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What is P90X? It stands for Power 90 Extreme — and it's a favorite fitness routine used by Paul Ryan

Published Sep. 21, 2012

TAMPA

Arnel Banawa liked to party. The 41-year-old Tampa man drank too much and lived on junk food. The words "health" and "fitness" were not in his vocabulary.

Then one day an old friend saw him at a party. "She started poking me in the belly," he said. "That's when I realized that I had a beer gut. I knew I had to do something."

Banawa's brother had told him about a home exercise routine designed to help somebody like him get back in shape in just 90 days.

"It took me six months to get my head around it," he said. "But once I got started and made the commitment, I was hooked."

Like many devotees of the Power 90 Extreme, or P90X program, Banawa saw dramatic results.

"It was amazing," said Banawa, who quit his job working in nightclubs to become a full-time trainer. "It really became a way of life."

Sales of the fitness videos, which have been around for more than a decade, really took off in August when Republican running mate Paul Ryan announced that P90X was his favorite exercise routine.

"Our site got a big bump in traffic," said John Congdon, president of Beachbody LLC, the company that sells P90X and a variety of other exercise programs. "A lot of people were just kicking the tires, wanting to know more about it, but we did see an increase in sales."

Ryan leads a group of congressional fitness fanatics in a daily P90X routine.

"They get results," said Tony Horton, the program's creator and lead trainer. "The beauty of it is you can do it anywhere."

Muscle confusion

Unlike many exercise programs, where participants do the same routine over and over, P90X mixes it up.

"You never plateau," Horton said. "It is always changing . . . you never get bored. The routine never gets stale."

Cross training, as it is sometimes called, keeps your muscles from developing "memory" that allows them to slide into rituals. They are constantly challenged, or "confused," which forces them to get leaner, harder and stronger.

Each P90X workout kit comes with 12 DVDs, each a different workout. One is devoted to chest and back exercises. Another is for "plyometrics," defined as an "explosive jumping cardio routine proven to dramatically improve athletic performance.'' The final one is "Ab Ripper X'' and you can imagine what that one is all about.

The action is fast-paced — even water breaks are tightly timed — and beginners shouldn't expect to power through without a few breathers.

"I tell people that they shouldn't be afraid to hit the pause button," Horton said. "It is not a contest. Go at your own pace."

The workouts also include stretching, yoga, a taste of the martial arts and exercises that target specific areas of the body, i.e., the "ab ripper."

Banawa, who started his daily routine in 2010, lost about 25 pounds doing P90X — and losing his old eating and drinking ways.

"Once you get into it, you realize that in order to get the best results, you need to focus on diet," he said. "And if there is one thing that I have learned from all this, it is that good nutrition is 80 percent of any exercise program."

Beachbody, P90X's parent company, also sells dietary supplements such as drink powders and snack bars. The DVD set comes with a nutrition booklet, so participants can follow a food plan tested by the company's trainers and nutritionists.

The lifestyle

Horton has traveled to Washington, D.C., several times in recent years to train with Ryan and his colleagues in the gym of the House of Representatives.

"I think the reason it's so appealing to busy people like Congressman Ryan is that they can do it on their own schedule," Horton said. "All you need is a TV and DVD player."

In addition to the basic $120 DVD set, some of the exercises also require a basic pullup bar, a padded mat and some light weights or exercise bands. The "ultimate'' program, which includes the gear, will set you back around $330.

But the exercises are varied enough that in a pinch, you can do it just about anywhere, without any equipment, and still get a vigorous workout in.

Most workouts run 45 minutes to an hour. Hard-core enthusiasts sometimes double up on routines. Once you are done with the 90-day program, you can take a week off and then start over.

"You can make it as hard or as easy as you want," Horton said. "Just pace yourself and listen to your body."

As with any exercise program, consult your doctor before you begin, especially if you're over 40, overweight or have any medical issues. Then, once you start, proceed with caution and common sense so you don't over-train, injure yourself and give up before you really get going.

The P90X creator would not reveal who is more fit, Republicans or Democrats.

"Can't go there," he said. "Exercise is a bipartisan affair."

Terry Tomalin can be reached at tomalin@tampabay.com.

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