Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Beachbody Chronicles: An Insanity workout I can do without feeling like I'm dying!

Finally: An Insanity workout I can do without feeling like I could barf up a lung.
   Core Cardio & Balance is a “rest” workout DVD of Insanity, the high-intensity cardio workout program led by Shaun T.
   It’s meant to be done in the week between Month 1 and Month 2 of the program.
   “You’ve been pounding your body for about four weeks now,” Shaun says during the Core Cardio & Balance workout, explaining that it’s meant to provide some rest to your heart and muscles.
   “You shouldn’t feel super-exhausted at the end. If you do you’re doing it too hard.”
   I have been pounding my body, but not with Insanity only. I mix the program’s workouts in with my other excellent DVDs.
   I was glad I didn’t feel super-exhausted at the end of Core Cardio & Balance. I was able to get through it well, generally keeping up with its pace and only modifying once or twice.
   I found it much more doable than the other Insanity workouts I’ve done so far, which are very challenging to the heart, lungs, body and mind. Core Cardio and Balance has a slightly slower pace than the other workouts.
   Apparently a “rest” workout in Insanity means “a workout you might be able to do without wanting to call the paramedics,” for average exercisers.
   The 37-minute Core Cardio and Balance workout starts with seven minutes of light cardio and 3.5 minutes of stretching as a warm-up.
   The main section is about 20 minutes of cardio and standing core-strength exercises, as the workout’s title suggests.
   Cardio moves include:
- Ski hops – light hops from side to side with the feet and knees together.
- Hit the floor – touching the floor from a slight crouching position with one hand, then the other and a slight hop in between.
- Level 1 drills – Burpees with push-ups and running action thrown in.
- Heisman – Running in place with a deliberate side-to-side motion with knees high, as if running through a set of tires on the ground
- Moving plank walks – “walking” from side to side in a plank position, which is holding the upper-part of a push-up. This is too difficult for me, and so I did push-ups and held a stationary plank instead.
- Jab switchs with jump squats – facing in one direction, doing an alternating punching motion, then jumping to the other direction and doing the same.

Following the cardio moves are some standing core exercises, which will be familiar to fans of Shaun T’s Hip-Hop Abs workout program.
   These exercises include standing on one leg and lifting the opposite knee up repeatedly, and bringing one arm down and the knee on the same side up, doing a slight crunch with the oblique ab muscles.
   The final exercise sequence is done from a wide pliĆ©, also known as sumo squat. From this stance, the arms are pulsed up and down or make small circles. It is challenging, but I was able to do it, thanks to the ballet barre workouts I have been following.
   When Core Cardio & Balance was over, I felt surprised and a little shocked that I didn’t want to cry – I felt rather refreshed, in fact, and was ready to tackle the day.

The Beachbody Chronicles: My adventures using Insanity, P90X, TurboFire and ChaLEAN Extreme

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Beachbody® Chronicles: ChaLEAN Extreme® goes from slow to fast with Burn Intervals

The Burn Intervals workout of ChaLEAN Extreme® seems like the complete antithesis of everything Chalene Johnson teaches in her weight training program on DVD.
   All of the main workouts emphasize the slow, controlled lifting of heavy weights. The maximum number of repetitions done in a set ranges from eight to 12.
   Burn Intervals, on the other hand, has exercisers doing lots of reps with light weights as recovery intervals during cardio drills.
   Johnson says Burn Intervals has different purpose than the other workouts.
   While the slow lifting workouts are meant to build muscle and burn fat, the many reps with light weights in Burn Intervals are meant to build muscular endurance.
   It is a little confusing to the mind, what with Johnson going from telling you to “go heavy or go home,” and then suddenly to do a “bazillion bicep curls” with light weights.
   But it’s worth the shifting of gears because Burn Intervals is an excellent, challenging circuit training workout.
   Cardio drills lasting 1.5 to two minutes in length alternate with “recovery” sessions lasting 1.5 to 2.5 minutes of quick lifting of light weights (or a light resistance with a resistance band).
   “Jumping rope” is followed by bicep curls; speed-skating by overhead shoulder presses; bowling lunges by bent-over tricep extensions, and burpees by lateral raises.
   As always with Johnson’s workouts, excellent modifications for jumping and high-impact movements are shown.
   Burn Intervals is also where Johnson’s two trademark workout programs meet: Turbo Jam (and TurboFire) and ChaLEAN Extreme.
   Some of the cardio spurts are kickboxing drills that come right out of the Turbo Jam playbook.
   Those familiar with Turbo Jam will feel right at home, while those who haven’t tried it may be prompted to give it a whirl.

Read more about the workouts in ChaLEAN Extreme in The Beachbody® Chronicles

Friday, May 13, 2011

Review of the Tracy Anderson Method Mat Workout DVD

I’ve wanted to try a Tracy Anderson workout DVD ever since I read a column written by Leah McLaren in the Globe and Mail a few years ago.
   McLaren was writing about the Tracy Anderson Method, a hot new workout technique that both Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna had adopted and were practically endorsing publically.
   I’ve read that Madonna has since moved on, but Paltrow is still loyal to Tracy Anderson, an American trainer.
   The main reason I hesitated from buying Anderson’s Mat Workout DVD was because I couldn’t get it directly from or without going through a secondary seller or paying an astronomical shipping rate.
   But I finally gave in a month ago and ordered the Mat Workout directly from Anderson's website. I felt it was time to try it.
   The workout is aimed at giving you a “long, lean, sexy, defined look” and a “teeny, tiny dancer’s body,” according to Anderson.
   The only equipment needed is a chair and a light pair of hand weights, no more than three pounds.
   Anderson leads the exerciser through a series of moves that leave the abs, arms and butt burning. Ironically, while this is called a “Mat Workout DVD,” most of it is done standing up, with only the last few minutes done on the floor.
   I’ve got quite a bit to say about the 57-minute workout, so I’m going to write the rest of this review in point form - the things I liked and disliked.

I liked:
- Anderson’s emphasis on body flow. She’s all about letting the rest of your body move in response to the work a single part may be doing. For example, when you’re facing a chair, holding onto it, and lifting a leg out to the back, you’re encouraged to lean forward and back with your upper body if you want. It makes for a more relaxed workout, rather than keeping the rest of the body nearly still while one part works. “It’s really important that your whole body be involved,” Anderson says.

- She frequently changes the angle from which a muscle is being worked. It seems she switches just as soon as you’re sure you can’t do a single more repetition, and you are happy to do a different exercise. This is especially true for the standing portion dedicated to toning the butt. She moves seamlessly through moves such as bringing the knee up high beside the body to extending it to the side. The burn is there, but there is some relief from frequent angle changes.

- There is a good warm-up and cool-down. With a series of quickly-moving yoga-inspired stretches such as side angle pose and standing forward bend, Anderson gets the body limber at the beginning of the workout and stretches it out nicely at the end.

- It’s not too bad for an exercise beginner. The moves are relatively easy to follow, and if broken up into small bits at first, the workout can be done.

- The abdominal section is amazingly doable – I was able to get through it without stopping for a rest! That doesn’t mean it’s easy – my abs were burning. But Anderson’s approach of lying on your back, putting your legs a bit apart and lifting up your head up slightly from the ground seemed to get the work done without an accompanying I’m-surely-going-to-die feeling.

- The no-weight arms section is a terrific upper-body workout. With arms out at a 90-degree angle to the body, Anderson moves them forward and back, up and down and in a smacking motion to get the arms burning. It’s only a seven-minute section, but it feels like an eternity.

I didn’t like:
- Anderson's claim that heavy weights create bulk. She begins the weighted-arms section by telling exercisers to never go above three pounds in each hand – anything more will create bulk, she says. Since I’ve been doing an excellent weight-training program on DVD called ChaLEAN Extreme, I know Anderson’s claim of bulk is complete B.S. I’ve been lifting heavy weights in a slow, controlled manner with ChaLEAN Extreme, and my arms have gotten smaller and definite muscle tone has appeared. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t use light weights for this workout – Anderson goes at a quick pace, and so light weights are essential so injury isn’t caused.

- There’s not a lot of narration of the moves, and very little explanation of proper form. Anderson sometimes doesn’t even say when she’s changed from one exercise to another, forcing a person to watch closely. She doesn’t show a lot of personality, and there is just a smattering of encouragement to exercisers here and there.
That said, Anderson’s lack of talk may be an enduring quality for those who don’t like a lot of excess chatter when they’re working out, and like a “do-it-and-get-it-done” type of workout. The lack of constant narration does fit in with her “go with the flow” exercise principle.

- Anderson's statement that she really doesn't like people using other workouts. Forget that! I'm going to keep using the DVDs in my fine collection -- exercise variety keeps me motivated!

Will this workout help me achieve a “teeny-tiny dancer’s body?” I must admit being sceptical about this, since petite I am not. Perhaps I’ll need to write a follow-up entry to let you know if Anderson’s promise comes true.

A list of every review on Fantastic Fitness DVDs

The Beachbody Chronicles: My adventures using P90X, Insanity, ChaLEAN Extreme and TurboFire

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Jumping jacks - my exercise enemy

Jumping jacks are my exercise enemy.
   I truly hate that classic calisthenics move that mimics making a snow angel, but standing up.
   Because I have big boobs!
   When I do jumping jacks, they whip up and down like a force unleashed, causing my bra straps to slip off my shoulders.
   And it hurts the poor things – for me, doing jumping jacks is literally a pain.
   I can handle jumping, as a few of the home workout DVDs I do require it. I can do these moves, such as doing a skiing motion from side to side, or setting up a basketball, because they are slower and more concentrated.
   Jumping jacks are simply too fast.
   I have liked or disliked workout creators on the basis of how they describe jumping jacks to their at-home exerciser followers.
   An extremely well-known and popular trainer, who shall remain nameless, instantly lost any future loyalty from me when she spoke on the subject on one of her best-selling DVDs.
   She said: “I have 400-pound people who can do jumping jacks. So can you.”
   No, I can’t, and I resent such an assumption!
   On the other hand, celebrity trainers such as Chalene Johnson and Bob Harper show excellent modifications to jumping jacks on their DVDs, allowing for low-impact versions.
   These trainers have won my long-term loyalty.
   So, celebrity trainers, never assume that your audience at home can do all the exercises in exactly the same way you do, and never use an exercise to shame someone as motivation.
   It simply doesn’t work.