Sunday, 10 December 2017

FitFlow Max Review

Price: £35/$50
Length: 5x 30-40 minute yoga routines
Workouts: Upper, Lower, Core, Total, Yoga, Stretch
Suitable for: Intermediate - Advanced
Overall Rating:   ★★★★★
Enjoyment:  ★★★★☆   Difficulty:  ★★★★☆   Results:  ★★★★☆
Based on 4 weeks of use.

   I do yoga often but I admit that, while I change up my workout every month, I rarely vary my yoga. I use it more as a means of unwinding after lots of resistance workouts rather than something I practice or try to get better at - though I  have definitely seen improvements stemming from frequent use and the strength and flexibility gained from other workouts. I have few DVDs and sequences, and while they're relatively intermediate, none of them feature anything outlandish like the yogis you see on Instagram.
   That said, as someone at the low end of intermediate, this yoga program was something I found myself able to do, but was still physically challenged by. And while I may look for a simpler routine where yoga is used as a recovery, if a yoga routine is taking its place as my month's workout, such as this HIIT-yoga fusion, 'challenging' is a detail I hunger for.

   This program features 5 yoga workouts varying from 30-40 minutes long; three are HIIT-structured with a focus on the upper body, lower body and total body, and the rest are more recovery-based, with one focusing on core and stretching, and the other a fluid yoga sequence to counter the resistance and cardio of the week. It's a 6-day-a-week, 4-week program wherein each week one of the workouts will be repeated.
   There is no music, which I thought would be an issue, but surprisingly it isn't, and I put that down to the way Briohny and MacKenzie chatter. Rather than distracting or all-business, it actually feels like you're a part of the class. I've used programs with chatty instructors before, but I've never felt so involved. But if it bothers you, you can easily play your own music beneath it.

   A yoga mat for grip and comfort is essential, and they do use yoga blocks. I didn't have any when I started so I made do with the floor, and while I managed, I did end up buying a yoga block. Not so much because I couldn't reach, but rather I was over-extending and couldn't keep a flat back where it mattered. But these can be picked up on the cheap from most sports stores.

Difficulty & Guidance
   As I said above, as someone who usually practises yoga at the lower end of intermediate, this workout was something I could do, but was still challenged by. Most of the movements were familiar, but those I'd never seen before - basic or variations - were all well-demonstrated, well-explained and well-cued, so you always know where you are. I never got lost once.
   The HIIT element isn't that bad, it's made mostly from repping in and out of the poses with a few more obvious cardio sequences, but those reps and cardio sequences are necessary to building heat and raising the heart rate, and what's HIIT without a thumping heart?
   Variations for beginners and advanced are offered throughout, and being intermediate (I'm relatively advanced in most workouts) I was given something to strive for in almost every movement. And I was so impressed with myself when I succeeded.

Warm Up
   I wouldn't usually write about the warm up section, but I'm mentioning it for the simple fact that there isn't one. If this was ordinary yoga it might not be an issue, but repping in and out of movements and really engaging your muscles...well, on cold winter mornings, you really, really do want to warm up first. I generally spent 5 minutes jogging on the spot, doing arm windmills, jumping jacks, standing toetap kicks and so on. When chaturangas and crescent lunges are involved, you really do want warm arms and legs. I quite successfully pulled my hamstrings on my first day following the lower body workout because I trusted too foolishly.
   There is also no cool down, and while that's not a problem on all of them, you definitely want to make sure you stretch your arms out after upper body and legs after lower.

Lower Body - 35 minutes consisting of 2 circuits, repeated three times on each side, alternating. The first set of each circuit on each side is slow and painful (in a good way), but the second and third rounds are faster, both in movement and in duration. And it may sound strange - it was strange when they said it - but while adding a hop to crescent lunge reps is a challenge in the first round, it's actually doable in the second, and nearly easy in the third. Rather than tire yourself out, you seem to just heat yourself up and get better with every rep. It's a wonderful and powerful feeling.
Upper Body - 30 minutes of one long and dynamic circuit, repeated three times on each side, alternating. You spend a lot of time in plank and downward dog, but don't be fooled, your legs get involved and your heartrate rises. And, as with the lower body workout, each set gets easier as you go along. I struggled with this one and was quite clumsy at first, but I soon found my rhythm. But you will seriously feel it in your arms, chest and shoulders by the end.
Total Body - 30 minutes of two circuits, but definitely the most complicated. A lot more balance is involved in the total body section, and it's tempting to try to keep up with them as the sets get shorter and more fluid, but the fact is, by rushing along, you don't get the depth and you will end up falling over. It was only on the very last set on the right side that I realised my mistake, and noticed an immediate difference when I slowed down a little, catching up in the vinyasa. It doesn't feel like the whole body is getting a workout, and while it's true you don't feel the burn as intensely as in Upper or Lower, you will notice it the next day, and you will raise your heart rate. There are also a few brief cardio intervals to raise the heart rate, too.
Core & Stretch - This 40-minute workout isn't made with the same circuit set up as the others. Instead you roll through the movements and generally progress from start to finish, repeating movements only when individual sides are concerned, and there are few in this case. The core hurts, and not just your abs. Your legs and hips get involved a fair bit, which is nice for a little extra work, but it's certainly lower impact than the others, with the hard work mostly focused in the first 20 minutes and more stretching and static poses in the last.
Yoga FitFlow - This 40-minute yoga sequence features intermediate moves and a fluid flow from one position to the next, with no circuits involved beyond balancing out the sides as in Core & Stretch. There's little repping in and out of the poses so the cardio element is low, but  there is a little more leg strength involved than expected for a routine designed to counter and stretch after the other workouts. But while the power in the legs isn't too demanding, the sequence itself is a challenge for someone of my abilities and the instruction isn't as clear as in the others. I muddled through the first usage, however, and improved with every subsequent use, as is often the case with all workouts.

   It's true that a HIIT-yoga fusion was never going to be as powerful or fat-burning as a more typical HIIT workout, nor as calming as a typical yoga workout, but it was a very well-balanced fusion nonetheless and provided, where promised, HIIT intervals that did make me sweat and did get my heart pounding. But the resistance was also brilliant, and even repping in and out of a crescent lunge, you are going to feel it.
   Not for the beginner, the movements in this program, especially when flowing from one to another, is more suited to the intermediate user while still providing plenty of room to grow, and advanced yogis can get their fill, too.
   Highly recommended if you're looking for more than just yoga, but not if you're after something traditional or something high-impact.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Lean Greens & Beating Christmas Bloat

   When Christmas comes along, I like to do anything I can to give my health a little boost knowing that it's my most unhealthy month. Though, as you can see from my 'how to beat Christmas weight gain' post last week, I already do a lot by eating healthily, saying 'no' to treats that I know aren't really worth it and exercising more efficiently. But I also use supplements.
   Now, in a bid to lose weight, up until half way through this year I used to take all kinds of supplements from silly things like raspberry ketones to more elaborate thermo fat-burners. Not one of them worked. I have a whole post to go up about that soon.
   But what I have learned is that, while 'supplement' now fills me with a sense of dread, not all of them out there are bad. In fact, some of them I sill use, and it's easy to tell which are good because they're the ones that don't make outlandish claims. If something that isn't a piece of gym kit claims to help you lose weight, it's nonsense.
   So aside from protein shakes (85% protein minimum) after almost every workout and multivitamins and an extra vitamin D (England!) and magnesium (prone to migraines) every morning for the past year or so, when I know things are going to get a little...well not quite so 80/20 anymore, I like to turn it up a notch with more efficient exercise, ensuring resistance and cardio in every session, and implementing a little more natural goodness. And greens are the easiest way to do it.

   'Greens' in this case refers to those funky green powders you see people mixing into juice or smoothies, and generally consist of greeeeen things like spirulina, barley grass, chlorella and so on for a multitude of benefits in a concentrated daily dose.
   There are loads of green powders on the market. I've tried a few, and it's true that they're not the most enjoyable thing to drink, but they're really good for you when not packed with extra rubbish. And anyway, not everything that is good for you is pleasant. Looking at you, burpees.
   This Christmas I'm turning to Lean Greens since they have a great profile and aren't filled with extra cayenne (how is that even green?!) or caffine, and I'm still looking for one I can stomach a little easier. But aside from the taste - which Lean Greens themselves say 'if you sip it, sniff it, linger over the colour, the harder it gets' - I'm expecting the same boost I always get from these kinds of products. My skin always looks a little better - who doesn't want that at Christmas? - and my energy levels are a little higher with all the circulating nutrients.

   If taste turns out to be the same as the rest - and given the lack of artificial flavourings and the like, I'd be surprised if it didn't - I'll mix it with kefir, which I started making myself in the summer, or some lovely festive and highly anti-oxidising cranberry juice. Either way, my Christmas workout began on Monday, I have a lovely delivery of Graze multipacks including the return of the mince pie flapjack YAY! And I've also nabbed some gorgeous new fit bits over Black Friday.
   I am so ready for Christmas. Where are the mince pies?!

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Winter Wonderland Canvas Cake

   I've been so busy lately that this post - as well as many others - is a little late to go up, but I've managed to scrape some minutes together from filling Myth of the Wild orders to do it.
   We actually had snow the other day. Snow. It didn't settle at all, but it was falling from the sky and it was so exciting! As I said in Beating Christmas Stress (The Myth of the Perfect Christmas), we're more likely to see floods than any snow, settling or otherwise, so that was a surprise. And as we're not likely to see any more, I jumped onto a winter wonderland canvas cake for breakfast the next day.
   The wonderful thing about canvas cakes is that they're colourless and pretty flavourless and topped with white yoghurt - it's a canvas. So any flavour or colour you do add comes through wonderfully. In this case, though, I flavoured it with vanilla bean which preserved the whiteness while adding a wonderful taste and aroma, while Stevia did its usual job of sweetening perfectly.

   I used the basic canvas cake recipe with the seeds of half a vanilla bean, topped with Yeo Valley honey Greek yoghurt, some mini white marshmallows, silver sprinkles, and 10g of Green & Black's white chocolate melted into a mini snowflake.

Winter Wonderland Mug Cake:
280 calories, 6.8g fat, 24.5g carbs, 5.5g fibre, 22.5g protein
Cake + vanilla seeds: 135 calories, 2.8g fat, 2.5g carbs, 5.5g fibre, 21.5g protein
50g Yoghurt: 50 calories, 0g fat, 7g carbs, 4g protein
  - mini marshmallows: 20 calories, 5.5g carbs
  - 10g Green & Black's white chocolate: 60 calories, 4g fat, 5g carbs, 1g protein
  - Silver sprinkles: 15 calories, 4.5g carbs

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Sinterklaas Horse Cake

   I mentioned yesterday morning with my Sinterklaas canvas cake that I was making little speculaas cakes for Sinterklaas dessert, and here they are! Sinterklaas doesn't have reindeer or a sleigh like Father Christmas, he has but one white horse. So I decided, after seeing a few cute reindeer cakes, that I would try to make a little horse instead.
   These two cakes are a simple speculaas Sinterklaas cake, which is deliciously spiced, covered in whipped double cream with a squirt of aerosol cream on top, strawberry and blackcurrant BEAR yoyo cut with a circular cookie cutter for the detail - any fruit roll up will do, or you could just pipe it - and some last-minute paper & toothpick ears. They're also tiny. I used two 3x3 inch cake tins for this, which is absolutely perfect to serve 4. I used them at Easter a couple of years ago and made one cake each because they were so small, and it turned out to be, quite simply, too much.

Makes 2 3x3 inch cakes, perfect to serve 4
Speculaas Cake
100g butter, room temperature
75g sugar
1 tsp speculaas spice
100g self raising flour
2 eggs 
Optional 6 pepernoten biscuits, broken

To Decorate
100ml heavy cream
1 blackcurrant BEAR yoyo/fruit roll
1 strawberry BEAR yoyo/fruit roll
Whipped cream

1. Preheat the oven to 180 C/350 F/gas mark 4 and line or grease two 3x3 inch cake tins.

2. Cream together the butter, sugar and speculaas spice until thoroughly combined.

3. Add 1 egg and half of the flour, mix to combine, then add the remaining egg and flour.

4. Add the broken biscuits to the batter, if using, combining well, then divide between the two cake tins.

5. Bake in the centre of the oven for 25 minutes, then let cool.

6. Once the cakes have cooled, begin to beat the heavy cream in a bowl until thick.

7. Using a palette knife or the smooth edge of a butter/table knife, spread the cream around the sides of the cake. Be patient!

8. Take your yoyos or fruit rolls and, using a circular (or the rounded edge of a heart) cookie cutter, cut two eyes and two nostrils for each horse and arrange on the cream. Cut the remaining lengths into strips 5mm thick and arrange as a bridle - one over the nose, one above the eyes, and two down the sides.

9. When ready to serve, cover the top in whipped cream and poke in some paper ears. I taped ear shapes to toothpicks.

• I used Stork cakes vegetable spread in place of butter.
• You can put pepernoten, kruidnoten or even just gingerbread biscuits into a bag and break them up with a rolling pin and add them to the mix.

Per 1/2 cake, without cream
346 cals, 20g fat (5g sat), 35g carbs, 5.5g protein
Per 1/2 cake with cream
488 cals, 35g fat (14g sat), 149.5g carbs, 6g protein

Hotel Chocolate Winter Spice Freak Shake - Healthy Christmas

   Christmas always seems to get me in the kitchen more than any other time of the year. I always find myself trying to come up with new recipes, and lately I'm just obsessed with breakfast - yes, this is a breakfast post.
   A freak shake for breakfast? Really? You've asked me that before. But regardless of the fact that this freak shake is actually good for you, it's also Christmas. And what's better than festive decadence at breakfast?

   But, while my salted caramel freak shake was quite healthy, this one is not sugar-free. Rather than a chocolate protein base, I used Hotel Chocolat's Winter Spice hot chocolate shavings along with some plain whey protein. And it's amazing. But, of course, it is Hotel Chocolat, and that means more cocoa, less sugar, and no artificial nonsense, which means a cleaner shake all round!

   Perfect for a Christmas workout or breakfast, this healthy freak shake is high in protein, low in fat and sugar, and contains lots of probiotics thanks to the yoghurt! Hotel Chocolat have always been high-cocoa and low-sugar, and yet aren't dark unless they say so. And even at 50% cocoa, this hot chocolate isn't dark. It's sweet enough to provide all the sweetness and flavour by itself. It's deliciously thick, decadently chocolate and sensually spiced.
   Stored in the fridge for 2 days, it can be made ahead of time for Christmas gatherings, last-minute workouts - there's only so much time in the day - or breakfast on the go. It's a truly guiltless Christmas treat!

Serves 1
Shake Base
20-35g Hotel Chocolate winter spiced hot chocolate
50ml skimmed milk
20g whey protein powder (I used Pulsin Simply Whey)
250ml water
150g fat-free greek yoghurt (Yeo Valley bio-live)
Optional 1-2 tbsp (10g) cacao
Low-fat whipped cream
1 skinny mini mince pie
1 Hotel Chocolat  mini chocolate snowflake

1. Heat the milk in a saucepan over medium-low until it starts to steam. Remove from the heat and add the hot chocolate shavings, stirring until melted. Set aside to cool.

2. Combine the cold water, cooled chocolate milk, protein powder, yoghurt and optional cacao into either a shaker bottle or blender and mix.

3. Transfer the shake into a tall glass or mason jar (while they're still popular).

4. Squirt cream on top, add the snowflake and mini mince pie, and a small sprinkling of crushed candy cane or more chocolate shavings. Serve and enjoy!

I used Pulsin whey protein powder, Yeo Valley fat free Greek yogurt & Aduna cacao
The mini snowflakes come as a pack of 3 inside a tree decoration. They are perfect for adding to desserts, hot chocolates, or even a festive chocolate porridge.
I used 12g of low-fat whipped cream, a single serving.

For just the shake base (20g chocolate, 10g cacao)
290 cals, 6.5g fat (3.5g sat), 22g carbs (18g sugar [10g from milk]), 25g protein
Based on 20g chocolate, 10g cacao, 12.5g whipped cream, 1 mini mince pie & 1 snowflake
445 cals, 11.5g fat (6.5g sat), 41.5g carbs (29g sugar [10g from milk, 10g from fruit]), 26.5g protein