Wednesday 28 January 2015

Why The Gluten-Free Diet Doesn't Aid Weightloss

Traditional gluten-free diet:
Cut out anything with gluten in it. No cake, no bread, no pasta, nothing with flour, unless you make it yourself with gluten-free flour such as millet or buckwheat.

Modern gluten-free diet:
Anything with a 'gluten-free' label, regardless of the additives included to compensate for lack of gluten

   First of all, what is gluten?
   Gluten is a natural protein found in wheat, rye, barley and other similar basic ingredients. It's the glue ('gluten' literally means 'glue' in Latin) that holds food together, just as protein in our body holds our cells together. It's also used to pack out processed foods and fast foods - now, you probably heard alarm bells when I said 'processed' and 'fast food' and may be writing this article off immediately. Well, you'd be wrong to. It's the method of cooking, the salt, the sugar, and all the other ingredients that make fast and processed foods bad. Not gluten. You shouldn't be eating fast food or processed foods anyway, whether you want to lose weight or not, as they contain little of anything good for you.

   What is Coeliac's Disease?
   Coeliac's Disease, (or Celiacs) is an auto-immune disorder directed towards gluten. It means that the body's immune response reacts badly to the gluten and can result in abdominal pains, bloating, nausea and other bad things, and, more critically, prevents the proper absorption of vitamins and minerals into your blood stream. People with Coeliac's Disease, which is about 1 in 100, or people with a gluten-intolerance (which mimics Coeliac's Disease but without the immune response) have to avoid gluten in order to absorb the important nutrients in food and to stay healthy. If they consume gluten, it can have awful side-effects for them, but by keeping away from it, they're able to gain weight and live healthily like the rest of us.

   Why is gluten supposedly bad?
   Gluten is linked to (not the cause of) things like bloating, indigestion, digistive problems and things like that that. The thing is, all of these are symptoms of Coeliac's and a gluten intolerance, so if you suffer from any of that, cutting out gluten is the only way to go. But these things can also be caused by other things within food, such as acid, sugar, speed-eating and so on. Gluten doesn't cause intolerance or Coeliac's, these are things you're born with or develop naturally. Consuming gluten or not won't affect it. You either have it or you don't.

   Why do people believe gluten leads to weight-loss?
   Maybe about 10-15 years ago, it did. Gluten is present in dense foods like bread, cake, biscuits, pasta and so on. People with gluten intolerances would have to have cut things with gluten out, which is more or less anything with flour. But, because the world wasn't so obsessed with gluten-free at that point, there were no gluten-free alternatives. This meant that people cut out bread, cake, pasta and such things and didn't replace them with gluten-free mimics. But it wasn't the lack of gluten that caused weightloss, but rather the lack of the sugar and density of the food. They were having lighter alternatives which inevitably led to weight loss.
   Now, however, there are loads of gluten-free mimics, so people who can't eat gluten can still have a delicious, spongey cake that won't crumble to pieces upon a first glance. Unfortunately, people who can eat gluten mistake these gluten-free alternatives as 'healthy'.

   What does gluten-free mean?
   What it says on the tin. The food has no gluten in it. This is usually done by replacing the wheat or flour with something else like buckwheat or quinoa, which works similarly to the flour except it doesn't contain gluten. However, this leads real gluten-free products to be very crumbly and not particularly moist or inviting, especially when home-made. This is because the gluten that holds them together simply isn't present.
   With the increasing understanding of Coeliac's Disease and gluten intolerances, a lot of food is now available as gluten-free. And with the sudden obsession - goodness knows where it came from - of the idea that gluten-free is good and healthy for everyone, even more companies are jumping on the band-wagon because they know gluten-free will sell. The trouble is that these companies add other ingredients to their foods to compensate for the lack of gluten - artificial ingredients which are certainly not healthy, in an attempt to make them more delicious and non-crumbly. These foods usually contain extra fat and sugar to compensate for the foul-tasting gluten-replacement, meaning that by eating any old store-bought food which claims to be gluten-free is much more likely doing your waistline and your health more harm than good - doubtlessly the opposite effect you're looking for.

   The trouble is that gluten is often confused with carbs. It's true that gluten is present in a lot of foods high in carbohydrates, and carbohydrates are what really fill you up and, when eaten excessively, can indeed lead to weight-gain. But you're still getting just as many carbs, if not more, by going for the gluten-free option because of all the added ingredients. These products are made for people with Coeliac's so that they can eat non-crumbly cake like the rest of us.
   There is no evidence that going gluten-free leads to weight loss. A close friend of mine actually has Coeliac's Disease, and since she was diagnosed and has eaten gluten-free foods, she's actually gained weight. This is good for her because she was sickly skinny before and now she looks and feels healthy as she's able to absorb vitamins properly, but with so many food companies jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon, most of the gluten-free food out there won't help you lose weight, as the gluten's been replaced with things that actually will affect your weight in a negative way.

   So what should you do?
   Don't even give gluten a thought unless you have an intolerance. Gluten isn't an ingredient on it's own, it's a part of an ingredient, and cutting it out doesn't change a single thing. Swapping normal food for gluten-free versions of the same thing will give you less nutrients and less of the good things that are in the original because of all the added ingredients. You must remember that gluten contains no fat, sugar or anything like that, it is only a protein. Instead, if you really want to target a food group, you might want to look at cutting down on foods that are known to have a lot of it, as they usually happen to have a lot of carbohydrates as well. Don't cut these foods out, however, as, contrary to popular belief (the same kind of 'popular belief' that has people thinking gluten-free works), you need carbs to function properly, as well as protein, some fats, water and so on.
   Instead of reaching for a fad diet, just eat well. You can have your cakes, you can have your pizza, just go easy on them, and make sure you get the fruit, veg, meat and water that you need, too.
   You may wonder "if it doesn't work, why do so many people do it?" Because it's a fad diet. Eating healthily may not get people the results they want, or give them the results quickly enough. As a result, it's common to start thinking that doing something completely different will shock your body enough to get it to lose weight, but that simply doesn't work. As a result, these diets die out because they don't work, or, worse, are unhealthy. At the end of the day, the only diet that truly works is a balanced one, with all food groups taken in moderation.

   Gluten does not relate to calories. Gluten does not relate to fat. Gluten has no effect on weight loss or weight gain, it's everything else in the food that does that. And dieting alone will certainly not get your body where you want it to be safely and reliably. You can only melt fat away by burning more calories than you take in (keep in mind that going about your normal day also burns calories), which means you must exercise. By dieting alone, the weight you've lost can come back much easier than if you've exercised it away, as with exercise your muscle becomes leaner and needs more energy to move it which leads you to burn even more calories while going about your day to day business.


• Gluten doesn't contain fat, sugar or anything like that. It is only protein. It doesn't contribute to weight-gain or weight-loss.
• Gluten isn't an ingredient, it's a part of an ingredient - it's a part of wheat, barley, rye, flour and so on, which are basic ingredients for a lot of different foods.
• Most of the gluten-free foods out there add other ingredients to replace the gluten to keep the products moist, soft and non-crumbly. These added ingredients do include sugars and fats, and these are more likely to adversely affect your waist-line than the original food. These are not foods made for weight-loss, after all, they are made for people with a gluten-intolerance so that they can have soft, spongy cakes and doughy pizzas like the rest of us.
• Gluten is confused with carbs, and carbs are usually more dense and filling foods which, when eaten too frequently, do contribute to weight-gain. However, cutting carbohydrates out is a bad thing, too, as you do need them, despite popular belief. You should never cut foods out, only cut them down.
• A gluten-free diet won't change a thing. If you choose proper, naturally gluten-free foods without added ingredients you may see a slight decrease in weight, but that's because you've replaced gluten foods with fresher, nutritionally denser foods, which is always advised for weight-loss. The gluten has nothing to do with it at all. Gluten simply doesn't work that way.

Monday 26 January 2015

DIY Watercolour Gift Bags

   It's been a very long time since I've felt creative. I've been making a lot of jewellery for Valentine sales and for my art exhibit in the summer, but after Christmas I'd really like a break from that particular area of work. Casual crafts aren't something that come to me very easily, though, so when I'm being creative it is mostly for my shop. I've returned to finishing off my book at last, however, but it's slow going as I get back into it.
   But, over the past couple of weeks, and thanks to Miss Vicky Viola for my little surprise birthday package, I've finally gotten some ideas. And this is the first!
   It's far from difficult and far from unique, but these handmade watercolour gift bags can really pretty up a gift! I actually came up with it a couple of days ago when I realised I had little time to go out and find a gift bag for some little prezzies I'm bringing to The Netherlands next week, so I decided to make one instead, saving time and money as well as finally making some creative content for this blog. It's supposed to be half fitness and half craft, but I think we can all agree that the latter has been somewhat forgotten since the Christmas rush.

   So, to make these watercolour gift bags all you really need is card and paint. Watercolour paper, around 300gsm, typically, is the best to use since it's made for this kind of thing, and it's also more than stable enough to hold the bag's contents.

1. Take your paper and measure out the size you want your bag to be, marking off the folding lines. You can use two sheets for a larger bag, or stick to a single, full sheet and create a bag 11cm wide by 2.5cm deep as I did. This used up the entire sheet, uncut, and left a small panel for gluing at one end.

2. Score along the lines with scissors or a blade against a ruler, but for goodness' sake be careful. Don't fold it yet.

3. Next, turn the paper over and begin on the clean side with the watercolour paints. To make splotches like I did, you need to apply the paint in the rough shape and size you want the splotch to be. Once you've painted it in, dip your brush in clean water and drip it into the paint splotch. This will cause the middle, or wherever you dripped it, to lighten and the colour will flood to the edges, giving you harder lines when it's dry. If you want a soft edge instead, gently wash the wet brush over the edges of the splotch to lift the paint away. You can combine it, too, to give splotches both hard and soft edges. Be aware that the paper will start to warp, but it will flatten out again once it's all dry, which is one of the best qualities of watercolour paper.
   The colour will darken when it dries, so if you want a lighter finish, use some clean tissue and dab it (don't rub it) in the paint to soak most of it up. The edges will remain, but most of the paint will be lifted off
   It's best to experiment with this a little bit first, get used to the paint, the water, the depth of colour and the finish. The colours will never be even with watercolour used like this, the edges will probably be darker and if you've mixed up a purple, for example, you may find you can clearly see patches of blue and patches of red amongst the purple.

   Let the paper dry before moving on! You can run a hairdryer over it to speed up the process if you like, but let it dry naturally for a while, first, or you risk blowing the paint around.

4. Fold along the scored lines, remembering of course that the paint is on the outside, and glue the excess flap to the inside of the opposite end. Once it's fixed in place, glue the flaps along the bottom together. You might want to weigh the inside of the bag down to help keep it in place while it dries; I used a small pocket book.

   I added some string to the bag which I ran through the same watercolour paints and tied together through two holes which I think gives it a nice finish ^^

Sunday 25 January 2015

The Athlete Mindset Workbook

   The Athlete Mindset Workbook from Team Blessed Bodies is a valuable tool in many ways - and not just in fitness. It talks about how big a part your mental state plays when it comes to getting in shape and taking that passion to the next level. It's all about confidence, and, above all else, learning to love what you have. I know what kind of body I want, but when I look through fitness magazines or see the instructors in my workout DVDs, I can't help comparing them all and seeing that, while they're all have great physiques - slim and lean - they all have different shapes. Some have curves, a gorgeously cinched waist, while others are straight-sided. Some have gorgeous muscle definition, others less, others more, but they're all in great shape and went through similar training.
   It's lead me to wonder and even worry about how I'll look. Being dominantly meso/endo, I should, in theory, be able to avoid straight sides and get some nice curves even when I've shed the fat, but I can't know for certain. I have an image in my mind of the body I want, but it's possible that my build won't ever let me achieve that. And that's kind of gotten me down (though admittedly never stopped me).
   Even just flicking through the first few pages of the Athlete Mindset Workbook has made me realise that, and immediately start to change it, to stop thinking about what I can't have and learn to accept that I might turn out differently from what I hoped, maybe even better, and because it will have been my own hard work that got me there, I'll love it regardless.
   But I said above that it doesn't just apply to fitness. Those who know me or have been reading my blog for long enough know there's nothing I want more than to be a successful fantasy author, but a lot of what the book was saying about mindset was applicable to that, too, and that's great. Have belief that I can get where I want to, not just through hard work of promotion and dedication, but because of the skills I possess in that area, either naturally or through more work. And I believe I possess both. I have my weaknesses in writing, I'm very wordy - you probably noticed that just from my blog - and I have a tendancy to drag things out. But these are things I can overcome, because it's entirely within my power, which is something else the book teaches.

   I already have a lot of self-belief - not in an arrogant way, but in a proud way. I know there are things I'm good at, and these are the things I do often, and, in a sense, I'm good at them because I do them so much, and I do them so much because I love them. So, ultimately, it's about forgetting what the little voice in the back of your mind starts to tell you when you start looking at your competition a little closer, or at the hurdles in your way. You can overcome them, and you also have to learn that you possess things others don't, just as they possess things you don't. It's about self-belief.

Co-Author, Leslie Lewis, MFA

   This book is ultimately aimed at the athlete, people looking to find a career in fitness, be it as a model, a competitor, an instructor or a journalist, but many lessons can be applied to other parts of your life, or to simpler goals, as I have. I may not be a striving athlete - I only got into this because I wanted to lose weight - but it's become a surprising passion of mine now, and that also means I get into my head about it a little more because it's important to me. The contents of this book will help me to find the strength I need to crush the life out of that little voice of doubt, because, simply put, fat should not be on the body; it can be lost.

   The book goes through chapters, starting with the simple subject of your goals. Your ultimate goal, your dream - in my case, applying the book to both of my passions, that would be to become a successful fantasy author and have my dream body. Then it talks about a time frame in which you'd like to achieve that (something I'd not considered). After that it talks about your ideal goals for the current year, and after that still, realistic goals.
   Then it talks about learning to give yourself a pat on the back when you've achieved something difficult, whatever that might be. If it was a challenge for you personally, and you overcame it, you should recognise that fact. It's something worth mentioning at the start of the book so it can be kept in mind throughout.
   The book then goes on to ask you why you want to achieve these goals, and by outlining precisely why you want it - something you may not have actually considered until this point - it will only increase your drive because you'll have a more conscious reason, even if it was there all along.

Co-Author, Fatima Leite Kusch

   I have problems in both my weightloss and my writing, and both of them are the same thing really: overthinking. I get in my head, as I mentioned before, and that can be really damaging. The bood suggests a refocusing assessment - figure out what it is that you feel you're doing wrong and where you need to improve. For me, I obsess over food - I wonder too often if I'm eating enough or eating too much, and I can never work it out, and the worst part of it is that I'm consistantly losing weight despite it. I'm probably doing everything right, but I can't shake the thought that I'm not. So how can I improve? Speak to a dietician, or go over everything I eat and see if there's any way I can improve it in an attempt to shake the paranoia from my mind. For example, I neither drink enough water 'nor eat enough fruit and veg. Anywhere near, in fact. If I were to drink more and replace a snack or two a day with an apple or a banana, that could be enough. It may be that I feel I'm making the wrong decisions.
   When it comes to my writing, I know where I need to improve, but being wordy is a subconscious thing. Part of me thinks I should stop worrying because it may not be as bad as I think, but I also believe it wouldn't have even come to mind at all if it didn't truly bother me. I hate wordy books just as I hate vague books, so I need to learn to turn it down and allow the reader's imagination to fill in the gaps rather than paint a perfect picture every five minutes. After all, I was able to picture Sparhawk from the Elenium very well even though all I knew about him was that he had a crooked nose.

   Ultimately, while you'd think a lot of the contents of this book should be fairly obvious and occur to the individual naturally, when it comes to your goals - especially goals that take a lot of time and a lot of work - you also have a lot of time for doubt to sink in. The Athlete Mindset Workbook is an active approach at destroying that, and is applicable to all parts of your life, fitness or not. Sometimes these things need to be pointed out to you. I've always considered myself level-headed and quite smart when it comes to the psychology of other people, but when it's for my own good, it seems to escape me. This book has pointed that out, and shown me that even if I achieve something that doesn't affect anyone else in the slightest, if it was hard, I deserve to pat myself on the back.
   The book was released January 13th 2015 and was written by fitness coaches Terry Orlick PHD and Fatima Leite Kusch, as well as actress, artist and yoga instructor Leslie Lewis, MFA. Alongside valuable psychological tips, it also features a killer HIIT workout and a clever/scary-as-pants yoga routine (the yoga itself isn't scary, it's the added idea of doing it on a paddleboard that sort of puts me off, even if it makes it compelling at the same time).

Disclaimer: I was sent this product to review by the publisher itself. The quantity and precise products sent were their choice, not my own. All opinions and images are my own, and all appropriate research has been done by myself from a range of sources rather than relying entirely on the product's website, especially where health products are concerned. I do not accept a product to review if I do not believe it is safe or worth my own time, regardless of any kind of reimbursement. I trial the products for an appropriate amount of time before writing reviews to check for wear-and-tear on physical items and side effects from edible (be it supplements or food). If I have negative points to voice, I will voice them, and I never, ever accept product reviews or reimbursement on the promise of a positive review. My reviews are and will only ever be honest.

Thursday 22 January 2015

30 Day Plank Challenge

   Your core is more than just your abs, it's most of the muscles in your torso, including your side muscles (internal and external obliques) and back muscles (quadratus lumborum), as well as your diaphragm, and planks are a great way to work all of the muscles together. A strong core can help you maintain balance which in turn leads to improved form in other exercises which is necessary for safety as well as effective results from those exercises.
   The plank might be an old exercise, but just because it's not 'new' doesn't mean it isn't effective.  Oldies are often goodies. Unlike the crunch, the plank involves your hips, shoulders and chest as well as your abs, and when lots of muscle groups are getting involved, you also burn more calories as more energy is needed.
   The 30 Day Plank Challenge is a simple concept. A plank looks easy, but anyone who's done one can attest to the fact that it isn't. Your body is kept straight throughout the exercise and your muscles tensed to maintain that form, and the challenge is essentially to build up your stamina and hold the plank for longer and longer. The Challenge is not a substitute for a workout, but is supplemental, meaning you should add it on to your main workout for maximum benefits. Simply holding a plank for even 5 minutes won't give you an effective full-body workout.
   A plank is also a fantastic push-up assistance exercise, along with chest flyes, bench presses, burpees and bent-over double rows, so if you're working towards being able to pump out 20 push ups in a row, this will help.
   Planks are also a really versatile exercise, and there are loads of variations. If you can already hold a plank perfectly, you can choose a more challenging variety like a side plank and run through the challenge with that instead.

How to do the 30 Day Plank Challenge:

   The simplest method of the 30 Day Plank Challenge is to simply hold a basic plank (toes and hands, or elbows and knees if you're not strong enough) for a set amount of time every day for 30 days, the times for which are listed below.
   An alternative variation is to work through levels, moving onto the next level when you're able to hold the previous level's plank variation for 90 seconds.
   Do whichever you're comfortable with. The 4-level version is harder in some ways, but also uses a beginner's variation for the first 7 days and only encourages you to reach 90 seconds, whereas the simpler version is just one position, but encourages you to reach 5 minutes by the 30th day, either on your forearms or hands, but always on your toes.

Basic Plank Form:
• Extend your arms beneath you, keeping your arms straight and vertical, your elbows and wrists beneath your shoulders. Alternatively if this is too hard, you can hold yourself on your elbows instead, just ensure your elbows are straight beneath your shoulders, upper arms perpendicular to the floor.
• Lift yourself onto your toes and hands (or knees and forearms) and contract your abdominal, glute and thigh muscles while breathing as normally as you can. Keep your muscles contracted throughout the pose. Think about pulling your bellybutton into your spine throughout the move to ensure you maintain the contraction.
• Hold the plank for the allotted amount of time for the day.


More on the 4-level 30 Day Plank Challenge
Static knee & forearm plank: keep your body straight, but rest on your knees and forearms rather than toes and hands.
Static forearm plank: rest on your toes and your forearms.
Static single leg & forearm plank: rest on your forearms and the toes of one foot, extending your other leg out straight behind you and hold.
Dynamic elbow to wrist plank: staying on either your knees or toes, move from a plank resting on your forearms to a plank on your hands, then lower back to forearms, then back to hands repeatedly.

Wednesday 21 January 2015

WCC: World of Warcraft Shadow Box

   Some of you might remember the crafting challenge I set myself on my other blog, The Wyvern's Tail. It was to make something World of Warcraft related without repeating a medium. I really enjoyed doing it, but Christmas 2013 was busy, and then throughout the entirety of 2014 I never picked it back up again because I simply got used to not doing it. Plus I agreed early 2014 to an art exhibit for summer 2015, so any time I would have spend making things for the self-imposed challenge went onto making pieces for the exhibit instead.
   I did attempt a few pieces last year, though, but none of them got finished. One came close, which is the one I finally decided to put together yesterday. It wasn't finished because I found the upper right corner to be too empty, but couldn't decide if I should put anything there or not, and if so, what? So all the pieces ended up sitting loose in the box I'd used, on a shelf out of the way. I got sick of looking at it in the end and just glued it all together, and I think it looks fine, empty corner or not. In fact, now I'm thinking that corner would be too much if I filled it in.

   The shadow box is set in Ashenvale, for those of you who are interested, as has a Night Elf springing an ambush on an Orc. I'm actually a Horde player, so naturally the Orc will win (because I said so), but I love Ashenvale, and I believe it belongs far more to the Night Elves than the Orcs.
   You can see more pictures of the finished thing and when it was in pieces on the original blog post. I would like to put together another, either from another game or simply another scene from WoW, because I really enjoyed making this, even if it did take me a while to finally put it together. It's a bit of a shame that the window on the lid of the box I used is acrylic because it's easily bumped and scratched, but it cost me no more than £7 anyway. Shadow box dioramas aren't expensive to make - once you've got the box, you just need paper/card and pens/paints. It's just a matter of patience really.

   It's nice to finally get a bit of creativity on the blog again...

Sunday 18 January 2015

Kickbox Fast Fix - 2 Weeks Later

   I've been using Jillian Michaels' Kickbox Fast Fix DVD for two weeks now, and I've been loving it. Kickboxing itself is a great all-over-body workout, whether you have an opponent or are shadowboxing, and being a very high energy and body-weight based activity, it's a great mixture of cardio and strength/toning. And, of course, in Jillian Michaels' usual fashion, this DVD has incorporated more strength and more cardio into it than other kickboxing routines, increasing its effectiveness even more.
   I've been using the three routines on this DVD consecutively, one a day in order. Monday & Thursday I use the upper body kickboxing routine, Tuesday & Friday I use the lower body routine, and Wednesday & Saturday I use the core routine. I happened to look at the 'recommendations' section of the DVD on the first day, which I don't normally do, and it said that the DVD was great to use after a resistance circuit, so I decided, rather abruptly, to add a resistance routine onto the beginning of the workout. I had two body band routines on another DVD, each 10 minutes long, and since one was focused on the upper body and the other was focused on the lower body, I assigned them to each kickboxing routine, doing two circuits of the assigned resistance routine before hand, leaving only Wednesday and Saturday without resistance.

   Now, you've doubtlessly noticed that every time I write a 2-week post about a new workout I always say the same things - 'feel tighter' 'hard work' 'great fun' 'feel fitter' - and, in fairness, each of these statements are true every time, but this time I actually have a little more to say.
   I don't know if I was more stressed out than usual when I started this, but I've never actually cried at the end of a workout before. On both Monday and Tuesday, as soon as I finished the cooldown on the DVD, I laughed...and I cried a little. I felt so stupidly happy and chilled out, like I'd really de-stressed in those past 20 minutes of kickboxing without even realising it, and that was pretty awesome. It didn't happen again after those two days, and I think, in part, it was because I was expecting the routines to be impossible to keep up with, and I was relieved that I was wrong. Don't get me wrong, it hasn't been easy, and the later into the week I get the more exhausted I am, but I have been just about able to keep up, and that's what I wanted. A real challenge, but not so much so that I'm several paces behind the DVD.

   As always, I never check the scales or the tape measure until I've finished the workout, which is usually after 4-5 weeks, so any changes could be in my head. I'll post again as I always do in 2 weeks with my verdict on the workout when I've finished it. I'm actually going to be out of the country for a week in February, so I'm going to end up missing the last day of the workout, but one day won't mean the difference between half an inch lost or gained, but I'll still get the blog post up. But I do have one more long-winded thing to say before I leave this post:

   Did you know women eat away stress while men take it out physically?
   It's not actually a cliche, it's quite true. Several studies have proven that it's simply the way we're wired up, alongside marketing campaigns aimed specifically at women.
   The average man will take his stress and frustration out physically. They might hit something if it doesn't work, throw something, and maybe even get into a fight with someone. The average woman, on the other hand, tries to eat away her tension. Not all women do this, just as not all men do the former, but the majority do. While I'm not suggesting women start throwing things and hitting eachother, taking stress out physically through exercise is much more effective, both immediately and in the long run, than simply trying to eat it away.
   The reason women try to eat their stress away, whether it's warranted or merely brought on by the Time of the Month, is in part because of the idea that chocolate releases endorphins. The amino acid Tryptophan creates feelings of happiness; Phenylethylalanine acting alongside dopamine in the brain acts as an anti-depressant; Theobromine alongside caffine creates the 'high' associated with eating chocolate. All of these are found within chocolate. In very, very, very, very small quantities. In the same way that radiation is all around us all the time but doesn't harm us, the low quantity of these chemicals that are present in chocolate don't have the noticable effect we actually seek while eating it because it's all just too small. To get the fix we expect from chocolate, that television above all else has led us to believe in, we've had to eat a lot of chocolate, and by that point you'd feel sick and it would all be cancelled out.
   So, while it's not technically untrue that chocolate can make you happy chemically, it's something that has been spread around by marketing campaigns quite incorrectly. Cocoa itself is more effective when it comes to eating yourself happy, but chocolate is not. This is because chocolate bars have lots of alternative ingredients to make up its mass, make it sweet and all this that and the other, and for every extra ingredient added, less cocoa is used. White chocolate doesn't have a hope in hell of making you feel happy aside from the "mmmmm chocolate" (which, I will admit, is pretty good), and even milk chocolate's pretty bad at it. If you really want to eat away your tension with chocolate you'd need to eat dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa, or a raw chocolate bar, and even then you'd need to eat a lot of it to actually feel the effects.
   In short, eating chocolate won't help, and may only increase your worries by adding guilt onto it at the end whether getting in shape is on your mind or not.
   Over the past six months after reading about these studies I've actually started making the conscious decision to exercise instead of eat when I'm stressed out. It wasn't an easy habit to get into, I admit, but when I compared the guilt I'd get after eating to the high I always get from exercise, I was able to stick with it well enough for it to have become the norm.

   Exercise releases a much larger amount of endorphins, and what's more, you feel them far quicker and stronger than you do from eating even 90% cocoa, as well as getting an adrenaline rush. Plus, you'll feel even better about the simple fact that you made a better decision for yourself in the long run. Eat away your troubles, you'll only gain weight. Fight away your troubles, you can only lose it. And believe me, I've been a lot calmer since I started more intense exercise (not necessarily kickboxing; strength training and ashtanga yoga are both great alternatives) and stopped eating so much chocolate when I'm pissed off - not to mention the fact that the tension is released and erased with exercise as high energy as kickboxing, rather than bottled up behind chocolate and comfort food.

Wednesday 14 January 2015

Road to Workout - 7: Maintaining Form

   When you begin with strength training, learning correct form is vital. In fact it's more important than big weights. This is for two reasons. The first and most important is that, if you don't maintain form on certain movements, you could really injure yourself, and the second is that, if your form is off, you may well be using the wrong muscles and simply not be performing the moves correctly, and if that's the case it won't be as effective and you'll honestly just be wasting your time. Using a weight which is too heavy for you to keep control of will almost definitely cause your form to be off, and in that case, lifting that heavy weight will all be for nothing.

   Learning form isn't difficult. If you use a DVD the instructor will certainly tell you what you should and should not do, such as never let your knees pass your toes in a squat or a lunge. This is also information which is easily found on the internet via fitness websites or on Youtube. Simply searching "correct form for squats" will give you what you need.
   To make sure you get the form right, you'll need to think carefully about each aspect of the form while learning new movements. You may well find that it takes longer than expected to complete a set of squats when doing this because you're thinking constantly about where your knees are, but this isn't a bad thing. Speed isn't something that should be on your mind at all until you've mastered the form of a move, otherwise you really do risk injuring yourself and wasting your time by potentially performing your moves with 'shortcuts' - pressing your hands into your thighs as you come out of a squat, for example, rather than pushing yourself back upright with your legs alone while your hands rest on your hips or are clasped in front of you. Pressing your hands into your thighs when coming out of a squat will make the rise a lot easier because it takes the stress off of your quadraceps (thigh muscles), but reducing that stress reduces the work your thighs have to do. Half of the work in a squat is the unaided rise, and by pressing your hands into your thighs you're burning much fewer calories and your muscles are getting a much smaller workout, and given that squats are brilliant leg/bum exercises, you really don't want to decrease their effectiveness with such mistakes.

   If you simply make sure you pay attention to your form while learning a move, it will very quickly come naturally to you and your speed will increase, giving you more time for other moves in your circuit. If you try to do the moves without any real idea about form first and learn them wrong instead, when you do learn what you're doing wrong you could well have to learn the move all over again, and that's just boring.

   Just as you should never try to lift weights that are too heavy for you (always use a weight you can maintain complete control over, and if you're new to something, start small) you should never try to go too fast with moves, either. Going too fast means your moves won't be as deep, so they won't be working the muscles enough for you to get the full benefit, as well as the fact that your form could well fall apart. You should always focus more on making sure your form is perfect and going as deep into the moves as you can without falling/being unable to right yourself without breaking form. Never focus on speed when you're learning moves. Forget HIIT, forget Tabata, this shouldn't be touched for a long time.

   Below, I've listed a body weight circuit which uses five basic (but effective) moves, using - you guessed it - only your own body weight, and a dumbbell circuit which uses basic hand weights. I've also briefly explained their form and provided a link for each to offer greater detail and visual example. These are good movements to start with if you're new to body weight or strength training, and they can be done easily in your living room.
   Be sure to keep to one circuit, and use small weights. Only when you're confident with the movements should you increase the weight, sets or circuits. Always push yourself, but don't push yourself into something you can't do, or you risk injury, and nothing will set you back quite like that.
   Also, remember what I said in my last post, The Importance of Strength Training. A few of the women in the videos below are a bit muscular, and I feel right now that it's important to remind you that you don't gain muscle like that without hard work and dedication. Big weights don't make bulk.

Body Weight Circuit

Squat - 20 repetitions
Push-up - 10 repetitions
Walking Lunges - 20 repetitions
Plank - 10-20 seconds
Jumping Jacks - 30 repetitions

Compound move, using several muscle groups, and is a great all-over body move, not just for your legs and glutes. Contrary to popular belief, squats are not bad for your knees, but squats with bad form are.
Form: feet slightly wider than hips, toes turned outwards a little. Keep your chest up and lower yourself down by bending at the knees, lowering your bum back and down like you're going to sit down. Don't let your knees pass your toes. Keep your weight distributed over both your heels and balls of your feet. Keep your hands away from your thighs - either extend them out in front of you, clasp your hands at your chest or place them on your hips, but keep them off of your thighs.
Watch an example:

Compound move, engaging your whole body. You can do them on your knees, but by doing them this way you really lose a lot of the full-body benefit and just work the upper body instead, and that doesn't actually help you to progress onto a full body push-up.
Form: start in a plank - on your toes and your hands, arms straight. Hands should be slightly wider than your shoulders but your legs wherever they're comfortable, be that hip-width apart or wider. Your body should be a straight line throughout the move. Tighten your core and your bum, keeping yourself straight, and lower yourself slowly with your arms, elbows pointed back and out a little, but keep them as close to your body as possible. Lower yourself just above the floor and push back up.
This can be really, really hard. Elevated push-ups are a good place to start, which is all of the above, but instead of being on the floor, your hands are on something, like a park bench, aerobic step, chair etc.
Watch an example:

Walking Lunges
Form: Step one leg behind you and put your hands on your hips. Face forwards and keep your body straight, and lower yourself, bending at the knees. Your front leg should be bent at 90 degrees, and you should keep your lower front leg from passing your toes, keeping it as vertical as you can. Your back leg should also be 90 degrees, your knee just above the ground. Push yourself back up, stepping the back leg forwards. Move the other leg back and repeat, being aware of where your knees are the whole time, keeping your upper body straight and your eyes forwards.
Watch an example of a lunge:

Again, full-body move, and harder than it looks. It's essentially a push-up, but held at the top rather than lowering yourself. It's the same form: arms straight, keeping on your hands and toes, and engage your core, clench your bum and keep your shoulder blades pulled together, keeping your neck in line with your spine - not looking up or straight down.
Watch an example of a plank:

Jumping Jacks
Full body, but more cardio than strength-based.
Form: Stand straight, arms at your sides, feet together. Jump from the balls of your feet, widening your legs and raising your arms above your head via your side, landing with your feet wider than hip-width and hands above your head. Keep yourself as straight as you can and always land with a slight bend in your knee. Jump again, this time reversing the position to draw your feet back together and your arms to your sides, landing with a slight bend in the knee again.
Watch an example:

Strength Circuit

Bent-Over Row - 10 reps
Chest Flyes - 15 reps
Bicep Curls - 15 reps
Tricep Kickback - 10 reps
Shoulder Press - 15 reps

Bent-Over Row
Compound move with arms, shoulders, legs and lower back, but it's a brilliant exercise specifically for the latter.
Form: Bend the knees slightly and hinge forwards at the hips to bring your upper body almost parallel to the floor. Keep your back straight, chest up and head in line with your spine. Extend your arms down beneath you, arms straight, a dumbbell in each hand, hands facing backwards. Engage your core and keep your back straight, pull your arms up to raise the dumbbells to either side of your chest, elbows bent so your arms are bending at 90 degrees, squeezing the shoulder blades together. Keeping your back straight, lower the weights again so your arms are straight.
Watch an example:

Chest Flyes
This move is great for your shoulders and your pectoral muscles - fun fact, building up your pectoral muscles with chest flyes, push-ups and bench presses, your can give your breasts better lift and make them seem a little bigger.
Form: Start lying on the ground, a dumbbell in each hand, feet on the floor and knees bent. You won't be using this part of your body for this move, so it's really whatever is comfortable, though this will give you a little bit more stability. Raise your arms to the sky, with a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing eachother. Make sure you keep your hands over your the top of your chest in this position, not above your head, and not above your stomach, you want to keep them in line with your shoulders at all times. Lower the dumbbells slowly out to the sides and down to the floor, but don't let them touch the ground. Keep a slight bend in your elbow throughout the move, then raise the dumbbells back over your shoulders to complete one rep.
Watch an example:

Bicep Curl
This move is isolated to the bicep - the front of the upper arm.
Form: Stand straight with a dumbbell in either both hands or just one, palm facing forwards. Keep your elbows pinned to your waist so that only your forearms move. Raise the weight to your shoulder and lower it again, using only your biceps. Think about the bicep muscles with each rep, this will help ensure you're only lifting with them.
Watch an example:

Tricep Kickback
This move is isolated to the tricep - the back of the upper arm.
Form: With right leg still standing on the ground, kneel the left on a chair or bench. Rest the left hand in front of the knee. With a dumbbell in the right hand, palm facing inwards, bend your arm at 90 degrees, elbow pointing backwards. Extend your right arm back behind you, keeping your upper arm as straight as you can, parallel to the ground. Think about raising it to the sky, but also think about lengthening it behind you as well, reaching both back and up. Complete the allotted reps on one side before switching over to the other side.
Watch an example:

Shoulder Press
This move is great for your shoulders and your upper arms.
Form: Stand with your feet hip width apart, a dumbbell in each hand and your arms held out to the side, your arms bent 90 degrees and your palms facing forwards. Engage your core and press the weights upwards, to almost straighten your arm. Be sure you drive upwards through the shoulders - keeping your mind on those muscles will help. Lower the weights back to the starting position of a 90 degree bend and press up again.
Watch an example:

   Every time you perform a strength move, be it with dumbells or body weight, always make sure your form is right. When you're starting out, that should be your number 1 focus, not speed, not number of sets or number of circuits, just form.  If it's off you could well end up wasting your time and even injuring yourself.

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Monday 12 January 2015

New Kit, New Motivation

   I've mentioned in the past how a new piece of kit can really boost my motivation for working out, and while I admit that this month, I really don't need that boost because the workout is so good and so much fun, I grabbed myself a few bargains in the January sales that I'm dying to wear!

   First, and most importantly, a new sports bra. Unlike your bum, your boobs are made of fat, so as you lose weight, your breasts will get smaller. This means I've had to replace my sports bras a few times over the past year and not because they've been worn out. And sports bras aren't cheap! But if you're busty and exercise 6 days a week with high impact workouts like I do, shelling out £30-£50 for a decent sports bra is a smart investment. I usually go for plain black bras, but for once I decided I'd go for some colour, but I couldn't decide which so I got them all. This sports bra by Panache is underwired with a moulded cup, and has a little hook on the back of the strap to pull it into a racerback if you don't like the straps showing.
   The next thing I got was much needed, my favourite sports top by USA Pro but in a smaller size. I'm glad I got it when I did because they were in the process of discontinuing the top, and now they've done so, an ongoing trend as they replace their stock with newer models, and while I'm the kind of person who prefers to stick to what she knows, I don't actually mind being pushed into buying alternative styles if it's by the same brand. It's just that I love the back of this top! The straps reach well past the shoulderblades and cross over between them to join on opposite sides at the bra line. I love workout tops with stuff going on at the back, and if I wasn't so busty I'd have already bought the Vaasa sports bra from Fabletics, but I have no hope of squeezing into it and keeping the support.
   Another piece from USA Pro is the black lotus 3/4 leggings. I love their all over prints, but lately I've not been too keen on them, but this one has to be my favourite since their Storm range. The black lotus leggings are just gorgeous, and I wish wish wish they made printed versions of their yoga mats, because I'd buy this in a heartbeat! They're comfy, have a flat, flattering waistband, and their stretchy moisture -wicking fabric is so comfortable! I've got about 5 or 6 pairs of these in different designs now.
   And finally, some brand new bamboo socks, again by USA Pro - you can tell they're my favourite brand, can't you? I find them very, very reliable for quality, comfort and fit, and with their outlet prices, straight from USA Pro themselves, I can afford to jump onto new styles and replace kit when it gets too big for me. I've already got about 6-8 pairs of these socks, but I couldn't help buying more. They're warm and cool, they're so soft and comfortable, and they have a flat seam at the toe (I used to get so irritated by sock seams that I wore them inside out for years. It was only when I bought a few patterned socks from New Look 6 months ago that I started wearing them the right way out, so I was dead pleased these socks had flat seams). Their soles are thick and absorbant, there's a wonderful arch support and they have a little bulgy bit at the top on the back which is perfect if your trainers rub the back of your ankle, as it stops your socks from slipping down beneath them. They've thought of everything, and I really do say that if there's anything from this lot you need to buy, it's these socks!

   So, while I'm enjoying this month's workout ridiculously, I'm super excited to get started with new kit! I've also jumped onto another brand for diet shakes, too, as Real Nutrition Co have discontinued their diet shakes while they work on a new formula. I saw an advert in Women's Fitness magazine with a discount for PHD Woman's weight control bundle so I thought it would be a good way to start January - trouble is it only arrived at the end of last week as it was out of stock, so I'm a little late starting it!

Thursday 8 January 2015


The closest thing to a white Christmas we get around here, but the frost can be gorgeous, especially when it frosts over more frost!

   I don't feel like I've actually properly blogged in a while. It's all been shop or exercise-related. Well, I had a wonderful Christmas. I found some Christmas cheer when I woke up that morning, and I had a wonderful, quiet day. I received some wonderful gifts, too - quite nerdy I see when I look back on them, but I love them all the same! A World of Warcraft Murloc mug from Seeg, as well as a 'keyring' (far too big and heavy to be so) of Frostmourne, the weapon of my favourite World of Warcraft villain, Dragon Ball Z season 3 (given to me two days after I finished season 2, so I was over the moon that I got to finish December's workout with the next season instead of having to find something else) and season 4 of Robson Green's Extreme Fishing (I like his attitude and the people he meets, especially tribes who show old methods of fishing, it's surprisingly informative).
   I think I gave a few good gifts, too, including a copy of Firefly for my Dad because I know he'll love it, Assassin's Creed Rogue for Seeg as well as a few other things.
   My sister popped round in the morning with her sons and things got a little bit noisier at that point - understandable with a 4 year old running around with a fart blaster - but it was nice to see her as we rarely do anymore, and after a quiter afternoon we had a lovely roast duck dinner.
   I'm glad to have found some more Christmas spirit again, but I am gradually realising I'm not 8 any more, and Christmas will never carry the same excitement for me as it did back then. If I ever have a child that could well change, but at this point in time, I'm the youngest person in the house and, I'm quite sure, the only reason any decorations ever go up.

   It was Seeg's 25th birthday 3 days after Christmas, and that was good fun, too. I got him a Gamecube with Mario Double Dash, his favourite Gamecube game, but his brother sold his console when he moved here several years ago which he was gutted about, so we had a lot of fun playing that, and I got him some Mario bubble gums to go with it from Japan Sweets Nom which I thought was a good little addition! I also got him a really nice Grey Warden t-shirt from Bioware which he loved, with the faction's crest and vow on it, and a Corsair headset which cancels out noise...a little too well. It's hard to get his attention when he's on the computer now, but at least it's great quality!

   We went out to see The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies on the 30th of December like we did the last two years as a sort of joint birthday celebration since they're so close together, and it was a good film, but I think I can say, though it pains me to do so, that there are a few problems I have with the film, but I'll go into those in another post.
   It was a nice afternoon out, though, as lately all we've gotten out to is the Post Office. I even managed to snatch up a few of Lush's special Christmas bathbombs and bubble bars instore nearby, which I didn't expect to find, so I was chuffed with that!
   Otherwise it's been fairly quiet, and it's been wonderful to relax and recover from the busy sales period that is December. Now I'm preparing for Valentine's Day (when 70% of your sales come from overseas you have to act fast if you want to be able to outline shipping deadlines), but with my own birthday tomorrow, I'm still taking it a little slow. I have began fulfilling orders, of course, and I've also returned to work on pieces for my exhibit, but how well that's going, I can't yet tell. The pieces I'm working on at the moment need lots of small details which are really fiddly and I'm still in the middle of them all, so hopefully in a couple of days I'll know if they've turned out well or not. If they have, then I can knock off 5 new animals in one week, which would pretty much make up for a month off of such work! So, fingers crossed!

   I've also managed to get back to my book, which is (I know) nearly finished, but with more or less all that remains of that book already written in note form, it's an easier case of simple convering the notes into actual literature. I'm struggling to get back into it after a month and a half away, but I'm getting there. Slowly, but surely.

   We're having a wheelchair lift installed in the house so that we can get mum around more easily, which is a big overhaul with floors and walls being cut away, but it needs to be done. Seeg and I will be away when this is happening, visiting his family in The Netherlands again, so at least that's a stress off of our minds, although in a way it's just been replaced with another. But it will be nice to get away, I suppose. I can't complain, either; his parents let us stay in their house, feed us and everything, so at least we don't have to wrestle with hotels, just the transport. Still, despite The Netherlands being so close to the UK, it's very surprising how different the culture and architecture is. It's quite a gorgeous place, really.

   But that's all that's been going on with me, a flash update for you if anyone should care. This post was more for me, anyway, getting my thoughts in gear because it has been a cluttered sort of few weeks, so at least lining out what happened has helped clear my head.

   I hope everyone else's Christmas and New Year was great! And that everyone was warm and safe, above all else.

Wednesday 7 January 2015

Birthday Sale - 24% off

   It's my birthday on Friday! I'm a little bit gutted, though, as I'd wanted to make some confetti balloons to hang up since I don't sell them too often, but then, and I am kind of complaining, I sold a few sets all at once and realised as I put the orders together that I only had 3 balloons left! So that went out the window.
   *Ahem* anyways, yes, as some of you may remember from past years, I like to run a little sale on my birthday with an appropriate percentage off which, of course, grows every year. So if the number seems a little funny, that's why!
   The code BIRTHDAY2415 is valid until Tuesday 13th and can be used across Peaches and Pebbles to get 24% off of your order, just add the code to your basket and you're away!

Tuesday 6 January 2015

Dumbbells & P90X/2 - 5 Weeks Later

Fun Rating: ★★☆☆☆    Difficulty Rating: ★★★★☆     Results Rating: ★★★☆☆

   It's been difficult this month to tell if this workout has been particularly effective. December is certainly the fattest month of the year, and I've been doing my best against it. My self control is better than I thought it was, and I don't feel I've overeaten at all, for once, but I have eaten more bad things than I usually would have, and while I made adjustments for them, such as swapping out a planned healthy snack for a planned unhealthy one so that I don't have both (and the fact that I planned to have a festive snack made me binge a hell of a lot less), it still wasn't ideal. So, as an added precaution, for the last 2 weeks I upped my workout by adding in 20 minutes of dance before starting the dumbbell circuits, and I also added 30 minutes of ashtanga yoga in the evening on that same day. The P90X/2 workout was hard enough, and if I'd added 20 minutes of cardio to the beginning of that I don't think I'd have been able to finish even one of the two P90X/2 circuits, and I didn't do yoga those days either because there is such a thing as too much. I was careful and upped my calories a smidge on the yoga days, though, to ensure I could get through the workouts.
   So, in a way, yes, I cheated this month and screwed up my results from the workout by adding in extra stuff, but I maintain that the extra work was cancelled out by the festive season, so the results I've gotten are more or less down to this month's workout.

   Unfortunately, my mind was so heavily pre-occupied by my shop throughout December that I didn't really notice how I was feeling about the workout. Usually I can tell you that I was feeling a difference (perhaps initially imaginary) after a week or so, but this time my mind was focused on one thing and one thing only that I just didn't notice. Exercise was actually the only thing I was able to make time for in between fulfilling orders, everything else went out the window, so until I stepped on the scales and grabbed the tape measure yesterday, I didn't have much idea of whether or not I'd gotten anywhere this month.
   I also admit that I've been really scared to actually step on the scales. I always am, if I'm honest, I'm scared that all the hard work will have gotten me nowhere, but I just can't think like that. That's partly why I only weigh and measure once a month: it gives me enough time to actually achieve some results, rather than just catching a fluctuation. But over December I've been worrying that maybe I actually didn't do as well as I'd thought I had over Christmas (as in that perhaps my eating was worse than I thought, and my workouts weren't hard enough), but I guess I couldn't have done as badly as I thought since I lost another inch and several pounds. I'm dead chuffed with the results if I'm completely honest - yes, it's all coming off slowly, but losing weight slowly helps to keep it off, as well as avoiding unsightly sagging skin. Fortunately I was never in a postition for that to have ever been a possibility, but even if I was, with things going as they are it would be only a small concern.

   Either way, December's workout has been tough. I enjoyed the dumbbell circuit the most (that's been a fairly consistent fact: I've actually enjoyed the strength/weight-based circuits far more than cardio/pilates/plyometric circuits over the past three months), and I loathed the P90X/2-styled workout, so it's safe to say I won't be buying any of those DVDs - at least, not yet. I need to be able to enjoy the workout in order to find the energy to actually do it, and this was my limit. You'll recall that I changed one of the two workouts in November because I hated it that much. I couldn't muster the enthusiasm or the energy to do it, so I was doing it badly - poor form and lacklustre. I figured it was better to swap it out for something a little easier and more enjoyable so that I could work harder on that and effectively burn more, and I maintain it was the right thing to do. December, however, I stuck to it, because it wasn't quite hard enough for me to hate it.
   Also, on a note that's less important for you but more for me, I actually finished season 2 of Dragon Ball Z on the 23rd of December. I was bummed out, because I watch them while working out and my workouts actually, rather conveniently, last exactly the amount of time an episode takes, from the very second the start credits begin to the second the end credits begin. So I decided I'd just restart season 2 on the 24th until I could buy season 3, but on Christmas Day, Seeg gave me season 3. Hell. Yes. I was really chuffed with that, so I only had one day in December that I had nothing new to watch. If I'm honest it's part of the reason I love doing workouts that aren't DVD-based anymore, but that's not the only reason. The last 3 months I've done workouts from and from Women's Fitness Magazine, and they've actually been a lot tougher than any DVD I have, including the 30 Day Shred.

   But, this month I'm returning to DVD workouts again - though I'm also sticking to the alternating workout thing, since it seems to work. Jillian Michael's Kickbox Fast Fix has 3 different 20 minute workouts, focusing on different things. There are bound to be one or two I love, and one or two I hate, so at least by alternating them and doing each workout 2 days a week I can keep myself enthusiastic rather than going through a 10-day period of dreading my workout because I'm focusing on a boring routine. If December had been only P90X/2, I wouldn't have finished it. Alternating it with a workout I really enjoyed but was still a challenge kept me coming back, if just so I could get through the rubbish one and do the good one again.

Monday 5 January 2015

January: Jillian Michaels' Kickbox Fast Fix

Read also: 2 Weeks4 Weeks & DVD Review

Fun Rating: ★★★★☆    Difficulty Rating: ★★★☆☆     Results Rating: ★★★★☆

   As much as I hate to leave Dragon Ball Z behind, this month I'm finally returning to a DVD-based workout. The past few months have been spent on workouts I've found from websites or magazines, and while I think that's a pretty good thing as far as money and sharing finds goes, it does mean I've not had an 'instructor' for a while. You may not realise it, but even a DVD instructor who can't see you can help a lot. They will generally not stop talking, constantly telling you what not to do on each move, and what you should keep in mind - such as don't slouch, and keep your mind on the muscles you're working or keep your core strong, etc - but that's extremely valuable. Websites and magazines can only give you brief snippets of info because they want to keep you interested (though I feel that the reader's attention is probably a little higher in articles like these as it's not a light-hearted gossip column, it's something they're genuinely interested in doing correctly), so having even a DVD instructor who can't see what you're doing can show you how to do things much more easily than a picture can.

   This month, I've decided to return to two things I love. Kickboxing, and Jillian Michaels. I've used two of her DVDs in the past - the 30 Day Shred and Yoga Meltdown - and they were both amazing. She has loads more, but I'm not really interested in buying DVDs on vague strength and resistance training, I prefer my DVDs to be...well, 'themed' I guess. Specific. And while the 30 Day Shred isn't exactly 'specific', it was famous enough for me to want to give it a go.
   I did kickboxing back in August last year, using a workout I found on called Kickbox Fusion. I also had two 10 Minute Solution DVDs about kickboxing which I have since leant to a friend. So I know the basics - guarding, hip movements, bob and weave, jab/cross/hook/uppercut and a kick. That certainly will help be with this month, but there is an additional section on the DVD that will teach you these things so you can do the three workouts themselves with a little more ease.

   Jillian Michaels' Kickbox Fast Fix is a DVD made up of three 20-minute routines; one focuses on the upper body, another on the lower body, and another on the abs, but if you've done kickboxing before you know it's not all strength. There is a lot of all-over body work involved, and a lot of cardio, it's just that one routine will (I'm guessing at this point, since I don't start the workout itself for another 30 minutes while my breakfast goes down) focus on punches and arm strength, another on kicks and leg strength, and the last on balance, evasion and core strength. All of these are important, but taking a quick look at the back of the DVD, Jillian has used compound moves rather than targeted moves, so while you're going through the upper body circuit, your lower body will still be engaged. This is the best thing to do - never underestimate your lower body. Your bum and leg muscles are some of the biggest in the body, so if you're throwing punches or rowing dumbbells while you're in a static half-squat, you're burning far more than you would be if you were standing upright doing it.

   There is a reason Jillian Michaels is so effective, and that's because she knows what she's doing. You may also be wondering how a 20 minute workout a day could possibly get anyone anywhere, but the fact is that it is the intensity of your workout that counts, not the amount of time spent. If you keep intensity high and rests short, you can do shorter, 20 minute workouts and burn more than you would with 40 minutes of steady cardio, and that's a proven fact. Jillian uses it to her advantage, because shorter workouts rope people in to try it out, and while the intensity is high, the simple fact that "it's only 20 minutes" sticks in people's mind through that toughness and they will keep coming back. And when they come back, the results will appear.
   You could say I've jumped on the Jillian Michaels bandwagon, and I have. But that's because she's amazing, and with everything I've learned from other DVDs and publications, I also know that every single thing she says and does has a fair amount of research behind it and it completely credible. So, yes, I'm on the bandwagon, and I'm quite happy rolling along on top of it, thank you very much!

   I'll be back in 2 weeks with my usual update! But you can follow me on twitter for some inpromptu "holy crap that was hard" tweets if you want a quicker update.