Those of you who care about such things perhaps know already that I’ve done P90X and P90X2. I wrote about my general experience and results here, in case you missed it. And I reviewed Plyocide (from P90X2) and Kenpo (from P90X).
Sometimes I’m asked by folks who are considering trying one or both which one I prefer. At the moment, I do a hybrid P90X-P90X2-Insanity routine that works really well for me, and I’m almost certain to try P90X3 when it comes out in a week or so. And really there’s the answer to that question: I still do workouts from both P90X and P90X2 because I like them both equally, though they are quite different and challenge you in different ways.
Let me say here that I’m not trained in fitness or nutrition, so what follows is really just a layman’s take based on my experience with both programs. Also, I try to keep things in perspective. I like being more fit and looking better, of course, but fitness isn’t my life. My family is my life, my day job, my writing. Fitness is just a part of all that (all of which is, of course, just my way of saying that I still eats me some Doritos and drinks me some Scotchy-Scotch-Scotch. 🙂
To my mind, the big difference between the two programs is in the resistance workouts (e.g., Arms and Shoulders, Chest and Back, Legs and Back, etc.).
In P90X, whatever muscle groups you’re working that day, you work them more or less in isolation and you work them until they’re shaking. But that’s essentially all you work in those workouts. In terms of equipment, you need only dumbbells and a pull up bar.
P90X2, on the other hand, is focused throughout all the resistance workouts on engaging your core (the area from your thigh to your chest) as you work whatever other muscle groups you’re targeting. To get the most out of these, you need some equipment beyond merely the pull up bar and dumbbells: a stability ball and a medicine ball(s). The way P90X2 gets your core engaged is by forcing you to do the resistance moves from somewhat unbalanced (or plank) positions.
An example: In P90X‘s Back and Biceps, when you’re doing a bicep move, you stand solidly on two feet at all times. You do a lot of hard bicep work and it burns (just think of various kinds of curls with the dumbbells). They’re isolation exercises and they do exactly what they’re supposed to do. You target the biceps hard, really hard, but nothing else. In the equivalent P90X2 workout, called V-Sculpt, you’ll do those various curls from an off balance or plank position, and that requires core engagement. And core engagement is what it’s all about in P90X2.
So imagine you’re in a plank position (think of it as the position you’d take if you were about to do a push-up), except your right hand is on a medicine ball and your left hand is gripping a dumbbell that’s resting on the floor. Now you curl that dumbbell while holding the plank with the tips of your toes and the off hand balancing on the med ball. Staying upright in that position really involves your thighs, your abdomen, your chest, and your non-curling arm and shoulder. So everything gets engaged (you can try it without weights and without the medicine ball just to get a feel; you’ll see what I mean right away; and keep in mind that with the weight and ball, it’s an order of magnitude harder). All the P90X2 resistance moves work that way — core engagement is the underlying philosophy of the program, connecting and engaging lots of muscle groups in a single move. The price you pay for that, though, is that you must (as a rule) use less weight than you’d otherwise use because you’re off balance.
So, when I finish P90X Back and Biceps, my lats and biceps are screaming at me the next day. When I finish P90X2 V-Sculpt, my back and biceps are sore (but not killing me), but my abdomen, chest, and legs are also sore. So you can see it’s a bit of a trade off, which is why I do the hybrid workout these days, alternating as my mood takes me between the various resistance workouts of X1 and X2.
A couple additional points about P90X2: One, if you’re going to do it, I’d encourage you to invest in that additional equipment, though I know medicine balls can be pricey. Still, I think it’s worth it and you really need the equipment to get full engagement with the moves. Two, P90X2 takes a little bit of practice to get the most out of the moves. When I first started, I wasn’t always able to engage the same way I can these days. But that just comes with time and repetition, so stick with it, because you’ll appreciate the work outs much more when you get that engagement piece down pat.
In any event, I think the critical difference between the programs to keep in mind is this: P90X resistance workouts work the targeted muscle groups to exhaustion and are probably better at building size and strength. P90X2resistance workouts work the targeted muscle groups less intensely but workout the core at the same time, and are probably better at building athleticism. Both will give you results, though.
As for a recommendation: I’d say start with X1 and finish it before doing X2 (that isn’t necessary, strictly speaking, but I think the strength you gain from X1 will prepare you much better for the kind of work you’ll do in X2; going in cold would be tough, I think).