Sunday, May 1, 2011

Hung's Journey Back to Fitness. A review of P90X with pics and tips.

What is P90X?
If you have ever flipped TV channels late at night, I'm sure you guys have seen infomercials for P90X. It is an extreme home fitness program designed by Tony Horton. It is basically an exercise boot camp that you can do in your own home. It claims that it will get you ripped and fit in 90 days. Too good to be true, right? Well I put it to the test and I will share with you my results. Basically, the work outs are 1 -1.5 hours in length which are done 6 days a week for 13 weeks. There are 3 phases (3 months) to the program. The first 2 months have 3 weeks of tough workouts followed by a recovery week. This allows your body to rest and grow before you take it up a notch the following month. The last phase of P90X is 4 weeks of tough workouts and then a final recovery week. Since, you are doing this program in the privacy of your own home who cares if you are out of shape, uncoordinated, and self conscious of the way you look. All you need is to put the DVD in, push play, and Bring IT!

Why did I do it?
Before we get to how it works, I just want to talk about why I did it. This journey started back in May 2010. I was in Maui attending my sister-in-law's wedding. One morning, I was walking down the beach to go snorkeling. Walking around in public without my shirt on, I became quite self-conscious of how much my belly and spare tire jiggled. Needless to say, I had gotten terribly out of shape and had put on a lot of weight since getting married and having 3 kids. For example, I was so out of shape that I would be sore the day after I did any light gardening in the backyard. I was also tired all the time. I thought it was due to having 3 kids to take care of. I wrong was. It was because I had a poor diet and didn't exercise regularly. So sad.

I was talking with my brother-in-law about the fact and he mentioned that he was getting the P90X extreme home training system. I was curious about it and wanted to try it out. We both made a promise that we were going to do this program. My mistake at that point was that I never set a date of when I was going to start it. I'm a terrible procrastinator at times.

Fast forward to January 2011. I was at work when I heard some of my fellow co-workers talking about starting a Biggest Loser competition to motivate people to lose weight and get back into shape after the holidays. Right at that point, my belly had gotten so big that I was on my last notch of my belt. As embarrassing as it may sound, I was afraid to wash my work pants. After getting them out of the dryer, they would be so tight and uncomfortable. I thought back to that promise I made while on the beach in Maui to do P90X. The time had come for me to honor that promise to myself. I signed up for the competition and later that night I ordered the P90X program.

Why P90X?
The reason why P90X was so perfect for me was that I could do it at home. The hardest part about working out at a gym is just getting my butt to the gym. I have a job and 3 kids to take care of. I do not have much free time. With P90X, since I can work out at home, it is easier for me to squeeze in my daily workouts and stay on schedule. Do you have time to go to the gym 6 days a week? The other important reason was simply because it works. I have friends and knew of people who had done the program and had gotten great results. If it worked for them then it's gotta work for me too! P90X is like having your own personal trainer come over to your house 6 days a week to work out with you. There is a science to exercise and a methodology in order to get the most efficient results. You can have a membership at a fancy gym with a huge selection of shiny workout equipment, but if you don't know how to exercise, know when to exercise, how many reps to do, how much weight to use, I doubt you will get the same results in the same amount of time. Most likely you will either plateau or get bored of doing the same thing. Even worse, you may end up hurting yourself by doing too much of one thing and not enough of another.

P90X is simple. There is nothing to figure out. You just follow what Tony says and do your best to keep up. The program is designed to prevent you from hitting a plateau. Often times, even if you work out regularly, you reach a point where your body adapts and gets more efficient. At that point, you don't get as much out of the work out as you use to. You basically stop losing weight. P90X is designed around a concept of Muscle Confusion. It's nothing special. It's just another term for variety. There are so many different exercises that you put your body through, that it is always being challenged. It is a comprehensive overall fitness program that hits everything and I do really mean everything. It's very good at finding your weak points and improving those areas. I was sore in places I didn't even know I had!

What do I need?

Here is a picture of my state of the art, high tech, home work out facilities. That's right folks, I spared no expense. Hahaha.

- The P90X Extreme Training System (13 work out DVDs, a workout Booklet and Nutrition Booklet) = $119.85 + shipping and handling. (It's cheapest if you buy directly from I had ordered mine from and for some reason it was about 10 bucks more, wtf?!)
- Pull up bar ($40).
- A pair of 20 lb dumbbells ($60 total),
- A pair of 12 lb dumbbells ($30 total).
- 2 sets of foam exercise mats ($50 total).

The P90X program recommends a yoga matt too. I bought one but hated it. It always bunches up and moves around. Since I work out on a hardwood floor, I opted to get 2 sets of foam exercise mats. If you plan on working out on hardwood floors, I would highly recommend getting some. Your tail bone, hips and wrists will thank you later. The P90X booklet also recommends a heart monitor. Will it help? Yes. Is it absolutely essential? No. For P90X, you can either use dumbbells or elastic bands. I only used weights. Supposedly you can get as good a work out with the bands and Tony shows you how to use them. The advantage of the bands is that as you get stronger, you can still use the same band. You just shorten the length. With weights you have to buy a heavier dumbbell. If you go with dumbbells then you will definitely want to get 2 weights. There are a lot of shoulder and tricep exercises that I couldn't do with the 20 lb weight. When picking which weight to buy, they recommend getting one that you can do at least 20 bicep curl reps with. For me that was 20 lbs. Yup. That's it! Please note the absence of any large obnoxious looking exercise machine in this picture.

Do I have to follow the diet?
The short answer is YES. They say that 80% of the results that you get from the program are actually due to the nutritional component of this program and I believe it. If you only work out and do not follow a diet, you will get fit but probably not lose much weight and not look much different. Throughout this journey I have learned of many peoples' experiences going through the P90X program. There are varying results. Some people lose a ton of weight and get ripped. Other's lose a little bit of weight or none. How can that be since they are all doing the same type of exercise. The variable here is their diet.

I will admit that I did not exactly follow the specific diet that P90X recommended. I did read through the nutrition booklet and use it as a guide and ideas for recipes. Here are some principles that I followed and worked for me.

1) You need to eat every 2.5-3 hours. That means small snacks throughout the day. If you keep your body fueled with a constant supply of food, it will stop holding onto calories and start burning fat to build muscle in response to the exercise that you are doing. You do need to create a calorie deficit, but if you starve yourself all day long, you will lose some weight at first, but that will soon stop and you may gain more fat and lose muscle. Be careful when you are eating frequent meals because it is easy to go overboard on your total daily calories if you are not careful with your portion sizes. A great and easy way to track your calories is with an online site called. I use one called Here is an EXAMPLE of what I eat on a daily basis. This site is great because not only does it track your calories, but also gives you a pie graph of your %fat, %carb and %protein. I don't log my diet daily but I do use this site to play around with hypothetical menu ideas.

2) Stay away from sugar, in particular high fructose corn syrup. Sugar causes you to gain weight. Refined carbohydrates rich foods (white rice, white bread, pasta, soda, bakery good, etc) is basically loaded with sugar. If you want to get ripped, you need to read food labels and do your best to stay away from sugar. Do yourself a favor and watch this lecture about the dangers of sugar.

3) Spend more time buying food in the fresh produce section of the supermarket.

4) Modify recipes to replace carbs. Whenever I make spaghetti, I will replace pasta with one of the following: cubes of tofu, boiled cauliflower/broccoli, lettuce cut into thin strips, canned bamboo shoots or a can of beans (red, black or garbanzo). Beans are great because they are mainly just fiber and protein. If you are going to eat canned beans I would warn you that most canned beans are very high in sodium. One can can actually have over a 1,365mg of sodium which will definitely raise your blood pressure. Look for canned beans with No Salt Added.

5) Cook big batches of food ahead of time and put it in a Tupperware in the fridge so that you can just microwave and eat throughout the week. I like to make a big batch of vegetable soup on the weekend. Take your favorite vegetables (Napa cabbage, tomatoes, chopped celery, etc) and boil it in chicken broth. Then on a weekday I just need to heat up some protein (chicken, tilapia or salmon which you can buy frozen in bulk at Costco) and then eat it with my vegetable soup. Again, be careful of the sodium content which may affect your blood pressure. I also like to cook a big batch of Mabo Tofu or my Eggplant Goolash. Having premade food in the fridge is going to keep you from going out and getting fast food when you come home hungry from work.

6) If you go out to eat with your family, use the calorie content of each item in the menu to make your decision. I try to shoot for a meal that has about 600 or less calories total. You would be surprised at how many "healthy salads" have more than 1,000 calories. Also stay away from condiments like ketchup which are just loaded with sugar. If your meal comes with a side of fries then ask to switch it to steamed vegetables. Skip the dessert and have a piece of fresh fruit.

7) If I don't have any prepared food at home then I will pick up 2 chicken breasts from El Pollo Loco and eat it with salsa. I also like the 6 inch Turkey Breast on whole wheat sandwich from Subway. On the way home from work, I'll buy a foot long, eat half for dinner and bring the other half to work for tomorrow's lunch.

8) Pack a lunch. You should be packing food to work for snacks anyways. Again if you have food that is already prepared, you are more likely to be able to eat every 2.5-3 hours and less likely to get hungry and go grab some junk food.

9) I am constantly searching for new recipes and foods to eat. If you eat the same thing day in and day out, no matter how great it is working to help you lose weight, you will grow bored of eating it and go back to your old bad eating habits. Variety is the spice of life as they say.

10) I am constantly snacking in order to keep my body fueled. The key is to eat the right type of snacks and to control the portions. My snacks consist of: almonds, edemame, beef jerky, and fresh fruit. Keep your portions small. I basically take a left over Gerber baby food plastic container and fill it with 16 almonds. Yes I actually will count out the almonds. Almonds are a great source of good fats which will raise your HDL good cholesterol but again they are calorie packed so you have to keep your portion under control. If you snack on them all day long, I guarantee you will GAIN weight. Be careful of dried fruit. Many are coated in tons of sugar. They are already sugary to begin with and are more calorie dense since they are dehydrated. The only dried fruit I eat is tiny packets of Sunmaid raisins. I add one to my morning oatmeal and add another to my almonds for my afternoon snack.

11) Eat a snack before leaving work. I make it a rule that I must complete my work out before eating dinner. Unfortunately most of us are starving by the time we get home from a long day of work and cannot control our cravings. Thus I eat a small snack like an apple before leaving work. By the time I get home, I already have something in my belly. My cravings are held at bay for a bit and I get a boost of energy to get me through my workouts.

12) Do not finish your kid's leftover. That's one of the reason why I got overweight in the first place. My kids can be picky eaters at times. They sometimes will not finish their plate and I feel like it is such a waste of good food. So I scrape it onto my plate and finish it off. That's a lot of extra calories that I do not need. Get in the habit of only eating your food.

13) I like to keep a box of Pure Protein Bars at work. You can get them at Costco or your local grocery store. It only has 2-3g of sugar and I can eat it for a mid morning or mid afternoon snack. If you spend some time looking at ingredient labels, a lot of "protein or energy bars" are just loaded with sugar, some over 19g. Stay away from that stuff. It's like eating a candy bar.

14) Load up on fiber. Fiber is considered by many health experts an essential nutrient. Fiber is important because it speeds up the transit time of your food as it moves through your intestines. It will actually REDUCE the amount of carbohydrates that are absorbed through your intestines. It also will give you a sense of being full faster. Those are all good things!

Tips to make it through the 90 day work out program.
I will not kid you. The workouts are tough and often intense. 6 days a week is an arduous pace to keep. You will be sore, get use to it. I think I was always sore somewhere on my body throughout most of the 90 days. During the first two weeks of the program, people questioned why I was walking funny. It was because my legs and hips were sore. Don't let the intensity scare you off. This is exactly what you need to get the results you want. On average, people who end up quitting P90X, usually do it after the first month. So how do you keep motivated to keep pushing play each day and get through the entire 90 day program? Here are some tips that helped me.

1) Watch youtube videos. Just type P90X into the search bar in youtube and you will find tons of people who post their personal transformations. Many are quite inspiring. I watch them all the time and they get me pumped and excited about my workouts. Here are some of my favorites including mine.

Hung's P90X Transformation from Hung Tran on Vimeo.

Vin's P90x Transformation from David Frady on Vimeo.

2) Start a biggest loser program with friends or coworkers. Sign up for a race or athletic event. Having a goal and competition are great motivators. Plus there is a lot of camaraderie and support to be gained when people are working together to improve their health.

3) Use the worksheets. You can download them HERE for free. They help you keep track of your reps and weight for each exercise. This is very important. Each workout I try to improve and outdo my last workout even if it is just 1 more rep than last week. Having a reference point will help you to keep pushing harder each workout. This is important because as you grow in strength and stamina the exercises will get easier and you will not get the same benefit as before. To compensate, you can increase the weight that you are lifting, increase the rep count or modify the exercise routine to make it more challenging.

4) Take before and after pics. As you can see, I was very methodical about taking my pics on Day 0, 30, 60 and 90. The purpose of this was not for bragging rights. The purpose was to prove to me that my efforts were working. On day 30 when I saw that my once bulging belly was flatter and that I was getting more lines of definition in my abs, and arms, I was so proud. They were small gains but it proves to you that this program is working and it reinforces your motivation to continue. Whether or not you share your pics with other people is totally up to you.

5) Tell other people that you are doing P90X. Again this is not for the purpose of bragging rights. One of my personal motivating factors is to avoid public embarrassment. I hate it. I don't want to be known as a quitter. To hold myself accountable, I want my family, my friends and my coworkers to know about what I am trying to do. How embarrassing would it be for me , if one day they ask me how my fitness journey was going and I told them I had quit and not lost any weight? I use the public knowledge of my efforts and the risk of personal embarrassment as a leverage against my desire to quit. If you start P90X and do not tell anyone, then it is much easier to just quit one day and no one will be the wiser or care.

6) Pace yourself. The work outs are long and you often repeat specific exercises. If you blow your wad at the beginning of the workout then you might have trouble finishing the entire work out. For instance there is a work out day where pretty much all you do are various forms of pushups and pull ups. If you try to max out on your first push up or pull up, how are you going to continue for the entire 55 minute workout. Also keep in mind that even if you pushed it hard and completed that day's workout, you have another workout that is just as hard tomorrow and the rest of the week. Pace yourself in the 1st 2 months. Your body needs time to grow stronger.

7) Modify! Modify! Modify! Tony harps on this all the time. Every exercise has a way to modify it to make it more difficult or easier. For instance, I suck at pull ups. When I did my fitness test, I could only do 3. So you can modify this by using a chair and resting 1 leg on the chair. This takes off some of your body weight, but you still get an upper body work out. I used a chair for my pull ups for at least the 1st 2 months. During the last month, I would start out without using a chair but when I was exhausted I would use a chair again to get in at least 10 reps. Same goes with pushups. I couldn't do 1 handed pushups. So I just did them on my knees. Or if I was too exhausted towards the end of the workout and could only do a few pushups, I would then just finish the set on my knees.

8) Focus on your form. Tony harps on this too. Form is absolutely important. It prevents you from getting hurt and also maximizes the benefit you get from a particular exercise. Working out 6 days a week for 90 days straight can potentially put you at risk for injuries such as strains, tendonitis, bursitis or worse depending on how out of shape you are. The last thing you want is to get hurt and have to take a break from your workout schedule. Luckily, P90X was designed very intelligently and was refined through many test groups to avoid injuries. Listen to Tony and do exactly what he tells you.

9) Do yoga. Yah. I wasn't big on Yoga in the beginning. It's weird and actually quite painful at times. Instead of jumping around and working up a sweat, you are holding difficult positions for extended periods of time and working up a sweat. It will strengthen your core and back and make your muscles and joints more flexible and pliable. This in turn will protect you from injury. Whether or not you reach nirvana depends on if your children are fighting over a toy or trashing your house while you are doing yoga.

10) Get more sleep. Not that you need any encouragement to go to bed. You will be dog gone tired after your work outs. I don't think I have slept as well as I have since I started this program. Remember, you do not build muscle while you are working out. You build muscle and repair your body when you are resting and sleeping. Plus if you stay up late, you are more likely to get hungry and sneak in a late night snack. Very bad! Do yourself a favor and go to bed early if you can.

11) Avoid weighing yourself daily. Your weight fluctuates based upon many variables including hydration status. If you weigh yourself daily, you might have some days where your weight went up. Motivation can be a very fragile thing. Seeing your weight go up after watching your diet and working your butt off can be very self defeating. Instead focus on more concrete things like the fact that your pants and clothes are getting looser. Ideally, I would recommend that you weigh yourself once a month. However if you can't wait that long then do it ONLY once a week, the same day of the week, first thing in the morning before eating breakfast.

12) Get a coach. Beachbody offers free coaching. Yup, free. A lot of people who have gone through the program sign up to be coaches and are willing to help you get through the program. You will often see a message at the end of their youtube video showing a link to their personal website. Not every Beachbody coach will be helpful. Choose wisely. In my last month of P90X, I came across Coach Wayne Wyatt. He had an awesome transformation and he has a great website with lots of good info and motivation to keep you going. I signed him up to be my coach and joined his group on facebook. There are a lot of other members on that facebook page and we constantly keep each other motivated and they are a good resource for questions.

13) Do yourself a favor and stay on your diet. What is the point of working out if you are just going to put all the calories back and more with junk food. If you are trying to change your body into a high performance race car, why would you put cheap gas in it. Plus if you don't keep to your diet, I doubt that you will see much change physically after the first month. Then you are more likely to give up and quit. Again, motivation is a very fragile thing. On the other hand if you do follow your diet, you will see changes which in turn motivates you to continue. Don't sabotage your own efforts. What really determines your end result and how quickly you get it, is how good you are with your diet. That's the simple truth.

14) Educate yourself on nutrition and fitness. This journey really is a journey. You need to re-educate yourself and replace bad habits with healthier ones. It can be quite a confusing search. There is a lot of info out there, some good, some worthless and some who just want your money. I suggest your start HERE. It's a link to Beachbody's vast library of articles on fitness and nutrition. Good stuff and it's free! I read through them on my lunch break.

Supplements and Recovery drinks
The Beachbody company has a line of supplements, recovery drink and Shakeology drink that they promote. Some people use them, some don't. I can't comment on them since I never tried them personally. During my 90 days, I kept things as simple as possible. The only supplement that I took was Airborne when I felt like I was getting sick or when other family members were sick. I do believe in recovery drinks though. A recovery drink is something that you drink after a hard workout. It replenishes your energy quickly, gives your muscle the nutrients needed to heal and grow. It reduces how sore you are the next day. If you are going to do P90X 6 days a week, a recovery drink is absolutely essential. Again, I did not use the P90X brand recovery drink. I made my own. I used 1/2 a packet of carnation instant breakfast essentials chocolate flavor. Blend that up with 1 cup of soy milk, 1 cup of ice water. It really hits the spot after a hard work out. Don't believe me? Just google "chocolate milk recovery drink." There are a lot of other more expensive options out there, but again I wanted to keep things simple and affordable.

So after all this talk, you guys want to know what results I got. I think the pictures I have posted can already attest to the fact that P90X works. How about some more details. Btw, those cargo pants were tight on me before starting P90X.

- It took me a total of 100 days to complete the program. I had to take a day off here and there due to being too sore to continue.

- Total weight lost = 26 lbs.

- I lost an average of 2-3 lbs each week. But there were some weeks during the 2nd month that I didn't lose any weight. I think it may have been due to me reintroducing brown rice into my diet.

- I started at 18.8% body fat which was measured by a BIA (Bio Impedance Analysis) machine at work. At the end of the 2nd month, I was down to 10.2% body fat. After I completed my 3rd month, the machine said that I was at 13.5 % body fat despite the fact that I had lost another 4 lbs during that last month. My conclusion is that machines that measure body fat % by using an electric current are inconsistent and not worth your time. I have read that your skin moisture content can affect your results. I ended up buying a body fat caliper and measured my final body fat to be at 10.5%.

- I took a fit test before starting P90X. I could only do 25 pushups and 3 pull ups. After P90X, I could do 48 pushups and 14 pull ups.

- My resting heart rate before starting P90X was 92. That just shows you how out of shape I was! After P90X, it was 60.

- My current cholesterol levels are as follows: Total cholesterol = 146, HDL = 49, Trig = 60, LDL = 85. Unfortunately I did not check my cholesterol levels prior to starting P90X. The last time I checked them was back in 2007. At that time I had the following numbers. Total cholesterol = 187, HDL = 35, Trig = 150, LDL = 122. I think it is safe to conclude that P90X definitely improved my cholesterol numbers.

So now what?
Having gone through and successfully completed such an arduous program, what do I do now? Do I plant my flag on top of the mountain and then just sit back and let my body go back to its naturally flabby self? Hell no! It would be a shame to lose what I have worked so hard to gain. One thing to keep in mind is that I do not need to lose any more weight. In fact, I would be fine with gaining a few pounds actually. But I want to gain pounds of muscle, not fat. In cycling, after you have conquered one hill, you go out and find a bigger hill to climb. I did just that. I signed up for an Insanity Asylum workout challenge and guess what? It starts today. Here's a sneak peak.

Yup I'm crazy, hence the Asylum. Haha. It's only a month long workout program (which is also sold by I found out about it through my coach's website. His team is competing against another team and you know how I love competition. Ideally I would have liked 2 weeks off before starting another workout program, but this competition just happened to start right when I came off P90X so the timing was perfect. I'll let you guys know how Insanity Asylum goes. See you all in a month. Stay tuned!

I'm too out of shape to do this workout.

Remember this guy? He had a resting heart rate of 92 before he started the program. Talk about being in terrible shape. Yikes. But, if he could do it then so can you. Remember Rome wasn't built in a day. Just take it one day at a time, one exercise at a time. Just like Tony says, "Do your best and forget the rest!" Now stop staring at my nipples and go get some exercise.


  1. Excellent results. Great info. Great job

  2. Awesome job Hung! I watched your video on then just read this post/review you have done. Sweet work bro!

  3. Thanks for all the great info!!! Great job!


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