DALLAS -- Tony Horton -- effusive, energetic, enthusiastic -- bounds into a hotel ballroom on a recent Saturday morning and leaps onto the platform set up for him. The 300-plus people in the crowd cheer when he says he's 52. They get even louder when he flexes his biceps and join in as he begins doing jumping jacks, skips an invisible rope.
"Typically," he says, moving all the while, "two to five people walk out the doors after these workouts and hurl in the hallway."
Breathy laughter from the participants.
Jump, jump, skip, skip from Tony.
"I went to a Mexican restaurant last night and ate a nice dinner," he continues. "No sour cream, but I still ate way too much. We went back to my room and did cardio for 50 minutes."
More cheers, more whoops. He descends into the upward-dog yoga position, adds a pushup, does downward dog.
Underneath their borderline-unstoppable sweat, this breathable-fabric wearing crowd swoons. Here, right now, in front of them, talking to them, cracking jokes, doing moves in person that up till now he's only shown them on DVDs they own is ... Tony Horton. THE Tony Horton: the face, the pecs, the quadriceps, the abs behind (yes, that too) the wildly successful P90X ("Go from regular to ripped in 90 days") exercise series.
Its prom-queen popularity -- the company claims sales of 2.8 million DVDs, available for three payments of $39.95 (plus $19.95 shipping and handling) -- can be attributed to results and testimonials, of course. Add to that the infomercials. Plus the multi-level marketing program of its parent company, Beachbody fitness (which also produces such DVDs as Body Gospel and Brazil Butt Lift).
Spreading the love
Of the 361 participants at the September event, 180 were "coaches," which is Beachbody lingo for the marketing associates. Though everyone starts out by saying, "Tony changed my life," the next sentence distinguishes coaches from the non.
Those who found the DVDs through infomercials or borrowed them from friends tend to say things like, "This is hard but it works!" Those who have a financial incentive say a variation on this: "I had friends who were transforming their bodies and thought, 'What are they doing to look so good?' "
Harold Krueger is a coach. He's 57 and drove up from Houston for the event. He's wearing a Harley Davidson tank top; underneath the "Sarah" tattoo on his bare arm are distinct muscles.
"I saw Tony on an infomercial one night that I couldn't sleep because my legs were hurting," Krueger says. "I couldn't walk without pain."
Now, six months later, 34 pounds lighter and four inches tauter, his legs and knees hurt no more.
"I'm walking now," Krueger says. "Seriously. I don't mean to sound dramatic, but I thought, 'I gotta meet this guy.' "
He's part of a demographic that Tony didn't anticipate. "We thought we'd hit the guy around 25 to 40," he says in a brief interlude before the event begins. "But we've had some in their 50s and 60s."
The program relies on the trademark term "muscle confusion," meaning your body is constantly introduced to new moves and routines. To quote the website, "your body never plateaus, and you never get bored!" (The exclamation point is theirs).
Is it a good idea?
Meridan Zerner, personal trainer at Cooper Fitness Center in Texas and registered dietitian at Cooper Clinic, says the theory, also known as "periodization," has long been used in sports to enhance an athlete's skill level.
"You don't do the same thing all the time because the body adapts," she says. "If you don't improve, it's maintenance. With this, you tap into different muscle groups, different angles, different intensities."
Some people in the classes she teaches have asked about P90X, she says. She hears from moms at her children's school who are doing it, too.
"Absolutely, people are asking about it," she says. "Many people will not go to a gym, so this is a way for them to work out at home, which will be more private, and more flexible in terms of when you choose to do it. The bottom line is that you're moving and making the most of your time, and I'm a big fan of that."
She just cautions against doing "too much too soon." Plus, she says, when the 90-day regimen ends, fitness and eating right needs to continue. "That's a lot of time, a lot of sweat" that's gone into it, she says.
"It's hard for me to talk about myself, but people say they do it because I make it fun," Tony says. "You exercise six days a week and eat healthy foods. Whoa, that's a shock. What I'm trying to do is get people away from pills, processed foods, packaged foods.
"We're hoping to make a difference. No excuses. All you need is your body and Mother Earth."