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Tuesday, 23 August 2016

How To Keep Fit At Your Desk

   I'm a writer, a gamer, a blogger, and I run an online handmade jewellery shop - all this means that I spend a lot of my time sitting down at computer screens. It's true that I never skip my workout - I'm actually more obsessive than I am dedicated, exercising five mornings a week for about an hour and always getting in a good balance of resistance training and cardio. Trouble is, after that, I'm a potato. All my morning mobility kind of goes out the window when it's 'balanced out' by parking my bum in a chair for hours on end, and that's not good, nevermind how bad it is for your posture if you're slumped over a keyboard for most of that time.
   But it's so hard to get more movement in when you have so much to do, your day just gets gobbled up by chores and work, and when you do have free time you would rather spend it doing something enjoyable. Most of my day is spent writing, proofing and reading my book, and when I'm not doing that I'm filling orders or working on one of my two blogs (yes, The Wyvern's Tail is still active, and it consists mostly now of creative writing for the sake of practise and publicity). When I give myself a break, I usually turn towards games. I've been particularly absorbed in World of Warcraft lately - with the next expansion only a week away, the in-game pre-launch event has been pretty exciting. But that's computer, computer, laptop, computer, and while a standing desk is always an option, if you're using it for long periods of time your feet will drop off. Not really, but you get me.

   Fortunately, fitness instructors recognise this, too, and are addressing it in two ways: first, with short but effective HIIT workouts for those able to find thirty minutes to spare three times a week, and secondly, by providing workouts you can do at your desk at work, or on your sofa when you're chilling at home with a cup of coffee.
   I review countless workout DVDs on the blog, so the short but effective workouts can be found in my Fitness archive, but today I'm focusing on the latter by providing three very different and very free resources for your office chair convenience:

   Desk yoga - it is what it sounds like. Yoga poses you do at your desk. I've done it before, a few months ago, and I was surpised by how good it was. The deep breathing and holding the poses can help release stress on the spot, ideal for work, as well as help loosen tight muscles from poor posture all day. It doesn't take long to do, you can set an alarm on your computer to go off every hour or 30 minutes, then spend 5 minutes doing the poses. Furniture at Work has put together the below infographic in collaboration a top fitness instructor which includes a desk yoga sequence - you can try it out right now!
   Pilates is another option - a lot of it can be done seated, and is better resistance than you'd expect. Blogilates is an amazing free resource for pilates, complete with printable workouts and videos presented by the most wonderful Cassey Ho, whose pilates workout book, Hot Body Year Round, I reviewed last year (and I'm planning on trying her PIIT28 workout series in October).
   The 'Sofa Collection' is a series of workouts from another of my absolute favourite resources, Darebee - I've used their Hero's Journey roleplay workout and a number of their game-inspired visual workouts this year. Like desk yoga, these are workouts you can do at home on your sofa, minimal space and no kit required! Some are upper-body focused, others lower-body, and there are a few cardio routines, too.

   All of these workouts are so amazingly convenient, you can do them this very moment, and 'no time' really is no excuse. These are great workouts to do during loading screens or a lull at work, so bookmark the links, or bookmark this post, and try them out the next time you're at work or your game is on a loading screen - those Witcher screens last for half an hour! (They don't really, but they might as well - anyone who's played it knows exactly what I mean!)
   It's also a good alternative if you don't want to draw attention to yourself at work by getting up and wandering around, though walking about for a few minutes every half hour is another good option, or if you have nowhere to take a safe 10 minute stroll before and after every meal or during every break (a ten minute walk before and after a meal, or a twenty minute walk before or after, would provide you with 60 minutes of light exercise every day).

   Have you tried anything like this? Or do you have a clever way of 'sneaking' more exercise into your busy days?

Sunday, 21 August 2016

An open letter to every Olympic athlete.

   Dear Olympic athletes.

   Well done. Truly. Well done to every single one of you of every nationality. You trained like hell, you gave it your all, and a lot of you were carrying your country's expectations on your own shoulders. There were a few team sports, but a lot of you were out there on your own, performing by yourself, which meant that any and every mistake has to be acknowledged rather than shrugged off onto someone else, but it also means that every accomplishment has to be acknowledged, too. And when I say 'accomplishment' I don't mean 'win'. I mean personal victories, be it simply getting into the Olympics itself (which is the dream of countless athletes right there), completing a difficult gymnastics move whether you got perfect scores or not, or being beaten by an opponent and being able to acknowledge that they were simply better than you and accepting that you still have room to grow.
   A great many of you didn't get your shiny metal necklace or bunch of flowers, and I won't say 'who cares' because who doesn't love a trophy or a memento? But to be honest, I'm actually astounded by every one of your abilities, and more so by the incredible impression you've left on untold numbers, from encouraging young athletes to inspiring people - be they 5 or 50 - to try something new. And that, truly, is amazing. No, it may not be long-lived, but physical activity isn't inviting for a lot of people in this day and age, and to not only plant the idea but cause it to blossom into an honest attempt is an incredible power to wield.

   So while a lot of you didn't get any medals, and others got their sixth, stop and take a moment to consider how you've impacted complete strangers. Being a good loser, accepting defeat with a smile, can be inspiring in itself. I know I have far more respect for people who lose with a smile than I do for gracious winners, because it can be hard when you give your best and it isn't good enough - at any point in life.
   So well done absolutely everyone for making it to the Olympics, for giving it your all, for carrying your nation's expectations on your shoulders and for inspiring another generation. I'm seeing pictures and videos of kids all over the internet right now copying a range of athletes and a range of sports, some trying to do kickboxing, others pretending to ride a horse, and one six year old in particular who was trying to do one-handed push ups and was doing little more, really, than a one-armed plank and bobbing his head up and down.
   If ever there was a role model worth having, it's you.

   I wish you the best of luck with your training and in your next competitions.

   Kim x

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Kettlercise For Women, Volume 2 - 2 Weeks Later

   I've been using Kettlercise For Women Volume 2 for a smidge over two weeks now, and I'm quite happy with it. It's similar to volume 1, as I'd expected, but a good number of the moves are different and it does feel like a step upwards. In fact, a few of them I find quite challenging - I'm quite comfortable using 6kg-8kg kettlebells, but the reverse woodchop I can only manage with a 4kg, and even then I struggle. So it's good to know that it is, undeniably, volume 2, level 2.

   The 22-minute workout is actually 24, and only 17 minutes of real work, so I'm a bit disappointed in that. When it says '22 minutes' I expect at least 20. Fortunately, it's easy to add on a few extra moves to make up the extra minutes - yes, I really, really am that finickety. I add on a minute of Turkish get-ups on each side and a minute of bridge raises, bringing 17 to 20.
   Unfortunately, the '50 minute' program is worse. It's actually about 45 minutes long, and only 36 minutes of work. I had expected at least 40 minutes, so, as before, I add on a few extra moves to add on the missing time.

   So while I do have complaints, they're easily remedied. The workouts themselves, and the instruction, are all top-notch and seriously good, hard work. You perform each move for a minute, or 30 seconds on each side, and transition quickly from one to the next with no rest, but it's structured so that you don't need it. You'll perform a move that works certain muscles, then move right on to one that works others, keeping you moving but giving the right muscles a rest so that you can just keep on going, really making the most of the workout.

   One thing that does baffle me, however, is that I have yet to see Turkish get-ups on any Kettlercise DVD I've used - Kettlercise for Women volume 1 (2 workouts), and Lean In 14 (6 workouts). The reason that confuses me is also the reason it's my go-to move to fill in the missing time: it's one of the best kettlebell moves in the world. It's seriously full-body, takes a lot of control, and works so many big muscle groups including your glutes, legs and core. I presume it's on one of the few others - I'd hope so, at least - but as it is, it does seem to be a bit of a hole in the system.

   But that point aside, which I suppose does provide me with the solution to my complaint, I am really enjoying this workout. And I knew I would. Kettlercise has proven itself to be really effective, even if it does have time-keeping problems, and I would already recommend its use.

   And as I said at the beginning of the month, rather than use kettlebells every day, I've been using the 20 minute program Monday and Thursday, the 50 minute program on Saturday, and Pound on Tuesday and Friday. And I have to admit, I forgot how much fun and how tough Pound is. And I've been supplementing both with kickboxing and Kukuwa, the latter of which I still maintain should be a staple dance workout in everyone's collection.

   I'll be back at the end of the month with my verdict on Kettlercise, though I doubt it will be much different from here, as well as a full DVD review in the first two weeks of September for anyone who wants more detail on the structure of the workouts.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

BarreAmped DVD Review

Price: £7 / $17
Length: 4x 15 minute workouts
Workouts: Arms, bum, legs, core
Suitable for: Everyone
Rating:   ★★★★★
Based on 4 weeks of use.

   If you read my 2 weeks later and 4 weeks later posts, you could be forgiven for thinking that I have a low opinion of BarreAmped. Well, let me set you straight right now: I have an incredibly high opinion of it. It's absolutely wonderful to find a workout that can challenge me despite my high fitness level, and despite barely raising my heart rate, and I can say with full confidence that there's simply no way that it can't yield results, be that for me or for someone who has never exercised before.
   Yes, I did hate it, but I didn't dread it. I was actually quite happy to put the DVD on every morning, and while I hated it while I was doing it, at the same time I was cursing the screen I also knew it was working. I do all kinds of different workouts, but never have I been so certain that something was actively delivering results with every single rep.

   BarreAmped is a barre workout created by Suzanne Bowen, who is trained in the Lotte Berk Method. It's very low-impact with very concentrated movements; rather than moving in and out of contracting the muscles, you make small movements and remain engaged throughout. Because of this, it differs to many other workouts, remaining challenging while also barely breaking a sweat, which also means it's easy to use at any time of the day - being exhausted in the evening is no excuse, and neither is not having time to fit a shower in before going out.
   It delivers amazing body-sculpting results, and while you won't burn fat by using this alone, as I explain under 'low-impact' below, it can certainly be a great help if used before a cardio workout.
   The instructor is neither annoying nor imposing, she has a wonderful smile, and the backdrop is far from distracting. The music is calm and subtle, and the overall feel of the DVD and all its sections is very inviting.

   The DVD is broken into sections: warm up, light weight work, thigh work, seat work, mat work, and stretch. I used the DVD for half an hour a day - light weights and seat work one day, and thigh and mat the next.
   Light weight work (10 minutes) focuses on the upper body, but more specifically the triceps, shoulders and upper back, areas that are often neglected because they're not 'mirror muscles' - the muscles you can see or pay any attention to in the mirror. Despite its name, it can certainly be used without weights. Due to the nature of the movements - pulsing and holding, rather than dynamic expansion and contraction - doing it with tiny weights becomes a challenge and is recommended for intermediate users. Just because you're not using weights doesn't mean you're missing out.
   Thigh work (15 minutes) focuses on the legs, but more specifically the calves, quads and inner thighs. It uses small, pulsing movements once again, and half of the workout takes place on your toes rather than flat-foot, meaning you may well need something to hold on to. The movements don't look like they vary much, but just rotating your thigh outwards at the hip encourages the use of different parts of the muscle you probably otherwise neglect. You'll know what I mean when you try it, it's quite surprising, and when you notice it, you'll also know you're doing it right.
   Seat work (20 minutes) focuses on your glutes, hamstrings and lower back and again uses small movements, pulsing and holding the positions, and slight rotations of the leg gets into different parts of the glutes.
   Mat work (15 mintes) takes place on the floor and does have a bigger variety of moves. You'll work your chest and upper back with push ups and your core in planks and curls. Like all the others, this is challenging, and push up pulses are, I think, the most brutal part of this section.
   Despite all these workouts being made up of tiny, pulsing movements, they simply will build lean muscle, a gorgeous silhouette, and increased strength and stamina.

   This workout is well within everyone's abilities - it's simple enough that no one should feel intimidated, and every move is extremely easy to get to grips with. There are modifications demonstrated at the back-left for beginners, and back-right for advanced.
   But that doesn't mean that any of it is easy. It's challenging, but as with every workout, the effort you put in will be suitably rewarded. For example, someone super-fit will be able to lift their leg high and use heavy weights, while someone who is brand spanking new to exercise won't be able to lift as high nor use weights as heavy - if they can use weights at all. But all this means is that these two individuals have different levels of fitness. By using heavy weights, an athlete can get the same challenge as a newbie with 1kg weights, or none at all. It's the effort and intention that is put into a workout that counts, and as long as you put your best effort in, however experienced or inexperienced you are, you will get results.
   But even people who are quite fit will be surprised by this workout. I used Jillian Michaels workouts a lot, personally, which means big weights, big movements and a big sweat. So the idea of using 1kg weights instead of 4kg-8kg sounded preposterously easy. I was wrong. Why? Because I'm used to moving in and out of movements, contracting and expanding the muscles, not holding the positions, and that's where this workout differs to most others. And because it's so different to what a lot of people usually do, including myself, it certainly offers results while being very low-impact.

   But don't be fooled. Your heart rate rises with the warm up, then the rest of the workout is very calm, very steady, and your work is quite isolated to particular muscles. This means that you can put a lot of effort and focus into what you're doing, and that means that the results you get are body-sculpting, not fat-burning.
   But that doesn't mean it can't help you to lose weight. Because it's low-impact and such good resistance, the thought of adding 20 minutes of cardio onto the end isn't a frightening thought - and in fact it's quite advisable. You get a lot more out of cardio if you do it right after a resistance workout because you'll already have used the energy in your muscles without exhausting your cardiovascular system, putting you in fat-burning mode (when your body starts using fat for fuel rather than energy from your breakfast or lunch). That way, you can do less cardio but get even better results, and the lean muscle you'll gain from BarreAmped or general resistance will increasing your resting metabolism, too.

   You need little to no kit for this workout. Something to hold on to - I used the sideboard in my living room, while the ladies in the DVD use chairs - and perhaps hand weights, if you're strong enough. I used 1kg, but at the 6-minute point, during the tricep kickbacks, I have to drop them - and like I said, I'm used to using much heavier weights. You'd be surprised how effective all this can be without any weights at all, so they truly are optional. A yoga mat also helps because it gives you a visual line which can help you to correct your body's alignment in a few of the moves, and it's also far more comfortable in 'mat work' than a bare floor. But again, it is optional.

   BarreAmped is within everyone's abilities, and it will yield results regardless of your fitness level. It requires no kit, and as it doesn't break a sweat, you don't need to pencil in time for a shower afterwards, which means it can be used even if you don't have time for your usual workout due to an early engagement, and that being exhausted after a long day is no excuse.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Free Book; Last Call!

   Just a quick update to remind you all that today is the last day my book will be available for free on all regional Amazon websites! After midnight tonight (western USA time) and 8am tomorrow morning (for those of us in the UK), The Archguardians of Laceria will return to $7.50/£4.99 respectively.
   I've also got everything ready for release on other ebook readers for early next month, though you still don't need a Kindle to read the Kindle version since the free Kindle app can be downloaded and used on pretty much everything.

   It's been doing remarkably well, though. I'm actually a bit amazed by how many downloads it's received! It's true that they're probably not 'purchases' that would have been made had the book been at full price - new writer and all that, you never know what you'll end up with - but at this point it's definitely about getting my work out there rather than the money. So I'm hoping to move a few more before the offer ends!

So, if you've not grabbed your free copy of my book, do it now!