Price: £11 / $13
Length: 3x 30 minute workouts
Workouts: Upper body
Suitable for: Everyone
Overall Rating: ★★★★☆
Enjoyment: ★★☆☆☆ Difficulty: ★★★★☆ Results: ★★★★☆
Based on 8 weeks of use.
Enjoyment: ★★☆☆☆ Difficulty: ★★★★☆ Results: ★★★★☆
Based on 8 weeks of use.
I used Jillian Michaels' Killer Arms & Back for eight weeks, 2-3 days a week, alternating with Killer Buns & Thighs. It was a great set-up, because while Killer Buns & Thighs took care of the lower body, toning muscle and burning fat, Killer Arms & Back took care of the rest. It also gave me the opportunity to compare this upper body DVD to a lower body DVD, as it's much harder to get cardio into upper body workouts than it is in lower. And yet, despite that, I can say with the greatest satisfaction that this upper body DVD delivered only fractionally less cardio than Killer Buns & Thighs, and almost all the sweat.
I've already reviewed Killer Buns & Thighs, and here I'm turning my focus into Killer Arms & Back. So even if you don't want to double-up on insanity like I did, you'll still know exactly what Killer Arms & Back alone will deliver.
Killer Arms & Back is made up of three 30-minute workouts (30 minutes including warm-up and cool-down), each increasing in difficulty. All three workouts focus on the upper body with strength and toning moves to sculpt your upper back, shoulders and arms, and with compound moves to get the lower body involved and burn more calories to melt away the fat. This combination is essential - it's all well and good to build sleek, toned muscle, but no one will see it if you've got a layer of fat on top.
Jillian is her usual tough loving self, but it gets results, and I find her style of instruction works for me personally. Probably because I'm a little bit frightened of her.
The DVD promises to deliver sleek arms, a toned back and gorgeous shoulders, and if you stick with it and push yourself, as you must if you want results from any workout, you will reap the rewards. You get what you work for.
As you'd expect, you'll need an exercise mat for comfort, and dumbbells/hand weights of varying weights. I used 1.5kg (3lbs) for anything in a good morning yoga stance and I could barely handle that, but used 4kg (9lbs) for upright rows and similar. It's always best to have a variety of weights because sometimes you'll find something too easy because the particular muscles used in that case are stronger than others, and in those situations you do want to push yourself with heavier weights, otherwise your body won't change and you'll end up wasting your time.
If you're unsure what weight would be too light or too heavy, go for the weight that seems easy at first, allowing you to perform reps with perfect form, but with which, by the end of the set, feel too heavy to quite maintain form. That's the right weight. When you stop struggling at the final rep, that's when you need to increase your weight.
Level 1 is, as you'd expect, the best place to start. While the moves involved in this first level are not all as basic as bicep curls and tricep kickbacks, you will see a few simple combinations like a three-way curl - bicep curl to hammer curl to reverse curl, repeat - which does help to ease you in, as well as provide opportunity to get your breath back from the full-body combis designed to melt off the fat.
Despite being the starting point, you will be challenged both physically and mentally - I certainly was - but there are always modifications, and it's extremely important to remember that there is no shame in beginning on the easier variations if you need to. Some moves might be too complicated even for experienced athletes, and while I use intermediate and advanced modifications in most workouts, I found myself needing to use some of the beginner modifications here because they were movements I couldn't grasp as quickly as usual. And pushing yourself if you don't know what you're doing is a quick way to injury.
So, if you need to - and the same goes with all other levels - use the beginner modifications on strange or uncomfortable movements before moving up to Jillian's demonstration, then beyond to the advanced modifications. The idea is to use a single level enough to become familiar with it before moving on when you're ready to up your game, and so it's best to push yourself onto more advanced variations when you think you've got a grasp of the movement - go deeper, go heavier. But above all else, remember that it's the challenge that counts; if a mixture of beginner and intermediate moves are enough to challenge you, then you do them, and you give them your all.
Jump from 1 to 2 seemed a bit bigger than is usual between Jillian Michaels levels, but not so much that it becomes unmanagable. If need be, you can always go back to level 1 for a little longer - there's no shame in going back a step if you can't handle it; there's only shame in giving up. There's also always lighter weights and beginner modifications if you want to stick with it, but you should aim to raise your game after 3 or so uses.
There were more unique moves in this workout, such as elbow crunches - lying on your back, upper arms flat on the floor, pushing through the elbows to raise your midsection off of the ground while keeping shoulders and legs down - and a push up to a rotating hero - a push up, pressing backwards at the top and to one side, into hero pose from yoga, then back into a push up and repeat on the other side.
It's moves like these which can really break up a workout and make it exciting, because lesser-seen or totally new moves linger in your mind like landmarks, and give you new angles from which to target your muscles, as well as new modes of mobility and, of course, new challenges. This keeps level 2 interesting even though it's the half-way point, as well as maintaining the difficulty and subsequently results. It's much harder to plateau on moves you've never done before, and avoiding plateaus is half the reason workouts like these are broken into levels. You have to keep switching up moves, angles and weights if you want to keep seeing results, be they in the realms of fat loss, muscle tone or improved strength.
Of course, these complicated moves are also modified, and, as with level 1, if you're confused by them, beginner modifications can help you to grasp the motions safely before building up to your own capability. I was using the beginner modification for the push up to rotating hero for the first four times I used level 2 - that's eight circuits! As simple as it looked, I just couldn't grasp it, then on my 9th circuit, fifth attempt, it clicked.
Level 3 isn't so bad. I've found in a lot of Jillian's workouts that she can intimidate you a little at the start of the final level by telling you how hard it's going to be, and it never turns out to be as bad as you expect. I'm quite certain she's not trying to frighten us off, but rather congratulate us on getting this far in her own unique way, plus it makes you feel even better when you complete it.
That's not to say that it's easy, but the jump between level 2 and 3 is more appropriate and feels like a decent but not unmanageable step up.
Weights aren't used in this circuit as much as in the others, instead there are a lot of body weight movements - for example, the first circuit contains two push up variations, and you see another in circuit three, followed by a dynamic bound downward dog into a single-arm plank. It sounds complicated, and it does take concentration to achieve, but these are not fast moves, making level three a little more controlled than the others. And, of course, the co-ordination needed to complete a set of these moves challenges the nervous system too, making it a bit of a mental challenge as well as physical.
Enjoyment: ★★☆☆☆ - It focuses on the upper body with the moves and intervals you would expect of Jillian Michaels. Not conventionally enjoyable.
Difficulty: ★★★★☆ - It's Jillian Michaels, and with a title like 'Killer Arms & Back', she intends to deliver on the promise.
Results: ★★★★☆ - It works.
Jillian Michaels Killer Arms & Back provides the best upper body workouts I've come across, and while I had expected it to deliver, I wasn't quite prepared for just how well-constructed the workouts are. You will get tired out, you will feel it, but just as your muscles feel like they're going to give out, the move changes and your shoulders or triceps will get a break as the focus moves to another part of the upper body, and you're quite ready to return to them when the circuit restarts.
Paired with a lower body workout, such as Killer Buns & Thighs, used on alternating days will give you incredible results in both fat-burn, muscle toning and metabolism boosting. Jillian Michaels is a huge success, and she has yet to fail to deliver.
You will see a change in muscle tone after a month of use, two to three times a week, and you will also see an improvement in physical strength as long as you push yourself.