To all visitors coming from Jessica’s FB page: WELCOME!
It’s been a long time since I wrote a fitness-related post. My last one was back in May 2014 when I wrapped up Tony Horton’s P90X3 system. Since that time, I’ve been mixing and matching routines of the original P90X with 90X3, plus jogging, walking, the eventual bad golfing. Tony Horton has been my virtual instructor for almost 8 years. It is hard for me to believe that I stuck with it for such a long time. But what gives me a serious thrill is realizing that for 20 years I’ve maintained a very simple personal goal: each week I exercise more days than not. On a yearly basis that means going over the 50% mark of 183 exercise-days. The scientist in me obviously keeps track, as shown in the graph below. The black line across marks 183 days. Some years were a bit close, but I’ve fulfilled my goal since 1997. And that feels pretty awesome!
What’s the skinny with P90X? Lately (in the past year and a half, I would say) injuries started to hit me on a more regular basis, some serious enough to require physical therapy. I got into an inner struggle. Part of me felt that P90X was inflicting more pain than gain, but on the other hand the thought of quitting and “losing” all the fitness gained through it was hard to deal with. Then it hit me: I started P90X because a serious post-marathon knee injury prevented me from running regularly. I needed something to fill that void. Maybe having to take a step back from P90X could bring something else positive too?
The search for new options. I went into a google expedition for fitness DVDs geared towards women. One thing I knew for sure, Jillian Michaels was out of question, as I have tried her routines and simply cannot stand her personality. I kept finding hits and more hits for this instructor called Jessica Smith. She has 18 DVDs available (!!!) and the reviews she gets from users are in one word: stellar. I was intrigued. Decided to buy one of her multi-DVD series, called WALK STRONG: 6 Week Total Transformation System. What would I have to lose? It turns out nothing. And to gain? A LOT. Read on.
Overview of the program: In the package, you’ll get 4 DVDs with a total of 10 workouts, plus a short video with the explanation of the system. You’ll also get a nice printout schedule to take you day by day through the 6-week stretch. If you have a dalmatian around named Bogey Quit That who can reach countertops and enjoys munching on paper, you could get in trouble. But, no worries: a printable version is available online that you can use as a backup. Less glamorous, but equally effective. Here is a snapshot of the first 3 weeks. Every week you’ll exercise 6 out of 7 days. Sounds gruesome, but it is definitely doable. In fact, I finished the 6-week program without missing a single day. Jeez, I am in such a bragging mode today…
Each approximately 30 minutes long.
Cardio Party. A nice aerobic workout that can be pushed higher in intensity if you incorporate jumping and kicking for parts of the routine. Even if you are not the most coordinated person in the known universe, you will have no problem following Jessica and the crowd. This video is the only one in the whole series that features a group of women working out together. All songs are great, you end up with a nice and fun workout that you can take to the intensity you fell comfortable with.
Total Body Training. Love this one. You will target your whole body using weights for almost the whole duration of the series, then go to the floor to target abs, back and hips. No muscle left untouched! You can increase the level at any time by using heavier weights. This is the type of routine that could be your default in days you don’t want to focus on a particular muscle group.
Brain Fitness Fun. Think of a mild aerobic class, but with movements that require you to pay attention and think fast. You might be asked to move your hands and arms in orientations that would be counter-intuitive in relation to your legs. Or move quickly hands and arms in opposite directions. I honestly do not know how Jessica can do it all without making a single mistake while talking and explaining the moves. I found myself violently slapping my hand on the forehead more than once, but thankfully there are no hidden cameras in our living room. It could result in some serious blackmailing. No bueno, folks, no bueno. But nevertheless, I persisted (wink, wink).
Barefoot Fusion Sculpt. This whole routine is to be performed barefoot, although if you have feet or ankle issues, you can definitely wear shoes. I would also classify this as a mild routine, although you can increase intensity by increasing the weight of dumbbells if you like. My favorite part of this routine, which surprised me – the inclusion of Tai Chi moves. I love them! They flow nicely and make you work on balance and strive to be as graceful as Jessica. By the way, on the back you can see Jessica’s Mom, Debbie, very dedicated!
360 Abs. I was completely skeptical about this one because in my mind nothing could come close to matching the original P90X Ab Ripper routine, which is 15 minutes long, all exercises performed laying on your back or side. Jessica Smith’s 360 Abs is twice as long and for 22 minutes you will be standing up. The moves target the core in a different way from your regular situps. After that you will lay on the floor and do variations on sit ups for the remaining time, with a bit of cool down included. The routine is awesome. I am totally into it now and noticed that the speed and intensity of P90X Ab Ripper was probably one of the things contributing to my lower back injury.
Dynamic Stretch. Let me get this upfront: I hate stretching. I was very tempted to just skip this routine and substitute with some good old aerobic stuff or heavy weight training. But, to properly review a system I stick with it first time around, not changing anything. This will not be 30 minutes of holding postures and breathing. It is exactly what the title states, a dynamic approach to stretching, with small movements, contracting and releasing muscles in a gentle way. This routine and the Prehab are included for a reason, give your body a break so that exercising 6 days a week will not be a huge challenge. They are perfectly timed in between more challenging routines. I cannot believe I am saying this, but do not skip them.
Upper Body Strength. Awesome, simply awesome. Now, keep in mind that yours truly exercises with weights all the way to 20 pounds for P90X. In this series, I humbled down and my heaviest set is 5 pounds. At some point I intend to move to 8 pounds for a couple of exercises but that will take more time. Jessica works the muscle to a nice exhaustion through higher repetitions, lighter weights. Definitely less risk for injury. Don’t ask me how I know…
Lower Body Sculpt. Another great routine. My favorite part of this series is using dumbbells to target leg muscles. Imagine that you will hold a dumbbell on the back of your knee, then lift the leg, folded up and down and you support your upper body on the back of a high chair. Again the secret is repeating this “simple” movement over and over until you start to dislike Jessica. Nah, impossible, she is too nice to dislike.
Prehab Routine. As I mentioned, together with the Dynamic Stretch, this routine gives your body a nice break. However, in the final 8 minutes Jessica brings a nice series of exercises that are slightly more demanding and target two tricky areas for women: inner and outer thighs. Yeap. Those.
Interval Mix. My favorite. Absolute favorite. This one had me taking steps back, because some of the bursts of 30 second high-intensity moves were hard on my lower back. As in every one of the videos, Jessica’s Mom does ALL the routines in the video. She demonstrates slightly lower impact variations, and I followed her in some of the high intensity bits. Once my back is fully healed I will give it all my enthusiasm. Even modifying the intensity, this routine found me grasping for air. Cannot give it enough praise. Absolute top.
I finished the 6 weeks without missing a day, and as soon as I did, I ordered a bunch of other DVDs from Jessica to try and incorporate to my rotations. I guess that shows you how much I loved it, right?
THE MANY THINGS I LOVE ABOUT WALK STRONG
Jessica’s personality. Before I ordered the 6-Week Total Transformation Program, I read plenty of reviews on amazon. One reviewer said that working out with Jessica is like exercising with your best friend. That is EXACTLY it. She comes across as the kind of person you would love to have a coffee with, invite for a movie, chit-chat. I hate to bring Jillian Michaels again, but let’s say it is her total opposite. JM says things a bit like “you think this is hard? I had 300 pound folks doing it, so stop whining and do it too.” Now compare that to Jessica’s motto, which she gently brings up in all her routines:
Modify whenever necessary. That brings me to one of her greatest qualities: respecting your body and never ever going over what is safe. It doesn’t mean not challenging yourself. It means listening to your body and doing what feels right at that particular stage. Maybe you have an injury, maybe you are too tired or had a stressful afternoon. On the other hand, maybe you are super energetic and ready to face a heavier dumbbell. Let it all flow.
Jessica does all the routines. No stopping to highlight details or correct someone else’s form. She does every single move, beginning to end. Even though she is actually doing each exercise and instructing, she never misses a beat. I have a huge pet peeve with fitness instructors who get lost in the number of repetitions, and might cut short the series in one side of the body versus the other. This never happens on Jessica’s videos. Plus, you are never lost in the flow of movements because she tells you what will happen next, will even tap quickly the leg that will start the next movement, so that from the first time you use a particular video, you can follow it.
No rest for the wicked. Thirty minutes of exercise means non-stop action. Once you start, there will be NO break. Maybe for some this is a drawback, but I find it great. The heart rate keeps up, time is used very efficiently. The closest thing to a break is having to switch from a lighter to a heavier set of dumbbells, or go from standing up to laying down.
Thirty minutes are easy to stick with. One of the toughest things of the original P90X or other programs is the time involved. You need to spare sometimes one hour or more, which can be pretty hard to do when you have a busy schedule. Thirty minutes are easy to devote to it. C’mon, most people will sit and surf the net for longer than that when they get home from work… Why not devote these precious minutes to taking care of your body? It’s a no-brainer!
Every routine works the core. Even if the video is geared towards lower body, or stretching, at some point you will be targeting your core. I suspect that is what makes it more efficient than P90X to tone the mid-section. More on that later.
Real people in the videos. Cannot praise that enough. Every single video I’ve tried has “real people” in it. Healthy women with healthy bodies, wearing regular exercise clothes. The setting is nice, elegant and simple, often inside Jessica’s parents home in Florida, sometimes in the backyard with the ocean visible behind. Dreamy!
Background music. Another detail I fell in love with from the first video. The types of songs played are very diversified, from upbeat songs to Middle Eastern tunes, Japanese music, never too loud, and perfectly matching the exercises they go with.
Attention to form. Cannot stress this enough. Jessica will remind you constantly of details to pay attention to, from placement of your chin to tightening the core, where is your knee during a squat, how to position your hand while holding a dumbbell. And, something I do have trouble with, how to coordinate breathing with the moves. I definitely need to pay more attention to that, as I tend to hold my breath way too often.
So, what’s next for me?
P90X or Jessica Smith? I wanted to complete the 6-week program, give it a fair trial before deciding what to do next. As I mentioned, I was afraid of losing the level of fitness I acquired through years with Tony Horton. So what I did was to use some of the active rest days from Jessica’s program to “test myself” on P90X routines. I detected no loss in terms of number of push ups I could do in routines such as The Challenge, or how well I could keep up with intensely aerobic routines such as KenpoX. Plus, to my surprise, I noticed that Jessica’s program seems more efficient to tone the core region, as well as upper legs. It is, in my opinion, a perfect system for women. Bottom line is: I am switching!Are you shocked?
Yeap, Jessica will be my virtual trainer from now on, and Tony Horton will take a secondary spot. I am quite fond of some of his routines, but probably 90% of my sessions will be under the guidance on my new fitness guru. She is a superb trainer, period. And on a personal note, she is also very accessible, if you have questions, suggestions, she will actually reply to you by email and through her forum. I wrote the company to inquire about getting a new printout once Bogey destroyed mine, and almost fell off my chair when within minutes Jessica herself replied to me! She is one of a kind, and I am so glad I gave her system a try. I know it will be the perfect option for me, for years to come.
Before I leave, I invite you to visit her site, read her About page, and meet her super cute dog, Peanut. And if you are searching for a solid workout program to do in the comfort of your home, look no further. Jessica is there for you.
Reminder: I never receive compensation for any reviews I write. I only review products, books, and systems when I fall in love, head over heels.
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