A Review of P90X: Legs and Back

The official DVD cover for P90X: Legs and Back.
The official DVD cover for P90X: Legs and Back. | Source

Introduction to P90X: Legs and Back

This is the fifth in a series of reviews of the individual workouts within the P90X program. For all other reviews of the workouts, as well as a review of the overall program, please see the links at the bottom of the page.

I am a long-time fitness enthusiast who’s completed P90X twice. While I haven’t found the program to be the transformative experience it’s purported to be, I find it to be overall beneficial and very effective at keeping me on track fitness-wise when I don’t have reliable access to a gym.

Before I started on P90X the first time, I noticed that there was a dearth of workout-by-workout reviews, leaving me with little idea of what to expect from the program. I aim to correct that, and to give you an experienced exerciser’s perspective on P90X.

Today we’ll be focusing on the fifth workout in line: P90X Legs and Back.

Some of the muscle groups worked during P90X: Legs and Back - including the biceps femoris, better known as the hamstrings.
Some of the muscle groups worked during P90X: Legs and Back - including the biceps femoris, better known as the hamstrings. | Source

Overview of P90X: Legs and Back

If you’re following either the P90X: Classic or P90X: Lean workout schedules, P90X Legs and Back will be your fifth workout of the week. It’s also the third and final strength training workout of the week. If you can get through this, all you have left in the week is P90X: Kenpo, which is a relatively easy cardio workout and a nice way to wind the week down.

P90X: Legs and Back consists of a roughly five minute warm-up followed by a workout which alternates two sets of two different leg exercises followed by one set of pull ups, for a grand total of twenty-three sets – fifteen sets of leg exercises and eight sets of pull ups. The only exception to the pattern is in the last round, where only one set of leg work is followed immediately by the last set of pull ups. (But oh, is that last set of squats a doozy.)

During this workout you’ll be doing five different types of lunges, six different types of squats, two types of dead lifts, and four types of pull ups. Expect to do at least 15 to 20 repetitions of each lower body exercise, with a whopping 75 reps worth of calf raises towards the end. (These burn. Oh, how they burn.) Most of the lower body exercises are done either with body weight alone, although almost all of them have the option to add some weight when the body weight version gets too easy for you.

You will feel a burn in this workout, and be grateful for those breaks when you get to do a set of pull ups and give your legs a rest. In fact, this workout is designed with that in mind, since three quarters of an hour of continuous squats, lunges, and dead lifts would be overkill even by P90X standards.

A side lunge, one of the many exercises you'll perform during P90X: Legs and Back.  Go nice and low, but be mindful of your knees if you have patellar tracking problems!
A side lunge, one of the many exercises you'll perform during P90X: Legs and Back. Go nice and low, but be mindful of your knees if you have patellar tracking problems! | Source

P90X: Legs and Back: The Good

One thing I appreciate about P90X: Legs and Back, as a veteran exerciser, is the coupling of leg work with back work.

You see, when you do any kind of leg exercise, the muscles in your back will automatically come along for the ride. Due to the biomechanics of the movements, they’re required to stabilize you and lift you up out of your squat or lunge or especially your dead lift. This means that whenever you do these exercises, your back - and your lower back especially - will get something of a workout, too.

That’s why it’s strongly recommended never to do a back workout and a lower body workout on consecutive days. If you did lower body work yesterday, your back is still going to be recovering today. Likewise, if you did back work yesterday, doing squats and dead lifts will stress a back that’s still trying to recover and repair itself. Bad idea, especially since the lower back is so sensitive to over training.

However, combining a lower body and back workout is a time-tested way of avoiding that problem, and it works well here. It also gives you some extra upper body work, which this program is a little lighter on than it is on lower body.

In addition to that, there’s such a wide variety of exercises, from squats (wide and narrow), to lunges (front, side, and rear), and two types of dead lifts that you will be exercising your legs from all angles, strengthening minor muscle groups which are often overlooked by a more basic program of vanilla squats and dead lifts. While I wholly endorse squats and dead lifts, it is true that if you have certain strength imbalances, squats and dead lifts alone will not necessarily correct them.

What does Groucho Marx have to do with P90X? Get to the end of the workout and find out!
What does Groucho Marx have to do with P90X? Get to the end of the workout and find out! | Source

The Bad

If you’re on the P90X: Classic schedule, you will have done Yoga X the day before this and Plyometrics three days before. As a matter of fact, you’ll even repeat a move you did yesterday – chair salutations!

The end result of all of this leg work is that while it’s true that your legs need less recovery time than many other parts of your body, they’ll still get hammered over and over by these workouts without having much of a chance to rest. If you don’t give your muscles time to repair and rebuild themselves after putting them through this kind of exertion, guess what? They just get more and more wiped out, until you find yourself struggling to get up a flight of stairs and wondering why, after all this work to get strong, you just keep feeling weaker.

Now, you will probably be stronger and have more stamina at the end of the program, once you’ve had a week or two to recover fully. However, during the program you may have a tough time finding enough oomph in your legs to get through it!

Another issue I have with the P90X program in general is the fact that it’s designed around low weight, high repetition training. Legs and Back is no exception.

As I mentioned above (and have mentioned in some of my other P90X reviews), low weight, high volume training is okay for getting your heart rate up, burning calories, and increasing muscular endurance. However, it doesn’t build much muscle, which not only means that you won’t gain as much strength as you would if you used heavier weights, but means that you won’t be building all of that precious, calorie-zapping muscle! (As you’ve probably heard before, muscle is very metabolically active, which means that it needs lots of energy just to sustain itself. That means that if you have more muscle, you burn more calories throughout the day than someone who works out exactly the same amount of time but has less muscle mass.)

However, I’m inclined to give Tony a pass on this. You can increase the intensity of a workout by either adding more weight or adding more repetitions. If you’re working out at home and don’t have the equipment, you can’t add weight. Therefore you have to add repetitions. Tony knows this, and his program is geared towards home exercisers, so he’s done what he can within those limitations.

I can guarantee you, though, that Tony didn’t get his muscles by doing a billion calf raises and bicep curls.

The Verdict

P90X: Legs and Back is a generally, though not outstandingly, effective workout. It will get your heart rate up, burn calories, and give you some increase in lower body and back strength. Because it relies on light weights and high repetitions, it will not give you outstanding muscle building and strength development.

As far as where P90X: Legs and Back fits in to the overall P90X program, I would consider it medium-difficult and not replaceable by any other workout. It'll burn, but unlike Plyometrics, it probably won't kill you.

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