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How To Lose Weight with P90X

By Steve Edwards
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P90X is not a weight loss program, yet most people lose weight by doing it. This is because most of those people begin the program with more body fat than they're happy with, and getting ripped means they've lost body fat and weight. But some people want more. They want nothing but to be lean. Such is our privilege by designing the most versatile workout program in the world.

Man with Tape Measure

Choosing the right schedule

P90X comes with three scheduling options: classic, lean, and doubles. Both the lean and doubles schedules are designed more for weight loss than the classic schedule. However, losing weight has a lot more to do with how you do the program than which option you choose. You can lose weight doing the classic rotation as well, provided you follow the guidelines we're about to go into.

What lean and doubles do is prohibit too much mass gain by having you do so much volume you can't fully recover between workouts, or by having you avoid the heaviest resistance workouts altogether. If you wish to get lean, beginning with the lean schedule and progressing to doubles is what I would suggest. However, once you've done both of these, a round of classic, done correctly, will actually enhance your body's ability to stay lean. Conversely, you can gain weight on any P90X schedule if you don't do the schedule correctly.

Foundation

We'll follow the same format we've used for all the articles in the series on customizing P90X (see the Related Articles section below). In each article, we've discussed the importance of building a solid foundation. With regard to getting lean, however, you can start customizing your program to get lean as you build your foundation. Unlike sports-specific training, you don't need to first do a round of X as designed. In fact, the guidelines for getting lean will lay a great foundation for anything you'd like to do later on.

Hypertrophy (and how to avoid it)

Man with WeightOur discussion of mass was all based around how to induce as much hypertrophy (or muscle growth) as possible. To stay lean, we still need some muscle growth. Adding muscle to your frame is the best way to raise your resting metabolic rate, and in turn lose weight. But we also want to be careful not to create too much hypertrophy.

The way we do this is by doing a lot of repetitions for each exercise. In most programs this is pretty simple. You just use lighter weights and bang out the reps. The X is different because you're challenged with numerous movements that make it hard to do any reps, like pull-ups. This is where things get tricky.

The key to getting lean is to use enough weight to fail at the end of each set. I should repeat myself because this is important. Actually, just read that first sentence again. Got it? Good, because one of the concepts I have a hard time instilling in Xers (and women doing any of our programs) is that you've got to push yourself using weight—adding weight as necessary—to get lean.

The next step is deciding where to fail. If you read the mass article, you read that failing at around 12 repetitions was at the high end for hypertrophy. To gain mass, the number of reps we targeted got lower throughout the program.

Anything over 12 is technically targeting muscular endurance. However, up to around 25 reps, you will still be building muscle. This is the zone we want to target. Throughout your program, you should increase the number of reps you can do, not by lowering the weight you lift but by getting stronger! This means you should choose a weight that allows you to do at least 12 reps per set before you fail.

What's very important is to do this for the movements of which you can't do at least 12. This can be hard because you've got to use props, and you don't want to make the moves too easy. We'll use two examples; you'll have to figure out the rest based on these, which shouldn't be too hard to do.

  1. Man Using Chin-Up BarPull-ups. We tell you to use a chair when you can't do pull-ups, but it's how you use the chair that's important. You need to make sure your upper body is doing most of the work. Placing the chair farther from your body, and only propping one foot on it, is the simplest way to accomplish this. You should move the chair away so you can do at least 12 pull-ups but still fail at your upper target number (we'll get to what the upper target number is later).

  2. Push-ups. Push-ups are easier because even if you do them on your knees, they're still hard. However, sometimes we tend to get lazy about this and stay on our knees. Once you can do regular push-ups on your toes, you should begin each set in this position and go until you reach failure, then finish the set on your knees. This will get you the burn you're looking for.

It may take a little while to get all of the X movements dialed so that you can do high reps until you reach failure. Stick with it. Perhaps you should even go through each workout and practice. Because once you do, you'll be on the road to lean.

Periodization

No alterations are needed to the periodizational aspects of the program. You have three choices and all of them will work.

Progressive overload

The progressive overload principle is hard at work, but as I said above, the rep schemes should be backward from "normal" in that once you can do a certain number of repetitions, you'll want to increase them. For example, to begin the program, you'll target 12 to 16 reps for most exercises. Start with weight that causes failure at around 12 reps minimum, and stay with this weight until you can do 16 before adding more weight. As the program progresses, you'll want to target up to 25 reps per set, so the overload progression is toward endurance and away from hypertrophy.

Recovery

Recovery is still important, but the more repetitions you do, the less stress you're placing on your body and the less recovery you need. This means that even though the individual workouts will feel very hard, you can recover from them more quickly than you could if you were using heavier weights.

Putting it all together

WeightsHigh-repetition resistance training may be technically less intense than using heavier weight, but it won't feel like it. This kind of training induces a wicked pump, and you may be very sore as your body adapts to the training. Also, the individual sets tend to be quite long (you may need to hit pause from time to time), and form can fail you. Make sure you keep good form as you get tired. Don't be afraid to drop weight in the middle of a set. Sometimes it's good to have two weights ready before you begin (or lighter bands) so you can switch mid-exercise. It takes getting used to, but hang in there and keep pushing yourself, and soon you'll be ripping off reps faster than Tony and the gang!

Your diet

Obviously, diet is important if you want to be lean. You'll be hungry, especially as you adapt, and it's important that you don't overeat. It's probably more important, however, that you don't undereat. You'll be churning through the calories, and undereating is a great way to find yourself in a plateau, both mentally and physically.

In general, P90X Nutrition Plan caloric calculations are ample for some weight loss. If you aren't losing weight, try zig-zagging your caloric intake by eating less on some days and "normally" on others. This forces you into a caloric deficit without depriving your body of the nutrients it needs to recover.

Here is a schedule using P90X classic. Lean has fewer resistance days and less explanation is necessary. But as I said earlier, you can get lean using classic as well.

Block 1
Weeks 1 through 3

  • Day 1: Chest & Back, Ab Ripper X
  • Day 2: Plyometrics
  • Day 3: Shoulders & Arms, Ab Ripper X
  • Day 4: Yoga X
  • Day 5: Legs & Back, Ab Ripper X
  • Day 6: Kenpo X
  • Day 7: Off

Targeted number of reps: 12 to 16 (focus on the higher number)

Recovery
Week 4

  • Day 1: Core Synergistics
  • Day 2: Kenpo X
  • Day 3: X Stretch
  • Day 4: Core Synergistics
  • Day 5: Yoga X
  • Day 6: X Stretch
  • Day 7: Off

Targeted number of reps: maximum

Block 2
Weeks 5 through 7

  • Day 1: Chest, Shoulders, & Triceps, Ab Ripper X
  • Day 2: Plyometrics
  • Day 3: Back & Biceps, Ab Ripper X
  • Day 4: Yoga X
  • Day 5: Legs & Back, Ab Ripper X
  • Day 6: Kenpo X
  • Day 7: Off

Targeted number of reps: 16 to 20

Recovery
Week 8

  • Day 1: Core Synergistics
  • Day 2: Kenpo X
  • Day 3: X Stretch
  • Day 4: Core Synergistics
  • Day 5: Yoga X
  • Day 6: X Stretch
  • Day 7: Off

Targeted number of reps: maximum

Block 3
Weeks 9 and 11

  • Day 1: Chest & Back, Ab Ripper X
  • Day 2: Plyometrics
  • Day 3: Shoulders & Arms, Ab Ripper X
  • Day 4: Yoga X
  • Day 5: Legs & Back, Ab Ripper X
  • Day 6: Kenpo X
  • Day 7: Off

Weeks 10 and 12

  • Day 1: Chest, Shoulders, & Triceps, Ab Ripper X
  • Day 2: Plyometrics
  • Day 3: Back & Biceps, Ab Ripper X
  • Day 4: Yoga X
  • Day 5: Legs & Back, Ab Ripper X
  • Day 6: Kenpo X
  • Day 7: Off

Targeted number of reps for weeks 9 and 10: 20 to 25
Targeted number of reps for weeks 11 and 12: 25 (try to max out each exercise)

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