A Review of P90X: Plyometrics
This is the second 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 the benefits and disadvantages of P90X.
Today we’ll be focusing on the second workout in line and the wickedest workout of them all: P90X Plyometrics.
What is P90X: Plyometrics?
Plyometrics is, in a nutshell, a high-impact, high-intensity cardio workout which focuses on powerful, explosive jumps and leaps. It's a variation on the concept of plyometrics training, which is a form of training which many athletes incorporate into their workout routine in order to improve their performance in sprints, leaps, and other short-burst, physically demanding moves.
In a slightly larger nutshell, Plyometrics is a 39 to 44 minute high-impact cardio interval workout (depending on whether you choose to do the 5 minute “bonus round” or not) with a 10 minute warmup and 5 minute cooldown.
During the workout, you will be performing a mix of jumping squats and lunges as well as some more traditional, lower-impact aerobic moves. You will go through short bursts of intense effort mixed in with periods of less intense effort and active rest, which is what makes this an interval workout.
No matter where you are in the P90X program, this workout will always fall on the day after an upper body workout. Since Plyometrics concentrates exclusively on the lower body, this is a great setup, allowing your upper body to recover from the day before while your legs do all of the work.
Plyometrics also one of the two P90X workouts about which people are constantly asking, “Couldn’t I just skip this?” (The other is the hour-and-a-half, “Are we done yet? No? Okay. How about now?” Yoga X workout.)
I’ve asked that question many times myself, and the answer is: unless you have heart, knee, or back issues, no, you should not under any circumstances skip Plyometrics and do the easier Cardio X workout instead. No, not even if your legs feel as if they’re about to fall off.
I know what I’m talking about: Cardiovascular endurance has never been my strong point. I can lift heavy weights for a woman my size, I’m flexible, I'm agile, and I used to be a good sprinter, but anyone on my track and field team in high school could out-do me over the long haul. I fought tooth and nail for every quarter mile.
I've always struggled with cardio, and even after having done it dozens of times, I still struggle with this workout. I have to modify some of the moves to make them less challenging, and I have to take more rest breaks than are actually in the DVD.
However, I’ve found that Plyometrics has hugely increased my cardiovascular endurance in a way that no other cardio workout has. It's also improved my rear view, which had followed the rest of my life in a slight post-thirty slump.
I’d call that worth the effort, wouldn’t you?
Who shouldn't do P90X: Plyometrics?
While this workout can offer immense benefits to anyone who has a clean bill of health from their doctor, if you do have any serious medical conditions which preclude doing very intense or high-impact exercise, I’d bag it. I really would.
As a matter of fact, if you’re having serious health problems, you shouldn’t be on P90X at all. Go take a walk. Do some moderate weightlifting. Take a hatha yoga class. But don’t do P90X.
Remember: it’s not wimping out to take it easy if the alternative is ending up in the hospital.
So, if you have:
- Severe heart disease
- Severe asthma or exercise-induced asthma
- Severe knee problems which have required surgical intervention
- Severe back problems
- Are severely overweight or obese
...don't do Plyometrics.
That being said, if you have knee or back problems as opposed to a potentially fatal heart condition, you have my permission to swap Plyometrics out for Cardio X, which is the much more restrained alternative to P90X: Plyometrics. In Cardio X you’ll be doing a mix of yoga, light kickboxing moves, and aerobics, most of which is low impact. It will not be as effective, but it’s also much safer for anyone with bum knees.
Alternatively, if you have mild knee problems, give Plyometrics a try anyway. Just don't jump too high, make sure you have well-cushioned shoes, and pay attention to what your knees tell you.
If you’re severely overweight to obese, first of all, congratulations on taking the first step to becoming fit. You’ll get there, I promise. Secondly, if I were you I’d follow the above advice and do Cardio X instead and wait until after you’ve shed some weight to try Plyometrics. This is because, if you’re overweight, you’re essentially doing everything that a thinner person is doing, only with the equivalent of a backpack full of rocks permanently strapped to your body. This makes everything harder and puts extra pressure on your joints, which is bad, bad news. Stick to low-impact until you’ve shed the rocks, okay?
Okay, so who should do P90X: Plyometrics?
Answer: Everyone else.
This includes everyone who’s ever come up with lame excuses to avoid this workout. “My tennis elbow is acting up,” you say, or, “It makes me sore,” or, “It’s just so hard," or, "I only have one leg."
(Wo)man up, people! Of course it’s hard. That’s why it works!
There are good reasons to avoid Plyometrics, as I outlined in the sections above.
And then there are excuses - and that includes only having one leg, since one of the people in the video does, indeed, have only one leg and does the entire workout with a prosthesis. Kind of puts your excuses in perspective, doesn't it?
In my case, I don't have any handicap so severe, but I do have spondylolisthesis. In layman’s terms, I have a cracked pars bone, which is a part of the structure which helps to support the vertebral column. As a consequence, one of the vertebrae in my lumbar spine has slipped a few millimeters out of position. Many people with this condition are lucky and don't have much in the way of symptoms. I'm not one of the lucky ones. I have mild, chronic low back pain and I need to be a little careful about what I do.
But guess what? I can still do Plyometrics. I just need to use my head and listen to my back. I sometimes have to drop to lower impact and modify some moves, and I sometimes have to take a hot shower and sit down for a while afterwards to give my back a rest. However, with care, I can come through just fine.
As long as your doctor says, “Go for it,” you can go for it. If you have some minor health problems, work around them. Simply pay close attention to what your body is telling you. If something twinges, modify until it stops. If something out-and-out hurts, especially if the pain is sharp and sudden, stop.
In sum, use your noodle.
As mentioned above, Plyometrics consists of a lot of high-impact moves which are generally variations on plyometrics exercises, or jump training.
Here are a few of the highlights:
Squat jumps/jump squats: In this, you perform a normal body weight squat, only as you come up from the lowest position you push off into a vertical jump.
Airborne heismans: A side-to-side leap from one leg to the other with a slight pause and hold on each landing.
Tires: The at-home version of a tire agility course, wherein you jump over a series of (in this case) imaginary monster truck tires.
Leapfrog squats: Another type of squat jump, only in this you’ll be jumping forward and backward and in a wide-stance squat.
For a chipmunk-speed run through some of the workout and a pretty good demonstration of many of the moves, check out this video, helpfully supplied by another P90X-er:
And, yes, you will look that silly. Don’t worry. That’s why you do these workouts at home, where nobody can see you. Just try not to jump on your cat or anything.
All of the ultra high impact plyometrics exercises such as squat jumps are performed for thirty seconds. Other exercises, such as tires, are performed for a full minute. No one exercise is performed for over a minute.
There are twenty exercises in the base workout, and all of them are repeated once, with a thirty second rest after each two-round cycle. In other words, you will perform four exercises, repeat them in the same order, and rest.
You will probably need to pause the DVD to take more rests than the crazy people on your television screen are doing, including the guy with one leg. That’s okay. They’ll still be there when you push play again.
There is a five-minute bonus round at the end which you may or may not opt to do. I never do it, because I find that the moves are a very “blah” afterthoughts without much going for them, and that thirty-five minutes of high-intensity interval training is more than enough to make me feel as if I’ve just been run over by a semi. I don’t need to tack on another five minutes so that I feel as if the semi’s been followed up by an ice cream truck.
Tips for getting the most out of P90X: Plyometrics
- Use a heart rate monitor!
This is almost essential. This workout will get your heart rate up at or close to the maximum. It’s always a good idea to monitor your heart rate when you’re working out that hard.
If you don’t have a monitor, use the rest breaks and a stopwatch to take your pulse.
If you don’t know how to take your pulse, just follow these instructions:
- Place the tips of your index, second, and third fingers on the inside of your opposite wrist, below the base of your thumb. Alternatively, place the tips of your index and second fingers on your lower neck, on one side of your windpipe. (Either side works.) Of the two, I find the latter method much easier.
- Press lightly until you feel a steady pulsing beneath your fingers.
- Using a watch with a second hand or a stopwatch, count the beats you feel for 10 seconds.
- Multiply that number by 6 to get your heart rate. (Heart rate is measured in beats per minute.)
Once you know your current heart rate, you’ll need to compare it to your target heart rate, which is going to be from 65% to 85% of your maximum heart rate.
To find your maximum heart rate, multiply your age by 0.7 and subtract the result from 208.*
Example: If you’re 30 years old, the calculation is as follows: 30 x 0.7 = 21; 208 – 21 = 187.
Then calculate 65% and 85% of your maximum heart rate. This will be your target heart rate.
Example: Taking the average 30 year old with a maximum heart rate of 187 BPM (beats per minute), multiply your maximum, 187, by .65 and by .85, respectively. This gives us a target heart rate range of 121 – 158 BPM.
During your workout, try not to go out of your calculated range. In this case, our 30-year-old representative should not let his heart rate stay above 158, though it’s fine to go above that for brief 10-20 second spurts. If he’s consistently above that, however, he should hit the pause button and take a breather until his heart rate comes back down into the target range
- Rest when you need to.
You will get out of breath during this workout. That’s a guarantee. Don’t just keep going if you’re gasping for air, and don’t feel ashamed about having to pause the DVD and take a thirty- or even sixty-second breather! Personally, I feel that there are even too few breaks in the DVD as it stands, or perhaps it’s better to say that there aren’t enough low intensity intervals to break up the high intensity ones. That, or I’m just extraordinarily bad at cardio. (Which is true. I am.)
So, you have my permission to take breaks when you need them. Just make sure not to take such a long break that your heart rate drops below 65% and your muscles cool down.
- Wear comfortable, supportive shoes.
You’ll be doing a lot of bouncing, and while the guy in the video up there seems comfortable going barefoot, I’d stick with a well-cushioned pair of sneakers, myself.
- Make sure your floor is grippy.
Slipping and sliding your way through this workout is no fun. Figure out which surface in your house offers the best traction and work out there.
- Hydrate well before and after.
Because you’ll be doing so much bouncing, it’s easy to cause stomach cramps or upset by drinking too much during Plyometrics. You will sweat, though, so avoid dehydration by drinking twelve to sixteen ounces of water in the hour leading up to your workout and then drinking another twelve to sixteen ounces afterwards.
- Pay attention to your core.
You don't need or want to have your abs totally tight during the whole workout, but you do want to keep them slightly tensed. This helps to stabilize your core, including your lower back. Speaking as someone with low back problems, I've found that this helps significantly in avoiding any Plyometrics-related back pain.
- Start low.
Nobody says you have to even be able to get your toes off the ground right from the start. Try all of the moves highly modified so that you're either not jumping or jumping very low. This is especially beneficial for beginners because it allows you to learn the moves more safely. Once you think you have a handle on the ground-bound version of Plyometrics, then you can start reaching for the stars.
- Be mindful.
The goal in Plyometrics isn't to throw yourself around like a puppy after a stick. The goal is to increase your leg strength, power, and overall stamina so that you can perform powerful, graceful jumps and leaps in a controlled manner.
So be mindful of what you're doing. Pay attention to which muscles you're using, and if you're not using all that you could, correct that. Make sure your landings are controlled. Don't slam your feet down on the floor. That hurts your joints, not to mention your floor. As Tony says, think like a cat. Land lightly, land on the balls of your feet, and don't ever, ever throw yourself into a move to a point where you lose control of it.
Think about what you're doing. If you're doing jump squats and your quadriceps are burning like fire, think: are you actually pushing off of the ground through your entire leg, from foot to glute? Do you have your heel on the ground at the bottom of each squat, giving you a nice solid base to start from, or are you sort of wobbling off of your toes? Is your squat everything it should be?
Chances are that, if you're just starting, the answer to that is, "No." Your squat is not everything it should be.
If you're doing squat reach jumps, don't just flail your arms in the air. Jump up and reach through your arms as if trying to grab the rafters. Reach and jump as if you want to snag a star out of the sky - but don't do it carelessly, or else you'll just come away with a handful of cloud.
Aim. Focus. Concentrate. Think.
Remember to push with everything you've got, and remember to control the motion.
Be mindful, because exercise is, at its best, a form of active meditation. It's an activity which can keep you so focused in the moment and in the physical sensations of movement that it leaves no more room for the worries that have been dogging you all day. It's the cure for depression, for stress, and for mental clutter.
The key to a good workout lies in what lies behind your muscles, behind your heart, behind your lungs. It lies in what governs them all.
It really is all in your head.
So be mindful, pay attention to your body, and find out what you're really capable of. Chances are that it's more than you ever expected.
Today is a Plyometrics day for me.
As I write this, I’m running a motivational reel in the back of my mind, trying to find ways to make sure that, when the time comes, I'll be in the right mindset to just get up and do it.
Let’s face it: This workout may be rewarding, but it’s also hard, and it’s hard to make ourselves do hard things, even if they're good for us.
To help things out, I like to make my Plyometrics day a “treat” day, and I think you should, too.
This doesn’t mean that you should splurge on a ton of calories. You may burn a lot during this workout, but not enough to down a large milkshake or a few slices of chocolate cake without consequence. There’s a fine line between rewarding yourself and sabotaging yourself, and neither of us wants you to cross it.
But if you’ve been skipping dessert or opting not to have that glass of wine with dinner because you’re counting calories lately, today I want you to go ahead and have the wine, or enjoy a couple of scoops of ice cream after dinner. Go ahead. You’ve earned it.
Again, this isn’t dispensation to go crazy and splurge. But if you feel that you’re capable of stopping short of splurging, go ahead and reward yourself a little.
Another way to reward yourself is to make time for a long bath. Shoo everyone away, close the door, run the water, light some candles, add some bubbles, and take half an hour for yourself. This will not only soothe your tired muscles, but relax your mind and regenerate your psyche. You’ve earned it, so find the time somewhere and do it.
Otherwise, think of something you’d like to indulge in but have been holding off on. Is there room in your budget for a weekly manicure or a quick shiatsu massage? If so, make today your official spa day – with the caveat that you must do your Plyometrics workout first in order to earn the splurge.
Pressed for time? Then do what I do when nothing else works: Take your clothes off, find a full-length mirror, and get a good look at what’s happening behind you while you’re skipping your workouts. Pay special attention to any sagging, dimpling, or jiggling.
I guarantee you, if nothing else motivates you to get through Plyometrics, that will.
Did this review give you the motivation or information you needed to try P90X: Plyometrics?
* The “220 minus your age” formula for finding your heart rate is more well-known and a good general guideline, but has been found to have accuracy issues. In response to the problem, researchers at the University of Colorado conducted both a laboratory-based study and a meta-analysis of other studies to develop a new formula, the “208 minus 0.7 times your age” formula. This is considered to be a somewhat more accurate measure, though in all of these cases the formula is based on averages and may not apply perfectly to every individual.
For further information, you can find an abstract of the study here.