Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Working Out With Bob, Erik, and (of course) Tony

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I am a huge fan of P90X.  I first learned about the program from a Sunday morning infomercial on TV, bought the DVDs in September of 2009, and wasn’t sure I would ever be able to do the whole thing. I started interspersing some of the workouts with ones I was currently doing.  Eventually I did P90X Lean, the slightly scaled back version, all the way through. Last year I advanced to Classic, the main version, and did that all the way through twice. 

This year, when I started on my third round of P90X it occurred to me that I wasn’t getting as much out of some of the workouts as I had previously. One of the ideas behind the program is that muscle confusion prevents you from getting to a plateau so you keep making progress indefinitely. A survey of the reviews of P90X on Amazon l tells me that this is wishful thinking. With any resistance workout, no matter how intense and varied, sooner or later you reach a point of diminishing returns. (Cardio workouts are different: the body doesn’t seem to care whether you’re running, swimming, or on a machine. As long as you keep your heart rate up high enough, long enough, at the right intervals, you’ll keep your condition.)

I would like to have done P90X2, but it requires more space for exercising and for storing additional equipment than I have in my house. I looked at Insanity, another Beachbody program, but the amount of high impact activity seemed like a bad idea for my 67-year-old knees. I finally settled on two workouts by Bob Harper, who is one of the coaches on “The Biggest Loser,” and Rushfit, a six-DVD series featuring Canadian martial arts champion Georges St. Pierre and led by trainer Erik Owings, who created the program.  All of these are great workouts and each has its advantages and drawbacks.

So I’m now doing a combination of all three programs, trying to keep a variety of different types of exercise (as in P90X), while increasing the intensity. Each new workout you try uncovers unsuspected weak areas in your body that can be made stronger. Each one changes different parts of the body.  From P90X I’ve kept the four upper body routines plus Ab Ripper X. Upper body is really Tony Horton’s strongest area and you can tell that by looking at him. I also do Yoga X and Plyo X, which I alternate with the corresponding workouts in Rushfit.  “Balance & Agility” and “Stretching for Flexibility” are two bonus workouts in Rushfit that cover some of the same territory as Yoga X. “Explosive Power Training” is shorter than Plyo X but some of the moves are harder.

In the P90X workouts you are working out with Tony and a group of his friends. The mood ranges from serious to playful with Tony’s background in mime and standup comedy on full display. Tony seems genuinely interested in how each person in the class is doing and he introduces them all by name. He also does most of the workouts himself. In Rushfit you are being invited to share a workout that Georges St. Pierre is doing with trainer Erik Owings. The workouts all use the same warm-up and cool-down and all are based on a five-round cycle with short breaks in between, like a championship fight. As in P90X, the instructions are clear and there is a lot of attention given to correct form. I especially like Rushfit’s emphasis on fluid range of movement; "functional training" is the term Erik Owings uses to describe this approach. At one point he sits cross-legged on the ground, lifts himself onto his hands, and swings his legs back into a plank - very impressive! Since I started these workouts I have seen improvement in my flexibility and my mid-section is looking better too.

The hardest workout I do is Bob Harper’s Total Body Transformation, a full hour of non-stop action.  There isn’t much of a warm-up but the first quarter of the workout is not too hard.  This part features a lot of work for shoulders – great for the often-weak rotator cuff areas.  The rest of the workout is more about legs and core, including a fair number of isometric moves using planks and squats.  It’s a good workout but a bit unrealistic; toward the end, even the people in the class are starting to lose their form. I alternate this with Bob Harper’s Totally Ripped Core, which is supposed to be mainly for abs.  With these two workouts the main change I have seen has been in the backs and sides of my legs. My quads are naturally strong but these workouts have helped my hamstrings and abductors especially.  I can now lift my top leg while doing a side plank, which I couldn’t do before.

I do at least one of these workouts six days a week.  Twice a week I also have to do 30+ minutes of cardio because none of these workouts gets my heart rate much above 120 bpm and I need to get into the low 130’s to maintain condition.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Do You Take Supplements? Use Generic Drugs? Check Out ConsumerLab.

There is so much information out there about supplements – which ones we should take and how much of each, whether we should take them at all – that it can be different to sort out the facts from the rhetoric and self-promotion. If you want to know what the science says, check out ConsumerLab. Founded in 1999, this organization tests supplements to determine whether they actually contain what the label says and not too much or too little of it, that they aren’t contaminated by toxins such as heavy metals (found in some calcium supplements), and that they can be absorbed by the body. Tod Cooperman, MD, president of ConsumerLab, appeared on Dr. Oz on 4/9/2013 discussing the mission of ConsumerLab and some recent findings. A follow-up article by Dr. Cooperman appears on the Dr. Oz web site.

The same program included a discussion of generic drugs, an area where I’ve had some personal experience. Dr. Cooperman pointed out that the FDA does not test generics for efficacy and safety; in fact it doesn’t test them at all. Manufacturers of generic drugs themselves test their products to ensure that they include approximately the same amount of active ingredient as the original drug.  "Approximately" in this case is defined as 80%-125%. Different manufacturers of generics may contain different percentages of the active ingredient so if you got generics from one place one month and another the next your dosage could vary by as much as 45%! This gets you into trouble with medications where it is important to stay within the same narrow range. Dr. Cooperman listed the following groups of drugs:
1.       Blood pressure
2.       Thyroid
3.       Anti-seizure
4.       Asthma
5.       Blood thinners
6.       Immunosuppressants
7.       Anti-depressants
In these cases generics should be used with caution. The same is true for extended release medications because the pills may differ in technology.  
Dr. Cooperman also recommended identifying the manufacturer of your generic by checking the label and trying to get the same kind each time. He also suggested asking whether there is an authorized generic for your medication. Authorized generics are made by the same company that originally produced the drug but after it has gone off patent. If you switch from a medication to a generic, he said, you should monitor yourself for a month to be sure that nothing has changed.

In my own case, it took years to get my thyroid level stabilized.  A couple of times I was put on generics instead of Synthroid and the results were bad.  These days I have a note in my doctor’s folder for me saying “Do Not Substitute.”

Update: Recent Bloomberg article about people's experiences with generics,