Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My feet are smaller, and other
strange results from working out

In the past year, I’ve noticed a strange phenomenon: My feet are smaller.
   I used to take a size 9½ or 10 in shoes, but now I take a 9. I also don’t need wide width shoes anymore.
   Why is this?
   I think it’s because my feet have toned up!
   It’s just one of the weird occurences I’ve witnessed with my body since I’ve been working out with DVDs at home.
   As could be expected with working out regularly, I have lost weight and toned up all over my body. Exercise has also been key in helping me maintain good blood sugar and cholesterol levels and an ideal blood pressure.
   While I am far from a perfect body or ideal weight, some of the best physical successes are:
   - My arms are much more muscular and smaller. Blouses that were tight around my arms are now loose.
   - My back, particularly the top between the shoulders, is much more toned – there is actually noticeable muscle definition!
   - My hamstrings are getting hard as a rock and my butt is lifted higher.

But some more unusual things have happened, like the smaller feet, that I never expected.
   Some may seem logical with weight loss and toning, but it didn’t really occur to me they could happen until they showed up.
   - My fingers are smaller, and my wedding rings fit looser. I no longer need to run water over the rings to get them off!
   - I have higher arches in my feet. While I never had a problem with “flat feet,” the arches I do have are much more defined and impressive. It’s a lot easier to walk in heels, too, because my feet are stronger. I credit barre workouts (click for reviews of the ones I use) with my better arches.
   - The area right under my kneecaps toned up. It’s surprising how much fat a person can carry there! Almost immediately after I started working out, the lumps of fat disappeared.
   - My armpits have lifted and become deeper. I don't know how else to describe it. This seems to have come along with my arms getting more muscular on the top and bottom. I credit the weight training program ChaLEAN Extreme with my nicer arms and armpits.
   - The lump of fat I had right under the back of my neck is gone, replaced by smooth muscle.
   - My facial features are more defined. I must admit, however, this is because I do a nightly facial workout (click for the review) that has lifted my cheeks and helped suck up some chin fat.

What is the moral of the story? Regular exercise, beyond its obvious benefits, holds a few pleasant surprises too.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Review of Xtend Barre: Lean & Chiseled

Xtend Barre: Lean & Chiseled is a great new entry into world of barre workouts on DVD, and the barre workout I would most recommend to beginners.
   That’s not because this workout doesn’t kick it – it certainly does.
   It’s because the DVD has a good tutorial on the moves, there is a great warm-up and cool-down, the workout pace is reasonable, and achievable modifications are shown for each and every exercise.
   Professional dancer, choreographer and Pilates instructor Andrea Rogers of 10-Minute Solution fame developed Xtend Barre.
   Xtend Barre is described on the DVD package as being a combination of dance (ballet) and Pilates. That’s definitely the case, but Lotte Berk Method practitioners will also recognize moves in the workout.
   Rogers says it’s a workout that combines “stretch, strength, stability and stamina.” She’s right: While you’re toning your body, you also get a great cardio workout.
   She emphasizes that consistent practice is the key to gaining the stamina needed to complete the workout in peak form all the way through. It’s good advice – don’t expect to do the workout with the ease of a professional ballet dancer!
   Andrea and her two-woman crew on the DVD wear a type of gripped sock during the workout, but I went with bare feet.
   The entire workout from start to finish is 55 minutes, but it can be broken into different sections.
   The first is the six-minute warm-up that gets the body well prepared for the work ahead with moves such as knee raises and plies.
   Section two is an 11-minute upper-body workout, which I didn’t use because I like the arm work I get with the weight training program ChaLEAN Extreme.
   However, the section looks challenging and is likely effective. Light hand weights are used for most of it with exercises such as tricep extensions, but for other exercises, such as balancing in an arabesque position and flowing the arms in and out, the weights are dropped.
   The main part of the workout is the 23-minute barre section, which is done with a chair.
   Here we find exercises inspired by ballet positions. In one, starting in first position, the heels are lifted up, and the body is lifted and lowered.
   Another is a front attitude. The leg lifted in front of the body is pulsed upwards, then inwards, then in circles around and to the ground.
   Yet another exercise begins in a curtsy position, then the leg is brought out to the side to an extension. At full pace, this provides an amazing cardio challenge.
   Other exercises are similar to those found in Lotte Berk Method workouts.
   One, for example, is leaning forward with the arms bent, resting on the chair back and the head resting on the arms. From here, one leg is lifted into the air and pulsed, creating a killer move for the backside.
   Following the barre workout is a 10-minute core section.
   Pilates is definitely at play here, with many of the moves using both the upper body and the legs to work the core. There’s scissoring the legs while twisting the upper body for the the elbow to meet the opposite knee, and roll-ups, a classic Pilates move that I’m unable to do without first gathering momentum.
   The workout ends with a terrific five-minute floor-and-standing stretch.

Xtend Barre: Lean and Chiseled on amazon.ca

Friday, April 15, 2011

Review of Bob Harper: Ultimate Cardio Body

“I don’t know if I can do it, Bob,” I said to Bob Harper’s face as he looked back at me from the TV screen.
   The Biggest Loser trainer was ordering a new round of mountain climbers (alternately pulling the knees to the chest from the top of a push-up position) and I wasn’t sure I had it within me to keep going.
   But something about his ever-so-slight Tennessee twang, his hilarious knee-length socks (they need to be seen to be believed!) and my own inner drive made me get up and keep going to the finish line of the hour-long workout.
   I was doing his latest DVD, Bob Harper: Ultimate Cardio Body.
   On the cover, it’s billed as Bob’s most powerful workout yet.
   I find that a bit puzzling, since Bob just released a series of DVDs last year called Inside Out Method that I found plenty challenging – unless powerful and challenging meant two different things in the workout world.
   I reviewed two DVDs from the Inside Out Method on this blog, Pure Burn Super Strength and Body Rev Cardio Conditioning.
   Ultimate Cardio Body takes up where Inside Out Method DVDs left off, with more of Bob’s cardio-and-weight combinations and circuits: Spurts of cardio are followed by lifting of light weights. There are also compound movements which use the lower and upper body at the same time.
   Some of these compound movements are a bit scary, such as the plyo lunge jumps while holding weights. This move is done starting in a lunge position, then jumping up and landing with the other leg in front – all while holding two weights in the hands with the arms at the sides of the body.
   I didn’t like the idea of jumping with weights, and so didn’t use them for this move.
   There are just a few jumping moves in the workout, and even these can be modified to be low impact.
   In fact, this DVD is great for people who don’t like to jump during their workouts. Many of the moves are low impact, such as knee lifts, front kicks, speed skaters, push-ups, lunges and squats.
   The moves are very easy to follow and are repeated often, which helps an exerciser to keep good form.
   The cooldown and stretch is just a scant 2 ½ minutes, which is very short for a workout of this length and difficulty. I did my own stretch at the end, as I often do after workouts.
   Though it is essentially low impact and simple to follow, that doesn’t mean this workout is easy, as can be guessed from what I wrote at the top of this entry.
   It is exhausting and requires a person to push past the sweat and thudding heart and keep going.
   But once you reach the “finish line,” as Bob calls it, a feeling of pride and washes over you – you did it!

Bob Harper: Ultimate Cardio Body at amazon.ca

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Beachbody® Chronicles:
"Burn It Off" adds some straightforward cardio to ChaLEAN Extreme®

“Burn It Off,” is the all-cardio-all-the-time workout included in the ChaLEAN Extreme® exercise program on DVD.
   The slow lifting of heavy weights which comprises the rest of the program is absent for this workout.
   Rather, this is a kicker l’il exercise session for the ol' ticker that contains some light jumping moves.
   It’s perfect for those exercisers considering moving on to other Beachbody programs that use plyometrics (jump training) in intense cardio workouts such as P90X® and Insanity®.
   But the jumping is certainly optional – the entire workout can be done low impact, which is demonstrated well by two of the women in Chalene Johnson’s crew. (Johnson is the creator and leader of the ChaLEAN Extreme program.)
   The workout is 27 minutes long from the beginning of the workout to the end of the cooldown. Some of the exercises can be done with a thigh-toning band.
   “Burn It Off” starts with tap the floor, which is putting the one leg back in a light lunge, touching the floor, then standing or jumping up.
   Other exercises in the workout include:
- Plank with knee pulls: In a plank position (holding the top of a push-up), the knees are brought in one at a time at a fast or slow pace.
- Jumping jacks, with or without a thigh toner. The option given is stepping and squatting deeply on one side then the other.
- Speed skaters, with or without a thigh toner
- Football drills
- Lateral lunge with a lateral raise – using a light hand weight, an exerciser leans over to one side, then stands up, lifting the lunging leg off the floor. The arm with the weight is pushed up into the air.
- Three-point stance – jumping up from a position on the ground that looks like the move from football.
- Screamers – One leg is forward and bent, while the other is put back in a slight lunge and then pumped forward and back at a quick pace. The screaming part comes in if Chalene’s instructions to put all the weight on the front leg are followed – the butt gets worked!

Stay tuned to Fantastic Fitness DVDs for The Beachbody® Chronicles - a series of articles about the adventures my husband and I have using ChaLEAN Extreme®, TurboFire®, P90X® and Insanity®.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Review of Trudie Styler's Pure Sculpt

Trudie Styler and her trainer, James D’Silva, get down to some serious toning of the abs, butt and arms on Pure Sculpt.
   Pure Sculpt is one of Styler’s series of workouts for Gaiam. On each of the DVDs, she and D’Silva exercise at theTuscan villa she owns with husband Sting.
   The setting is stunning and the music relaxing, but don’t let that fool you – this is a challenging workout that gets the body burning.
   Pure Sculpt is divided into seven 10-minute workout segments.
   The segments can be put all together for one comprehensive toning workout, or mixed-and-matched as needed one at a time. I like to tack on a couple of these segments after a cardio workout.
   The first segment is an excellent yoga-style warm-up that limbers up the core and legs for the work ahead with moves such as forward bends, downward dog and cat/cow stretch.
   The second and third segments are the two Core Conditioning routines.
   The first routine is a more “traditional” core workout, with crunches and bicycles. There are Pilates-style moves here too, such as keeping legs and/or arms off the ground and pulsing the arms.
   The second Core Conditioning routine is less traditional. Its core move is lifting the body off the floor from one side to another with one hand and leg. It’s powerful stuff.
   There are a lot of roll-ups, too, starting from lying on the ground on one’s back and rolling all the way forward over the legs. I am unable to do this unless I get some momentum going!
   The fourth and fifth segments of Pure Sculpt are the two Lower Body routines, which effectively target the butt.
   Routine 1 is done lying on one’s side, with the bottom leg forward and bent while the top leg engages in exercise moves. One is lifting the leg from a parallel position to the bottom leg to a perpendicular position and back, while another is making small circles with the top leg, again perpendicular to the bottom leg.
   Routine 2 of Lower Body starts with a person lying on their front on the floor, head resting on top of the hands. From here, the legs do small movements such as lifts upward and to the side.
   The second part of the routine is done on all fours. With arms and knees on the ground, moves such as leg lifts and pulses are done one leg at a time.
   The final segments of Pure Sculpt are the two Pure Arms routines.
   Since I get an effective upper-body workout by using ChaLEAN Extreme (click for the latest review of this program), I have not tried either of these routines, but they look as if they would be fun.
   With weighted gloves on their hands, Styler and D’Silva make flowing motions with their arms in different patterns, such as a flying or zig zags. It is almost like a dance routine, but without the lower body.
   There is no concluding stretch on the DVD, so I did my own.

Trudie Styler's Pure Sculpt at amazon.ca

Review of Trudie Styler's Warrior Yoga