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A Review of P90X: Cardio X

The official DVD cover for P90X: Cardio X.

The official DVD cover for P90X: Cardio X.

Introduction to Cardio X

This is one in a series of reviews of the individual workouts within the P90X program. For all other reviews of the workouts, as well as a review of the overall program, please see the links at the bottom of the page.

I am a long-time fitness enthusiast who’s completed P90X twice. While I haven’t found the program to be the transformative experience it’s purported to be, I find it to be overall beneficial and very effective at keeping me on track fitness-wise when I don’t have reliable access to a gym.

Before I started on P90X the first time, I noticed that there was a dearth of workout-by-workout reviews, leaving me with little idea of what to expect from the program. I aim to correct that, and to give you an experienced exerciser’s perspective on the benefits and disadvantages of P90X.

Today we’ll be focusing on the optional cardio workout included in the P90X program, Cardio X.

Cardio X factors into the P90X program in two possible ways: either as a substitute for P90X Plyometrics on the “Classic” schedule for those who for whatever reason aren’t up to tackling Plyometrics, or as an additional cardio workout for the P90X “Doubles” schedule, which has you performing the classic rotation while adding in an extra Cardio X workout either immediately afterwards or later in the day.

I’ve never done Doubles because I’ve frankly never had the time to spend two hours working out most days, but I have used Cardio X on those days when I just wasn’t up to Plyometrics. It’s not the same, but it’s a fine cardio workout on its own, with just a few peculiarities.

Let's break it down.

Heart Rate Monitors and You

When doing any kind of cardio workout, it's always a good idea to wear a heart rate monitor and make sure you don't spend too much time outside your target heart rate range. If you don't have a heart rate monitor, take your pulse at regular intervals. You can do this by resting your index and middle finger against your throat on either side of your windpipe and counting the beats you feel for ten seconds. Multiply the number of beats by 6 to get a decent estimate of your heart rate.

To find your maximum heart rate, multiply your age by 0.7 and subtract the result from 208.

Then calculate 65% and 85% of your maximum heart rate. This will be your target heart rate range.

Cardio X: The Breakdown

Cardio X is a 43 minute workout which is basically a mish-mash of the P90X Plyometrics, Kenpo X, Yoga X, and Core Synergistics workouts. Though this is a little odd and leaves you with the impression that Tony had run out of ideas by the time he got to Cardio X, it’s not necessarily bad.

The Cardio X workout starts off with the typical 5 minute P90X warmup, which will take you through some jogging in place, jump rope, and jumping jacks before moving on to a few stretches.

You’ll follow this up with about 9 minutes of astanga sun salutations. First you’ll do a few run-throughs of a basic sun salutation, and then you’ll do more intensive versions by incorporating runner’s pose, warrior one, warrior two, and reverse warrior. This portion is essentially a repeat of the first several minutes of Yoga X, before you start to get into the really difficult moves.

From there you’ll segue right into 10 minutes of some combo moves straight from Kenpo X. You’ll start off with ball kicks, then move on to hook/uppercut/side kicks, a knuckle bash with a ball kick and back kick, a jab/cross/hook/uppercut punch combo, and then wrap it up with three direction kicks. The repetitions are fewer than they are in the original Kenpo X, though I appreciate that Tony chose what I consider the more fun moves from Kenpo X.

After that it’s 7 minutes stolen straight from Plyometrics, though these are all the lowest impact moves from that workout. You’ll do two rounds each of airborne heismans, swing kicks, jump shots, tires, and the utterly inexplicable wacky jacks, which are like jumping jacks done by a Disney character on crack. Wacky jacks are kind of weird, very silly, and while you do them you’re going to be asking yourself, “Why am I doing these?” Nevermind. Just roll with it.

For your last trick, you’ll perform 7 minutes of exercises from Core Synergistics, which is one of my least favorite workouts, consisting of lots of weird and complicated cardio and core training exercises. I don’t see the point of many of them, but it’s only 7 minutes of my life, right? First you’ll go through what’s called a “squat cross x press” exercise, which is essentially a body weight wide squat with an overhead press at the top. From there you’ll do the core-busting steam engines, which involve essentially doing a series of very fast standing bicycle crunches and are much harder than they look. Then comes the “Dreya roll”, where you squat down, roll yourself backwards, roll back to a squatting position, and jump or stand back up. Then you have a squat run, which is essentially running in place in squat form, and some superman/banana rolls, in which you switch rapidly between a bow and a low boat, or banana, pose. Remember to really pull through your core for all of these to get the best results.

At last, you’ll have slightly less than 4 minutes worth of cooldown and stretching, and then it’s a wrap for Cardio X.

For anyone who was wondering, "What on earth is a banana pose?", here's your answer.  This is a core strengthening move, so be sure to keep your legs and head relatively relaxed and make your abs do most of the work.

For anyone who was wondering, "What on earth is a banana pose?", here's your answer. This is a core strengthening move, so be sure to keep your legs and head relatively relaxed and make your abs do most of the work.

Cardio X: The Good

Cardio X is a fun, varied workout. If you’re easily bored, you might enjoy this more than Plyometrics, since there are so many different yet very doable moves. If you’re uncoordinated, the only things you may have to worry about are some of the more complicated parts of the Kenpo X series, like the jab/cross/hook/uppercut combo.

Cardio X is also great for “down” days when you’re just not feeling up to Plyometrics, either because you’re been ill or you haven’t been getting enough sleep or, say, are nursing the mother of all hangovers and you’re pretty sure that if you start jumping around too much your head is going to fall off. (Not that I would know anything about that, of course. Ahem.)

Finally, while it’s not as challenging a workout as Plyometrics, Cardio X will get your heart rate up pretty consistently for at least 30 of its 43 minutes. I tend to consider it the equivalent of a brisk half hour on the elliptical or stationary bike, with the advantage that here you get to incorporate some core work and stretching which you can’t do on the elliptical.

Bow pose.  For those with low back issues, go ahead and do this, but be careful and don't go any farther into this pose than is comfortable for you.

Bow pose. For those with low back issues, go ahead and do this, but be careful and don't go any farther into this pose than is comfortable for you.

Cardio X: The Bad

Cardio X is a good but not super effective workout. If you want a real challenge, you need Plyometrics. In particular, Cardio X will not be anywhere near as effective as Plyometrics when it comes to increasing strength and muscle tone in your legs. Ball kicks can’t compare to squat jumps.

Some of the moves, mostly the ones taken from Core Synergistics, are sort of silly and feel a little pointless. Yes, they’ll get you moving a little, but they won’t really do much aside from that.

Finally, while I found Cardio X to be pretty fun, it is true that it’s made up of repeats from other P90X workouts, and I can understand how that can get boring. I myself don’t so much get bored due to repeating the same workout a week apart, but to doing lots of similar, repetitive moves within the same hour, so from that point of view Cardio X works for me. Your mileage may vary.

Cardio X: The Verdict

Cardio X is a great workout for people who can’t do Plyometrics, and if you happen to enjoy workouts with plenty of variety, you’ll probably find it pretty fun – though in some ways it feels as if it was put into the program as an afterthought. If you’re crazy enough to do the P90X Doubles program and you’re in pretty good shape (which you have to be if you’re doing Doubles), it’s also hard enough to get your heart rate up without being over exhausting.

Cardio X not as good a cardio or lower body workout as Plyometrics, and if you’re on the fence about Plyometrics just because it seems too hard (and not because you have some injury or illness which makes Plyo a bad idea), I would suggest trying to stick with Plyometrics for better results overall.

However, if Plyo isn’t for you or if you’re just not up to it today, there’s no shame in turning to Cardio X.


Gaarf Rosewell on June 12, 2014:

Have you tried P90X3? I'm in week 11.

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