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Bring It

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We started doing P90X years ago when trainer Tony Horton came to Capitol Hill to whip Congress into shape. P90X is an exercise program for masochists and fitness enthusiasts for whom reasonable physical conditioning is not enough. For those bored with the gym, with Bowflex, with Pilates, for those who have run marathons, biked the Death Ride or conquered ice climbing, P90X is for you.

We fell into the first category: bored. Over time, we'd given up gym memberships, bought some home equipment. We exercised, but it was no longer challenging. When my husband saw Tony Horton on television asking: "Are you bored with your exercise routine?" he picked up the phone and ordered.

There are 12 workouts, 12 DVDs that target different sections of the body in a purposeful order. It's called muscle confusion, and the basic idea is to exhaust opposing muscle groups in new ways, building new strength and shedding old pounds. We bought the series, the gear, the concept and the promise.

The first step: take a "before" photo of yourself. I was not wild about this idea but my husband insisted we follow the program exactly. We stood in the hall and took photographs of each other. I wore biking shorts. He slouched, shirtless, and let his belly bulge. We agreed the worse we looked now, the better we'd look later. The images alone were enough to swear off chocolate forever. We promised to never show the pictures to another person. Ever.

The first workout was daunting: 52 minutes of push-ups, pull-ups and weights. I had never done a pull up, but I gave it my all, using a chair to bear much of my weight. Tony Horton yelled from the television, "Bring it!" urging us, challenging us. After a while, I rested my forehead against the wall, trying not to throw up as my husband struggled toward one last pull up before the break. "How many is that?" I asked. "Three," he said, panting. I'd managed almost one, give or take.

In the morning I was unable to lift my arms to wash my own hair. My husband's shoulder quivered as he lifted the razor to his jaw. We meted out some Motrin and went to work.

Six nights a week we forced ourselves into the basement to work out. We squatted, jumped, punched, lifted and crunched. We cursed Tony Horton and his constant badgering: "Bring it." "Suck it up." "Age doesn't matter." That last one really egged us on. Age doesn't matter? We held ourselves off the ground in plank position, grinding our teeth. We did warrior three with a twist. And, although our form was often sloppy and our energy ebbed and waned, we improved. My husband counted five pull-ups one day; I'd completed two. Two perfect, chin-over-the-bar pull-ups! We swung our noodle arms at each other, trying to connect with a celebratory fist bump.

Most mornings we walked down the stairs like crabs, creeping sideways to protect our screaming thighs. It was agony. All 90 days of it. But we did it. And it worked. We were leaner, fitter, stronger. My "after" photo was slightly less horrifying than the original. The offending biking shorts looked less like overstuffed sausage casing, and I thought I spotted a hint of a waist at my midsection. My husband's photo showed remarkable definition and muscle mass. He looked amazing. We looked strong, we felt strong. We agreed to continue the muscle confusion regimen, to keep ourselves in peak performance shape. We had thoroughly succeeded.

Then, one afternoon I lifted an upholstered chair and felt a little twinge. Nothing terrible. Just a pinch. The next day I was unable to breathe. After ruling out heart attack, the emergency room technician asked: "What were you doing when you first noticed the pain?" I told her with no hesitation at all. Why shouldn't I lift a chair? I'm fit. I do P90X.

Turns out, I'd torn an intercostal muscle. Days passed before I could lie flat and breathe at the same time; the pain lingered for weeks. The irony of my situation tormented me. Forget muscle confusion. I had intellectual confusion. How is this possible? How is this fair?

One evening, we lowered ourselves into a wide-legged squat rock, a stretch we'd done dozens of times, when my husband's back snapped into spasm. He screamed, "Oh no!" and fell flat. "You might as well finish the workout," he said, his face buried in the carpet. "I can't move."

In the emergency room, the triage nurse asked: "What were you doing when this injury happened?" He stood ramrod straight, unable to sit, bend or lie down. "Stretching," he answered, explaining.

"P90X?" She arched an eyebrow. "At your age?"

Later, after the X-rays, the injections of anti-spasmotics and pain relief, with the prescriptions and discharge orders in hand, I considered a change in our lifestyle. "I think we might be doing this all wrong," I said. "Maybe we should be couch potatoes. They never get hurt." From the backseat where he was stretched, flat, my husband slurred his agreement.

It took about a month before he was comfortable. He was propped on his heating pad one evening, when who did he see on television? Tony Horton, touting the newest, most updated version of his famed exercise program. P90X-2!

He picked up the phone and dialed the toll free number.

"What do you think you're doing?" I demanded.

He scowled at me, or maybe it was a grimace, and said: "Bring it."

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