It’s been a very long time since I did one of my fitness-related posts. If you are interested in my previous reviews, you can jump here for a review of all Tony Horton’s P90X systems (link leads to the last one, but from there you can go back to the P90X2 and the first, original which is still a favorite of mine). You can jump here for a review of Focus_T25 and here for Jessica Smith.  The common denominator of all those systems is that they involve at least 30 minutes, some are quite a bit longer (P90X yoga will require 90 minutes to of your time).

For the most part these days, my exercises involve Jessica Smith and P90X (either several of my favorite videos from the original series (Kenpo, Plyometrics, Shoulders and Arms, Legs and Back, Ab-Ripper), or a few from P90X3 like Incinerator and The Challenge).

However, I find myself doing quite a bit of short videos available for free on youtube. They are great to add on a day in which I already went on the treadmill for a while, or walked our 3.5 mile route with the pups. Here are my favorites and why I like them.

This 10-min routine is perfect to tone the arms. It is amazing what you can do with just 2 sets of dumbbells, a 5 pound and a 3 pound. It is all based on fast repetitions with no rest. By the end of it, you know you challenged your biceps and triceps.

Another 10-min routine by the same trainer. I must tell that my friend Elaine (sourdough bread baker extraordinaire) also does this one as well as many others (we are fitness buddies 6 thousand miles apart). We joke that this is the “Okaaaaaay” exercise. You will have to watch it to understand. Anyway, if you do this one right after the Madonna’s Arms you won’t need to exercise your upper body for another week. I promise you.

This is a very interesting routine, only 8 minutes long. You use NO weights whatsoever but your arms will be moving non-stop and it is surprisingly challenging. And a lot of fun.

If you are familiar with Jessica’s workouts, this is a typical short-video that is not going to kill you or even leave you too sore, but will do the job. Jessica has countless exercises for free in her youtube channel, you can search by time, body part, or level of difficulty. I highly recommend her videos.

I am very fond of standing ab routines (although in my opinion nothing beats the original P90X Ab-Ripper), and this is a very good example of how to target your abdominal region in a short time. It requires a bit of flexibility in the hip region and could be a problem if you have issues with your lower back. But totally doable.

A more classic approach with exercises performed on the floor. Nice and not too challenging.

I really like this one a lot. I starts with planks in a few different ways, which sets me in the right mood for ab-exercises. I love doing planks because they are surprisingly efficient and all you have to do is hold your body in a certain position.

This is a very nice, short and sweet routine. It covers pretty much the whole body, and it is not too challenging.

This one targets mostly the legs, again not too challenging, but gets the job done.

I hope you will find these links useful. There is a whole universe of videos out there, for free. You can definitely find instructors that motivate you and exercises that target a particular type of exercise you need. I did not include yoga or flexibility-geared videos because I use exclusively Jessica Smith systems as well as P90X yoga for that. But you can easily find them searching youtube.



It’ s been a while since we talked fitness, but that does not mean I changed my habits. Not at all, certain things are truly set in stone for me. My first fitness review was back in September 2011, when I shared my thoughts on the gruesome but efficient P90X. Since that time I’ve reviewed the other sequels of Tony Horton (P90X2 and X3), a program from Beachbody called Focus T25, and last March Jessica’s Walk Strong, which, together with countless options she offers online (for free), settled as my present routine of choice.

As I mentioned a year ago, the reason why I searched for new fitness programs was to avoid injuries. As you get older they take longer to heal, and frankly, I got tired of constantly dealing with them. Once I got introduced to Jessica Smith’s world, I realized that – with less investment of time and approaches that involve less weight but more repetitions – I could maintain my fitness level without torturing my body too much. And all that with the feeling I am exercising with a wonderful friend. You simply cannot beat Jessica’s personality, kindness, and gentle way to stimulate you into giving the best you can give to each workout.  But, what makes this new fitness system even more special to me?  I was a beta-tester for it!  Let that sink in, will you?  I got to watch it, test it, and give Jessica a little feedback before it was released to the public. I know, it is the coolest thing since Elon Musk! I still cannot quite believe it…

Let me then walk you through the program. If you are new to Jessica’s approach, you might wonder why her fitness routines all have the word “walk” in them. Basically every session involves walking, either in place of moving around front-to-back or side-to-side. Except, of course when you are doing floor exercises, but they are usually a minor component (time-wise) in the videos. What that means is that you are moving constantly. You might be targeting your shoulders, triceps, or upper back with dumbbells, but your legs will be moving at the same time, which also will bring your heartbeats up, for added aerobic boost.

It would be too long and convoluted to go through the 20 different workouts in a review, so I will go in detail through those comprising the first week as an example. The first day covers basics, going over proper form required for all videos ahead of you, and a short workout called 1-Mile of Motivation. On day 2, the fun begins, big time. As far as equipment goes, it is absolutely necessary to get dumbbells, and a mat. Without those, you won’t be able to perform many of the routines, although many require exclusively your body. Additional options (not required, but nice to include) are a small step, and a very light foam ball. I provided links to amazon, but I am not affiliated, so no bonus for me if you order any of those items. In my mind, those are worthy investments. I take exercising very seriously, and just like in cooking, having the right tools for the job is part of the equation. Again, you can do all videos without these last two items. So let’s dive in.

Metabolic Conditioning (Day 2) I can tell you this workout will catch you by surprise because it can be quite challenging. Not only – in typical Jessica’s fashion – you will not stop for a single second during the 30-minute session, but the mixing of dumbbells with step moves will turn what seems like a weight-training workout into aerobic territory. You will break a sweat.  First time I did it, I was a bit ambitious and set my step with two raisers. Big mistake, considering I am very petite (5 ft tall if I stretch my neck pretty hard). I also went a bit heavy on the dumbbells, but quickly realized my mistake and adjusted mid-way through.  A very nice opening video to start the program, pretty much a full body workout, with core exercises to wrap it all up.

Barefoot Cardio Core (Day 3).  You can use a foam ball for this, again it is not mandatory, and Jessica’s Mom demonstrates how to do the whole series without one. A very flow-y routine, that nicely targets the abdominal region, but all with stand-up exercises, and again, non-stop walking. My favorite part is the final 8 minutes or so. That final stretch mimics classic floor routines – think for instance laying down oblique bicycle moves – but since you are standing up, the neck is spared of any strain. Also, she incorporates Pilates and yogic moves that challenge balance and core strength. A winner of a routine, in my opinion. It targets the core and abdominal region with moves that you perform daily, grabbing things, twisting, lifting. Awesome. If you have issues doing exercises barefoot, no problem, put some shoes on and have fun.

Total Body Workout. It is important to have a friend to check your form.

Total Body (Day 4). In the WalkStrong3 system, you have three videos that together could make up a very nice series to rotate over and over. Total Body (introduced in the first week), Upper Body (second week), and Lower Body (also second week). They do exactly what the title implies, using dumbbells in 30-min routines that target the full body (Total Body) or more geared towards upper (arms, shoulders, upper back), and lower regions (legs, hips, thighs). All of them devote some attention to the core, and all of them keep you moving full-time (Walk Strong, remember?). After I finished the 8-week cycle, I found myself going back to these three videos quite often. You can adapt each routine to your level of fitness by increasing or decreasing the weights, going lower on squats, adding a little jump to lateral or forward moves. Debbie usually demonstrates lower impact moves, and Beth pretty much goes for the kill. Follow Jessica’s words of wisdom and listen to your body. An advice I often disregard completely. Rebel. My middle name.

Boogie I.T. (Day 5). Interval Training. If you follow the trends, this is a big one right now. It is clear that short bursts of high intensity activity followed by more mellow moves is a great way to approach fitness. This is a fun DVD, the music is great, the moves are not complicated, and the high intensity component will have you grasping for air. But as is always the case, they are short enough that you can hang on and feel fantastic when that stretch is over. Quoting Tony Horton, “you can do anything for 30 seconds!” I think it is a good workout for beginners, even if you’ve never done interval training before, because you can tone down the intensity of 30-sec high intensity bits. You can also increase the overall challenge of the workout by jumping higher or moving with more intensity throughout the full 30 minute session. As is the case for all her DVDs, you can adapt according to what suits you. Cannot stress that enough.

Tone + Flow (Day 6).  A nice way to wrap up the first week. It is deceptive in the sense that the pace is slow, but exactly there lies its challenge. Sometimes fast pace makes exercising with weights easier, because we rely on momentum. In Tone and Flow, you are handling light weights, and going through each movement slowly, with focus and attention. It changes the game, for sure. There is also quite a bit of attention to balance, in Pilates fashion. I love it.

Final Day is rest, or you can follow the DVD called Deep Stretch. Every week closes with a rest day.

So that is your first week, summarized.  As you can see in the first picture on top, the calendar marks each day with one of three colors. Blue for moderate effort, Red for Moderate to Higher Intensity, and Yellow for Active Rest.  No week in the full program goes for more than four days of Higher Intensity. But you should keep in mind every single routine is adaptable to any level of fitness, from beginner to advanced. It is your body, it is your call. You are in charge.

Bonus Review: Barre Sculpt.  I love this one so much, I need to highlight it. This is a routine that shows up at the end of the second week. I had been exposed to Jessica’s barre workouts through her youtube routines, and fell totally in love with them. Before you pose the question, no, you don’t need to install a ballet bar in your home. Jessica adapts ballet exercising using any chair with a high back, or you can use a high countertop.  Pretty clever! I was thrilled when I realized that the WalkStrong3 incorporated Barre Sculpt. The routine involves simple ballet-inspired moves that are performed many, many times, with dumbbells and the optional foam ball. You take each muscle group pretty much to fatigue. I am always pleasantly sore next day, with that feeling of a full body workout under the belt.  Barre Sculpt is another routine I went back to over and over after I finished the program.

I would like to bring back six specific points I made in my first review of Jessica’s Walk Strong, because these are so important, particularly if you have never heard of her before.

1. Jessica does all the routines. No stopping to highlight details or correct someone else’s form. She does every single move, beginning to end. Even though she is actually doing each exercise and instructing, she never misses a beat. I have a huge pet peeve with fitness instructors who get lost in the number of repetitions, and might cut short the series in one side of the body versus the other. This never happens on Jessica’s videos. Plus, you are never lost in the flow of movements because she tells you what will happen next, will even tap quickly the leg that will start the next movement, so that from the first time you use a particular video, you can follow it.

2. No rest for the wicked.  Thirty minutes of exercise means non-stop action. Once you start, there will be NO break. Maybe for some this is a drawback, but I find it great. The heart rate keeps up, time is used very efficiently.  The closest thing to a break is having to switch from a lighter to a heavier set of dumbbells, or go from standing up to laying down. More on this later.

3. Thirty minutes are easy to stick with. One of the toughest things of the original P90X or other programs is the time involved. You need to spare sometimes one hour or more, which can be pretty hard to do when you have a busy schedule. Thirty minutes are easy to devote to it. C’mon, most people will sit and surf the net for longer than that when they get home from work… Why not devote these precious minutes to taking care of your body? It’s a no-brainer!

4. Real people in the videos. Cannot praise that enough. Every single video I’ve tried has “real people” in it. Healthy women with healthy bodies, wearing regular exercise clothes. The setting is nice, elegant and simple.

5. Background music. Another detail I fell in love with from the first video. The types of songs played are very diversified, from upbeat songs to Middle Eastern tunes, Japanese music, never too loud, and perfectly matching the exercises they go with.

6. Attention to form. Cannot stress this enough. Jessica will remind you constantly of details to pay attention to, from placement of your chin to tightening the core, where is your knee during a squat, how to position your hand while holding a dumbbell. And, something I do have trouble with, how to coordinate breathing with the moves.

With those in mind, now that I’ve been using Jessica’s videos for about 16 months, I want to reinforce one particular characteristic that makes her program special.

The fact that you exercise non-stop for 30 minutes.

Why would that be special? I’ve been exercising for a long, long time.  I’ve followed classes with instructors (15 years at the YMCA). I’ve followed online exercises, I’ve exercised at home with books, and even exercise apps. All of them involved short breaks. It can be 20 seconds, it can be longer, sometimes a minute or so. Running and swimming are classic examples of activities without breaks, and often people say they go “into the zone” with them. There’s something about starting a Jessica Smith DVD that often puts me into that zone frame. And I believe it is the non-stop aspect of it. I have no idea if she had that in mind when designing the programs, but it is a bit magical. It all flows, you don’t have to constantly re-set your mind to go from catching your breath to starting again. I had not noticed this effect until recently, but I believe it is worth mentioning. For you runner-addicts out there… 

Now, let me address some questions you might have.

I have not exercised for years. Will I be able to follow WalkStrong3? Yes, yes, emphatic yes to that. No doubt in my mind. Maybe you will be better off by taking two days off during the week, so the full program would take you closer to ten weeks rather than eight, but seriously, do you really care if you wrap it up on day 56 or 70? I think it is irrelevant. What you want is a program you can stick with long-term. A program that will bring results without injuring your body. Give it a try.

What is the minimum equipment I need to buy to do the program? I’d say two sets of dumbbells, one light, one medium-to-heavy for your size. One exercise mat. With that you can do all exercises in all videos. Modifications will be offered whenever a step or a foaming ball is used.

How long until I see results? That is a tricky question, very hard for anyone to address. It obviously depends on what you define as results. If you expect to see a 6-pack abdominal region, you should keep in mind that to reach that level most people need to couple a very restrictive nutritional system with super intense targeted routines. Think CrossFit, which I have strong opinions about, but will spare you of them for the time being. If you define results as muscle definition in arms, legs, abdominal area, I’d say in 4 to 6 weeks you will notice improvement. But more important than what you’ll see is how you’ll feel. The system covers so many different types of exercises, from aerobics to stretching, from weight training to balance, no muscle is left untouched. You will feel energized, and happy you’ve started this path. As designed, the program flows in a way that different areas of the body are challenged at different times, and after a very intense couple of days, she will bring a more mellow routine to prevent injury but keep your body moving.

How does it compare to Jessica’s previous program? I think WalkStrong3 is slightly more challenging, and also more “complete” due to the variety of routines. The inclusion of Barre workout definitely places it on a higher level, in my opinion. The weight-training component is more intense, and many of the routines incorporate advanced Pilates moves that were not present in the previous program. In all cases you can dial back if necessary. The yoga routines are about at the same level in both programs and they pop up in the schedule at very appropriate times. It is a very well-designed system you can see she put all her fitness knowledge to work to come up with WalkStrong3.

What happens after I finish the program? If you haven’t exercised in a long time, I hope that when you wrap up the 8 weeks, you will be so hooked into the routine of sparing 30 minutes of your day for fitness, that you’ll keep going. Not only you can repeat the system again (if you prefer not to think about changes and just stick to the printed schedule), but you can go to Jessicasmithtv and indulge into hundreds of exercise videos that she offers for free. Free. You read me right. You can search according to time (let’s say you only have 15 minutes to spare today), to the part of the body to focus on (legs, upper body, abdominals only), to type of exercise (barre, aerobics, weight training), and make a list of your favorites, hit play and exercise whenever you want. You can target exercises to the regions of your body you feel need more attention. Maybe it’s the inner thighs. Maybe the shoulders. Maybe you feel your flexibility needs extra attention. Jessica has countless yoga sessions that are user-friendly, in the sense you don’t need to turn your body into a pretzel to follow her.

After finishing her newest program, I now do a pretty varied schedule of exercises, but I’d say 90% of them involve some type of Jessica Smith video. The remaining goes for old favorites, like Chest and Back from P90X, The Challenge from P90X3, Plyometrics from 90X or 90X3. I go according to my mood, or to be completely honest, according to what hurts today from the excesses of yesterday (wink, wink).

I hope you enjoyed this little virtual tour of Jessica’s WalkStrong3. I strongly recommend her videos to anyone who wants to improve the level of fitness, no matter how old, no matter how much of an exercise-hater I’m talking to. Starting and sticking with a fitness program is by far the best move you can do to improve your health.  Jessica can make that move a very pleasant one.

To order, click here.

Before I leave, I would like to thank Jessica for including me in the group of beta-testers, I was floating on air for a while with joy! I wish you all the luck with the new program, and as usual, I look forward to walking with you again…


ONE YEAR AGO: Pork Medallions with Black Berry Compote

TWO YEARS AGO: Indian-Spiced Chicken with Chickpeas and Spinach

THREE YEARS AGO: Curry Cardamon Cookies

FOUR YEARS AGO: In My Kitchen, March 2014

FIVE YEARS AGOBoeuf Bourguignon for a Snowy Evening

SIX YEARS AGO: Chickpea Salad

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Soft Spot for Chevre

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Roasted Onion and Asiago Cheese Miche





























Beware, this is a long post exclusively about exercise. Stop right here if the subject doesn’t appeal to you.  😉 

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know that I am slightly passionate about exercise and fitness. Next month marks my 5th anniversary following the routines designed by Tony Horton, and I’m still having fun after all these years…  I already reviewed the original P90X (launched in 2004) and its sequel, P90X2 (released in 2011).  At first I had no intention of trying Tony’s new program, but when I heard that each series was only 30 minutes long, I could not resist.   I started P90X3 on December 25th, and wrapped it up last month.  Now that I “graduated” from this third adventure, I will share with you my review of the system.


OVERALL ORGANIZATION OF WORKOUTS:  In case you don’t know, P90X stands for “Power 90 Extreme”, so all programs are designed to last for 90 days and be very challenging, no matter your initial level of fitness. The workouts are arranged in three phases, each taking 4 weeks to complete. If you follow the program to a T, you will exercise for 6 days in a row, and rest for one day (or do one of the real easy routines, like StretchX, or Dynamix). On the fourth week of each phase, the intensity of the workouts is slightly decreased, so that week acts as a “recovery break” to prepare your body for the following phase. Each block is a little more challenging than the previous one.  After the three phases are completed, you will have exercised for 84 days, so a shorter, “Victory Week”,  is included in the end, taking you all the way to the finish line, that glorious day 90.

FIRST OBVIOUS QUESTION:  Can I do P90X3 if I’ve never done P90X?  If you go to to read about the system, it will be obvious that they want to sell it for as many people as possible, so they insist that anyone can do it. In theory, yes, but in practice you will have to modify many of the exercises because they will be impossible to perform from the get go. Just to give one example of how Tony dialed up a notch in X3, you will be doing single legged squats in Warrior 3 pose for a full minute, changing the position of your arms every 20 seconds, from extended behind you, open on the sides, or extended ahead (obviously the hardest). I found a youtube of a girl demonstrating this particular exercise, you can watch it here.  As you can see, it’s all pretty challenging for the legs, back, shoulders and demands excellent balance.   I will touch again on the subject of going straight to 90X3 further down in this review.

P90X3 WORKOUTS:  The new system resembles the original series quite a bit more than 90X2, but the names of each of the routines are more cryptic.  For instance, in 90X, they had “Chest and Back“, “Arms and Shoulders“, “Legs and Back“.  Not much left for the imagination, right?  Now, take a look at the names of routines for the first phase of P90X3:

ClassicApart from Yoga and Pilates, not easy to figure out what you will be facing, so let me offer a brief overview of the routines involved in this phase.  I will refer to people who have never done P90X as “newbies”, for lack of a better word.

Total Synergistics.  That is Tony’s welcome to the program, with a routine that hits  pretty much every muscle of your body, abdominal region included. Only two types of pull-ups in this series, but they are killers: a Knee-tuck-pull-up and a Chin-up with Leg Circles (a detailed description of both can be found in this link, exercises #3 and #7). Advanced pull-ups were introduced in P90X2, and at that time I could not do them.  Not the case anymore, folks… HA! Bring it, Tony, bring it!  Of the 15 exercises of Total Synergistics, I think that 7 will be very hard for newbies.  All others will be challenging but doable. An important note about pull-ups: if you don’t have a pull-up bar, or find pull-ups too hard,  every one of those exercises can be modified with elastic bands such as these. In each video, there is always someone using the bands to demonstrate proper technique.

Agility X.  Think aerobics, but with a lot of moves that require balance and flexibility.  Compared to videos like Insanity and Focus T25, Tony is a lot milder in aerobic routines, he is not about making you run out of breath. The only thing you’ll need is a masking tape to mark specific positions on the floor (or carpet).  I exercise in our living room on a large rug with a pattern I can use to mark my landing spots.  Unless you have a similar type of setting, I advise you to put the tape to use. If you don’t, the natural tendency is to decrease the length of each jump or lunge.  Once you get the spots marked, you’ll know exactly where you should be landing.  Getting there each time won’t be easy…   Newbies might have a little trouble keeping up with the fast pace for 30 minutes, and with moves that require landing in one leg, especially when jumping backwards.  But, as Tony puts it “it’s good for you”.   😉

X3 Yoga.  In my opinion, no other routine comes close to matching the original YogaX. Yes, it takes too long.  Yes, it is hard.  But YogaX3  pales by comparison.  To squeeze the most relevant poses in 30 minutes, you will be holding each one for a couple of breaths only, not the five deep breaths of YogaX.  Bottom line is:  I am never sore after YogaX3, but I am always pleasantly beaten after YogaX. My approach during X3 was to do the 45 first minutes of the original YogaX instead of this version, unless I was too pressed for time.

The Challenge.  Tony plays a nasty trick on this one.  He starts the video by saying “pick a number”.  One number for push-ups, one for pull-ups. No more info given at the time.  I can do 40 push-ups, so I played conservative and picked 30. Big, huge, painful mistake.  I should have paid attention to the fact that in the video, Alice, the Rock-Climber-Tae-Kwon-Do-Black-Belt Goddess (with 10% body fat and abs of steel) picked 20 for her push-ups, but noooooooo, I went with 30.  This is Alice, by the way:

She went with 20 push-ups. Yours truly chose 30.  See the problem?

For 30 minutes, you will alternate push-ups and pull-ups of 8 different kinds, and each kind should be performed whatever number of times was your goal. Simple math tells me that 8 x 30 = 240. Thank you for being so secretive, Tony!  I begged for mercy very quickly.  The following week my number was magically reduced to 16, and I barely managed to stick with it. Great news, though: by the end of P90X3 I was able to match Her Goddess at 20, and that put a smile on my face that lasted almost as long as the pain on my back and shoulders. 😉

CVX. Cardio workout with weights.  Of all the routines of the first block, I would say this is the easiest for newbies, in part because you can pick a light weight, or even begin with no weight whatsoever.  You will still get a good workout that targets almost the whole body. Abs work mostly indirectly by holding your core. I like to use a medicine ball sometimes just to add variety.  For classic exercises with weights like Arms and Shoulders, I use 10 to 15 lb dumbbells, but for CVX I hold a maximum of 8 lb, sometimes I go as light as 5 lb.  A good, solid workout, not at all gruesome.

The Warrior. It is a total-body workout that requires no equipment, and is based on Tony Horton’s history of working with the US Military on bases around the world. The whole routine can be performed in a very tight space. Probably my favorite of the first phase, some of the exercises will be hard for newbies. One example of those is Elevator Push-ups: imagine that you have three levels of push-ups and you must hold your body at each level for as long as Tony calls it. Upper Level your arms are fully extended; Middle Level you are halfway between the floor and up; Lower Level you go as low as you can possibly go without letting your knees or chest touch the floor.  Yes, gruesome. But “it’s good for you“…  The Warrior involves some pretty intense cardio, in fact the series closes with 10 Super Burpees. Not for sissies. Don’t believe me? Watch this.  I am still working on that back kick. No amount of money would make me post a video of my attempts.  Let’s just say it is not pretty, and even the dogs were a bit put off by it. No, Phil has not seen my performance, and if it’s up to me, he never will… 😉

If you are interested in a very detailed review of the whole three phases of P90X3, click here. Each phase ends with a link to the following phase. The guy is hilarious and his views on the system are spot on. Like me, he has no association with





Two of my favorite workouts of phase 2 are Triometrics and MMX.  Triometrics is the 90X3 version of jump training (traditionally called plyometrics). It is less high impact, you will be doing each set of moves for 1 minute, but the minute is divided in 3 blocks of 20 seconds each.  The intensity of the move (speed, or height of jump) increases every 20 seconds. Warrior 3 squats is part of this series, so as you can see, it’s not just jump training, Tony incorporates strength and core exercises in this routine.   It makes it easy to tone the exercise down, if you are not feeling up to the challenge, stay at level 2.  Newbies could simply do a full minute on level one until they get used to it. I do think the original Plyometrics is better, but of course that workout is 56 minutes long.

MMX is kickboxing. A version of the original KenpoX on steroids. I love this one!  Real challenging, newbies will have a tough time not only with its intensity, but with the overall coordination, particularly until they memorize the names of each move. Tony adds sprawls to boxing moves, so your heart will be racing. Music is great, Alice the Goddess steals the show…  Cannot give enough praise to this routine!

My favorite workouts of Phase 3 are Decelerator and Accelerator.  In Decelerator you will contract a muscle powerfully and quickly, and then slowly relax it.  Most exercises will be ok for newbies, but those in the pull-up bar are tremendously hard. My nemesis? Elevator Pull-ups.  Exactly the same principle as I described for Elevator Push-ups, but in this case you are lifting your body up and down three levels on the pull-up bar.  I need to get one of the flexible bands  to incorporate to our bar like the one the girl is using, because I cannot do Elevator unassisted, I have to dial back to simple pull-ups.

P90X3 Eccentric Upper1
is a fun aerobic routine, harder than Triometrics, but with a similar principle: moves get more intense as the minute goes by.  Newbies will have no problem by sticking with the intensity they are comfortable with.

My least favorite workout of P90X3?  Isometrix. Based on yogic postures, you simply hold each pose for 45 seconds. It is cruel. You will be standing there on the longest 45 seconds of your life, with sweat pouring as if you’re running 10k on the hills of Arizona.  I am always super sore next day, even though no weights, no pull-up bars, no jumping were involved.  Hate it. But I do it because… “it’s good for you”… yeah, I hear you, Tony….

FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE SYSTEM. Having gone through P90X, P90X2, and P90X3, I must say Tony outdid himself with his latest version. I am absolutely in love with this system, not only for all the variety it provides, but because you are done in 30  minutes flat.  If I was asked to play fitness instructor for women over 40, this is what I’d recommend: get the original P90X system, and go through 2 cycles of it.  Then move to P90X3, go through it once. After that, follow a mix and match of both systems, tuning it to your personal needs. Don’t bother with 90X2, a few of the routines are pretty amazing, but in my opinion, you will get enough training without it.

The most intimidating aspect of P90X is the idea you must exercise 5 to 6 days per week, and by exercise we are definitely not talking “walk around your block twice“.  However, you can take what I already described as a “Zen approach to P90X”.

That’s when you decide that the system will be with you for the long run.

Not 90 days. Not 180. For as long as you are healthy enough to do it.  By making this choice, all of a sudden the stress and pressure will be gone.  You can exercise 4 days in a row whenever you feel great, you can skip a couple of days and get back to it later.

 No one is looking over your shoulder,
your body and your state of mind are your own domain.

Simply follow the order of the exercises so that you’ll target different muscle groups & different types of activities in consecutive days – muscle confusion, a term often used by the exercise geeks at is a great concept and works:  by switching routines around your body never gets quite comfortable with the moves, and you will keep improving your level of fitness.


ARE YOU TEMPTED, BUT A LITTLE INSECURE? I realize that two cycles of 90X + one cycle of 90X3 = more than 1 year of commitment. Keep in mind that the year will pass, no matter what.  Imagine that in 1 year you will be able to go through the original 90X as if it’s nothing, and will be getting comfortable with most routines of 90X3.

If the thought of dedicating one full hour for working out is too much, maybe going straight for P90X3 could be a viable option.  Yes, you will have to adapt many of the exercises in the beginning until you can perform them, but there’s nothing wrong with that.  You will be surprised by how fast your body will respond to the challenge.  P90X is fun. It is good for you. It will increase your strength and flexibility, which is definitely something we lose as we age. You will never get bored and you will never regret you started it.  Well, sometimes you will, but a couple of Aleve can take care of that.  😉


WHAT TO EXPECT? The answer for this question depends on many factors. Your gender, your age, your health, the stage you are in your life. However, in general terms, I believe that anyone who goes through P90X will notice a profound improvement in the body.  In my case, the change was quite dramatic in the upper body and abdominals, and it became more evident during the second cycle of P90X, back in 2010. From reviews online, that seems to be the case for most women, whereas men see a lot of improvement within the first 90 days. Testosterone speaks loud, I suppose… Also, I should add that I never bothered with the nutrition program associated with 90X, it seems that people who need to lose weight benefit from following the recommended diet, and will have better results by doing so.

I hope you enjoyed my review, which might very well be the last one I write on the subject.  Even if Tony launches P90X4, I doubt I would go for it (yeah, right… ;-).  My personal goal is to reach 10  years of P90X with a minimum of 4 workouts per week.  That means I’ve got 5 more years of hard work ahead.  Of course, stuff can happen and interfere with this plan, but assuming I won’t have serious health problems (knock on wood), that’s my goal.  And then? I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, hopefully with strong legs, and a positive attitude!


ONE YEAR AGO: Pasta and Mussels in Saffron Broth

TWO YEARS AGO: Triple Chocolate Brownies

THREE YEARS AGO: Shanghai Soup Dumplings

FOUR YEARS AGO: Bite-sized Chocolate Pleasure

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Disclaimer: This is a post exclusively on fitness. No recipe included.

For those who have been around my blog for a while, it’s obvious that I am addicted to Tony Horton’s  exercise routines. I already wrote two reviews about his systems: for P90X click  here, for P90X2 click here. However, I am always up for trying different videos, as four and a half years of Tony can get a bit repetitive.  When picking a new routine, two things are important to me: they need to be challenging, but shorter than P90X. In fact, one tricky aspect of Tony Horton’s classics  is that each video is at least 52 minutes long, with the YogaX demanding 90 minutes of my time.

Last month I got an email from advertising a new product, the series called FOCUS T25. The instructor, Shaun T, is also the guy behind the famous Insanity workout. I immediately went online to read reviews and watch the infomercial about it.  I have bought one of his series in the past, the Hip Hop Abs, but did not care for it. I am familiar with Insanity (did the first workout a couple of times),  but it is too focused on aerobics and better suited for those interested in losing weight. However, even if those workouts did not appeal to me, I thought Shaun T’s enthusiasm and personality made him a great fitness instructor. And, let’s face it, his looks don’t hurt either. 😉  So, I gave FocusT25 a try.


Nine DVDs total, five routines for the so-called “Alpha-Phase” that should last for a month, and five for the “Beta-Phase”, that would take 4 more weeks.  If you are in top shape you could potentially skip the “Alpha” and go for the kill.  I didn’t do that, so this review will cover only the first phase.  One important thing to add: all the videos promise a full transformation in your body if you follow them to a T.   When you open the box of FocusT25, one of the things you will find is a recommended diet to follow for 5 days as you go through your first week of the program.  In the diet, you will consume from  1,200  to 1,600 calories per day (and that range applies for men too).  Anyone will have a pretty dramatic change in the body following this gruesome method.  I don’t pay attention to the diet component of any of these systems, all I want is a nice, effective workout.  Do what works best for you, and keep in mind the most important thing is to listen to your body, set sensible goals and enjoy the ride to get there.


For the Alpha series you won’t need any special equipment, all exercises use exclusively your own body.  A mat for abdominal work is all that’s required. If you intend to follow the system as laid out by Shaun T, you will be working out 5 days per week, with a double session (that is, 50 minutes) on the last day.  Then you use the Stretch DVD on day 6, and rest on day 7.  Each workout lasts for exactly 25 minutes, with a recommended cool-down of 2 to 3 minutes at  the end.   The investment of time is quite minimal, compared to most programs, but trust me, it will be enough. I did the first five series in consecutive days to get acquainted with the system (skipped the Stretch video), and now I am settling on a mix-and-match of 90X, 90X2, Focus25, and just a little bit of running. Variety is key for me.

DVD ONE: CARDIO WORKOUT.  A fun routine, fast-paced and organized with what Shaun T defines as “progressions”.  You start with one basic move, for instance, marching in place with the knees lifting above your waist.  After a minute of doing that you will increase the level of difficulty by doing the same movement on the tip of your toes, with the option of hopping a little bit.   Jumping jacks progress to double jumping jacks and then doubles with arms moving up and down above your head.  Lunges start slowly and controlled and then move to a lunge with a hop.  At any given time you can dial back and follow  Tanya, the girl who demonstrates lower impact variations (that is true for every single DVD, by the way). A few “breaks” in intensity make this series a little easier.  For instance, at half time he introduces controlled squats for 30 seconds or so, bringing your heart rate down a little.  Of course those squats progress into hop squats so that you don’t get too comfy. Time passes fast in this video and if you follow the non-modified version, you’ll need a towel to dry the floor.  😉   Very nice video, two thumbs up.


DVD TWO:  SPEED 1.0.  Love, love, love this one!  A slightly faster-paced aerobic routine that also includes some  moves like the “burpee“.  If you are familiar with Tony Horton’s Plyometrics, some of the moves are similar, like the Heisman jumps.  Having done Plyometrics was a great help, because Shaun T built on some of those basic moves, making them faster and a little move complex. If a person is new to this type of exercise, it might take a few sessions to coordinate the movement of arms, legs, and waist.  The music is great, and again Tanya shows low impact variations, even for the tough burpee. Another thing I loved about this DVD was the incorporation of a little stretch in between the exercises. It feels almost like a break, which doesn’t happen in any other of his routines.  Two thumbs up for this video too.

DVD THREE: TOTAL BODY CIRCUIT. Holy tomatoes.  This one works you really really hard.  You will involve every single muscle of your body in this session, and there will be aerobics mixed with planks and push-ups.  Of all these videos I’d say this one was the hardest for me, and I had to stick with Tanya for a few moves. In  my review of P90X2 I mentioned that a mixture of aerobics and strength training is harder for me than one type of exercise all along, and this routine demands a constant switch from one type to the other.  I suffered, I struggled, but I must admit it was one of the best compilations of fun and challenging exercises in 25 minutes of self-inflicted torture. Two sore thumbs up.

pushup            (from WA Today)

DVD FOUR: AB INTERVALS.  I was very curious about this DVD, because as I said before, in my mind no other ab workout could match the quality of Tony Horton’s Ab RipperX.  It is not easy to compare both, because in the P90X system, the AbRipper is performed at the end of other series, so once you get to it, you will be doing only abs.  Shaun T Ab Intervals uses a different approach, mixing aerobics (jumps, and a lot of twist exercises that will engage the waist and core), with traditional abs and a lot of plank-type moves.  Instead of Horton’s method of many repetitions of each move, Shaun T often goes for isometric contractions holding them for a while.  Harder on the neck and lower back, if you have weaknesses in those regions, be careful and take breaks or modify the exercises. I had a blast with this video and was probably the easiest for me.  However, I had to cut short the last move of the series, in which Shaun T brings first one, then two, then three… all the way to seven burpees in a row. That was too much for my neck and lower back. But, apart from that, no issues.  Two thumbs up with a smile.

DVD FIVE: LOWER FOCUS.  As the name indicates, this video centers on legs, but you will train your core and lower back too, since there are plenty of squats and lunges as well as exercises based on the “chair pose” of yoga. Very intense, but again all the exercises that could potentially hurt those with joint issues can be toned down by following Tanya. Quite a few of the exercises are similar to those in P90X and 90X2. For instance, in P90X plyometrics you have an exercise called “hot foot”, in which you jump in one foot for 30 seconds, forming a cross pattern on the floor.  In Focus 25 you will wrap one foot around the ankle of the other leg and do ankle lifts then jumps.  Tony and Shaun T target similar muscles in those exercises, and have approximately the same level of difficulty.  Lower Focus might be easier than P90X Legs and Back, but it is far from a walk at the beach. Two thumbs up and a knee kick for the last routine of Alpha Phase…


In summary…

I highly recommend this program for anyone healthy enough to exercise, without serious joint or hip problems.  When I wrote my review on P90X, one thing I made clear is that one needs to be in reasonably good shape to face it.  I believe Shaun T’s Focus25 will work for people who have not exercised in a while, but in that case he or she MUST follow Tanya’s modifications for a couple of weeks or so.  By doing that, all high impact is removed, but you still get a very decent workout.  Maybe some of the moves that require  upper body strength (push ups, planks) will be hard to do at first, but not impossible. Both Shaun T and Tony Horton have a similar training style: they pump you up, trying to make you work your hardest, but  always remind you it’s ok to take a step back if needed. On a side note, this is not the case for Jillian Michaels, but I will share my thoughts about her videos another time.

Focus 25 has the same high quality of other products from Beachbody: a nice timer at the bottom showing the progress of each series. A pop up message 5 seconds before each new exercise letting you know what comes next. This is particularly helpful on a routine that has no breaks at all. Would I quit P90X to use only Focus 25?  No, at least not in the near future. I need my Yoga and KenpoX, I love my dumbbells and pull-up bar too much to say goodbye to them. But whenever I’m pressed for time and want to have a nice, fun workout, I’ll be inviting Shaun T to be my coach.  Virtually, that is. Virtually.    😉

And to close the post, a little smile for the day:


ONE YEAR AGO: Celebrate Wednesday with a Thai Seafood Curry

TWO YEARS AGOPost-workout Breakfast

THREE YEARS AGO: Semolina Barbecue Buns

FOUR YEARS AGO: Lavash Crackers


Disclaimer:  This is a post exclusively about exercise.
Back to food next week… 😉

As I mentioned before, I’ve been keeping exercise records since January 1998. Each month for the past 15 years I strive to exercise more than 50% of the days.  The only way I can keep my exercise routine going is by adding variety to it. P90X was perfect in that sense, so when I heard that Tony Horton was launching the P90X2 (December 2011), I had to try it. Similarly to my experience with the original system, it took me longer than 90 days to wrap it up, but I did it. I wrote a very detailed article about the original program, and hoped to do the same for the X2. However, I found a wonderful review online that saved me all the work. If you are interested, click here. I will instead simply summarize the differences between the two programs.

A common question:
is P90X2 harder than P90X?   Yes. I would not start with the X2, as right from the get-go it involves exercises that are close to the top level of difficulty in the original program.  One example: Yoga-X ends the standing series with a sequence of Warrior III, Half-Moon, and Twisted Half-Moon. You will be standing on one leg for almost 3 minutes, balancing, twisting, breathing hard, wishing Tony Horton had never been born.  😉   Fast forward to P90X2, and you will see the Warrior III and the Half-Moon poses showing up not only in the yoga routine, but in the middle of strength-training and aerobic exercises as well.  While in Warrior III or Half-Moon you will be doing bicep curls, triceps kick-backs, abdominal crunches (yes, abdominal crunches while in standing splits), and other weight-bearing moves.  The bottom line is, in P90X2, you will see a lot more combined exercises that target many muscle groups simultaneously. They require balance, flexibility, and core strength all at the same time.

Another aspect of P90X2 is a mixture of aerobics and strength training in the same routine.  It was a bit shocking to realize that doing 52 minutes of aerobics (original Plyometrics-90X)  is not as hard as 40 minutes of a mixture of  aerobics with strength-training (the Plyocide-90X2 routine).  Somehow the body struggles harder when demanded to constantly change gears. But, as Tony would put it: “it’s good for you”   😉

Surprisingly,  two routines of the new system are actually easier.  First, yoga. I was afraid of what 90X2 yoga would be like, but  it is shorter (you are done in 1 hour instead of 90 minutes), and the exercises are at the same overall level of difficulty of the original series.  Second, the abdominal workout from the original  series. Ab-RipperX is actually harder  (and I think more efficient) than the Ab-RipperX2.  In fact, I don’t even bother with it anymore, the original version is my default routine.

Some exercises of X2 are so incredibly hard that I was forced to adapt them to my level.  I simply will not do a pull-up and then curl my body up into a ball going over the bar.  One should keep in mind that Tony targets a broad audience including extremely fit men, who want to bulk up. They need to be challenged to their limits.  I also won’t attempt to do the push-ups balancing my body in four medicine balls as the top photo shows.  Tony Horton himself described that exercise as “doing push ups during an earthquake“.  Sounds like a ton of fun, but I rather not risk breaking my nose… 😉  When exercises like this come, he always demonstrates variations that do the job on a more
“humane” level.  And that’s the road I humbly follow.


Having “graduated” from both programs,  I went on with a mix-and-match of the two, picking the routines the way I feel like and working out according to how sore I am. But, after moving to Kansas our life got so frantic that I had to find quicker workouts for some weekdays. I looked for alternatives lasting at most 30 minutes, but still challenging.  That’s how I got to Jillian Michaels’  6-Week/6-Pack,  Ripped in 30, and a few others of her many DVDs.   I will be reviewing her exercise program in the future.  It won’t be pretty, though. Expect some harsh words. I will say one thing upfront: unless you are very careful, you will get injured.  And I speak from experience (sigh). Stay tuned!

never say never

We never know what lays ahead in our path. I can only hope I will be healthy enough to follow the footsteps of this impressive woman! 

ONE YEAR AGO: Caramelized Bananas

TWO YEARS AGO: Roasted Lemon Vinaigrette

THREE YEARS AGO: Whole-Wheat Bread