P90x3 Challenge First Check-In: Slow Progress

I ended the P90x3 challenge kickoff with “See you in a month for the first check-in”. I know it’s been longer than a month, but my editor convinced me that a check-in for the sake of a check-in just wasn’t a good idea, so I compromised and decided to check-in at the halfway point. So now that I am half done with my P90x3 journey, how are things going? The short answer? Disappointingly slow.

Everything seemed to start off great. In the first week, my body was incredibly sore for days after each exercise. After the first few weeks, I had lost half a percentage point in body fat and gained a full percentage point in muscle mass. It was small progress, but positive progress. But what happened after my most recent measurement check? I’m back to my original body fat percentage, have gained weight and am down to only half a percentage point of muscle mass gain. To be blunt, it’s an incredibly disappointing development. I’ve been following the P90x3 workout regimen pretty religiously. I’ve been working out at least 6 times a week and often 7 times. I feel like I’m doing everything right, so why the plateauing? I have 3 theories (each followed by what I intend to do to address them):

Theory #1: Not Pushing Myself Hard Enough

I had mentioned being incredibly sore after each exercise in the first week. What I didn’t mention is that my body hasn’t felt particularly sore since then. I’m perplexed as to why. I feel like I’m pushing myself just as hard, but the lack of soreness seems to indicate that it’s not hard enough. To make matters worse, my workout buddies keep asking me if my legs are sore after Triometrics or arms are sore after The Challenge. Their muscles are sore. My muscles are not, despite never taking more than a single rest day during the week (and often substituting Ab Ripper X from the original P90x on rest days). I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong. I feel like I’m pushing myself during the workouts. At the end, I’m sweating and exhausted and I often have to take brief breaks during the workout because my muscles just don’t feel like the can do another squat jump. My only theory is that I’m exercising to mental failure and not physical failure.

My last rep should be a rep that I failed, not one completed successfully.

What do I mean? Allow me to tell a short story. There was a student taking a martial arts class where the instructor was having them do wall-sits. After doing his wall-sit for what seemed like forever, the student’s muscles were burning and he felt like he couldn’t do the wall-sit anymore so he stood up. The instructor asked why the student stood up. The student explained that his legs just couldn’t do the wall-sit anymore. The instructor replied that when the body fails, you fall down, but when the mind fails, you stand up. The student’s body hadn’t failed, his mind had stopped him from reaching physical failure. During exercises when I take a break because I don’t feel like I can do anymore, I can’t help but notice that I stand up instead of falling down. To me, that means my mind is failing me and preventing me from pushing myself to my limit.

How do I intend to fix this in the second half? I have two goals. First is to exercise to physical failure instead of mental failure. Make sure I’m doing squats until I can’t stand up anymore instead of standing up because I don’t think I can do anymore. I suspect this is a problem with pull-ups and push-ups as well. My last rep should be a rep that I failed, not one completed successfully. The second goal is to simply pick heavier weights. I used to push myself to try heavier weights even if I suspected I was aiming too high, because I was working out alone and there was no shame in stopping after one rep and then switching to a lighter weight. Now it seems like I am more cautious in the weights that I choose, possibly because of a fear of looking weak in front of others. Time to banish that fear and push myself once again.

Theory #2: Not Being Strict Enough With My Diet

This may surprise most people who are only familiar with the P90x programs through their marketing, but essential nutrition plays a big role. Both P90x and P90x3 came with just as much documentation on how to eat properly as it did for how to perform the workouts properly. And while my primary goal isn’t to lose weight, but instead is to get in shape, modern wisdom seems to be that nutrition is, if anything, even more important than exercise. While I don’t think that my diet is a disaster, and I’ve definitely made big strides recently in cutting back on sugary beverages and alcohol), I definitely have areas of improvement, and there is no better representation of this than the Bacon Egg and Cheese McGriddle.

My greatest weakness: Tasty, cheap and convenient food.

I have two crippling weaknesses when it comes to sticking to a diet: (1) Convenient food and (2) Deals on food. Right around the beginning of the P90x3 challenge, I found out that McDonalds was offering a promotion. Whenever the Washington Capitals or Washington Wizards are leading after the first period/quarter (regardless of the outcome of the game), you can get a free McGriddles sandwich with the purchase of a beverage the next day. A large coffee costs a mere $1 at McDonalds and anybody following either of those teams might note that both are in the midst of an incredible hot streak, which basically means that nearly every day since starting the challenge, I’ve been able to get a tasty and convenient Bacon Egg and Cheese McGriddle and large coffee for $1.06. For somebody who struggles every morning with getting their two kids to school on time while trying to save money, that combination of convenience and value is deadly. What’s even deadlier is the 2.5:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. Considering I went over my 2,200 calorie a day limit in 5 out of the 6 weeks that I tracked while simultaneously missing my protein goal in 4 out of the 6 weeks, that’s an unacceptable breakfast to be having most mornings. I can do better, and I must do better.

How do I intend to fix this in the second half? This one is simple: less fast food. I need to bite the bullet and wake up 15 minutes earlier and whip up some eggs. If I must have convenience, then I need to go for Soylent. The 2:1 carb to protein ratio isn’t ideal, but it’s an improvement. There’s probably also improvement to be had with cutting back more on desserts (although a man can be excused for making an exception for his birthday, right?), but breakfast seems to be the biggest area for potential improvement.

Theory #3: Maybe It’s Just Too Early

When I was trying to figure out why I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted, I stumbled upon this Beachbody page which discussed how long it typically takes people to see results. There’s a video with Tony Horton where he discusses how for many people, they often don’t see results until 6 or 7 weeks in. At the time, he was talking about the original P90x, but I imagine the same advice holds for P90x3. I’m right at that 6-7 week time frame, so maybe my body is just a coiled spring ready for all the pent up changes to erupt. I certainly hope so.

How do I intend to fix this in the second half? This is the easiest one, because all I have to do is just keep at it. Keep pressing play. Keep showing up. Don’t get discouraged.

Still, it probably can’t hurt if I start taking the stairs instead of the elevator a few times a week. Just in case.

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Paul Essen
Founder and Chief Discourse Officer at Rampant Discourse
Proud geek. Trekkie. Browncoat. Entil'Zha. First human spectre. Hokie. Black belt. Invests Foolishly. Loves games of all types and never has enough time to play as many as he wants. Libertarian who looks forward to the day he votes for a winning presidential candidate. Father to two beautiful daughters.

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