Thursday 28 April 2016

Get Bikini-Ready

   Bikini season.

   I know, it doesn't look hopeful, does it? In fact the last thing I think of doing when looking out of the window at a scene like that is prance around semi-naked. But though bikini season seems like it's an age away, now is when we really have to think about it. Because now it's bikini-body building season.

   If you're planning on hitting the beaches this July, now is when you want to start putting effort into that bikini body, whether you need to shed a few pounds or just tone up. Few figures survive through the winter, after all, and by the time bathing suits start towering over you in shop windows, the idea of squeezing into them or, worse, bulging out of them, can be an extremely intimidating thought. So, the solution: get a head start.

   I've gathered some really useful advice and tips for shedding fat to get bikini-ready, or just to tone up to rock your swim suit, and I'm especially excited to offer an amazing competition from MET-Rx to supplement your work and help you reach your goals.
   In the two posts I've talked about the best and easiest way to lose fat in time for summer, including exercise structure, workouts, and eating - and it's not complicated - and also the best way to get an already slim body in perfect condition for the beach.

   But, perhaps you're not interested in beach holidays, perhaps you'd rather hit the slopes. I know I prefer being cold, it's easier to warm up than it is to cool down - there are only so many layers you can take off before someone calls the police - so I would rather ski than head to the beach. But even in that case, if you're not used to physical work, skiing isn't just a matter of standing on flat sticks and sliding down a hill. There's a lot of control involved in your core and your legs, and building your strength and endurance - with resistance and cardio, respectively - will help your body prepare, and that means you'll get more enjoyment out of the vacation. In which case, both articles will contain useful information.

The giveaway is now closed. The winner has been selected, contacted, and has accepted their prize.
Thanks so much to everyone who entered! Good luck with getting bikini-ready!

   Now for the giveaway! While whole food is the best place to start, supplements can really give your results a boost. A pre-workout drink with a good dose of caffine can help to give your energy a boost before you get started, unlocking more power for your workout and helping you achieve a few more reps or sets, and a tasty vanilla protein shake is great post-workout if you've not got anything else in the house. It's a quick dose of 40g protein in a sweet shake that can feel almost like a naughty indulgence if it's a flavour you love, and if you mix it up before your workout and keep it in the fridge, it gets the chance to thicken up a bit and you'll be grateful for the chill.
   MET-Rx have provided a MET-Rx Shaker bottle, MET-Rx lkg Complete 4 -In-1 strawberry shake, MET-Rx 510g fruit crush Supreme Pre Workout Powder, MET-Rx 1kg vanilla Supreme Whey shake, 60 triple Omega 3-6-9 soft gels and BCAA's for one lucky winner to help them get undeniably bikini-ready. The product bundle has been compiled to help give a pre-workout energy boost, help with post-workout recovery and improve lean muscle. Then there's the addition of Omega 3 which is one of the fats most people lack, as it's found mostly in nuts and fish, two foods that are more popularly disliked than their counterparts, such as fruit and chicken respectively. This fat is essential for your heart and your brain, and it's proven to aid weight-loss as by simply ensuring you're getting the nutrient will help your body function better, and a properly functioning body will respond better to exercise and the right food, allowing better nutrient absorption and cardiovascular and muscular activity (ie, being able to start and complete your cardio and resistance training with a little more ease).

To enter, use the raffle copter widget below; open to residents of the EU only.

Terms & Conditions: the giveaway is open to residents of Europe only, due to the cost and difficulty of shipping such big, heavy products outside of the EU. The competition runs from April 28th to May 13th and the winner will be contacted privately via the email address that will be linked to the entries (either email or facebook-registered email). The winner will have 72 hours from contact to respond and accept their prize. If the winner fails to respond within those 72 hours, they will be notified of failure to accept and a new winner will be chosen. This page will update when the winner has accepted their prize. The prizes were donated by MET-Rx and no payment has been received to host the giveaway. All words are my own, including the two linked articles.

Get Bikini-Ready - Tone Up

   If your journey to getting bikini-ready consists of the need to tone up, then you've got an easier job ahead of you than the rest of us, even if you've not done it before.
   Toning up consists mostly of resistance training to create a lean and shapelu physique, because curves aren't made with fat, they're made with muscle. So if you want a round rear, a narrow waist and killer back, then you need to start lifting, pushing and pulling.

Resistance Training
   Resistance training is your friend. First of all, you cannot get bulky by using weights by accident. It takes such an enormous amount of work and dedication for women to build bulk - seriously, you'd need to live in the weight room - and for many women it simply can't happen because their bodies don't work that way. It takes testosterone to build muscles, and women have only 10% of the testosterone that men do. As a result, weights and resistance training make women lean, not big.
   But don't think the only way to do this is by using hand weights, barbells or kettlebells. Your own body weight is just as effective. Pilates is a form of resistance training and it uses your own body weight as a tool. If you've never tried it then you might look at it thinking it looks awfully easy and probably quite ineffective. Well, wait until you do give it a go. It's intense.
   Resistance workouts are easier to come by than cardio, and it's easier to do without a DVD, too. If you're doing cardio for a set amount of time, it's easy to get lazy and slow yourself down to cheat the time, but resistance tends to be counted by reps instead, making it harder to cheat, and with resistance, the slower you move, the more muscle fibres you engage, and the more effective it is.

   There are so many different kinds of resistance workouts you can try - there's barre, yoga, pilates, weights, body bands - and there's a lot of sources you can get the workouts from. There are DVDs, some of which I've reviewed and you can find in my Fitness Archive page under 'DVD Reviews', but the majority that I've used have been from websites and magazines. My favourite DVD was Cassey Ho's Pop Pilates, and my favourite book is also one of her's - Hot Body Year Round. But while Cassey is my go-to for pilates - she also has great workouts for free on her website and Youtube channel - Pinterest is also full of amazing and free workouts. Just type what you want, such as 'barre workout', and you'll be greeted by absolutely loads of different compilations from Skinny Mom, Fitness Magazine and countless other fitness websites and bloggers. In truth, if you're looking to get fit for free, Pinterest is your best friend as far as workouts go. Though I'd take nutrition pins with a pinch of salt; a lot of people will claim that fat-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, paleo, raw, etc is what makes a healthy diet, and that's only true if you're lactose-intolerant, have Coeliac's or a gluten intolerance, or some kind of bowel disorder. For the rest of us, they're gimmicks that don't actually help.

   Speaking of food, if you're looking to get lean and toned, it's important to ensure you're getting enough of the right stuff to keep the fat off, and help refuel and repair your body after your workouts.
   Protein is essential post-workout as it helps your body to rebuild the muscles. Resistance training makes tiny tears in the muscle, and it's when your body repairs them that you get stronger and leaner. Protein helps to reproduce cells and fix the tears, it's a natural process and not one that will make you bulky, either. But if you're working out for the first time, you may also find that you're a little more hungry; this is because you're using more energy. To avoid putting on any weight, the protein also helps to keep you full so you don't undo your hard work with a packet of crisps.
   Carbs are also important post-workout. It's all well and good to give your body the protein it needs to repair the muscles, but not if you don't give it the energy. Carbs are not your enemy, you're not going to get fat from eating them unless you're overeating empty carbs like chocolate, cakes, biscuits - the good stuff in life that should be taken in moderation. Good carbs, like fruit and grains, are essential. Your brain needs 130g of carbs just to function properly.

The Rest of the Day
   As with trying to lose weight, it's important to ensure you have a healthy, balanced diet. That means you need protein, fats, carbs and fibre, and a variety of fruit and veg a day.
   Protein will keep you full and prevent hunger pangs, and should be consumed at most meals. You can get it from eggs at breakfast, or by adding chia seeds or protein powder to your porridge (I make mine with just strawberry whey powder and whole grain rolled oats), and you can get it from chicken, eggs, fish and so on at lunch and dinner. Lean meats such as poultry are best as they tend to have less saturated fat than beef or pork, making them a much richer source of protein and allowing you to keep easier track of fat intake. As for snacks, you can find it in almonds - incidentally also the most nutrient-dense nuts there are - and seeds.
   Fats are also found in nuts and seeds, as well as olives, avocados, salmon and so on, all of which contain different kinds of fats, all of which we need and can help keep weight off.
   Carbs are essential, they're your body's preferred source of energy because they're absorbed into your body faster than any other macro nutrient, and if you're exercising, you can't afford to skimp on them. Like I said: carbs are not your enemy. Like fats, carbs have an unfair reputation. If you take in too much of them - just like if you take in 'too much' of anything - it won't be good for you, but it's also because carbs include cakes, biscuits, chocolate, pasta and so on, which are called refined carbs. These are the things that will cause you to gain weight, and while you don't have to avoid them - I think I'd die if I cut them out of my diet - they have to be taken in moderation. If you have a sweet tooth, try strawberries, or apple and cinnamon, not sweets.

Salt & Water Retention
   But if you're trying to get a flat tummy and tone up nicely, you'll want to watch your salt and water. Don't eat salt-flavoured foods, and don't add salt to your food. It's not good for you anyway, but the salt is one cause of water-retention which can make you feel bloated. The water thickens the space between your skin and your muscles, and it can be mistaken as spontaneous fat because that's where the fat would go. But don't panic! Fat won't appear overnight like that; if it seems that way, it's just water, or it's in your head because you're looking too close.
   Water-retention is when your body simply retains water. Salty foods can make you thirsty, and it also causes your body to hoard water. It sounds backwards: your body is holding on to all the water it can, but you're thirsty? Well, salt draws out water, which will make you dehydrated. But because water is absolutely essential for every single bodily function and chemical reaction therein, your body panics and holds on to as much as it can so you don't dehydrate.
   This can also happen if you've not eaten salt, you've just not drank enough, and the solution to both causes is the same: drink water. That might also seem backwards. Your body is bloated because it's hoarding water, so you should drink more water to get rid of it? Yes. Because when your body knows you're giving it more water, it will stop keeping such a tight hold on the rest and you'll return to normal.

   Don't bother. You'll read time and time again that a detox is the key to a flat stomach, but it just isn't. Don't buy into the images you see on advertisements, they're put there to get you to buy, and as for Instagram posts, many are sponsored by the companies, and others are from people who were already fit and are imagining their results.
   Juice cleanses are useless; they're fruit juices without the fruit, so you're getting all the carbs without the fibre, which is also where most of the nutrients are, and juice cleanses that encourage you to replace meals with them are even worse because then you're not getting enough of anything else. Smoothies may contain the fibre of the fruit, but you still need the other food groups.
   Teatoxes are even worse; they're filled with diuretics which will cause you to lose water, some even cause a laxative effect, and if you read the instructions, you'll find that, for them to 'work', you have to avoid a lot of essential parts of your diet.
Don't buy into detoxes
   The fact is, your liver is responsible for removing the toxins from your body, and it does it damned well. So the best thing you can do is help your liver by looking after it and not taking in the toxins in the first place, which includes smoking, alcohol, caffeine, etc.
   There are a few things that can help a flat stomach, and Jillian Michaels' 'detox' drink (yes, I am aware of what I'm saying) works. Lemon juice helps digestion, cranberries are little superfruits, and dandelion helps to flush out excess water without causing water retention. You make it yourself, it's cheap, it's easy, and the 3 ingredients, depending on how many lemons you buy, can make lots of bottles.

   Again, you don't have to break the bank to get bikini-ready. You can get fit for free by using pinterest or youtube and your own body weight, and as for eating, you don't need to buy lots of special 'health' foods or gimmicky products like 'teatoxes' - in fact they can often cause more harm than good. If it's come out of nowhere and suddenly everywhere, odds are it's not actually any good.
   Just be sure to give your body the fuel and nutrients it needs, don't under-feed it, especially if you're trying to tone up and create wonderful curves, and give it the chance to recover between workouts. Try focusing on your upper body one day, and lower body the next. This gives your upper body at least 48 hours to recover before it's worked again, meaning the muscles can repair themselves and you'll avoid injury, and injury will only hinder your progress.

Get Bikini Ready - Shed The Fat

   If, like me, you want to shift the pounds to get bikini-ready, you're going to need to work at it. It's a slightly tougher job than just toning up, but that doesn't mean it's even remotely impossible, and doesn't require an hour of cardio twice a day, every day, and certainly not starving yourself. It's actually quite easy when it comes down to it - the hard part is getting your brain on your side. You just have to remind yourself that it is mind over matter.

Exercise Structure
   The best and most proven way to shed fat is to do a mixture of both resistance training and cardio, in the same session. By starting your workout (after a dynamic warm up, of course) with 20 minutes of resistance training, you can use up the energy in your muscles without wearing yourself out, and then move on to cardio and still give it your all.
   Why? Well, your body won't start burning fat until the glycogen (blood sugar; energy) in your body is used up, and this takes about 20 minutes, so jumping right in with cardio can be kind of useless. Starting with cardio will use the energy, certainly, but it will also exhaust you, meaning you'll be unable to continue as effectively after those initial 20 minutes. By starting with resistance, however, you can use up the energy in your muscles without getting out of breath or your heartrate going through the roof. You'll be tired, yes, but it's a different kind of tired, and one that will pass very quickly. It also means that, by the time you've finished your resistance session, you'll be starting cardio with your body already in fat-burning mode, meaning you'll be able to put in great effort, as if you've only just started your workout, but really reap the benefits.
   Not only that, but building lean muscle - and remember, resistance training won't make you bulky - also means that your body uses energy and burns calories more efficiently, and also increases your metabolism to meet the increased demand. You continue burning calories after your workout as your body repairs from the resistance training, and because denser muscles require a little more energy to complete every action, be it in your workout or just sweeping the floor, which means you'll be using more calories even hours after your workout, and on a rest day.
   And, finally, curves don't come from fat, it comes from muscle. Fatty curves are more like bulges and you can't control where they go, whereas muscle results in rounded bums, narrow waists, coconut shoulders and fabulous thighs which you can certainly target and work on.

   Kettlebell and kickboxing workouts are great fat-burners, and you don't need to go to any classes. There are countless DVDs available, and I've reviewed a few right here, which you can find in my Fitness Archive under 'DVD Reviews'. But Youtube is also full of free workouts, and there are countless websites out there - I love, and I've used a number of their workouts with great results. So if you'd rather not spend a penny to get in shape - because you really don't have to - these kinds of websites are a great resource.

   Eating also matters, especially right after your workout. If you're combining resistance and cardio, you'll definitely want both carbs and protein. The best source is a chicken sandwich with wholemeal bread, but that's not always practical, so you can turn to protein shakes. I do when I've got nothing in the cupboards or the fridge, and there's nothing at all wrong with them. They typically contain whey protein, which comes from milk, and animal products like dairy are the second best source of protein - the first is animals themselves, such as meat and eggs. Protein shakes are available in all kinds of flavours and are typically about 100-150 kcals each with around 20g of protein and no sugar. I usually accompany my protein shakes with a piece of fruit which provides fibre and carbs.

The Rest of the Day
   Outside of your workout, you don't need to starve yourself. There's a very good phrase popping up lately, and it's 'don't eat less, eat better'. Counting calories made a huge difference for me - it might not be fun, but it helped me get my eating under control and I saw the biggest results when I made that change. And you might also see mention of keeping a food journal. That doesn't mean writing what you ate, where you had it, who you were with and whether it was nice or not, it's just keeping a note of everything you eat when you eat it, because it's a great way of finding out where you're slipping up, such as when you start picking at things. I used to sneak a single biscuit at random on an afternoon when I wasn't even hungry - often, in fact, after I had just eaten - and perhaps a single chocolate on an evening, but the thing is that both of those in a single day have contributed on average 150 calories that I've not counted into my day, and were both also a source of refined sugar.
   No, don't deny yourself a treat, restrictive diets are proven not to work, but doing it on a daily basis and then turning a blind eye to it is the source of much damage, especially for me. Keeping note of what I eat made me realise when I did it because I was ashamed each time I wrote it down, and that really stopped me from doing it.

   Try for 1,500 calories a day. This is typically all you need, and if you're overweight, this change alone will really help to shed fat. You don't need to go hungry, either. 'Snack' isn't a dirty word. Instead, try to eat 5 or 6 times a day, at evenly spaced intervals, with no more than 400 calories in one sitting. This will enable your body to use the fuel you give it, rather than use some of it and store the rest because you gave it too much. And you may feel hungry initially, but it's highly likely to be in your head due to:
- habit (eating less frequently than you're used to)
- thinking about food, perhaps clock-watching for your next feeding time (I'm very guilty of this)
- having unhealthy food in view, such as a chocolate bar on an open shelf
   If you feel hungry between allocated times, have a glass of water instead. It might sound silly, but your body displays the need for food and the need for water in the same way. "What if I am hungry?" You might say. Well, have the glass of water and wait 25 minutes. If you're still feeling bad, you may well be hungry, but if it was just thirst then by that point you'll have forgotten all about it. I didn't believe this would work when I first read it, but I tried it and it did! It's easy to drink 2 litres of water a day this way, and it stops me from eating when I don't need to. Drink plain water, fruit-infused water and green, fruit or herbal tea, rather than soda, juice or squash, as these are just sugar - even straight up fruit juice is missing all the fibre of the fruit itself, so don't drink more than one of these a day.

What To Eat
   Try to ensure you get frequent doses of protein - meat, eggs, fish, but also nuts like almonds, or by adding plant-based protein like moringa into recipes. Protein takes longer to digest and really helps to keep you full and stave off hunger pangs. Vegetables are high in fibre, so get lots of those, too, because that also keeps you full. But don't skimp on carbs; you need 130g of carbs a day just for your brain to work, so if you're working out or have a job that keeps you on your feet, you especially can't skimp. I learned that the hard way; I reduced my carbs to about 100g a day and did 40 minutes of cardio a day. I couldn't think after that, my mind wandered, I got no work done, and, worst of all, I lost no weight because my body clung on to everything to try to meet present and future demands on rations.

Replacing the Bad Stuff
   First of all, if you don't have it, you can't eat it. This goes both ways: if you don't buy unhealthy snacks, you can't eat them, so find willpower for the hour a week you do the weekly shop not to pick much of it up, and then you won't have to worry about finding the will power through the rest of the week not to eat it.
   But it also means that if you don't have healthy snacks, you can't reach for those, either. So instead of picking up nothing to nibble on when hunger comes knocking, pick up something healthy, like a bag of mixed fruit or nuts, a box of Nakd bars, etc. Just remember: just because it's healthy, doesn't mean you can stuff your face with it.

   If you eat sugar often, or fried foods, or anything you know is bad for you, try replacing a few each day with something else. Find healthy snacks you'll enjoy - these days, it doesn't have to be an apple - and you'll find you won't miss the other stuff as much. I love BEAR fruit yoyos, Nakd fruit bars, Trek flapjacks, Oloves, Bounce nut and seed balls; they truly are delicious, and as they're often made with a combination of fruits, nuts and seeds, they're all available in a variety of flavours. Even rhubarb and custard. And, no, while many fruit bars are made with dates, you don't taste them at all. Trust me, I hate dates, but I love Nakd bars.
   The more often you eat sugar, the more you crave it. You don't end cravings by giving in to them, you only feed them and make them stronger. I've found that it takes me, personally, 3 days to get off of sugar. It's hard, but after 3 days of minimal to no refined sugar, suddenly I don't think about it any more. Just remember that you can get 'sweet' in other ways. Fruit is very sweet, for example, and every time I have a strawberry yoyo I find myself thinking "why do I never think of this when I crave sugar?" Probably because it's not sugar I craved, but something 'bad'.

   You don't have to break the bank to lose weight, not at all. Healthy snacks don't have to be expensive, and if you make them yourself which can be a lot of fun, it's even cheaper - not to mention that you can cater to taste preferences and allergies.
   It's also not tough to make food from scratch, so if you buy pre-made or ready meals, try replacing a few with something you made yourself. This doesn't have to take long if you make them in advance, either; make your own marinades and keep crushed nuts and herbs and spices in your cupboard, and in the morning you can throw some raw chicken into a bowl of marinage and refridgerate it through the day, and then put it in the oven in the evening.
   You can find so many free workouts online - just browse pinterest and you'll find countless. I've got a pretty big fitness board myself, with workouts I want to try, workouts I have tried, and pins I've collected specifically for the benefit of others, including beginners.
   I hope some of this helps!

Sunday 17 April 2016

Kettlercise Lean In 14 - 2 Weeks Later

   I didn't really expect much of a difference between Lean in 14 and any other kettlebell workout when I started it this month. After all, pretty much every kettlebell-focused exercise program involves using one move for a set number of reps or time, and they've always been really effective. So imagine my surprised when I was greeted with 'complexes' in this Kettlercise workout.

   I'd say 'compound' but that doesn't really do it. Most kettlebell moves are compound moves, utilising a number of different muscle groups at once. Instead, these 'complexes' are just that: complex. You learn a move and perform it for 30 seconds to 1 minute on each side, then learn another and do it for another minute or two, then go back and do them together. Then another move, and then another, until you're performing 4 different moves consecutively, one after the other. It's tough, and you really do have to think about it and fight to get it right.
   But these complexes aren't in every workout. The beginner disc has 2 workouts, and it's only in the second workout that you're introduced to complexes, and while you do still have to think about them, they're a combination of much simpler moves.
   The intermediate disc is much the same, with complexes only occurring in the second workout, but they're harder moves, whereas on the advanced disc, there are complexes in both of the workouts and they're tougher because of their more advanced single moves.

   All in all, it's pretty intense, but surely effective. By having to think about the combination as much as I do, I avoid muscle memory. I've said before that I know my way around a kettlebell, and while that means I can use heavier weights, go faster and so on, it also means that it's not as effective as it once was. But because kettlebells are so effective - generally compound moves that are also explosive, involving great cardio and resistance at the same time - I never considered the possibility of moves being stacked up like that.

   The program is called 'Lean in 14', but I've not actually weighed or measured myself yet, and if I'm honest I don't plan to until the end of the month, so I can't say whether these past 2 weeks have been particularly more effective than usual or not, but even if I did get the numbers, I'd have nothing to compare it to. So instead I'll stick to the usual 4 weeks before giving any verdict. At least there I can offer some more reliable insight. But beyond that, I will say that my rear, upper back and hips seem to have changed - whether I'm just imagining it, I don't know, but all the fat left on my body seems to be at the top of my inner thigh, top of my arms and down the front of my tummy, so I like to think that if I was going to imagine any changes, I would be imagining them there.

   But I have enjoyed it so far. I love kettlebells, and I actually look forward to workouts like these. I'm not a cardio bunny; I love getting sweaty but I hate jumping, running and all that. I prefer to focus and lift. I don't know why, it's just what I prefer, and it's come in handy when I'm looking after my mum. Sitting in a wheelchair all the time, she's understandably heavier than other people. But obviously I need the cardio as well if I'm going to burn fat, and this is a great way of getting them both in together without really noticing it as much.

   As ever, I'll be back in 2 weeks!

Saturday 9 April 2016

Darebee Visual Workouts Review

Price: Free
Length: 15 minutes+
Workouts: Upper body, lower body, core, full body
Suitable for: Everyone
Rating:   ★★★★★
Enjoyment:  ★★★★☆   Difficulty:  ★★★☆☆   Results:  ★★★★☆
Based on 5 weeks of use. provides loads of free fitness resources, from advice and recipes right down to dirty, sweaty workouts - but while there are a number of other websites that do the same, wins because their workouts are inspired by video games and TV shows. Assassin's Creed workouts, Mass Effect workouts, Dragon Ball workouts and Avatar workouts. There are many, many more, but these are the ones that caught my eye, and, for 5 weeks, I used them every day, 6 days a week. I got amazing results from the workouts, but they also helped to change my attitude towards fitness because I was 'visualising' the fictional worlds they were inspired by and pretending, like the amazingly cool nerd I am, that I was training like any Witcher, Dragonborn or Chinese legend.

Variety's workouts consist of a number of different kinds of exercise - there are workouts that focus on basic resistance like push ups, sit ups and Russian twists; there are workouts that focus on martial arts like kickboxing or swordplay; there are workouts that focus on basic cardio like climbers, high knees and burpees; there are yoga workouts for calming and yoga workouts for sculpting and resistance; there are workouts that are a combination of all of the above; there are workouts that focus on upper body, others on core and others on lower body.
   There's a convenient checkbox at the bottom of the website that allows you to refine your search by area of the body or type of workout you're looking for, but I think it's a lot more fun to look for their theme.

Visual Aspect
   The workouts are designed and built around different themes, mostly tv shows, films and games, and the movements are inspired by the main or most impressive characters. Some are planned around the training such a character would undergo, such as Super Saiyan's variety of push up and core moves, while others are focused more around the actual activity of the character, such as the Witcher's sword movements and martial arts. It's a very unique idea, and really quite clever.
   I used them along with relevant music - mostly soundtracks, such as the Skyrim soundtrack for Dragonborn, the Legend of Korra soundtrack for Korra, and I played my Dragon Ball Z DVDs for Super Saiyan - and while it's true that most of the tracks aren't particularly go-get-'em, even if they were just ambient travel music, it still helped. When fighting tracks came on while doing the Witcher workout, it was great because it was it was like combat (if you're lame cool like me), but even when it was just calm travelling music like Spikeroog, it felt more like routine, daily training. As a result, most CDs I used wouldn't work with most other workouts (though I admit I actually use the Witcher Wild Hunt soundtrack while doing yoga), but they were simply perfect for these visual workouts and really helped to set the scene and lose myself in the idea, and that subsequently helped me to become a super nerd and push myself beyond my limits for it. Whatever works, right?

Difficulty & Set Up
   There are three levels to most workouts and they are aimed at duration rather than modification. Level 1 consists of doing the workout for either three circuits, or doing each move for three sets of the allotted reps before moving on to the next. Level 2 is the same but for five sets, and level 3 for seven.
   The workouts are designed to be used as sets rather than as circuits, meaning you complete a set of one move, pause for a breather and then do it again until you've completed the allocated sets, and then you move on to the next move and forget about the last. I prefer to use them as circuits because it requires much less rest between each move, keeps the workout more fast-paced and ultimately gets your blood pumping and sent all throughout your body, and I only need to take a rest at the end of the circuit. Circuits are typically better for cardio and fat-burn, while sets are better for maxing out muscles and resistance for toning and definition.

   There's next to no kit required for the visual workouts; some are designed for use with a bokken or bo staff, but these are immediately obvious in the diagrams and are also highly relevant, such as with Dark Side, a sith workout, or Bender, an airbender-inspired workout. And there aren't many of these, sadly, so for the most part, you're looking only at using your own body weight. This makes them perfect no-excuse workouts, and you need minimal space. Any running is done on the spot.

Enjoyment:  ★★★★☆  -  There are a huge range of different workouts available, from simple seated yoga routines all the way up to intense body weight cardio. And then there's the sword fighting routines. If you are a nerd, you cannot get bored with Darebee fitness!
Difficulty:  ★★★☆☆  -  The workouts come in a variety of difficulties, and there is a modification guide on the website, too. Then there are the different levels which affect the duration/set number you should do for your level of fitness. It's for everyone.
Results:  ★★★★☆  -  Depending on how you use the website, you will get results. If you only use the easiest ones you can find, you won't see results for long, but if you push yourself, try new things and leave your comfort zone, you'll be surprised by how far it can take you.
   The workouts on are totally free and totally awesome. They're straight-forward and are modified by your ability to perform certain number of sets, and the vast majority of them require no kit at all and little room, giving you no excuse not to try them. It's all based on a website, too, rather than a DVD, which means you can access it anywhere and provides you with great spontaneous workouts for the park, the gym or while you're looking to keep fit while on holiday.
   The website is run by volunteers who are either trained fitness professionals or fitness enthusiasts, and lots of hands make many workouts, meaning the website is upated quite frequently with new workouts, and by following their twitter you'll be alerted to any new workout that gets added to the website.
   The website is funded by donations, and while there's no obligation to do so, the workouts are well worth a donation. After having used six of their workouts for 5 weeks, I donated what I would have spent on a high-end workout DVD, and I will do so again if I turn to workouts for another month's schedule.

Friday 8 April 2016

Proposed Food Label Changes To Include Exercise

   There has been talk recently of updating food packaging to suggest how much exercise you'd have to do to work that food off. I can only hope that this is simply a proposed change by one or two people that has just managed to work its way into the limelight, because I can't see how any health professional would agree that it was a good or safe idea.

   To begin with, it's a simple fact that everyone burns calories at different rates - this is why the calorie-burning tracker on exercise equipment should always be ignored. Calorie burn depends on the amount of lean muscle you have, your fitness level, the intensity at which you're working, your familiarity with the exercise you're doing, whether you have the energy to do it (if you've under-eaten your body will cling on to as much energy as it can in order to get through the rest of the day, ultimately giving you less to complete your exercise and effectively making it lower intensity) and any beginner/advance modifications you've applied, like bigger movements or ankle weights. In short, saying "you need to cycle for 2 hours to work off a single piece of buttered toast and a cup of coffee" is absolutely absurd and highly, highly generalised.
   And let's stop to think about that detail, too. Coffee and buttered toast. Breakfast, right? The most important meal of the day. Why? Because your brain and body need it to function for the morning, or until 10 am at which point you may need a snack, in which there is no shame especially if you exercise in the morning or your productivity is dropping. So telling someone that their breakfast needs to be worked off means that not only will they possibly have a smaller breakfast than they should, but they'll also try to work it off rather than put it to the use it should be.

   Putting this kind of information on food packages is a really good way to encourage eating disorders and over-exercising. No, not everyone will pay any attention - I know I certainly won't - so people who want to be obese will continue to be so, and people who are concerned about staying in shape will obsess all the more, which means eating disorders may start to affect more people, which means mental health will be affected too. Some people in the middle may well stop and think about what they're eating, and either concede to exercise in order to have what they want, meaning crisps and chocolate bars would still be eaten, or not eat it at all in favour of staying sedentary.
   I don't need to be told what I need to do to work off a chocolate bar, or be made to feel guilty for choosing to eat one. I exercise 5 days a week at high intensity, I have a balanced diet with good carbs, fats, proteins and so on. Why the hell should I be made to feel guilty for having a little treat once in a while? I know it's bad for me, I know there are other healthier things I could eat instead, but it's not like I'm going to eat three a day for breakfast, is it?

   People think too much about calories rather than what their food actually is, and they take macronutrients like fat at face value and cut them out because they have a bad reputation. News flash: your body needs fat and carbs. Avoiding avocado because it's high in fat is stupid; avoiding wholemeal bread because it's a carb is stupid; avoiding fruit because it's high in sugar is stupid.
   All this proposed change would do is harden food myths. It's not going to encourage obese people to eat better or to exercise more - to be honest, nothing will but themselves. They have to want to lose weight and eat better. People still smoked even when they put those horrible pictures on the packages. Sure, some stopped smoking, and some who may have considered starting decided not to. But most of the people who needed to stop the most, didn't.

   I really hope, as I said, that this is just a change that was proposed like 2 days ago and has managed to worm its way into the limelight, and that health professionals will be consulted and listened to before anything's given the go-ahead. I can't see how any good that could come of it could ever out-weigh the bad.

Thursday 7 April 2016

The Easy Way To Fight Diabetes - World Health Day

   This year, World Health Day's focus is on diabetes, which is becoming an increasing problem in the first world despite being quite avoidable. 90% of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes, and it is quite often a result of being inactive and over-eating, especially processed foods. It's quite startling to think that something so severe is so easy to avoid, in fact, but the trouble I think comes down to the fact that we live in convenience. Public transport makes getting around with minimal effort easy, and pre-packaged foods and fast food restaurants on every corner makes grabbing a quick bite just as easy, even if you're not hungry, and often means you're eating lots of sugar and hydrogenated fats without even realising it. But just because it's 'easy' doesn't mean it should be the norm.
   I'm not about to tell you to go on a 10 mile hike every week, or to ditch your favourite pizza place in favour of lettuce. I don't do that myself, and I certainly never will - I pizza every week, in fact!
   Rather, there are a number of ways you can improve your health without breaking a sweat or your bank balance.

1. Get a standing desk at work - this will keep you on your feet as well as improve your posture, and will encourage you to walk around more. If this isn't possible, you can always try to make sure you get up and walk around a bit at work. Try to get up on your feet for a few minutes every half hour.

2. Fill up on protein - this will prevent hunger pangs as protein takes longer to digest than fat or, especially, carbs. But if you do start feeling hungry and your productivity in whatever your activity starts to suffer, keep a healthy snack on hand. Nuts are great as they're high in healthy fats and some in protein, fruit bars like Nakd are delicious and most count as one of your 5 a day, and there are fruit bars with added protein, like Nakd's Protein Crunch, and there's always the option of a bag of jerky or biltong like BEEFit. A breakfast with eggs, or porridge with added protein, are excellent options, as eggs are power houses of protein and vitamins, and oats release their energy slowly and steadily, perfect for the morning.

3. Try exercise - if you're not a normally active person, it can be a very uninviting thought, but with websites like Pinterest and a whole array of fitness DVDs on the market, the industry is booming, and a great deal of it is aimed at beginners. It's not all weights, running and squats. There are so many different kinds of things you can try, like dance - and with so many dance fitness DVDs, you can do it in the comfort of your own home and behind closed doors. If you're new to fitness, I highly recommend buying a 10 Minute Solution DVD - they cost a pittance, are available in the EU and US, consist of 5 10-minute workouts and cover a whole range of different types of exercise, like yoga, Pilates, different styles of dance (you don't need natural rhythm!) and even reach into resistance, kickboxing and HIIT. They also all assume you're new to fitness. This is where I started, and though I've progressed far beyond them myself, I haven't gotten rid of any of them and I still highly recommend them to my friends, family, and you!

4. Go for a 10 minute walk before or after every meal. This will add in 30 minutes of exercise every day, and walking is always a good place to start if you're overweight. It's simple but effective exercise. And if the weather is rotten, flip on the TV and march on the spot for 10 minutes instead. The higher you lift your knees and swing your arms, the bigger the impact. If I don't have time to exercise in the morning, or I have an injury, I will sometimes resort to this in the evening for 20 minutes - you'd be surprised how much of a sweat you can build up.

5. Don't eat less, eat better. Eating fewer refined sugars and processed foods and replacing them instead with whole foods like fruit, nuts and vegetables will make a huge impact. You don't have to starve yourself to lose weight, you just have to trade some of the bad for some of the good. Don't go onto a restrictive diet that cuts out the things you love - these never last, and often end in binge eating. Instead, replace a few things, and gradually you'll find it easier to not eat so many bad things. In fact, once you find healthy snacks you love (I'm partial to Trek flapjacks and BEAR yoyos), you'll find yourself more content to eat them rather than something unhealthy - though that's not to say I'll always turn down caramel biscuits.

   Cotopaxi is an incredibly ethical company that produce beautiful and clever outdoor products including outdoor clothing and hiking backpacks that not only encourage you to get out into the world and see what it really is, but also helps to sustain the people that live in the world's more basic conditions. They know what it is to look after themselves and one another, and they've put together this useful infographic with a few simple suggestions for exercise, eating and improving your mood and mental health. They're so simple and really great ways to start, and the tips for eating suggest opening yourself up to a different menu rather than some kind of fad or restrictive diet - and one last point to try to keep in mind for life is that 'diet' just means your eating habits, it doesn't mean 'veg, veg, veg'.

How are you keeping fit and healthy? What kind of exercise do you like best? What's your healthy treat of choice, and your favourite indulgence?

Tuesday 5 April 2016

April - Kettlercise Lean In 14

   This month I'm returning to an old favourite: kettlebells. I've tried so many different things over the last few years and I've found that kettlebell workouts, kickboxing and yoga rank among my absolute favourites, which is funny because none of those are things I thought I'd ever do.
   I used Kettlercise For Women back in August of last year, and while it wasn't as explosive as Jillian Michaels' Shred It With Weights, it was still a pretty good workout. I did plan to try volume 2, but when I saw Kettlercise's Lean In 14 advertised in Women's Fitness magazine a few months ago, I thought it sounded more promising.
   The set consists of 4 discs - instructional, beginner, intermediate and advanced - and each of the levelled discs have two 30-minute workouts. I think this is pretty amazing, because it provides not only workouts that are tailored to certain abilities rather than modified for them, but it also means that there are two workouts for each level, helping to keep the workout fresher for longer.
   The DVD comes with a password to download extra material like a workout calendar and recipes, but, if I'm honest, none of it is really worth it in my opinion, and you get spammed by newsletters which you are automatically opted into. The only thing I took away from it was that the intermediate workout plan isn't as obvious as I'd thought. Rather than only using the intermediate disc, you use a combination of the intermediate and advanced discs, which can mean you do four different workouts in a week, repeating only one or two depending how many rest days you take.

   My intention is to use the advanced plan, which is a combination of intermediate and advanced discs. I would have said I was only going to use the intermediate disc, but having seen the workout plan, I'm going to push myself a little more than usual and keep to two rest days - Monday, Thursday and Saturday will be intermediate, Tuesday and Friday will be advanced, and Wednesday and Sunday will be rest days.

   And, to top it off, I bought myself some new capris - yes, yes, I know, it's an addiction and it's getting a little out of hand. But they're so, so pretty! Tell me I'm wrong! And Fabletics is a bit on the expensive side, I admit, but while I absolutely hate paying so much for one single item, I absolutely cannot deny the quality. They have perfect compression, a flattering but reliable waistband, a hidden pocket if you need that sort of thing, thick, sturdy and surprisingly soft fabric which is still surprisingly excellent at keeping you cool and dry. And, of course, there's the added fact that their designs are both exclusive and limited - generally, a design is only available for about 2 months, so you have to get in quick, but the designs are highly gorgeous and long-lasting. Those beautiful flurry ones I got for Christmas have been through the wash countless times and have been worn to death, and there's no fading - even the gold spots are still shiny and smooth!
   I've got a referral link for Fabletics - a full outfit (that's a top and a pair of bottoms) for between £22 and £30, and free shipping, and their tops are just as amazing as their bottoms! Just purchase through this link and you can help fuel my addiction to activewear. Consider it your good deed for the day - we both benefit!

   As ever, I'll report back in 2 weeks!

Sunday 3 April 2016

Darebee Visual Workouts - 5 Weeks Later

   This month's workout has been one of the hardest I think I've ever done, if I'm totally honest, and I'm really quite glad I've been using it over Easter. I may have let myself go a bit on Sunday, but I tell you it was so worth it.
   I aimed for level 2, minimum, on all workouts, but tried my hardest to reach level 3 on all barring Dark Side, because that was an active recovery day and I didn't want to overdo it. But while I found that I was able to do level 3 on Korra, Dragonborn and Mulan even on week 1, I wasn't able to progress past level 2 on The Witcher and Super Saiyan until week 4. It turned out that I'd chosen the two hardest workouts for the first two days of the week, but I suppose that's all right given that Sunday is and always will be my rest day, so I was ready for it.

   Being a fan of the theme of these workouts is a pretty important detail, I discovered, because if I was just shown the workout without any kind of association to another of my interests, I'd have either not bothered with them, or I'd have absolutely hated them. But being able to use different soundtracks very day and indulging my nerdiness, I was able to keep up with them for five weeks. And if it wasn't for the association I'd have hated it. More than I did. Like I said: this was one of the hardest workouts I've ever had.
   I mentioned, though, that I've tried to change my outlook on my exercise in the hopes of blasting through weight loss a little more successfully, by putting my weight-related goals out of my mind. Instead I exercised to try to improve my skill, which gave more immediate results than a distant physical image, as my skill improves with every rep. If I can do 10 reps in a workout on week 1, the time I aim for 11, the next for 12 and so on. Just one more rep. But weight-related goals take time, and that makes it easier to slack because 'what's one more day?'. I think it may have been this attitude to keep pushing myself that made the month so much harder, but I also think it worked. It also meant that I worked harder on the run-up to Easter, and again on the wind-down, so I know without a shadow of a doubt that I did all I could over Easter to allow myself the indulgence of an Easter egg.

   I would certainly recommend Darebee. Head over, look at what they have. There are so many differently inspired workouts, there's bound to be something for you, and I know as a fact that I'll be back again for another month's workout, and I'll donate to them then as I did this month, because it was more than deserved. And while I can say that I have no desire to ever do those six workouts again, because they were hard, I know I probably will because I can't deny their effectiveness.
    I lost half an inch from my waist this month, even despite my Easter egg a week ago, and given how slowly my weight loss has been going over the past six months or so, that is simply an incredible result. But I really have turned my mind more towards improving my skill and abilities; though it was initially a tactic to further goals I've decided to put out of my mind for the time being, it has become a much more real driving force than I expect and I subsequently feel a lot stronger and a lot more capable than I was at the end of February, and I'm surprised to find myself feeling prouder about that fact than about my missing half an inch!

   Along with exercising to improve my skill rather than to primarily lose weight, I also changed my eating. I found myself afraid of carbs, which was silly given how much I exercise, and how vigorously, and by pushing my body through cardio and not giving it enough fuel to actually achieve it or to recover, I thought that that could be hindering my efforts, so I made a few small changes to my diet - namely replacing my afternoon veggies with either fruit or wholemeal bread and peanut butter - and I was feeling more energised than before, too. This was undoubtedly due partially to my renewed enthusiasm and my daily pride from the effort I put in every morning, but I think all three - the workout, the slight increase in carbs and the change in my mental focus - contributed equally to the results. But having a workout that effective and that I could genuinely look forward to, even if I dreaded it at the same time.

   I'll be posting a full review of the website itself in about a week, so check back then for more detailed information ♥