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UK: February 8th

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Jillian Michaels Killer Buns & Thighs DVD Review

Price: £9 / $9
Length: 3x 26 & 17 minute workouts
Workouts: Full body
Suitable for: Everyone
Rating:   ★★★★★
Based on 8 weeks of use.

Jillian Michaels Killer Buns & Thighs
   Killer Buns & Thighs has quickly become one of my favourite Jillian Michaels workouts. I love a good lower body workout, and this DVD is nothing but. I was so keen every leg day while using this, keener than usual, and I was so sad to see the end of it! I planned to use it for two weeks per level, alternating with an upper body workout on non-consecutive days, for 5 days a week, and though my initial plan was to use the two for 6 weeks between them, it became 8 weeks and that still wasn't enough! And frequent readers know I change my workout every 4-5 weeks to avoid plateaus and to keep it interesting, but I really wanted to keep going. So much so that I'm compromising and looking to fit it into my calendar later in the year.

   Split into three 30-minute levels of increasing intensity, each made up of 4 circuits, Killer Buns & Thighs is dedicated to transforming the lower body. With a mixture of controlled resistance to build muscle, interspersed with compound moves and cardiovascular exercises to help melt fat, you simply cannot avoid results. Lower body workouts are amazing for cardio as the muscles in your lower body are so much bigger than those in your upper body, and so take more energy to utilise and burn more calories. And, of course, improving the muscle there makes for a more shapely silhouette, slimmer thighs and a nice, round bum, not to mention helping to increase resting metabolism and burning more calories at rest.
   Each workout begins with a thorough warm up, then 30 minutes of work, then a cool-down.
   On a personal note, I also love the fact that Natalie and Anita are the additional instructors, because I love their chemistry. I feel more comfortable with these two than new and more frequently-changed faces in Jillian's more recent DVDs.

   Like all Jillian Michaels DVDs, you will need hand weights. It's true that it's a lower body workout, but to burn fat, you need to utilise more muscles, and so some light weights for compound moves is a good idea, as well as heavier ones for deadlifts and the like. But, and this is the first time I've seen it in one of her DVDs, you'll also want a chair or exercise step or bench. Level 2 uses a chair for step-ups and elevated bridges in a single circuit - I used my Reebok Deck at its highest - while level 3 uses it only for Bulgarian split squats, or 'king squats', depending on how you know it, in one circuit. A mat is also advised for comfort while doing fire hydrants and other moves on your knees.

Level 1
   Though the lowest difficulty, level 1, like all the others, has a beginner and advanced modification for every move, allowing you to find an appropriate challenge. Each circuit is made up of a mixture of low-impact strength and high-impact cardio moves, giving you the chance to get your heart rate up, then recover before getting it back up again, ensuring you can push yourself without fear of exhausting before the end.
   The first two circuits are higher impact than the others, with the third being lower and made up of moves like fire hydrants, really giving you your breath back so you can give the last circuit your all. This makes the entire workout more manageable and ensures that you have the energy to complete it, and it's the end that counts. After about 20 minutes, your body has quite likely used up all the energy stored in the muscles (glycogen), and so only then will it begin using body fat for fuel. This is also why it's a good idea to do cardio right after 20 minutes or so of strength training, because you're not as exhausted, can get more out of cardio, and subsequently also do less of it.
   Level 1 seems to target the glutes the most, as I felt it in my rear the following day on a number of occasions.

Level 2
   The jump from level 1 to level 2 was, in my mind, a little bigger than they usually are, and after two weeks (amounting, really, to 5 days of use) on level 1, I found it wasn't quite enough. I didn't go back, though, I stuck with level 2 and gave it my all, but subsequently gave it 3 weeks (8 uses) before moving on.
   The moves are more advanced and complex, with things like push-ups into hero pose from yoga, but the guidance and beginner modifications are there. This is also the level that uses a chair or a high exercise step if you have one in circuit 3, and I recommend you choose a stable one. The step-ups start with a rear lunge, then a step up onto the bench, then a knee raise as if you're going a step higher, before reversing the sequence and then repeating. You don't want something that's going to slip or make you hesitate.
   This workout used more quad (thigh) moves than level 1, like controlled leg extensions, and so I wasn't surprised the following day when I seriously felt it in my quads.

Level 3
   I personally found level 3 easier than level 2, but that's simply because I'm more experienced with more advanced moves from using other Jillian Michaels DVDs which weren't level-based. The jump between level 2 and level 3 wasn't as big as between 1 and 2, which was good, but I still gave it three weeks - partly because I was almost finished, so what was another week, and also because I was seeing definite results.
   Circuit 3 and 4 are both more controlled, and while the camels, fire hydrants with extensions, and bow pose in circuit 4 seriously begin to hurt, it also kind of feels like a mercy. You're doing intense work, but you feel like you can do it. Because you've already done those horrible rockstar jumps into cannonballs.
   Quite happily, I felt this workout the most in my hamstrings.

   It is impossible not to see results from this workout. Though each level increases in difficulty, it's also clear that each level targets a different area of the lower body, too. The whole DVD is well-rounded (no pun intended) and targets your legs and bum from all angles. There are some old school moves, like fire hydrants, but Jillian points out - and she is not wrong - that these moves are incredible effective, especially when used in a circuit that mixes strength and cardio.
   It's an amazing fat-burner, metabolism-booster and booty-shaper - seriously - and it also gives an incredibly rewarding feeling every time you complete a level.
   The atmosphere is also wonderful. Older Jillian Michaels DVDs I find a little awkward, while the newest feel a little too aggressive. This DVD, from 2011, is from my favourite JM period - she looks good, she's smiling, and there are one or two points to make you laugh and subsequently lose balance and fall over. This makes it easier to want to use the DVD.
   In fact, even on my birthday I couldn't wait to use level 3 for the 7th time.

   Paired up with Jillian Michaels' Killer Arms & Back on alternating days, you will transform your body, your strength, your mobility and your confidence.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Love Brownies Review

   A certain doctor once hissed 'indulgences are what make life worth living'. He wasn't wrong, and as such, despite A Blackbird's Epiphany being a health and fitness blog, above other details, I really want to remind you all that that includes mental health, too.
   Sugar is my vice; I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't even drink coffee. I don't like fast food and I get like 4 takeaways a year. My issue is and always has been sugar, and I've fought to get the control over it that I now have. But I've never cut it out, and I never intend to; instead I've adopted a particular line of thought that seems to contradict its intentions, but is actually immensely clever: if you're going to misbehave, do it properly.
   I don't eat just any old chocolate, instead I buy only the stuff I truly love, and that, most of the time, is expensive and very high quality. Hotel Chocolat, for example: their chocolates are rich, indulgent, and expensive. And worth every. Single. Bite. They're expensive because they're of a very high quality, with no artificial stuff in sight, and even their white chocolate can be up to 40% cocoa. But because they're so expensive, I can't indulge just whenever I want to, and it's too rich to gorge on, either. Plus it's hard to find in general supermarkets, which additionally means it can't just fall into my shopping basket on a whim.
   In short, I only eat sugar if it's genuinely worth it.

   And I finally have something new to add to that list: the aptly-named Love Brownies.

   Disclaimers usually go at the foot of posts like this, but I feel it's important, due to the nature of this review, that it should go bang-smack in the middle instead, to make sure there's absolutely no confusion:
   This review was written on my own prerogative; I've not received any samples, any payment, nor any request by anyone at all, affiliated with myself nor Love Brownies, to write this. It's quite different from what I usually review, and that's because, quite simply, I don't want to keep quiet about this product. I want you to know about it, and I also want you to realise that a healthy lifestyle is a balanced one; it's about moderation, not denying yourself a treat. And these brownies, in my humble opinion, are royalty among treats.

   Every Christmas, Seeg and I, like many people, exchange a box of chocolates. But unlike what we get from other friends and relatives, we tend to go for more expensive things with a flavour specific to eachother rather than anything generic, like Prestat's red velvet truffles rather than a Milk Tray.
   The trouble is that Seeg is much harder than I am when it comes to chocolates. He's grown tired of his old favourites (like hazelnut Lindt or Ferrero Rocher), and finding something else he'll enjoy is tricky. So this year I decided to try a different approach, and after a surprisingly successful and subsequently very brief search for 'brownies', I landed upon Love Brownies.
   I admit that I was dubious about spending £18 on a box of brownies because there's a wide range of ideas as to what classifies something as a 'brownie'. Some people consider brownies as tough cakes, others as soft biscuits, and some people consider them as anything chocolatey that is half way between cake and biscuit. Some like them dry and crumbly, or with a cracking top, while others like them moist and 'fudgey' - which, again, could mean literal fudge or half-cooked batter.
   For Seeg and I, a 'brownie' is a dense chocolate cake, evenly moist all the way through with only dry edges. It should not be spongey, it should be rich and accented with chunks of chocolate, and it should be chewy, not crunchy nor something to be inhaled. It should be eaten on its own or with ice cream, but only if it is warm.
   Which means, of course, that ordering online from a small, independent bakery in Ilkley, Yorkshire, without trying them first was quite an expensive gamble, but one, I hoped would be worth the risk. If not, I'd be taught a very quick lesson.
   But, in case they were the slice of heaven they appeared to be in their pictures, I decided to risk a box of 8 rather than 4, which was only £4 more anyway. I also decided not to buy just 8 double chocolate, instead I bought a mixture of 4 double chocolate and 4 caramel fudge. There were also chocolate orange and even mince pie brownies, among others - in fact you could have a mixed box of one of each flavour - but Seeg isn't as adventurous as I am where chocolate is involved, and for the price, it was beyond the risk I was prepared to take.
   I selected my dispatch date at checkout - December 22nd - and they arrived very next day, freshly baked in a gorgeous turquoise gift box (my very favourite colour) with a hand written note, and I was excited to hand them over.
   Sadly, much to my disappointment, he loved them. And he doesn't love just anything. They were soft, fudgy, but dense - so he said; they were definitely heavy. I bought 8 because they looked small, and while my eyes are known for being many times the size of my belly, for once it was a justifiable idea.
   Though he couldn't manage more than one in a sitting, they were so dense and rich.
   He was gracious enough, eventually, to let me try them, and I knew immediately that I wanted some for my birthday, too. So I placed another order - lesson learned - for a box of 4 caramel fudge brownies. If you've ever had one, you will know why. These are the ones I've photographed for this post.

   Truly, Love Brownies' brownies are dense; they're heavy, physically and in taste, and even I would be hard pushed to have two in one sitting, and I have been called a 'good eater' many times. But this is so far from a bad thing. I wouldn't want to pay £16+ for brownies and to enjoy them for a fleeting moment. Instead, they last, and they keep well. With a shelf life of two weeks (and a best before date stamped onto the ingredients card), they are something to look forward to and, if you're like me, plan your diet around. There is little rush to encourage you to scoff, in fact they actually taste better 4 or so days after baking, which makes the concern of freshness void when having them delivered (free, did I mention?). And nearing the end of the two weeks, they're firmer, and, true, a little drier, but they're still quite undeniably 'brownies'.

   These brownies are gooey, but not too much so; they are sweet, but not overpowering; they are chocolatey, but...they are chocolatey. The caramel, as you can see, is epic, and though they are small in size, they punch well above their weight. One box of four makes for an excellent and more satisfying and longer-lasting alternative to a box of chocolates, or as a small 'boutique' dessert for four on a special occasion - placed perfectly centred on a small, posh plate with some kind of sparkly adornments and you'll do its taste and texture justice. Or heat them up in the oven on a low setting for 5 minutes or so and serve with a dollop of vanilla bean ice cream, and perhaps some crushed nuts.

   If ever there was a brownie that was worth every calorie, every bite, and every ounce of guilt, it is this. Nothing I nor anyone I know has ever made a brownie that can stand up to this, but the fact that they're made in a small, independant bakery allows them to keep the 'handmade' and 'fresh from the oven' labels that generally mark the best of baked confection.

   Boxes start at £12 for 4 'treat yourself' double chocolate brownies, up to £24 for a variety box of 8 brownies, and there are also countless delivery options, from free first class (which I selected for my own, and they still arrived the next day) to guaranteed next day delivery for £5.95, and you always choose your dispatch date. They're always baked fresh, to order, with local, organic and Fairtrade ingredients (and unrefined sugar), and every one of them can be made gluten free or regular. Any note requested is handwritten on a printed band around the box, and the gorgeous box is always tightly sealed.
   They also have hot chocolate spoons, tote bags, marshmallows and gift sets, and if you're passing through Ilkley, you can stop in for a cup of their hot chocolate and a brownie for £4 or so. The perfect re-energiser if you're lucky enough to be hiking through the local Yorkshire landscape.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

#Fabletics21 Meditation - Week 1

   I've just completed my first week of the #Fabletics21 21-day meditation challenge. I've worked from 3 minutes on day 1 to 5 minutes today, and I have to admit that it's been a bit difficult just to find the time. I exercise most mornings so nothing can get in my way, but I don't want meditation to fall into that category, I want it to be something I do consciously rather than because I feel I have to - though, admittedly, the challenge itself does somewhat force upon me the need to do it.
   I've not found a drastic improvement in my moods, but to be honest, I didn't expect to after just 7 days. The point of the challenge is to make something a habit rather than see immediate rewards. But, having said that, I was calmer after every session.
   With certain announcements made by the Prime Minister today, I've been feeling a bit more stressed than usual, and so rather than 5 minutes I did 10, and it did help to calm my mind and give me a more distanced and subsequently less biased perspective of the situation, and for that I was very grateful. I think meditation will come in as an unfortunate necessity over the next month, but I'm glad I have that outlet.
   I've also been tense the previous few days due to events in my book, and, of course, while I knew these were fictional events with fictional characters, it can be very difficult to distance yourself from them, but meditation reminded me that I'm being damned silly by getting upset about things like this. And no, I won't tell you what's happened, because loosing spoilers is a guaranteed ticket to hell.

   It's been difficult to find the time and remember to do it, as I've said, but I've also found further difficulty with the advised length of time. The first week, as mentioned, is 3-5 minutes a day, but I've found it takes me about that long to actually sink into the calm the meditation is supposed to ooze, so I feel like I've lost out from that a little bit. I have, when needed, extended the duration, but I've not wanted to race ahead of the calendar, otherwise I'll feel like I have to do 10+ minutes every day. It's true, while I'm doing it, that I'd be happy to stay that was for 10 minutes and longer, but the thought of sitting doing nothing for that long can be off-putting when I'm already stressed out - right when I need to do it, I suppose. I'm fighting against the daily personal need to keep running full-steam ahead. It is hard. But I am doing it.

Monday, 16 January 2017

January: 10 Minute Body

Read also: 2 Weeks Later;
10 Minute Body DVD Review

   After using Jillian Michaels' Killer Buns & Thighs and Killer Arms & Back for eight weeks, I decided to give myself 2 weeks off before moving into Kettlercise's 'Ignite' in February. The original plan was to use the Killer Body v2 workout for 6 weeks and start something new on January 2nd, but I found the last workout so good that I gave it an extra 2. I'm glad I did for a number of reasons, the two biggest being that I was getting undeniable results so it was worth keeping up, and that, to satisfy the OCD organised side of me, I had 2 weeks before the start of February. It's true I could just go ahead and start Kettlercise now, but I'd rather start a month's workout at the start of the month, not half-way through, and I really don't want to jump from one intense workout right into another, as I said yesterday.
   So I'm giving myself two 'free' weeks to cool off before beginning what, from my experience with Kettlercise, is guaranteed to be a toughy.

   I've had 'free' weeks before, and I find them quite rewarding. It's an opportunity to revisit old workouts - books, DVDs, websites - and remind myself why I loved them, as well as perhaps remind myself that I wanted to give one or two another go before they got pushed out of the limelight.
   Having said that, I was also given two DVDs for Christmas and one for my birthday that I want to have a go at, because I'm not sure that two of them would be good for a month's dedication, and the other I know isn't. And yet it's that last one that I want to give some attention to.
   I am a Jillian Michaels fan girl, it's true, but only because she has delivered me guaranteed results in every DVD I've ever bought from her. And my fitness journey began with a mixture of Wii Fit and 10 Minute Solution DVDs. In fact, though I've long abandoned the dance DVDs, I still actively use the kickboxing 10 Minute Solution DVDs. I'm a firm believer that DVDs of five 10 minute workouts should be a staple in everyone's fitness collection because it provides a guided workout for the days when a long one intimidates you - especially when you're first starting out - but often results in you doing two or three of them because 'what's another 10 minutes?'
   So when Jillian Michaels brought out 10 Minute Body, a DVD of five 10 minute workouts, it went straight on my wishlist.

   Each 10-minute workout is a different theme - kickboxing, bum/lower body workout, Pilates, calisthenics and 'killer cardio' - which means you have a good mixture of cardio and resistance to suit any mood, even on lazy days. It's true that I never give in to lazy days - I often find that I have the best workouts on the days I can't be bothered, so I can't justify not bothering - so if I play a DVD like this I'm guaranteed to use at least three workouts, and that's what I intend to do here.
   For the next two weeks I'm giving myself leave to do whatever workout I fancy, but I intend to use 10 Minute Body six times - three days a week. I don't think I'll be able to get a month's straight use out of this DVD, and to be honest I have no desire to try, but I am still giving it 2 weeks and priority because I'm certain that it's worth the attention. And I'm sure I'll end up using a couple of the 10-minute workouts more than the others, but so be it.

   I do have certain expectations from this DVD. 10 Minute Solution DVDs aren't very high-impact, though the kickboxing is quite good, hence why I still use it, but there's only so much you're going to get from 10 minutes. These DVDs are designed, I feel, for people with little time and little experience - people with lots of experience usually make more time for it, but '10 minutes' is an incentive for newbies, and that's good because it makes fitness so very much more accessible and less intimidating.
   Having said that, this is Jillian Michaels we're talking about, and she does not waste time. Therefore I expect lots of compound moves, no rest and absolutely no wasted time in each of these 10 minute workouts, but the fact that they're all different - kickboxing and Pilates are so very far from the same thing - means that stacking them up shouldn't be an issue.
   I'm hoping to use it for half an hour on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, using two resistance and one cardio on every run. Though on Fridays I have more time, so I may aim to use all five workouts, or do my usual thing of switching to a kickboxing DVD for an additional 20 minutes after my compulsory 30.

   Also, look at my epic new leggings!! I've wanted these for ages; they're from Wild Bangarang, and they're the armour of Sylvanas, the faction leader of the Forsaken, the first faction I ever played on World of Warcraft and of whom my warlock is once again my main. I was so surprised when he gave them to me for Christmas because they sell out on Wild Bangarang so fast, and I knew size small had been out of stock for months. What I didn't know was that the Blizzard gear store also stocked them (I thought they only had the Infernals) and they had my size. Very happy Kim. They're immensely moisture-wicking, too, and though there's 0 compression because they're not specifically designed for the gym, they're so gorgeous that I really don't care.
   Now I know what amazing quality they are, I can justify buying Arthas and Nozdormu - you know, eventually...

   Otherwise, I'll report back in 2 weeks on this DVD and then write a formal review. I'm hoping it will end up being used as my 10 Minute Solution DVDs used to be, to add in a little extra resistance or cardio after another month's dedicated workout, or as a substitute on 'off' days in between the dedicated workout. I usually choose high-impact resistance workouts as my priority each month, and while I used to use them every day despite knowing I shouldn't do full-body resistance on consecutive days, I'm trying to restrict them to 3 non-consecutive days a week. As such, I have room for yoga and general cardio once again, as well as the opportunity to work on skills and flexibility, rather than just weight loss. I am excited for this change, and for this free week, because, 10 Minute Body or not, I'm still free to use other workouts instead.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Killer Body v2 - Level 3

   Ooof! I'm so proud of myself - I gave level 3 of Killer Body v2 three weeks, not two! And the funniest thing is, even after 8 weeks of using these two DVDs, I'm really sad to see the back of them!  I didn't expect that...
   Level 3 of both Killer Arms & Back and Killer Buns & Thighs were both intense, but surprisingly easier than level 2 - for me, at least. I've found this before, and I think it's because I've used a lot of Jillian Michaels workouts and so I'm familiar with a lot of the moves. So the moves in level 1 are, of course, more basic than the other two, so they're easier to grasp and easier to complete. Level 2, however, increases the intensity and often features new moves, and they are harder, but when I get on to level 3, which is supposed to be the hardest, I find moves similar to other DVDs which weren't separated by level but rather intense from the very start. So I think that familiarity helps - not that that's to say it's easy, mind you, but knowing the moves means I can put more in and improve upon my depth and range of motion.

   I felt that the difference between level 1 and level 2 was a bit bigger than it should have been, more like a level and a half than a single level, and that was why I gave level 2 three weeks instead of two. The idea of moving on to level 3 after two weeks didn't sit right with me, and I do feel it was the right choice. But even so, level 3 wasn't as bad as I'd expected, and the difference between 2 and 3 felt more like a single level difference. It was a suitable jump and it still pushed and provided a challenge - one I certainly needed after Christmas, Seeg's birthday on Dec 28th and my own on Jan 9th! And I completed it with the  brightest of colours and biggest of smiles.

   Frequent readers know I usually change my workout every month, so I never usually give anything more than a straight run of 4-5 weeks, and this was already supposed to be the 'big one' at 6 weeks (two weeks per level) because of Christmas gorging, but it turned out to be 8 weeks instead. And I want to keep going!
   It's been such a satisfying workout, to be honest - I feel an enormous difference in my legs, my bum and my back, and I'm so, so pleased about it! I fully intend to return to these two DVDs, perhaps together, perhaps one at a time, but definitely again this year!

   I'll provide a DVD review for the both of them soon, so keep your eyes peeled if you're interested! Otherwise, despite how keen I am, I've got a new Kettlercise DVD lined up for February, and I don't want to jump from one intense workout right into another as it goes again my 'stop over-working myself' resolution, so I'm going to take two weeks off to do other random workouts, revisiting old DVDs and trying a couple I got for Christmas and my birthday! There's one in particular I'm very keen to try, so much so that I'm going to go as far as to make it my prioritised workout for two weeks, with a review at the end. And that begins tomorrow!