Monday 29 February 2016

Monday: Witcher Workout

   The first workout of the week from my line-up is The Witcher, and I'll do this one every Monday, starting today.

   Darebee's Witcher workout is based on the CD Projekt Red game franchise, The Witcher, which in turn is based on a series of books by Andrzej Sapkowski. I've not played the first game, and I tried the second but it was a bit too technical to enjoy. The third, however, was simply amazing and easily shot to number 2 on my top 10 favourite games, the first being Last Of Us.
   The workout, as you can see, is heavily cario-focused with a good dose of martial arts and sword movements, and is done in a structure of 3 sets for beginners, 5 sets for intermediate and 7 sets for advanced, with an advised rest time of no more than 2 minutes in between, or 30 seconds for extra credit. The images provided are clear enough, though the big kickboxing combo does require you to move through the motions slowly to get the jist a little, as does the sword moves.
   I do have a bokken (a wooden training sword), so I am at an advantage with the final two moves, not having to buy anything or find anything to suit the purpose, which is why it made the cut. If I didn't have the bokken, I'd probably not have selected it because I don't like using alternative kit in place of what I should be using.
   I have a secondary advantage of having the Witcher Wild Hunt soundtrack, so I'm all set for music, too, which will help with immersion. Yes, I'm a nerd, deal with it. I want to dive into this, and the right music can help big time. Not every track is hard-paced, but as I can recall every track from the game, the mental images even of peaceful locations will be helpful enough.

   I'm aiming for intermediate, performing 5 sets of each move before moving on to the next, and I admit I have no idea how long it will take, but it lasts as long as it does, and if it's exhausting - well, good, but if it's super exhausting, at least I can go through the workout knowing I won't have to do it again for a week. So, my kit for the day:

Sunday 28 February 2016

March: Darebee Visual Workouts

   This month I'm taking a different approach. I saw an 'Assassin' workout on 9gag some time ago and thought it sounded quite cool, and shortly afterwards saw a 'Dragonborn' workout from the same source. They were simple enough: a body weight circuit to be done a number of times with the idea of training under a certain theme. Assassin's Creed as the first, and Skyrim as the second. I didn't look into the beyond the two images and I'm not really sure why - perhaps I did but the website I was led to didn't have very good navigation. I don't know.
   I saw the Dragonborn one again last month, this time on Pinterest, and I clicked the 'more from' only to be assaulted with awesomeness.

   Previously known as NeilaRay, is a group-run fitness website that consists of workouts, food and training programs for beginners to advanced. Those that appealed to me the most were the 'Visual Workouts' and included the two mentioned before. I looked through them - many of the titles meant nothing to me, but those that did meant an awful lot - and eventually collected up a great number of them that were all quite different from one another and were based appropriately upon a number of different things.
   I do have a workout DVD beside me that I'm keen to try, but I decided to put it off until April. Through March - for the next 5 weeks, to be exact - I'm going to use Darebee visual workouts.
   I've picked out six for the fact that I just couldn't choose, plus two more for safety. Three are cardio-focused, two are strength, and one is different to anything I've done before but have been keen to try the style for some time. I'm alternating them on a cardio to strength basis, but they all consist mostly of body weight movements that, when performed well, will all give a great cardio burn. The workouts I've selected are:

   Witcher (cardio), Super Saiyan (strength), Dark Side (conditioning/co-ordination), Korra (cardio), Dragonborn (strength) and Mulan (cardio). I also chose Bender and Assassin as alternatives in case one of the others doesn't work out.
   You might notice that both Dark Side and Bender use staves - I've had a bo staff for some time but rarely used it, having bought it at the same time as my bokken, which I have. I've been keen to try it out but I've always had so much other exercise to do that it got left on the side lines, especially as I've not managed to find an instructional DVD for it and I learn better with visual demonstrations. So both Dark Side and Bender seemed like a great opportunity - and Darebee has a selection of bo staff workouts, and bokken workouts.

   So, in short, I'm bouncing off the walls to try these. I often workout, visualising myself as someone else or in some kind of circumstance, and it's more easily done without a DVD. So, the idea of training as a Witcher, a Saiyan, a Sith, Korra, the Dragonborn and Mulan are all pretty exciting. There are many more that caught my eye, like Shepard, but it was very strength-focused and Super Saiyan and Dragonborn won out over it. I do intend to use the others that I spotted in the future, however.

   There's too much to talk about for each workout, as they're 6 individual routines rather than a single DVD, so I'm going to post Monday to Saturday about each in turn this week so I can look at them all a little closer.
   All the workouts are totally free, there's no membership fee, instead it's run entirely on donations, so, provided that the workouts are worth sticking to (which means I'm still using them 3 weeks from now), the money I would have spent on a workout DVD, I'll give to them instead. It's not much, but it's something, and I'll do the same again should I use some of their other workouts in this kind of structure in the future.

Banish Fat, Boost Metabolism DVD Review

Price: £6/ $10
Length: 40 minute workout
Workouts: Full body
Suitable for: Beginners - Advanced
Rating:   ★★★★★
Enjoyment:  ★★★☆☆   Difficulty:  ★★★★☆   Results:  ★★★★☆
Based on 4 weeks of use.

   Jillian Michaels' Banish Fat, Boost Metabolism is one of the most effective JM workout DVDs I've used to date. Her usual method of combining strength and cardio is undeniably effective, but this DVD is a great one to add to your collection for its lack of equipment and heavy cardio factor.
   The DVD allows you to play through the full 40-minute workout with or without Jillian's instruction, and also allows you to choose the circuits you want to do if you're pressed for time - picking out the most effective circuits, or skipping circuits that are simply out of your abilities if you're a beginner.

   This 40-minute workout is made up of seven 6-minute circuits of varying workout styles, and it has more variety than I expected. It requires no equipment but your own body weight, either, which offers a greater cardio factor than Jillian's other DVDs while also offering resistance training, and that means greater fat-burn. It's ideal, in this case, for people who either already do a strength workout 3 times a week, or for people are looking to do more cardio work without sacrificing resistance like I was - and simply for people looking to burn fat effectively. But it's not an easy workout at all.

   The seven circuits are as follows:
1: kickboxing, 2: high impact, 3: calisthenics, 4: abs, 5: kickboxing, 6: high impact, 7: calisthenics.
   Kickboxing is perfect as the first circuit, as it's fun to do so you're eased into the workout with a bit more enjoyment, but after that the real work begins. High impact circuits consist of things like burpees, standing mountain climbers, jump squats and so on, and are the most demanding circuits. Calisthenics consist of butt kicks, high knees, jump rope and so on - simpler and lower-impact exercises that still keep your heart rate up while allowing you to get some of your breath back from the steady pace. And abs are as it sounds: a circuit with more ab-targeting, though that's not to say you're just crunching. You continue to work your whole body even in the abs section, but you get almost a full 6 minutes to get your breath back ready for the next kickboxing set.
   Though the style of circuit repeats, the moves themselves do not. Both kickboxing circuits are different from one another, as are the high impact and calisthenics circuits. So if there's a move you hate, you only have to do it in that one circuit. Burpees are my worst move, and though I hate them, I never, ever skip them because they're effective. And I remind myself of that fact, as well as "it's only one circuit" through the whole set.

   This workout is tough, but it's managable. 40 minutes is a long time, and the idea of 7 circuits feels even longer, but once you see the circuits and how different they are from one another, you find that the workout doesn't feel like 40 minutes, it feels like 6, 6, 6, 6 and so on. The variety of circuits offered helps to break the workout up and make it feel less demanding.
   The kickboxing circuit is something that people new to the activity might find hard, but I've had previous experience with it so while it was still tough, I was able to kick as high as the women in the DVD. People new to kickboxing aren't likely to be able to do that, but it's important to note that it really is the effort that counts. You just kick as high as you can without hurting yourself, it's that simple. Everyone is different and everyone's bodies are used to different strains. You might not be able to kick that high, but the moves are still going to do for you what they do for me. But whether you're experienced in kickboxing or not, it is one of the fun circuits.
   High impact are the least fun but also the most effective - if you're going to skip any circuit in this DVD, it really shouldn't be these two. Though very challenging even for me, they're insanely effective, and for the harder move there are beginner modifications, but, as always, these really just consist of going as high or as low as you can. It's about challenging yourself, not hurting yourself to match the instructors. But, fortunately, while these high impact circuits are the toughest part of the DVD, the calisthenics that follow are merciful.
   Consisting of jump rope, butt kicks, jumping jacks and so on, the moves are familiar to everyone but still effective, and due to their steady pace when compared to things like burpees, they give you the chance to get your breath back a little bit, and that's...well, it's wonderful, and when you know you have such an 'easy' circuit coming up next, it's easier to get through the high impact circuits that come first.
   In a way, the abs section is also merciful, and it makes sense to focus the mid-section at the middle of the workout! Because you're not standing up like you are for everything else, you're on the mat, you get a very conscious half-way mark, and while the circuit starts with mountain climbers, it's a very controlled and resistance-focused circuit that lets you get most of your breath back while still moving, so you're ready to repeat the kickboxing-high impact-calisthenics system a second time.
   My one negative note on the difficulty of this workout is that there isn't much in the way of beginner modifications. Alternative variations are offered for the very hardest moves, but they're not as consistently offered or demonstrated through this DVD like they are in the others. However, as I've said a number of times, and Jillian says herself, you just go as deep or as far as you can. Don't give up on a move because you're not matching the athletes who are doing the workout on the TV, just keep doing it until you can match them. I never thought I could, but I have because I keep at it, and it shows in my body as well as my skill.

Lack of Equipment
   The lack of equipment offers a few positives, the first being that there are simply no excuses to not do the workout. I don't go to a gym, and while I do have weights, bands and kettlebells at home, I don't need them for this workout, and neither do you.
   The second is that, by using your own body weight rather than hand weights, you have to work harder for resistance to kick in. This generally means a greater range of movement, deep squats and lunges and really engaging your muscles so that you end up fighting against your own weight, despite being used to carrying it around all the time. This greater range of movement actually means your get greater cardio burn, too, as more muscles are working to create resistance as well as fight against it, and while resistance means creating gorgeous curves in your body, the cardio means shedding the fat to reveal it.
   It's also something you can do anywhere. You could easily take the DVD on holiday with you, or write down the moves and do it in the park on a nice day, which also means that space shouldn't be an issue to prevent you from doing it either.

Personal Results
   Personally I saw the best results I have all year from this workout, but I think it's because it involved far more cardio than I usually do. I've built good, lean muscle already and my metabolism has increased to match it, but I've been neglecting the fat. I've been losing it with my other workouts, certainly, but not at the same rate I have with this one. I'm firmer, stronger and curvier after this workout. Having said that, though, despite how effective it was, I'm glad to have finished with it. I didn't get the same enjoyment out of it as I have with other workouts, and in that case it also means you sometimes put less effort in, and that's not good. I will return to it, and probably supplement future strength workouts with a few of the most effective circuits, but I'm not jumping to do it for another month all over again.

Saturday 13 February 2016

POUND Rockout Workout DVD Review

Price: £30/ $50
Length: 4 x 20 minute sections
Workouts: Lower, Upper, Core & Cardio
Suitable for: Everyone
Rating:   ★★★★★
Enjoyment:  ★★★★☆   Difficulty:  ★★★★★   Results:  ★★★★☆
Based on 5 weeks of use.

   You all know I love a unique workout, and POUND is one I've wanted to try for a very long time after seeing it mentioned on Indie workouts like these aren't always all they're cracked up to be, of course. The first I tried was Buti Yoga and I got on horribly with it due to poor instruction, despite my persistence and determination not to give up. In the end, I had to because I wasn't getting results due to how much I was struggling - not to complete reps or sets, but to just generally understand what I was supposed to be doing. Even the walk-through instruction section was no use. Fortunately that bad experience didn't put me off, it just made me cautious, so I had low expectations when I tried Kukuwa last summer - but it turned out to be so good that Kukuwa would have exceeded even my highest expectations.
   But after one bad and one good experience, I was still wary of POUND, but I'd wanted to try it for so long that I decided to take the chance. I am so glad I did. It almost scored as high as Kukuwa - the only reason it didn't hit equal was because it burned more (ouch) than Kukuwa, but that was to be expect from resistance. But I can say with great, great confidence that while I had a cardio workout (Kukuwa) that was high-impact but also heaps of fun, I now have a resistance workout to add to that list, meaning I now have two very different workouts that are heaps of fun enough to get me excited even on days when I just don't want to exercise, ultimately giving me no excuse at all.

   POUND is a dynamic resistance and cardio workout based on drumming, but rather than sitting down and striking a big round thing in front of you, you're on your feet and striking the ground in an almost constant squat. This might not sound like it's going to be particularly exciting or provide much variety, but you would be very, very wrong. By striking the sticks together above your head, or low on the ground in front, to the side or in a straight line, you're creating a lot of noise and a lot of movement, and that rhythmic noise is a great distraction from the difficulty of the workout - squatting for so long isn't easy, after all!
   Your heartrate rises nicely, and though it may not feel like it at the time, all four workouts target the promised areas, and the music and your contribution with your sticks makes you feel a lot more involved in the whole workout, as well as giving it a unique edge I've yet to see in any other workout. It is also a workout I would absolutely love to take a class in, because the noise and enthusiasm that would be present in the room would undeniably take the workout to new heights, so if you get the chance, definitely try it! There are even classes in the UK!
   POUND Album 1 consists of four 20-minute workouts that target upper body, lower body, core and cardio, and each of them provide a good sweat and a great burn that you will definitely feel the next day. Ripstix are sole piece of kit and are supplied with the DVDs, which are region-free and should play on all new (post 2010) DVD players. My DVD player is quite old so it won't play it, but it does work on my Xbox 360, which was the same case with Kukuwa and Buti Yoga.

Kit: Ripstix
   The Ripstix are the trademark piece of kit used in POUND; awesome bright green acrylic drumsticks, weighted to about the same as real drumsticks, and used to create a lot of noise by striking eachother or the ground. It's advisable to use an exercise or yoga mat if you have hard flooring to muffle the sound if you're concerned about upsetting your neighbours, but you also have to realise that the noise is part of it. It adds to the rhythm of the music, helps you keep time, and helps you to take your mind off of the burn in your legs because, take my word for it, they will be on fire in all four workouts.

Workout Structure
   The workouts are separated into body-targeting routines - one for upper body, one for lower body, one for abs, and one for full-body cardio, so whatever you're looking for, be it to focus on one area of your body, or get a total-body workout alternating every day, this DVD has you covered.
   Each workout is 20 minutes, with an additional 5 minute warm up and 5 minute cool down at either end, both of which are on separate DVD chapters so you can easily skip the second warm up if you're using 2 workouts in a row.
   Each 20-minute workout is broken down into four 5-minute sections, separated by the change in track. Each time the track changes, your approach to that area of the body changes, as does the rhythm you'll be pounding, so it stays fresh all the time. Each 5-minute section is made up of a number of different moves, but it's not very circuit-focused, instead the workout just rolls on by rather than dragging you back to the beginning, which is refreshing and ensures a whole range of movements, which is vital in shorter workouts.
   My only complaint about the whole thing falls into this section, and it is a whine at best. I feel there's a little too much time between transitioning from one move to the next - enough time for about 1 or 2 more reps, depending on the move in question. Now, obviously, this is a necessary pause for people new to POUND - I was certainly grateful for it at first, as, while a number of the stances themselves aren't tough, getting to grips with the movements is. And, therefore, I don't feel there's anything really wrong with this, but once you get used to it, it's a bit of an excuse for a break even if you don't need it. Of course there is one super-easy way to remedy this if it bothers you, like it bothered me: add in that extra rep or two, then transition quickly if you know what you're doing.
   You could argue that it's not worth bringing up, especially if I can tell you exactly why it's there, and usually I'd agree, but the break is a little too long when you need to keep moving, so once you're familiar with the moves I advise you to just put your foot down and keep going.

Bass Line - Lower Body
   This drumming workout takes place standing up for the most part, but you're still striking the ground, so you're in an almost constant squat in order to stay on your feet while still making noise with your sticks on the floor. The squat, for the most part, is a sumo or pliĆ©, and if you're not squatting, you're lunging. Your legs get no rest, constantly engaged and getting an amazing burn. It's a straight-forward workout, and you will really feel it in your legs within 5 minutes. Fortunately the music, the noise you're making with the sticks and trying to keep with the rhythm takes your mind off of it. Kind of.

Tune Up - Upper Body
   The Ripstix are about the same weight as drumsticks, and I thought they'd get heavy after moving them around so much. Light weights get heavy with constant movement, because you can use them much longer than heavier weights, but you still get a great burn in the end. But while the Ripstix didn't work out that way - I didn't feel tired at all on upper body day - they did provide surprising results. The day after every single upper body day I felt it in my upper back and triceps. It was undeniable, and while my biceps were totally fine, they're also the easiest muscle to work in your upper body, so you can always tack on some weighted bicep curls at the end of the upper body workout - though triceps and upper back are much harder, so it's truly fantastic that the upper body workout is able to target those areas so well!

Core and Abs
   This was the section I was most sceptical about. It's drumming! I know loads of moves that target your core - upper and lower abs, obliques, back and so on - and I just didn't really see how this could be incorporated into drumming. Evidently, the creators struggled a little because there's not as much energy in it and the moves are a little repetitive, but the section does create a lot of noise with sticks striking the ground and eachother, and your abs are almost constantly engaged in what I know from POP Pilates as 'earthquake' - leaning backwards with your abs tight, supporting your back. There are lots of Russian twists involved, striking the ground on either side, and oblique crunches by leaning on your side and drawing your knee into your chest. Again, as with the upper body section, it didn't really feel like I was achieving much. Until I woke up the next morning and struggled to sit up. My upper and lower abs, and my obliques, were sore. Once again I couldn't believe that a 20 minute workout that didn't feel very effective in targeting the promised areas truly did deliver. At the time I felt it more in my hips and quads, just like I felt it a lot in my quads and bum on upper body day, but those areas were perfectly relaxed the next day, and the areas I was supposed to be working proved that they had been.

   The cardio section is, for the most part, a combination of all of the previous three sections, but with faster movements and a few little jumps here and there. As with all cardio, it's the range of movement and the speed - the dynamics - that make for a good burn, but that also means that you are in complete control of how intense it is. This means that people who are new to fitness can go at their own pace, following the modifications demonstrated in the background and get an amazing burn and great results, while people who are more advanced can pick up the pace and gain the same effect, albeit with more work, but work they can handle.

Enjoyment:  ★★★★☆  -  This workout really brings something new to the table, and while it is difficult, you'll be able to overlook that little detail. Bring the noise!!
Difficulty:  ★★★★★  -  It's great fun, but your legs will seriously feel this, and it can be unsatisfying to modify the depth and go without the sound of the drumsticks. As such, you're likely to push yourself - that's a good thing, if you can do it without hurting yourself.
Results:  ★★★★☆  -  This workout will tone your core, sides and legs, and it's so much fun that you'll keep coming back for more, which really does help in gaining those results. It doesn't feel like work.

   This workout combines resistance with cardio at a completely adjustable level, suitable for beginners to advanced: it all depends on how deep and how fast you move, so everyone can get involved. Specific kit is required, but it is supplied as a basic part of the workout; by purchasing Album 1: Sweat. Sculpt. Rock, you get 4 20-minute workouts, the Ripstix and a little pouch for them. They fit snugly in your gym bag and take up very little room, so you could bring them to the gym or out to the park, flip on your mp3 player and just go crazy. Who cares it people see?! Who cares what they think?! Because you're rocking out, and that's all that matters. The noise gives the workout a whole new edge and completely takes your mind off of the exercise itself, making it easier to go crazy, and also makes the time pass quite quickly.
   I highly urge you to try this workout, it's so unique and so much fun you'll forget it's exercise, and that makes it even easier to put the effort into. You'll melt fat, build lean muscle and boost your metabolism along with it to keep you losing weight even after the workout itself.

Friday 12 February 2016

Healthy Valentine Pancakes

   I shared a Greek yogurt pancake recipe on the blog recently for a good, healthy pancake day, but I had a bit of a play around with the recipe last weekend to try something else. I get paranoid about carbs from time to time, which is silly because I exercise so much I can't afford to go too low-carb, but regardless I decided to put together a high-protein, low-carb pancake recipe by swapping out just one ingredient. But I was also in a really good mood, so I made them into hearts, and so a clean Valentine breakfast was born.

High-protein Valentine pancakes
Serves 1; makes 4-5 small pancakes
235cals; 30g protein; 8g carbs
80g Greek yogurt (I use FAGE Total 0%)
1 medium egg
1/4 cup strawberry protein powder (I use PhD Woman Exercise Support)
2 teaspoons baobab powder (I use Aduna)
1 tsp baking powder

   Mix the yogurt and egg together, then mix in the protein, baobab and baking powder. Spoon into a greased pan (I used coconut oil; it didn't leave even a little coconutty taste) and use the back of the spoon to shape into a heart (it may help to take the pan off of the heat to do this for each pancake). If the mixture seems too thick, add a little water to the mixture in the bowl. Cook on one side until little holes or bubbles start to form on top, then flip it over and cook for half the time on the other side.
   No need for sugar, syrups or anything else!

   As you can see if you compare this recipe to the previous one, the ingredient I got rid of was the flour, and ingredient I added in its place was the protein powder.
   I use Aduna because it's the most ethical brand of baobab that I've tried, and the packaging and customer support is brilliant. I used PhD Woman Exercise Support because it's the protein I add in my porridge, along with the baobab, so I also already had that on hand - it is expensive as a tub, but you can buy individual sachets of it in places like Holland & Barrett and Boots. I buy the tubs because I use it every day. And I use FAGE Total 0% because it's the best and cleanest brand of Greek yogurt and is high in protein. It's fat-free, and that's not something I usually go for because, despite the use of the word 'fat', it is necessary in a healthy diet. But in this case, I do opt for fat-free.
   All of this creates a clean and delicious pancake recipe, and, as shown above, this recipe serves 1 person, so it's easy to increase it. 80g is typically half a pot of the Greek yogurt (I always buy the smallest, 170g pot), so you don't need to buy anything extra to increase the recipe to serve 2!

   Oh, and adding a sprinkling of mini marshmallows to it like I did on my birthday pancakes gives it a prettier and sweeter touch, and you can remain confident that the only sugar in the breakfast will come from the marshmallows themselves!

   I'm going to make these again for Valentine's day! And I hope you do, too! It's a good clean start before those chocolates arrive from your secret admirer - assuming your secret admirer was brave enough to do it. If there are no little declarations of love from a mysterious individual come Sunday, odds are he was just too nervous to do it.

Wednesday 10 February 2016

POUND - 5 Weeks Later

   I've used POUND Album 1: Sweat. Sculpt. Rock. for 5 weeks now, and it's been so much fun! I used it 6 days a week, alternating between lower body, upper body and abs, and adding the cardio section in on the end, and it's been amazing. There's more definition to my triceps and upper back, and I've been more enthusiastic about my exercise because it just didn't feel like work.
   I have only one complaint, too, but it's one I can remedy myself: I feel that each set ends one rep too soon, it never feels quite right. There are a few too many seconds for transition between moves, and while that's totally fine if you're new to it, once you've used it for a week or two, it becomes a bit wasteful. As I said, however: easily remedied. Just add on an extra rep or two while the wonderful instructors talk you through it, then transition smoothly. It's barely a complain, really, just something that niggled at me.
   But I voice it anyway, because I never use these workouts or review them upon request of the producers. I choose my own workouts, I buy the DVD and/or kit with my own money, and I dedicate my time to it for fun and for results. I choose to review it because I know how hard it can be to find effective or fun workouts, so I like to see what's out there on the market, and as a consumer rather than just a journalist being given freebies, it's much easier for me to find out what's easily available. What use is there in reviewing a limited or restricted product?
   As such, I will tell it from every side, voicing every complaint or praise I had while using it, and I feel this is very important for these kinds of workouts. Those developed by individual people on the indie fitness scene, such as POUND, benefit from the increased exposure but also the customer feedback. I adore Jillian Michaels; her workouts have changed my life, as cheesy as that is, they've pushed me to discover what I can do, and what I can learn to do. She doesn't need my feedback, my praise or the increased exposure, but it's because her workouts are so good that I continue to do so. But that also gives a frame of reference to whatever I might say about POUND or other indie workouts - if I usually spend my time doing squat jumps, burpees and mountain climbers for cardio, and I tell you that Kukuwa's African Dance is a very effective cardio workout, then I mean it. And if I usually use kettlebells, do deadlifts and Ashtanga, and I tell you that POUND's tricep pulses are hard, then I mean it.

   I really do hope that POUND release Album 2 this year, because though I bought Album 1 on Black Friday because I wasn't sure if it would be worth the money full-price after past experiences with indie workouts, I will happily leap upon Album 2 at full price. I'd like a 'POUND' tank top, too, because I am now a very, very proud member of the POUND Posse, even if I'm limited to participating at home by myself because I can't leave my mum by herself to attend a class - not really a responsible thing for a carer to do. But it's on my to-do list, and one day I might be lucky enough to find the opportunity.

   As always, I've written a full review of the workout that I will get up in the next few days, so you can read more info about the individual workouts on the discs, the kit and general set-up. So stay tuned!

Tuesday 9 February 2016

Greek Yogurt Pancakes

   So, I've become addicted to pancakes. There's nothing unusual in that, I grant you, but I'm so careful with what I eat that pancakes went off the menu 2 years ago. But I came across a recipe - such a simple simple recipe - that put them right back on again, and I thought I'd share it with you today, on pancake day!
   Yogurt pancakes.
   Yup, Greek yogurt gives you a great dose of protein with much lower fat and carbs. It's awesome. Just throw together a bit of Greek yogurt with an egg, some flour and baking powder and you're away! And its so versatile - you can add all kinds of flavours with fruit or powders, or by simply opting for a Greek yogurt that contains fruit.
   So, every Sunday for the past 4 weeks I've had pancakes for breakfast, and they've been deliciously clean and healthy - well, except one, but that was my birthday.

Basic Greek yogurt pancakes recipe
Serves 1; 4 small pancakes;
215 cals; 18g protein; 25g carbs

80g Greek yogurt (protein & calcium)
1 medium egg (protein and loads of vitamins and minerals)
1/4 cup whole meal flour (carbs and loads of vitamins and minerals)
1 tsp baking powder (raising agent)

   Just combine the yogurt and egg together, then add in the flour and baking powder and cook in a pan until little holes start to form on the top, then flip it over for half the time.
   The mixture is thick so it doesn't spread out, but that means you can make shapes with it, like hearts, smiley faces and so on.

   Now, the above recipe doesn't sound great, but as I said, it's easy to add clean and healthy flavour to it without adding any refined sugar at all. Use fruit juice, set aside a little bit of fruit smoothie and add it into the mixture, use powdered fruit, flavoured protein powder, or just use Greek yogurt with fruit or honey already in it. I assure you: there's no need to add any sugar at all.

   Raspberry pancakes: take a handful of raspberries and soak them for about 5 minutes to really soften them up. Drain the water and transfer them into a bowl and mash them up using a fork. Then you add the rest of the ingredients: the egg and yogurt, mix it together, then add the flour and baking powder! Easy, fruity, and top with another handful of raspberries and you'll not only have a deliciously sweet and fruity breakfast, but also have knocked out one of your 5 a day!
   40g raspberries add about 25 calories.
   Baobab pancakes: add 2 teaspoons of baobab powder (I use Aduna) to the basic recipe for a sherbety, fruity pancake breakfast.
   Adds minimal calories.

   Lemon and matcha pancakes: add the juice of half a lemon and a teaspoon of match to the above recipe, and you'll get a wonderful lemony omelette packed full of antioxidents.
   Adds minimal calories.

  Chocolate pancakes: add a tablespoon of cocoa powder - I found that a sachet of Options hot chocolate was just perfect, making them perfectly chocolatey while adding only 40 calories. Alternatively, use cacao powder for a little healthy boost for your heart. If the mixture becomes too thick, you may want to add a tablespoon of water. I found it necessary with the hot chocolate.

   For my birthday I decided to treat myself - it was my first time making the pancakes so I just added lemon to the base recipe, but it was more than good enough...but it was also my birthday, so while the pancakes were clean, they were somewhat less healthy when I put mini marshmallows between each and let them melt beneath the heat, and then added a little whipped cream to the top. But like I said: birthday! It was healthy for the most part, the only sugar came from the marshmallows themselves. And it was good.

Monday 8 February 2016

February: Banish Fat, Boost Metabolism

   Having just completed 5 weeks of POUND, I don't really think there's any workout on the cards right now that will meet with the enthusiasm from last month, so in a way I'm not going to try. Instead, I'm going back to a workout that has proven very effective, albeit not very enjoyable, especially in comparison: Jillian Michaels' 'Banish Fat, Boost Metabolism'. I want to get more cardio in, and this is, without a doubt, one of the best cardio workouts I've ever done. I like it's set-up of 7 circuits: kickboxing, hard-as-hell plyometrics, merciful calisthenics, on-the-mat core and then back to more kickboxing, plyo and calisthenics for the last three circuits. There are clear differences in each section and I know where I'm best throwing my all - for example, knowing that circuit three consists of butt kicks, high knees, jumping jacks and so on means that I really can put my all into burpees and such in circuit two, simply because three isn't as high-impact. In my mind, it's set up perfectly and prevents the workout from feeling like the worst time of your life. Instead it's just horrible. But I can't and won't deny the results, which is why I'm revisiting it.
   But only for 3 weeks.
   I have something else in mind for March and I really want to spend as much time with it as possible, so I'm more than happy to sacrifice a week of BFBM to give next month's workout 5 weeks instead of 4. So there won't be much in the way of workout updates this month because they won't be much different to November, so you can read them all here instead.

   I do have some nice new leggings, though they're from New Look rather than USA Pro or Fabletics, my two usual go-to brands. They're simple but gorgeous: grey/purple ombre capris. I doubt they're very moisture-wicking, but they are comfy and pretty. Either way, they'll certainly be put to the test this month.
   I really do need new fitness shoes, though, but I have little idea where to turn. I need some with great shock-absorption from lots of plyometrics, so something that can stand up to jumping without injuring my shins, because they're not top-notch and are my main concern. So if anyone has any suggestions for a brand or model of trainer that is great for gym and plyometrics, I'd love to know!

   And have you picked up your free 2-week trial of VITL yet? Use the code VITLKIM at checkout for the exclusive trial and have your vitamins, minerals, greens and Omega-3 delivered right to your door!

Wednesday 3 February 2016

Refresh Your Resolution With VITL Nutrition + Free Trial

   As February rolls in and we leave the first month of the year behind - the month of change - it's easy to look back on our new year's resolution and either feel proud of your accomplishments in your first month, or to put them down because your goals were unrealistic for you to meet personally, or perhaps feel guilt for giving up on them. Hey, we all do it. I made a resolution in January and I failed astoundingly by not even making a start on it! But February gives all of us the chance to try a restart, and I tell you: I will pick my violin back up! And February is the perfect opportunity to re-evaluate failed resolutions and reshape them into something actually obtainable. 
   Health is one of the most common themes of new year's resolutions, and it's also pretty important in general, but that importance also makes it kind of daunting. We live in a world of fast food, where a burger costs £1 and fresh veg £1.10, and where so many things are automated and easy, leaving us little need to really do things physically. So to get yourself healthy, even in the most basic terms of taking the stairs instead of the escalator, or choosing raw, fresh chicken over a quick drive through, takes a lot of conscious effort. It was hard for me back in 2013, and I had to make it a new year's resolution in 2014. Fortunately, despite muddling through with little idea what I was doing to start with, and goodness knows how many failures, I've managed to make stairs, chicken and veg a habit, as well as finding a surprising passion for exercise - it's more than just running, after all! Kickboxing and African dance are my favourites!

   But making these conscious changes is very difficult, and while making small changes and building up is always best, it never feels enough on January 1st. So people resolve to exercise for an hour a day, every day, and if you're not used to exercise, that is simply unrealistic and, for most, doomed to fail. And of course going from nothing to quite a lot is generally difficult. It's easy to find the motivation on day 1 because it's new and you've not hit a bump in the road yet, but it's also easy to fly off the wagon when you do on day 6, and once you're off, it's so hard to get back on. The trick here is to not over-think it. But the other trick is to work up to it all slowly and gradually.

   If you're not an active person, the best place to start with getting fit is to simply go for a walk for 20 minutes a day. It's low-impact so it's easy to find the energy, so you can do it whenever you have time, morning, lunch or evening. It also gets you outside and you'd be surprised how good the fresh air can feel - and odds are that you'll end up walking more than 20 minutes because of it. And once you're comfortable being outside, you may find yourself keen to pick up the pace and go for a run, and once you've warmed up to that, you may well want to try something completely different.
   But exercise is easy in this regard - you only do it once or twice a day, for 20-40 minutes at a time. Once you've done it that day, you've done it. The harder part is making sure you're putting the right things into your body, because that lasts all day.

   There are so many people saying you need this, that and the other in order to boost your health or to lose weight, and I've bought into many of them. It's all too easy to be suckered in, and it took me a long time to figure out what it is I really need, and it wasn't CLA, thermogens or silly things like that that claim to help you lose weight (and while you may well lose weight while using them, it's probably because you were exercising harder because you wanted to help them to work). No, what I really needed was simply a good dose of vitamins and minerals, Omega-3 and Co-Enzyme Q10.
   Omega-3 isn't necessarily hard to come by in food, but is found mostly in foods like oily fish which many people don't like or aren't willing to eat - in which case the simple answer is an Omega-3 capsule. You get a daily dose of healthy and necessary dietary fats without having salmon for dinner every day. Don't be afraid of the word 'fat', by the way. In terms of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, fibre, etc), dietary fat is so important, and good levels of healthy fats such as Omega-3 are proven to aid weightloss as well as helping your body to function correctly. Some vitamins and minerals, like Vitamin A, D, E and K, are only fat-soluable, meaning that, unless you've consumed dietary fat with a sources of Vitamin K, be it an egg or a multi-vit, your body simply won't absorb it.
   Co-Enzyme Q10 is essential in energy production, and while it is made in the body, if you're active - either a frequent exerciser or simply looking to start getting fitter - you may become deficient and that can impede your body's functionality. And I'm not just talking about feeling low on energy, I mean it will perform, digest, absorb, protect and so on at a lower rate. So adding a Co-Enzyme Q10 to your health regime will really help get you started with exercise because your body will be more up to the challenge.

   Of course, if you're just starting to get your eating in check, it's really difficult to ensure you're getting all of these vitamins, minerals, fats and so on in your food. Hell, my eating is really clean but even I struggle to get all of the essentials from food alone. The easiest course of action in this case is taking supplemental tablets and capsules with breakfast or lunch and getting through the day with extra strength, energy and a properly-functioning body while you mentally wrestle over whether or not you should have that chocolate cake in the break room. It's certainly the best start you can give to your health and fitness lifestyle.

   It's a bit of a nuisance keeping stock of these kinds of things, though. Capsules come in all different size bottles, and some are two-a-day and it's easy to run out of multivitamins while having plenty of Omega-3, or vice versa. But VITL, which I started using this January, basically solves this issue.
   VITL combine a powerful multi-vitamin, Omega-3, Co-Enzyme Q10 and additional super greens in an easy daily dosage, delivered every month to your door so you'll never run out nor have to remember to top up. The four caplets are sealed in a foil strip, each marked daily, making them easy to keep track of and easy to take to work or pack in your lunch box, giving you no excuse to forget. It's the healthiest, cleanest subscription box you can get - no additional nonsense, no snacks, just the bare essentials you need to kick your body into the best healthy start it can get. Plus it's cheaper to pay the £35 fee than it is to buy all four from Holland & Barrett every month, not to mention that super green capsules are hard to come by; you're more likely to buy the ingredients in individual doses which certainly adds up even more!

   But you can try it free for 2 weeks if you use the code VITLKIM at checkout!
The code is valid until the end of February 2016, and then you can see for yourself what I'm talking about!

   Often with things like this, they state that you'll 'feel a difference' and, in truth, you rarely do. But the quality of these caplets, as well as the fact that I know I'm getting everything I need every single day, mean that you will feel a difference. After a week I was feeling more cheerful and my energy wasn't as erratic. Similarly, when Mother Nature struck, I handled it much better than usual! This was probably the biggest upside, and while moods - especially then - can change hourly, my mood remained relatively consistent (barring one bad day when everything kept going wrong, but we all have our bad days!)

   So restart your healthy resolutions this February with the bare essentials. Your body truly will thank you, and you'll feel happier just for the fact that you have made one easy but important change, with very, very little effort. Once you start to feel the benefits, you may well also find yourself motivated to try exercising again - and remember: don't take that too seriously. Put it on too high a pedestal and you'll fall a lot further when you hit a small bump. And try to find a kind of exercise you enjoy. Dance is the best, and if you feel silly doing Zumba or 'sexy' dances, African dance is simply wild and fun with no emphasis on femininity. Not to mention the most effective dance cardio I've ever done.

Disclaimer: I was sent this product to review by the brand 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.