Monday 30 April 2018

May: 10 Minute Body Transformation

   I've spent two months on FitFlow and one on my resistance programs, and it has been pretty great. I'm genuinely feeling stronger, I'm seeing more definition in my shoulders, my bum has been getting bigger (massive achievement for someone who, until a couple of years ago, had nothing between her back and hamstrings) and, most shockingly, my shoulder blades are much more prominent. That might be because I don't look back there that often but my goodness it's changed!
   But. Fat burn could be better. And as May is wedding month, it's time to turn it up.

   These are my last 5 weeks on my present resistance training regimen and I want to amp up the cardio. So while I had something else in mind to replace FitFlow, I'm postponing that and returning instead to Jillian Michaels' 10 Minute Body Transformation. Time keeps getting the better of me and by the time I get started on my warm up, I'm not left with a great window at the end for the cardio I'd like. That has meant that FitFlow has been restricted to just one video a day, so I've been prioritising their 10-minute HIIT videos, but the difficulty isn't what it could be. This time, however, I'm opting for the toughest, tightest window I can find, and that's 10 Minute Body. It's tough, but it works, especially when used after controlled resistance training. Why? I've told you about glycogen-to-fat burning about a million times. I won't tell you again. At least, not today.

   Anyway, as it's a super special month, I've got a few other things to make it stand out and look a little more pretty beneath the sweat, blood and tears:
   Fabletics' secret garden print leggings. It took me a long time to decide I liked this print, and by the time I made up my mind, I didn't have much to choose from and snapped them up last-minute. Truly. They're not my usual cut or fabric - I usually go for salar leggings, then salar capris, while these are gia powerlite capris - but I loved the print so much that in the end I took it where I could get it. I'm breaking out all of my florals and lights this month, but these reign supreme.

   FreeSoul. A full set with whey protein, a shaker bottle, pre-workout (which aren't artificial or thermogenic voodoo), wake-up tea and bed-time tea, neither of which are detoxes, and a bonus t-shirt.
   There's enough protein, tea and pre-workout to see me through the month, and I'm quite excited. I learned long ago that having something simple like this that I begin using at the start of the month to last me to the end can be enough to boost my motivation, even if it's the same thing I always use just beneath a different label. And this resistance training is already tough, so throwing in some brutal Jillian Michaels 10-minute workouts at the end is going to leave me hanging. I'll take any boost I can get.
   Also, look at the colours. It's all so pretty!!

   Blogilates bridal workouts. I've been trying these off and on over the last couple of weeks - I did a couple while we were away, too - and they're doubtlessly going to be slipped into my Tuesday and Thursday rest days (read: yoga and core strengthening). The set is so pretty, her outfits are so pretty, and the motivation behind it is, obviously, perfect. I'm gonna be a bride!!

   You won't hear much about the Jillian Michaels workout since I've blogged and reviewed it before, but that means you can grab any info and insights you want about it right now! Otherwise, that's this month's set-up. The same solid and, evidently, effective resistance routine followed by Jillian Michaels with a little bit of Blogilates thrown in on off-days.
   I'll be changing up my resistance on June 4th - the first monday - and a new cardio workout DVD will join it. So it's all new in June!

Wednesday 25 April 2018

2018 Netherlands Trip

   What a wonderful week. Truly, Seeg and I have agreed, that this has been the best trip yet. We had lots of memorable experiences - myself in particular - we did everything we wanted to do, saw everyone we wanted to see, ate (almost) everything we wanted to eat, and had a few surprises along the way.

   It was an incredibly busy week in The Netherlands. Seeg and I aren't very social creatures, we tend to stick to each other and rarely see friends or family on either side. Not because we don't like them, but my side is very small, his is overseas, and we have commitments which keep us from seeing what the other side of the front door looks like. Which makes it even more special when we do see people - and equally as exhausting. Seriously. Going from seeing no one for weeks and then socialising for anywhere between 5 and 9 hours with people is taxing. But always worth it. Especially since this is the last time we'll see any of them before our wedding.
   We also did more physically than we're used to - again, commitments, front door - and that was just as wonderful/tiring. Lots of walking, hiking, cycling; it's been tough, but great. And while I did work out in the mornings, I was glad I had nothing but my own body weight to work with. I am in love with my barbell, but it's been nice to have a break from it and work with just FitFlow/FitFlow Max for a week.

   Our flight was easy enough, no problems but for a 30 minute delay due to - ooh, guess what - a drunk person causing problems disembarking the previous flight. But there we go. Aside from that, smooth and easy. We then caught the train using the really quite efficient system of swiping prepaid cards rather than buying tickets, which is the same card & method used for the buses, and while the train we wanted ran every 30 minutes, we caught the train with just 4 minutes to spare. Then we traveled for another hour and a half - backwards, because forward-facing seats were taken - and I got a lovely shot of the sunset that evening.
   But we'd been out since 1 and didn't get to the house until 10pm, so we were exhausted when we arrived, and even then we sauntered off to his parent's shop at about 11 to say hi to his dad who was still working privately after the whiskey tasting event. Needless to say we were glad to plonk down into bed that night.
   The next day was spent chilling, reacquainting with the house and cats, and jumper hunting. Yes, jumper hunting. The house is very cool, even during the heat wave, and in the mornings and evenings it was downright chilly, and I hadn't packed anything other than a thin cardigan in anticipation of highs of 29 degrees. Silly me. We found one eventually and then stuffed ourselves with chocolate and biscuits, because holiday!
   Sunday was more social and active; his cousin came to visit with his wife, both very lovely people who have a lot in common with us, and we had a lunch of homemade soup, then a longer-than-expected walk that ended with delicious beef bitterballen and a much-needed iced green tea, then a late dinner of duck and salad followed by a platter of rather decadent chocolate and biscuits, which didn't last very long.

   Monday was far more active, in fact - we went cycling through the Hoge Veluwe, and I remind you all now that I can't ride a bike. So we hired a tricycle. I have a whole post about that right here.
   After that epic day out, we did some gourmeting for dinner. This is a Dutch thing developed in the 70's to boost the meat industry. A set of tiny pans - think big enough for just 1 egg - over burners, surrounded by raw meats and vegetables. You pick a few pieces, slap it in the pan and cook away however you like it, then move it onto a plate and put more into the pan. It. Was. Awesome. We had the whole spread, too, which included pancakes, cheeses and seafood. Food can be a very social thing, but none more so than gourmetten. Truly. And when one person came up with a good idea, everyone else was quick to follow and try it for themselves. And it's hard to over-eat, too, because the time it takes to cook gives you the opportunity to realise that you're full and turn off the heat once your present concoction is complete.

   Tuesday was our day; we went out to Burger's Zoo, it was really quiet, and we saw some cool things - we were just in time to watch the lions feed, we watched the coyotes play together and then stop for no reason we could see and start howling as a group, we saw baby rhino, baby capybara, burrowing owls and the biggest Cornetto I've ever seen.
   After all that in the perfect temperature - about 22 degrees at the highest, I think - we met with his aunt and uncle who are also very cool people - in fact they often come right here to Bristol for punk concerts - and who gifted me with a 40-year-old Bristol City football scarf from their collection. They know we're not football fans, but I recognise the gesture and it means an awful lot to me.

   Wednesday was when things started to wind down, and just as well with the temperature increasing. We sat around - Seeg was reading or playing Fallout Shelter, and I was working on my book - until about half 3 then went to his best friend's house for dinner and to meet his girlfriend, which was a very nice evening.

   Thursday and Friday saw highs of 29 degrees. We didn't do much on those days. Another of his friends came to visit and we hung out for hours, went to Trio for ice cream where...on Thursday I had 1 pure chocolate and 2 hazelnut, then on Friday I had 2 pure chocolate, 1 Snickers and 1 cookie. I was on holiday, dammit!

   If I'm honest, we're both actually kind of sad to be home. I'm in the midst of the worst post-holiday blues I've had since I was a kid, but this time it's less 'leaving the fun behind' and more a case of realising how emotionally and mentally challenging our situation really is. I don't want to whine because talking about it isn't doing anything to change it, and it's not the sort of difficulty that I can make any change to anyway, it's simply the hand I've been dealt and one I've been living with for years now and trying to make the best of. In fact, I don't usually notice or think about it, but after such a great holiday, the truth of it all has hit me like a freight train and I've been seriously struggling to get back on track. Being a full-time carer for your own mother, especially from such a young age, isn't the sort of thing anyone should have to just adapt to. But it is the case for me, and for my incredible fiancĂ©e who has been 100% supportive throughout our 8 years together, and we will adapt once again.

   My parents will be away for a week in a month or so's time, so we get a little time to ourselves once again in not too long, so that's something to look forward to and reduce the strain a little.

   Otherwise, we're back home and back to work! All Etsy orders are being shipped out today, I'm back to my usual workouts and more reasonable food choices (sad face), and, of course, we have the wedding to prepare for. So fortunately I'm busy enough to keep my mind off of these post-holiday blues!

Friday 13 April 2018

Planes, Cakes, Iron & Mages

   Today, we fly out to The Netherlands. The wedding is looming, and as it's small - limited to the closest to our hearts (bar two who can't make it) - we're heading out to see Seeg's family. We last visited in October 2016 (was it really so long ago?!) when we went with his parents to Texel Island for a week, then back to Arnhem to see the rest of his family and friends for a few days which was lovely all around, but this is a slightly more...formal affair, I suppose. Compulsory. Collecting well-wishes and congratulations from the people who aren't coming rather than going just to faff around. Although, it is true that I'll be stuffing myself silly with Cote d'Or. It's worth it. You can get the little bouchees here with a bit of trouble, but nothing beats the bonbon blocs. Praline noisette and white are both our favourites ♥ our bag on the return journey usually holds about 6+ bars. Among other chocolatey things... We all have our vices.

   As far as the wedding goes, we're more or less set. The only thing now is the cake, which I'm making myself (cringe) and trying something I haven't before (triple cringe). It's going to go wrong, of course, so I'm working on a back-up plan. Worst case scenario, I resort to Love Brownies. For real. They're ridiculously good and, like I said, it's a very small event. Spruce them up with some of the cake decor I had planned and all will be fine.
   My only issue is my hair. Seriously. It's one of my favourite qualities to be honest - naturally straight, perfect amount of volume, wonderful colour and very thick and strong. I don't have a natural parting, though, so my hair always just drops in front of my face and I do not look good in a fringe. I have ways around that, though. But I wanted to do something different with plaits and soft curls for the wedding, but, my goodness, it is impossible. I can't even get curlers to work - I'm not kidding, it's wizardry that I do not understand. I've been practicing with my sister's tongs and it's' hair is iron-straight. And I mean that by both definitions. It won't curl. And I don't want to try too hard or too often because I don't want to destroy my hair even with heat protective spray. If I'm honest, so far it's the must difficult part of the whole wedding.
   I do have to admit, though, that it's nice that I've not had to stress over things. Keeping it small has meant that the run-up, so far, has been exciting but easy - there's far less to go wrong, far less to worry about, and far fewer people to keep happy with expectations. The day is about us - not flowers, dresses, speeches or dinner. And those coming want to be a part of that single, significant detail. And so it's also for that reason that, if my hair refuses to co-operate, it really won't matter.
   There will be no Bridezilla here.

   I'm quite excited to be going away - I woke up early Monday morning after a terrible night's sleep, waking up every hour for no good reason at all, but I was actually in a good mood. I tackled my workout with ease, did the groceries and was actually fine with sacrificing writing time to ensure that I got as many Etsy orders out before the end of the week as possible. I love Seeg's family - his parents, brother, aunt, uncle, cousin, cousin's wife - and I realise that I'm actually immensely lucky to be marrying into such a family. I'm really looking forward to seeing them all!

   And I love the Netherlands too (though I despise its lack of hills) - the food, the people, it's all great.
   It's just a shame I have to fly to get there (the boat is just too long). I know, I know, I really shouldn't complain since it's a 55 minute flight from the west of the UK, but I hate the acceleration, I hate all the people in airports, and it is beyond me why they would serve alcohol in airports and, especially on planes. A substance known to make people loud and restless served inside an enclosed space with people who didn't volunteer to be around them. Go into a bar and you'll expect to be around loud drunkards, but a plane?! Why does vacation mean that people need to get drunk the moment they reach the airport? I've not had one experience without people being loud and drunk on a 55 minute flight, and on one occasion the plane was even delayed because of a drunk man causing trouble and refusing to co-operate because he was 'on holiday'.
   Aaaand breathe. People who say half the fun of going on holiday is the travelling haven't used public transport in a while. They've forgotten what other people can be like. But we usually sit at the rear of the plane, right by the food trolley, so I can distract myself with the muffin I always treat myself to. That's how I start my holiday, yo. Quietly. Because I am eating.
   Of course the upside to planes is that they do, generally, wait for you. You get a call out on the tannoy (well, I don't because I am always ridiculously prompt - I generally have my coat on half an hour before I have to actually leave the house) and you're advised to be at the airport at least 2 hours before your flight. It's true that there's a lot of waiting around, but once you're in the airport and through security, you're there and ready. It's plain sailing from thereon out. Sit down, read a book, grab a sandwich and look forward to that muffin. It's easy. Trains are not. And there's a 1-1.5 hour train ride after the plane. Euughh. But, once that's have to do it all over again to get back. And that hangs over me the whole tip.
   So it's safe to say that I like to get away, but I'd rather rely on a mage to portal me there and back.

   On a final note, being away also obviously means that orders placed in Myth of the Wild will be delayed, but I've factored my Mother's Day deadlines around it. As long as orders are placed no later than April 20th, they will be shipped out from the UK by the 25th, giving them 2 and a half weeks to arrive by Mother's Day. Please note, though, that time varies from country to country and as no one has ever gotten in touch to inform me of how long it takes (and the post office give rather ambitious times that are met only about 5% of the time, so I always triple the provided time frame), I can't be certain that it will arrive on time. Based on my personal experience over the past 5 years, though, 2.5 weeks is appropriate.

Wednesday 11 April 2018

How To Use A Rebounder Effectively

   As a fitness enthusiast who is always excited to try new things, I was quite keen when I was given a rebounder (mini trampoline) for Christmas. I got BarreAmped Bounce to go with it, since I was intrigued by the fusion of barre and rebounding - after all, Pilates and HIIT worked really well for PIIT28, and HIIT and yoga worked for FitFlow Max - and I was so excited to get started. I mean, who the hell doesn't love bouncing on a trampoline? And don't give me boob nonsense - with Panache's sports bras going up to a J cup, no one has any excuse not to bounce around.
   Well, after a month of use, I was disappointed. I was disappointed on day one. And while it was the DVD I was disappointed with, I realised that it would be very, very easy to mis-use a trampoline when exercising. Everyone knows that jumping is an excellent calorie burner, so you would think that a piece of kit designed for jumping would be even better, right? How could it possibly be used wrong?!
   Turns out, very, very easily.

   Jump training - plyometrics - is one of the best fat-burning activities you can do because it requires a burst of power for every jump. This means you need to put great effort into the leg and glute muscles to thrust yourself upwards and land again safely, more work still to leap straight back up, and even more work when the jumps become more advanced. This applies to all jumps, from jump rope to squat jumps to tuck jumps to box jumps. Power.
   But things get a little foggy when a trampoline is thrown into the mix.
   It's important to realise that, with jump cardio, it isn't the up and down movement that sheds fat, it's the power with which you push yourself up, and while you can certainly jump much higher on a trampoline or rebounder than on firm ground, you only put in around a third of the effort because the elasticity of the trampoline is doing most of the work for you.

Using A Trampoline Correctly
   That's not to say that using a trampoline is ineffective or inefficient exercise, but to get the most out of your trampoline or rebounder, you have to use it right. So rather than seeing it as a tool (or toy) to help you jump, consider it this way instead:
1: trampolines and rebounders emphasise jumps - they give you greater height and a softer surface to land upon. In this case, use it as an opportunity to put focus instead into speed, or into lifting your legs. High knees and tuck jumps are made much easier because you have more height and subsequently more time to lift your knees into your chest. So take advantage of that. Never just bounce up and down - make sure you jump.
2: it's an unstable platform, which means that your balance has to remain dynamic; single leg squats or many barre movements in relevé are made much harder. So if you're proficient at such things, performing the movements on a trampoline (but, obviously, without bouncing) can provide a new challenge.
   Every time you use a rebounder, make sure you put effort into every jump. Never let the trampoline jump for you, or you're truly wasting your time.

Effective Rebounder Workouts
   I've been unable to find any decent rebounding or trampoline workout DVDs. They're all extremely tame and seem to forget that the trampoline cancels out the hard work of jumping. But I have found a few Youtube rebounding workout videos that are, actually, quite effective, which I've listed here:
Cardio & Strength BeFiT workout (20 minutes)
ReboundFit Advanced (25 minutes)
Arnita Champion's Rebounding Workout (30 minutes)
Power Jump Mix (40 minutes)
Arnita Champion's Rebounding Kickbox Workout (45 minutes)

  I have used BarreAmped Bounce, but it felt more like a gimmick to me. The DVD used the trampoline as an unstable platform for all the barre moves, and barre is amazing at creating sleek legs and bum, but it does absolutely nothing for fat burn and neither did the tame jumping that was involved. Again, there was little work put into jumps. You can put it in yourself, of course - you're accountable for your own effort - but none of it was ever even suggested, which means you need to forearm yourself with this knowledge before even beginning, which you shouldn't have to do with a specialised DVD. And sadly this isn't just limited to BarreAmped Bounce. Most rebounding DVDs I've found are the same. Jumping burns fat; trampolines help you jump. Surely the two are connected. That's the conclusion they're relying on you coming to and not thinking beyond. Unfortunately, it isn't that simple.
   But as long as you keep the two above points in mind when using your mini trampoline, you can get an effective trampoline workout it.

Sunday 8 April 2018

Cody FitFlow Review

Price: £14/$20
Length: 5x 30-40 minute yoga routines
Workouts: Upper, Lower, Core, Total, Yoga, Stretch
Suitable for: Everyone
Overall Rating:   ★★★☆☆
Enjoyment:  ★★★☆☆   Difficulty:  ★★☆☆☆   Results:  ★★☆☆☆
Based on 4 weeks of use.

   Having used MacKenzie Miller and Briohny Smyth's FitFlow Max workout in November (it seems I jumped the gun), I was curious to try the original FitFlow series. FitFlow Max consisted of five 30-40 minute videos, used six days a week (one video would be repeated) for a month, but FitFlow had 28 videos to carry you through four weeks with no repeats. Wonderful. So I was keen to give it a go, because I loved the FitFlow system that fused yoga and HIIT together with very few static poses, and provided both isolated and total body workouts. In fact, if I'm honest, after months of waning enthusiasm, FitFlow Max made me fall in love with movement all over again.

   FitFlow consists of 28 videos ranging from 10-20 minutes each, a different one for every day, including a restorative stretch session for the 7th day each week. It's broken into 4 workout types: HIIT, FitFlow, CoreFit and yoga. HIIT and yoga are self explanatory, CoreFit focuses on the core, while FitFlow is their signature fusion of the two and the basis of the FitFlow program - didn't see that coming, did you?

   You need nothing but yourself and a yoga mat for grip and comfort's sake.

   Overall, FitFlow isn't too challenging and can definitely be used by a beginner to both yoga, HIIT and fitness in general. The yoga sequences are simple, it's just the names that can throw you off, but they're not hard to pick up, so if you're used to names like down-dog or chair pose, prepare to learn!
   The HIIT consists of basic moves like mountain climbers or high knees, with a few burpees thrown in, but they're not difficult and the pace is ultimately your own, as are modifications. Though HIIT is supposed to be high intensity, meaning going as hard as you can for the entire 30-second move, so it's best to keep that pace as high as you are personally able to and ignore the voice in the back of your mind telling you to hold back because you're only half way through the workout. That voice does nothing but hamper your results.
   FitFlow sequences are a fusion of HIIT and Yoga and may catch you out once or twice, but you can modify using your own experience. I'm speaking largely of crow push-ups. And I mean crow pose push-ups. Yikes. I can only just hold crow for 5 seconds before toppling forwards and bumping my noggin, so I didn't even bother and opted for straight push ups instead. I'm all for challenging and pushing yourself, but in this case, I knew I wouldn't get one full rep in and it would be a waste of my time to try when the window of opportunity lasts just 10-15 seconds in this case. And there's no shame in that at all.
   CoreFit can be a bit unpleasant if you hate working your core like I do - but I was surprised on the second week. The first week was as expected: a variety of crunches. But on week 2, the focus was on the back. I was already well aware that the core actually encompasses the muscles all the way around your trunk - so your upper abs, lower abs, obliques and back - but it's so rare for any workouts to actually point out that the back is part of it. 'Core' has become synonymous with 'abs', and even those in the know seem to forget about that. And the fact that FitFlow took a whole CoreFit session to focus almost exclusively on strengthening the back really reaffirms my faith in their capabilities as trainers and their general know-how.
   The videos do become a little more advanced as the program progresses, and I'm not talking about cardiovascular demand, but rather skill. An example? I cannot do handstands. Even against a wall. Which makes HIIT sessions that have a static handstand hold for a whole 30-seconds kind of useless to me. It's true that you should push yourself to try new things, but when movement and rest time counts so much as it does in HIIT, by the time I'm almost in position, time's up. But: you are totally accountable. For me, handstands are something to practice outside of active workouts, so instead of wasting valuable time in my HIIT workout, I simply replaced the move with a crow pose. A pose I am also not good at, but I learned a trick: stand a yoga block on its tallest end and position it so that it's beneath your forehead when you're in crow pose. Falling forwards is no longer an issue and you can concentrate on arm strength, lifting your feet and squeezing your hamstrings rather than falling on your face. You are welcome.
   Bottom line: this program does get a little advanced, and so if there are moves you can't do, especially in HIIT when timing matters, try to replace them with something that targets similar areas. As for the yoga and FitFlow fusion sequences, try the new moves, that's how you grow, and modify if you need to.

   The structure of FitFlow is great. With different videos every day and no repeats, you can't start freaking out and telling yourself you can't do it before you've even started. They're all separated into lower body, upper body, total and core, and are provided in a mixture of HIIT, FitFlow and yoga practice.
   HIIT generally follows a 4x30/10 structure - 4 circuits of 4 moves, 30 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest, non-stop for 10 minutes. One or two are more like 15 minutes, and in these cases there are five moves in a circuit; three moves, two of which are repeated on each side for balance, such as a static lunge.
   FitFlow is a combination of yoga poses, flows and dynamic bouts of cardio, and is generally about 13 minutes and, like HIIT, provides a circuit flow to be repeated 3 or 4 times on each side of your body.
   Yoga flow incorporates static stretching with a few vinyasas, perfect for the end of the week or, if like me you opt to double up and do two a day, is a great finisher. Especially if, like me, you opt to double up and do them after a 30-minute strength session. With a rest day the next day, of course.
   The Restorative Stretch session is wonderful. Filled with stretches held for 1-2 minutes on each side, it's great for recovering from the past week's workouts, and can always be repeated or stacked up with other stretch sessions from the program for an amazing 45-minute stretch session on a rest day. There's also great guidance here about focusing on the stretch and not letting other parts of your body compensate. I never realised how much my spine moves around when I'm stretching my shoulders or triceps until they brought my attention to it.

   As mentioned, every week you work through 6 videos - 2-3 will be HIIT, 2 FitFlow, 1 CoreFit and 1 yoga session. None of them are the same and they're never in the same order, though a few moves will crop up a few times like mountain climbers, warrior poses or bicycle crunches, but they're simple, straight-forward and effective, so they're welcome every time.

   My single complaint is the music - or lack thereof. While that's not unusual for MacKenzie or Briohny's videos, it's a little bit strange during the HIIT videos; you definitely notice it's missing. I played my own music beneath it - The Witcher soundtrack, thank you - and it worked together very well. I could still hear them but the music kept me going, and I know that, without it, not only would the HIIT workouts have been bland but they would also have been much harder.
   I also feel that the videos are too short for me, I'm used to high intensity for 30-40 minutes a day, so dialling it back to 10-20 minutes feels like cheating. If you're new to exercise or short on time, it's excellent, but I like to really focus my exercise, so even before I started I'd decided to double up, and it worked for me that way.

   Otherwise, FitFlow is a versatile workout plan that is great for beginners and intermediate users, whether they have much experience with yoga or HIIT or not. Teaching and guidance is involved, and in some cases is better than that which I've found on other DVDs over my past 4 years of trialling. It's great if you have little time as you can get a workout in in as little as 10 minutes, or it can be used to supplement a resistance workout done beforehand, using HIIT for bonus cardio or yoga for stretching, or you can stack them up to two or three in one go - in order or not; you could stack all the lower body workouts and a CoreFit into one day, for example - and take the following day as a rest day to utilise the restorative stretch before using two or three more the next day, and a restorative stretch the next. But while the program can be challenging, it seems more suited to people who want to stay or get active on limited time. It doesn't seem to be a good program for weight loss, even if doubled up.
   But I would still absolutely recommend it, especially with a free 7-day trial.

Friday 6 April 2018

Friday Favourites

I've been getting so excited about my book this week, it's ridiculous. In fact just last night it was keeping me up, I was tossing and turning in bed with my mind wrapped right around it. I'm so convinced that this one is my best piece and I just can't wait to get it out into the world. The best part is, because it's a trilogy, even though the first book is done I've still got loads of work to do, and I'm just head over heels in love with the world, the characters and their less-than-ideal situation.
Truly. Watch this space.

As for this week's favourites, there's the remnants of an Easter binge (that may or may not have been purchased in the sales on Monday), a delicious bargain from F&F clothing, and a few less obvious things, namely beard oil - which is not for me, I got it for Seeg for Christmas and it makes me want to eat his face. It smells delicious.
And secondly, Top Gear. I get severe spells of wanderlust but my situation makes it impossible to indulge. Never mind the money, I don't have the opportunity to get out. Leaving the house for the weekly shopping is hard enough, which is why I only make one post run a week! And it doesn't help that half of my DVD collection consists of natural world documentaries. Oh how I wish to visit mountains, Asia, Canada...
Top Gear, would you believe, can invoke the same response, but at least it's more entertaining when I start getting down in the dumps about it, and this past week I've been switching off my brain cells and binge-watching the entirety of Top Gear, The Specials. Because they is funny, and inter'stin'.

Sweyn Folkbeard Valhalla Beard Oil   ♥   Woolliam chocolate sheep
F&F burgundy split-sleeve   ♥   Top Gear - The Specials

Wednesday 4 April 2018

Healthy Hot Crossed Bun Porridge

   I'm not at all religious, so I'm afraid the nature of hot crossed buns means little to me, but they are delicious. But because they're loaded with sugar I usually only have one or two a year, and when it comes to Easter indulgence, I prefer to prioritise chocolate and a big Sunday roast. So when Easter morning rolled around this year I decided, knowing what the day had in store, that I would rather have a healthy porridge for breakfast rather than a hot crossed bun. Oats are higher in fibre, slower to digest, and the protein I add to it always makes it much more satiating. But...I wanted a hot crossed bun.
   As is usually the case around here, the two became merged. And it worked out quite well! All you're missing is the...lovely...doughy...bread...
   Okay, so hot crossed buns simply can't be replaced, but this is as close as you'll get! All the fruits, spices, and sweetness - but without the added sugar! Because if you chop up your apple and put it in a pan with raisins, sultanas currants and a little bit of water and heat it over a low heat for 20+ minutes, all the sugars start to diffuse into the water, and when you add that to your porridge, yum.

Serves 1
30g oats
10-20g protein
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp mixed spice
zest of 1/2 orange (approx 1/2 tablespoon)
100ml water
100ml milk
25ml boiled water
25g dried vine fruits (raisins, sultanas, currants)
1 apple
Optional: 2 tsp brown sugar

For overnight oats:
1. Peel, core and chop an apple and put it in a saucepan with 25g dried vine fruits and 25ml boiled water and heat on low for 20 minutes.

2. Combine oats, protein, cinnamon, mixed spice and orange zest in a bowl (or shaker bottle).

3. Add 100ml milk and stir (or shake and transfer to a bowl/jar), stir in the chopped apple and vine fruits then set in the fridge overnight.

4. If desired, heat the overnight oats the following morning - add 50ml water and heat in the microwave for 1x 1 minute then 20-30 second bursts, or on the hob.

5. Set a crossed stencil over the top and dust with extra cinnamon to serve (see notes).

For oats on the hob:
1. Boil 125ml water.

2. Peel, core and chop an apple and put it in a saucepan with 25ml boiled water, 25g of vine fruits, cinnamon, mixed spice and orange zest. Heat on low for 15 minutes.

3. Combine the oats and protein and stir into the pan, adding the milk first, stirring all the while, then the remaining 100ml boiled water and turn the heat up to medium.

4. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes to thicken.

5. Transfer to a bowl and set a cross stencil over the top, then dust with extra cinnamon to serve (see notes).

• I used skimmed milk
• I used Pulsin premium whey protein
• I made my own stencil with two strips of paper taped at the centre where they crossed

Without brown sugar
342 cals, 3g fat (0.5g sat), 55g carbs (32g natural sugars), 6.5g fibre, 26.5g protein
1 teaspoon brown sugar adds: 17 cals & 4.5g sugar


Tuesday 3 April 2018

Magnesium, Muscles & Migraines - Westlab Epsom Muscle Spray Review

   I train hard - I don't like to do things by halves. I give it my all on days I feel powerful, and I give it my all on days when I just can't be bothered. I don't see the point phoning it in, it's just a waste of time and I may as well have not bothered at all. And I have discovered that the days I can't be bothered with are the days I tend to do the best on. I get the best high, the most reps, and I always feel so proud of myself afterwards - all reasons I remind myself of before sucking it up and doing it.
   So it's no surprise that occasionally I work myself too hard.

   Magnesium has an enormous role in the body, regulating protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control and blood pressure, all of which play an active role in fitness, both during a workout, with cardiovascular rates as well as aiding the movement of calcium and potassium across cell membranes which is important to nerve control and muscle contraction, and after your workout to relax and help repair the muscles.
   During the second half of your monthly cycle, your magnesium levels drop while your progesterone/estrogen levels rise. Not an issue for most women, aside from the muscle cramps that pesky drop in magnesium can cause, but this is also largely (though not wholly) why more women suffer from migraines than men, and most often or more frequently around that time of the month. Around 1 in 5 women and 1 in 15 men suffer from migraines, and the intensity and manifestation can vary for every individual.
   Migraines are thought to be caused my temporary changes to the chemicals, nerves and blood vessels in the brain; first the blood vessels in the brain over-contract, which is usually when the aura will occur, if you suffer from them, then the blood vessels will dilate rapidly or further than they need to, which brings about the pain. Migraines differ from headaches in that they can be much more painful, occurs down one side of the head or 'in' the eye, and they can be accompanied by an aura, usually visual problems like flashing lights and blind spots. Numerous studies have shown magnesium to be an effective treatment and preventative measure.

   Well, I suffer from migraines of the ocular fashion, complete with an 'aura' which manifests for me as a blind spot that comes out of nowhere, beginning as an off-centre fuzziness edged in flashing zig-zags which expands in the course of 20 minutes to consume an entire half of my vision, after which it clears and I have 5 minutes before the pain hits in the opposite eye. Blind right side, left eye pain. And I find it hard to believe that mine are not magnesium-related. I only suffer them during 'that' time of the month, or after a week of intense workouts (or both, so I try to take it a little easier during the 'danger zone'). In fact, I used Jillian Michael's 7 Day Shred a year or so ago and suffered 3 migraines within 2 days. I also lost half an inch from my waistline, so it was worth it, but that also kind of stabilised my personal connection to migraines, magnesium and working out. And it's also for this reason that I could never be one of those unfortunately obsessive people who train for three hours a day five days a week, nor indeed an athlete - except, perhaps, an archer, which I discovered I have a surprising natural talent for. Otherwise, my body won't let me do it regardless of how many supplements I take or 90% dark chocolate, almonds and leafy greens I chomp on.

   Fortunately, there are magnesium supplements I can take, and I've seen a big drop in the frequency of migraines and an improvement in muscle relaxation post-workout since doing so, but it's not an immediate fix for stiff muscles. Fortunately still, there are other options, such as Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate), and the quickest means of relief for tight muscles, which for me is always an early sign that a migraine could be around the corner, is in the form of a magnesium-rich Epsom salt muscle spray.

   Westlab is a renowned brand when it comes to Epsom because they add few additional ingredients to their products - if any, in some cases - and work directly with the suppliers and keep packaging to a minimum, which also makes it more affordable for the rest of us. No sparkle, no jazz, just the products. Unsurprisingly, they also provide one of the purest of Epsom muscle sprays on the market.
   Westlab's Muscle Spray looks a little funny at first, cloudy and gel-like, but with a shake to activate the salts and mix it all up, it clears to liquid and remains that way. It doesn't clog, sprays very smoothly, and is water-light with a lovely spearmint and eucalyptus scent.

   I admit that I sort of intentionally under-ate and over-exercised at the start of this month in an attempt to burn off the Christmas pudge - though I am still proud of those workouts; I tagged 20 minutes of Kettlercise onto the end of every Jillian Michaels' Killer Body session that week, in which I pushed up the weights I usually use, and proved to myself that my body can do it. Unfortunately, the migraine that followed came as no surprise, and neither did the stiff muscles that so often accompany them. But as painful as it all was, it gave me the perfect opportunity to put Westlab's muscle spray to the test.

   After sleeping off the migraine - a massive struggle since it struck at 9am Sunday morning quite literally 4 minutes after I'd gotten bored and finally gotten out of bed after a lazy lie-in - I put the spray to work on one leg. It made a quick and noticeable difference. Within 10 minutes my left calf had relaxed and the tightness had begun to subside. The stiffness didn't return, so after half an hour I sprayed it onto my other leg and got the same results. The stiffness was pretty bad and the spray didn't eradicate it, but it made me much more comfortable and able to walk about.
   I tried it twice more over the course of the week when my muscles were still a little iffy and found it to be quite effective - in fact, on Wednesday evening, it just about eradicated the stiffness.

   Using 1-3 sprays directly onto the affected area, the water-light mixture has to be left to air-dry, and while it does so in a few minutes, as with a swim in the sea, the salt will leave a white mark on your skin once dry. Perhaps I used too much. It can be easily washed off, but you want to give your body the chance to absorb it first, and the efficiency and effectiveness of the mixture is so wonderful that it's worth that little mark. If you're reaching for this stuff, you're probably too uncomfortable to worry about it.
   Westlab's Muscle Spray is available as a 100ml spray at £11.95, and a 50ml travel size spray at £6.95, which I can assure you will be glued to my side every four weeks and become a toiletry staple - though it seems that the 50ml will last me a while. I've only used about 5ml in the three weeks I've had it, during which time I've only needed to use it on four occasions (and a couple of others in minor cases for continued testing). It's a worthwhile gym bag staple!

   You know me - I always refuel and stretch after my workout. In fact, after a kettlebell or HIIT workout it can take me up to 20 minutes to hit every muscle used, holding each stretch for at least 30 seconds. So I know my muscle stiffness isn't neglect, it's under-fuelling, over-working and 'that' time of the month, at which time I always try to up my intake of magnesium with nuts and leafy greens as well as the usual supplements. For the past 4 months I've succeeded quite well, but in my efforts to burn off the Christmas pudge, I ate too little and brought it on myself. Westlab's Muscle Spray is not an excuse to allow such conscious bad decisions or body-image neurosis, but it does ease the punishment.

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.

FitFlow - 4 Weeks Later

   I've spent 4 weeks on FitFlow now, and I have to say that while the variety is great, it isn't really enough. It's perfect if you have little time and would otherwise be doing nothing, or if you're new to fitness and don't want anything too daunting, be it in time or difficulty, but for someone like me, who likes to max it out on every workout, it feels more like a rest day.
   It's all relative, of course, and I'm absolutely not trying to stomp on anyone's personal sense of accomplishment, but, for me, it's not enough. Like I said: relative.
   FitFlow Max was infinitely better for my workout style - longer sessions and much more dynamic. But that's not to say that FitFlow wasn't enjoyable. Having a new video every day (or in my case, two new videos every other day) really does maintain some level of excitement throughout the whole month, and moving between HIIT, yoga and a combination of the two does keep every day different, and keeps your body from getting stuck in a rut. It's consistently refreshing.
   Of course, I had a feeling it would be this way from the start which is why I decided to double up and play 2 videos a day rather than just one, and for that reason I feel that I've gotten more out of it than I otherwise would have. But in the past week I've been using FitFlow after 30 minutes of resistance, and I feel like I've been getting even more out of it from that, and that's actually helped improve the enjoyment.

   I have decided, though, that it's not really a program suited to anyone trying to lose weight. It's true that HIIT is an effective form of exercise, but the movements and 12-minute time frame of each HIIT workout is too meagre to yield results alone, and while it's also true that any exercise is better than nothing, the low to medium intensity of the program as a whole isn't going to do much for anyone.
   It is, however, ideal if you're looking to simply get active or stay active but have little time each day in which to do so.
   Unfortunately, Cody's abandonment of the a la carte system rubs me up the wrong way because I hate to pay subscription fees, I prefer to pay more, buy the thing as a whole and use it as and when I like, but at the same time their prices were quite high and I can see that it would put people off.
   Fortunately, they do have a 7-day free trial so you can test out lots of videos before paying anything out. I may get a subscription fee in the future, there are a couple of programs I still want to try, but as it is, it still rankles to have to do so.

   I'm basically restarting FitFlow for the coming month and sticking with the doubling up method, but as I've taken on this new resistance training plan - yes, I know, I can't stop talking about it but I'm so excited about it! - I should be able to get more out of FitFlow this time around than I did the first.
   I will be posting a review of the FitFlow program in the coming few weeks!