Wednesday 31 August 2016

The Importance of Sleep and Dreaming

   Sleep. It's not really something we give any thought to, is it? You lie down in the dark and close your eyes, then, after a little while, sleep just tends to find you. Then you open your eyes, it's light, and you go about your day as if just five minutes have passed.
   And yet you spend about a third or so of your life asleep, making it a hugely dominant activity, and one that is really quite necessary to your continued survival. So I suppose it's quite nice that something so important happens with such little effort.
   But, because it's part of your day that sort of imposes itself and in which you can't get much done in, it's very easy to overlook it, neglect it and, in some cases, even actively avoid it. And it's worth noting that one in five Brits suffer from poor sleep, it's the second most common health complain after pains, and sleep deprivation is directly linked to heart attacks, strokes, obesity, and linked to diabetes and and cancer.
   It's advised that you get eight hours of sleep a night, but what hasn't been stressed is the quality - six hours of uninterrupted sleep is better than eight hours if you wake up three times in the night. It's not about what time you went to bed and what time you got out of it - it's quality over quantity.

So why is sleep so important?

Rejuvenate & Repair
   One important function of sleep is inactivity - but in this case, 'inactivity' means a lack of voluntary activity. You're not watching TV, you're not walking, you're not eating, you're not moving. This means a lot your body's functions are on stand-by, including things like digestion since you've not eaten for a while, and that also means your body has the energy and opportunity to see to important things that get put on the back-burner in your day's activities. For example, it is while you sleep that your body sees to repairs. If you've had a great workout, you'll consume protein and such afterwards to refuel and help your body to recover. This is important so that it can also continue to function properly through the day, but it's when you go to sleep that the repairs really begin - and it's not just muscular cells, it's all cells. So injuries and bugs are taken care of more intensely while you sleep.
   You hear a lot about REM sleep and why it's important, and one of the reasons for this is because it is during this stage of your sleep cycle that your body produces the most proteins (the building blocks of cells) and subsequently repairs itself most efficiently.

  Sleep also plays a huge role in bolstering your immune system, warding off stress and keeping your hormones in check, and that in turn plays a massive part in your day to day, from your mood, to your workout, to life plans or personal goals like trying to get pregnant or losing weight. Skimping on sleep will affect your body chemically, as chemicals are what make you tick, and if just one is out of balance, it can and will affect countless aspects of your life from short- to long-term.

But what about dreaming?

   No one really knows why we dream, or why it's important, but dreams usually occur during REM sleep, and since REM sleep is so important, you can say that dreams are, too. If you're not dreaming, you're not getting REM sleep. That's not to say if you don't remember your dream you didn't get REM sleep, it just simply means that you don't remember it, and that's just as well.
   Generally, if you remember a dream, it's because you woke up from it, and waking up from a dream implies interrupted sleep, and that's what you don't want.
   But what about when you do wake up from a dream? Well, it probably upset or startled you by touching on something you've been trying to ignore.

Do Dreams Really Mean Anything?
   Dreams are typically down to interpretation, but they can tell us a lot about our minds. Sleep is an opportunity for us to realise how we really feel, when distractions are done away with and our minds have 'nothing to do' but turn towards fears and fancies. It's an opportunity to find out what we're troubled by or make us realise that we're not over something we thought we were and are still being dragged down by it.
   A lot of people tend to hide from stress and bottle it all up, and they will have more restless nights than those of us who face our problems, and this is bad for physical and mental health. The trouble is that not everyone who have such habits are even aware of it, so by stopping and looking at your dreams and whether you can remember any of your night at all can really help you to work if that's an area that needs improvement.

   But while dreams are open to interpretation, there are a few key themes that can be identified in most of our dreams, and they can also be insightful, especially if you're struggling to grasp your tensions or emotions and work out what is truly bothering you. In these cases, your dreams tend to manifest your real concerns in unusual ways, and it can be helpful to analyse them.
   That's not to say you have to write down every dream you have. The problem with keeping a dream journal is that it's easy for it to feel like a necessity, and you'll end up waking up a couple of times in the night to write down a dream that may not even need noting down (but you're too sleep-addled to realise it). This will result in more stressful sleeps because of that self-imposed pressure, and you'll end up having a lower quality sleep. In the end, if you want to keep a dream journal, it's best to only note down the ones that actually jolt you awake. These are the ones that are more likely to matter. Otherwise, let yourself sleep soundly.
   Children's minds are the most active, the most innocent, but also the most volatile, and they can present a really good baseline for understanding dreams. There is a video from Adjustamatic wherein psychologist and oneiric (dream analyst) Ian Wallace analyses and explains the dreams of two children, and it's an insightful if tear-jerking starting point.

So: sleep is important. But how can you improve your kip and get a better night's sleep?

Rituals, Make & Break
   Little rituals can be helpful, things that put you in a 'time to sleep' frame of mind. Perhaps a hot tea toddy or cup of camomile tea, or slipping into your jim-jams. I've got a little ritual, and though a sleep professional would tell me it was all wrong, it's what works for me.
   I have a cup of tea, either green or herbal, and relax with it about an hour before bed, then Seeg and I turn out the lights and watch some TV for 20-40 minutes - an episode or two of something, (at the moment we're re-watching Bleach), then I go to the loo and we swap places (because a few years ago we got in the habit of lying on different sides of the bed to where we actually sleep, for some unknown reason) turn off the plugs and go sleepy-byes. Without this, especially without the TV, both of us struggle to drift off.

   It's the TV part of my habits that sleep professionals will dispute, and they're right to: blue light is emitted by both the sun and most TV/device screens, and the reason that's a problem before bed is because it affects levels of the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin. It's why some Kindles now have a special sleep light/screen filter that reduces the amount of blue light so that you can still read in bed.
   It doesn't seem to inhibit the two of us, but we're not having trouble sleeping. If you are, and this is one of your habits, it should be one of the first things to go.
   Other bedtime rituals people find helpful are:
1. Taking a moment to think happy thoughts. Push aside your worries and count your blessings instead, or think of something you did that day that you didn't expect to be able to, or was a challenge you managed to overcome.
2. Dressing to wind down. A surprising number of people sleep in the buff, and a surprising number of those still have clothes they associate with bedtime, like comfy, oversized clothes, maybe their boyfriend's or husband's, or perhaps even a pair or pyjamas they then kick off before slipping between the sheets.
3. Pre-bed exercise - for some people, an exhausting cardio workout, for others it's resistance, but for most it's yoga. The moon salutation sequence is designed for better, calmer and deeper sleep, while its better-known sister, the sun salutation, is designed for improved mornings and waking.
4. Massaging body oils into the skin can help in two ways: first from the movement, relaxing the muscles, and second from the scents. Lavender is an effective relaxant, but in truth, if it is a scent you associate with bed, sleep and chilling out, it will work. I used to use Nip + Fab green tea body lotion before bed, and now if ever I catch a whiff of it I instinctively think 'time for bed' and I breathe a little easier.

What you can do to get a better night's sleep:
1. No caffine after 6pm
2. No blue-light two hours before bed (phones, TV, ipads, computers, etc)
3. Get blue-light reduced light bulbs for in-bed reading, such as Drift Light
4. A new mattress, pillows or bed sheet
5. And, if things are really difficult, a whole new bed to suit your body, such as the adjustable Beds from Adjustamatic
6. Include foods rich in magneisum, calcium and vitamin B in your dinner or evening snack, as these nutrients are involved in sleep regulation - these include nuts, seeds, leafy greens, bananas, fish and poultry.
7. Make your bedroom as dark as possible when you're going to sleep. Draw all curtains completely - perhaps even invest in black out curtains - and turn off all plugs to avoid stand-by lights.

Tuesday 23 August 2016

How To Keep Fit At Your Desk

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday 21 August 2016

An open letter to every Olympic athlete.

   Dear Olympic athletes.

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

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

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

   Kim x

Tuesday 16 August 2016

Kettlercise For Women, Volume 2 - 2 Weeks Later

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 10 August 2016

BarreAmped DVD Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoyment:  ★★☆☆☆  -  Barre is simple and straight-forward, it doesn't offer much to really get you excited, but the dainty, dancer feeling you get from most of the moves is a pretty nice one.
Difficulty:  ★★★☆☆  -  It's tougher than it looks, but it's no heart-burner. You stay low-impact throughout, and while your muscles will start to burn, it's manageable.
Results:  ★★★☆☆  -  It's too low-impact to shed fat, but if used often, it will create lean muscles and a gorgeous silhouette.

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

Monday 8 August 2016

Free Book; Last Call!

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

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

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

Thursday 4 August 2016

Get My Book For Free!

   Yup, due to some unfortunately unforeseen circumstances, my free book promotion was knocked on a few days so rather than starting on the 1st of the month as I'd hoped, it started today! So head over to Amazon and snatch The Archguardians Of Laceria for free while you can! It will only be free until Monday the 8th, and the promotion won't come along again - and as I've mentioned before, you don't need a Kindle to read it! Just download the free Kindle 'app' to your PC, mac, laptop, smart phone, tablet, etc, and you can read it in its entirety, entirely for free!

Monday 1 August 2016

August: Kettlercise For Women Volume 2

& Kettlercise For Women Volume 2 DVD review

   This month I'm returning to a tried and tested fitness program - Kettlercise. I've used their Lean In 14 and found it incredibly effective, and I've used their Kettlercise For Women volume 1  in the past and found it relatively straight-forward, though not unchallenging. There was a clear difference between the two, and I'm hoping that this month I'll be comfortably between the two.
   For August, I'm going to be using Kettlercise For Women, volume 2. As you'd expect, it's supposed to be tougher than volume 1, but I am expecting the same steady resistance and a fraction of the cardio that was involved in Li14.
   I plan to supplement it with Kukuwa which is extremely effective and reliable cardio because it's the only true full-body dance workout, and it's simply insane. So while Lean In 14 provided a great balance of full-body cardio/resistance itself, KfWv1 was much steadier and  expect volume 2 to be the same.

   Like volume 1, Kettlercise For Women volume 2 has three workouts: a 20-minute 'express' workout, a full-length 50-minute workout, and an 8-minute 'bonus' abs routine.
   You could be forgiven for thinking the 20-minute 'express' routine is a less effective option when it's compared to the 50-minute workout on the same DVD, but when I used it in volume 1, I found that the express program was quite effective. It used bigger, more challenging moves to ensure you got the most out of it. The 50-minute workout was still tough, but as it lasted longer, there was a wider variety of moves and a number were quite isolated, ensuring that you could last the extra 30 minutes. In a way, the longer workout was toned down. I'm expecting the same kind of set-up in volume 2.

   This month, I plan to use the 20-minute workout on Monday and Thursday, and the 50-minute workout on Saturday when I have the time. On Tuesday and Friday, however, I will be shaking things up and returning to Pound, which I used in January, and I'll be following both Pound and Kettlercise - both 20 minutes each - with Kukuwa for an additional 20 minutes of cardio every day. Wednesday and Sunday are, as always, rest days.

   And look! This month I got some new leggings - I saw these graffiti leggings from Reebok in Women's Fitness magazine a few months ago and I've wanted them ever since. I found them on sale on last week and snatched them up right away. £24 down from £45? Hello!!

   I'll be updating in 2 weeks with how I'm finding Kettlercise (I already reviewed Pound back in January and I don't expect it to differ much this time around either), and then again after a total of 5 weeks, and then a more formal DVD review.
   I'm not sure how I'm going to cope, though. I may need to eat a smidge more. Last month, despite BarreAmped being low-impact, I found myself struggling towards the end of the month, feeling heavy and run down. This month will be tougher, though it will be about 10 minutes shorter every day, so I don't really know that it's going to be much different overall. I'll be making a point to listen more closely to my body and not fear taking an extra rest day if I need to.
   August is a 5-week month this year, so I've got plenty of opportunity to use Kettlercise as well as to enjoy Pound again. I've only used it once, and I absolutely loved it.
   And for those interested, I determine the number of weeks set aside for a workout based on the day the month starts and ends; if a month ends on a Wednesday or later, I don't start a new workout until the following Monday, even if that's the 5th, and if it ends on a Monday or a Tuesday, I start a new workout on the last Monday of that same month, even if it's the 28th. Usually, I use workouts for 4 weeks, but every three or four months it'll last for 5.