said.
Tony talked about getting people out of their comfort zones, but then also explained the underlying realism once they get down to work. If a person only has a little flab and is already active, it can only take 60 days or less. “For a 45-year-old mother of five who is seriously overweight it’s going to be P220X,” Tony said, explaining that it might take her 220 days to achieve her goals. “It takes about 90 days for people to fall into a pattern.”
One of the things I really like about P90X is that there are three versions in the program: easy, medium and hard. Tony doesn’t want people getting injured, and advocates going at a pace that is challenging, but doable. Even the very unfit can start off easy, and Tony regularly states during the videos to take a break if they’re feeling like it’s too much. This is different from some other coaches, who do permanent damage to their customers and clients by pushing them past safe limits.
Here is a quote from Tony in one of the videos: “If this is new to you, take your time, pace yourself and take breaks.” Later in the video he repeats, “If you need a break, take a break.”
“The reason a lot of people get hurt is because of their ego,” Tony explained. “I am notorious for giving people options.” He tells them to hit the pause button or offers a different way of doing something.
One thing I will specifically caution readers about is the plyometrics portion of P90X. If you’re new to exercise, know that plyometrics are punishing, and must be approached with extreme caution. In this article I explained that having plyometrics used on The Biggest Loser by obese people is just stupid. Don’t wreck yourself.
Horton does believe in pushing, but in increments.
“The program is progressive in that we give you work sheets for almost every workout,” he told me. “The hope and the dream and the goal are that the numbers can continue to go up. Add more weight. Add more reps.” And he is wary of boredom as well. “There is the ability to change it up so it doesn’t get stale. Not too many people, even professional athletes, can get through the extreme version.”
And the DVDs can be a springboard into something else.
“I can’t tell you how many folks tell me they just did their first marathon or a Spartan race or mountain bike races,” he said. “P90X gave them the confidence, strength and power to try new things.”
But who is it for? That depends. Some people just can’t get away from home. I know one woman who got herself into ass-kicking shape using DVDs because she has babies at home. For her, it was home workouts or nothing.
“We made the program for people who couldn’t afford a trainer and maybe felt uncoordinated and embarrassed in fitness classes,” Tony said. “Hundreds of millions of Americans can’t get off their ass. A DVD with a goofy guy is a lot more interesting than a piece of equipment that sits in the corner of your house.”
We spent some time talking about the diet plan that comes with P90X, and Tony explained how the more intense the program gets, the more the diet shifts towards carbohydrates to fuel exercise performance. This is another approach I completely agree with. And so does sport nutrition expert Alan Aragon.
“There is not a lot of extra room for carbs when training volume is low,” Aragon said. “When you’re cutting calories for weight loss, carbs are going to have to bear the brunt of the restriction because you can’t cut too far into protein or fat or you’ll lose muscle and inhibit certain hormone functions.” It’s important to note the point about “when training volume is low.” That means this applies only to people who barely exercise. Aragon states that more exercise = more carbs.
Of course, they need to be the healthy, unrefined kind of carbohydrates.
And what about that “muscle confusion” stuff touted in P90X? Tony admitted that, to some degree, “It’s a marketing term.”
“It’s not a whole lot different from periodization of workouts,” he said. “It’s about not getting into these patterns and these ruts so you don’t get bored or get hurt. It can prevent injury because you’re not doing the same thing over and over again. It forces people to work on their weaknesses while letting their strengths heal.”
Billy Idol gave Tony the nickname, “Muscle Confucius.”
“From a physiological standpoint, the muscle confusion isn’t better than anything else,” Tony explained. “The idea is to get people to move, because I know people get bored and they don’t want to get injured. It keeps people interested and keeps them in the game.”
In conclusion, this article may seem like some kind of P90X love in. Honestly, I’ve never done it. Home workouts with DVDs are just not my thing, but they could be yours. My friend Stephan is a P90X devotee and he loves it. He said he finds Tony both hilarious and inspiring. In fact, I interviewed actor Camilla Luddington (Californication, True Blood Grey’s Anatomy) for an article and she told me of doing P90X workouts and she said, “I find Tony to be very inspiring.”
I went into this interview with my usual skepticism, and I asked Tony some tough questions. He gave good answers. I didn’t have any opinions about Tony when I started the interview, but afterwards, I’ll admit I was impressed. Impressing me is not an easy thing to do.
Having not done the workouts, I can’t comment directly on P90X. However, I can say that my gut instinct on Tony is positive. I think he’s a trainer you can trust.