FIRST MONDAY FAVORITE: APRIL 2017

Today is the First Monday of the month, so it’s time to showcase my favorite post of March. You would think that I would share a recipe, but not this time. My favorite post of last month focused on fitness, my review of Jessica Smith’s program Walk Strong 6-week Total Transformation System. How could I not pick that post? A post that included a graphic that took me twenty years to compose must make it to the top of my personal list.

So here it is, in case you’ve missed it

 

If you’d like to read the full post, click here.

Thank you Sid, for organizing the First Monday Favorite!  
If you are a food blogger and would like to participate, drop Sid a line.
The more, the merrier!

To see the contributions from my virtual friends, click on the link below

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MY NEW FITNESS PROGRAM: JESSICA SMITH’S WALK STRONG

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!

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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.

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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…

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THE ROUTINES
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!

taichi
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.

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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?

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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:

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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!munch-cartoon-sunday-timesAre you shocked?
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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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ONE YEAR AGO: Overnight Coffee Cake

TWO YEARS AGO: Zucchisagna: A Twist on a Classic

THREE YEARS AGO: Night and Day

FOUR YEARS AGO: Farro Salad with Roasted Leeks

FIVE YEARS AGO: Watercress Salad

SIX YEARS AGO: Carrot and Sweet Potato Puree’

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Croissants: Paris at home on a special day

P90X3: A REVIEW OF TONY HORTON’S LATEST FITNESS PROGRAM

Beware, this is a long post exclusively about exercise. Stop right here if the subject doesn’t appeal to you.  😉 

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know that I am slightly passionate about exercise and fitness. Next month marks my 5th anniversary following the routines designed by Tony Horton, and I’m still having fun after all these years…  I already reviewed the original P90X (launched in 2004) and its sequel, P90X2 (released in 2011).  At first I had no intention of trying Tony’s new program, but when I heard that each series was only 30 minutes long, I could not resist.   I started P90X3 on December 25th, and wrapped it up last month.  Now that I “graduated” from this third adventure, I will share with you my review of the system.

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OVERALL ORGANIZATION OF WORKOUTS:  In case you don’t know, P90X stands for “Power 90 Extreme”, so all programs are designed to last for 90 days and be very challenging, no matter your initial level of fitness. The workouts are arranged in three phases, each taking 4 weeks to complete. If you follow the program to a T, you will exercise for 6 days in a row, and rest for one day (or do one of the real easy routines, like StretchX, or Dynamix). On the fourth week of each phase, the intensity of the workouts is slightly decreased, so that week acts as a “recovery break” to prepare your body for the following phase. Each block is a little more challenging than the previous one.  After the three phases are completed, you will have exercised for 84 days, so a shorter, “Victory Week”,  is included in the end, taking you all the way to the finish line, that glorious day 90.

FIRST OBVIOUS QUESTION:  Can I do P90X3 if I’ve never done P90X?  If you go to Beachbody.com to read about the system, it will be obvious that they want to sell it for as many people as possible, so they insist that anyone can do it. In theory, yes, but in practice you will have to modify many of the exercises because they will be impossible to perform from the get go. Just to give one example of how Tony dialed up a notch in X3, you will be doing single legged squats in Warrior 3 pose for a full minute, changing the position of your arms every 20 seconds, from extended behind you, open on the sides, or extended ahead (obviously the hardest). I found a youtube of a girl demonstrating this particular exercise, you can watch it here.  As you can see, it’s all pretty challenging for the legs, back, shoulders and demands excellent balance.   I will touch again on the subject of going straight to 90X3 further down in this review.

P90X3 WORKOUTS:  The new system resembles the original series quite a bit more than 90X2, but the names of each of the routines are more cryptic.  For instance, in 90X, they had “Chest and Back“, “Arms and Shoulders“, “Legs and Back“.  Not much left for the imagination, right?  Now, take a look at the names of routines for the first phase of P90X3:

ClassicApart from Yoga and Pilates, not easy to figure out what you will be facing, so let me offer a brief overview of the routines involved in this phase.  I will refer to people who have never done P90X as “newbies”, for lack of a better word.

Total Synergistics.  That is Tony’s welcome to the program, with a routine that hits  pretty much every muscle of your body, abdominal region included. Only two types of pull-ups in this series, but they are killers: a Knee-tuck-pull-up and a Chin-up with Leg Circles (a detailed description of both can be found in this link, exercises #3 and #7). Advanced pull-ups were introduced in P90X2, and at that time I could not do them.  Not the case anymore, folks… HA! Bring it, Tony, bring it!  Of the 15 exercises of Total Synergistics, I think that 7 will be very hard for newbies.  All others will be challenging but doable. An important note about pull-ups: if you don’t have a pull-up bar, or find pull-ups too hard,  every one of those exercises can be modified with elastic bands such as these. In each video, there is always someone using the bands to demonstrate proper technique.

Agility X.  Think aerobics, but with a lot of moves that require balance and flexibility.  Compared to videos like Insanity and Focus T25, Tony is a lot milder in aerobic routines, he is not about making you run out of breath. The only thing you’ll need is a masking tape to mark specific positions on the floor (or carpet).  I exercise in our living room on a large rug with a pattern I can use to mark my landing spots.  Unless you have a similar type of setting, I advise you to put the tape to use. If you don’t, the natural tendency is to decrease the length of each jump or lunge.  Once you get the spots marked, you’ll know exactly where you should be landing.  Getting there each time won’t be easy…   Newbies might have a little trouble keeping up with the fast pace for 30 minutes, and with moves that require landing in one leg, especially when jumping backwards.  But, as Tony puts it “it’s good for you”.   😉

X3 Yoga.  In my opinion, no other routine comes close to matching the original YogaX. Yes, it takes too long.  Yes, it is hard.  But YogaX3  pales by comparison.  To squeeze the most relevant poses in 30 minutes, you will be holding each one for a couple of breaths only, not the five deep breaths of YogaX.  Bottom line is:  I am never sore after YogaX3, but I am always pleasantly beaten after YogaX. My approach during X3 was to do the 45 first minutes of the original YogaX instead of this version, unless I was too pressed for time.

The Challenge.  Tony plays a nasty trick on this one.  He starts the video by saying “pick a number”.  One number for push-ups, one for pull-ups. No more info given at the time.  I can do 40 push-ups, so I played conservative and picked 30. Big, huge, painful mistake.  I should have paid attention to the fact that in the video, Alice, the Rock-Climber-Tae-Kwon-Do-Black-Belt Goddess (with 10% body fat and abs of steel) picked 20 for her push-ups, but noooooooo, I went with 30.  This is Alice, by the way:

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She went with 20 push-ups. Yours truly chose 30.  See the problem?

For 30 minutes, you will alternate push-ups and pull-ups of 8 different kinds, and each kind should be performed whatever number of times was your goal. Simple math tells me that 8 x 30 = 240. Thank you for being so secretive, Tony!  I begged for mercy very quickly.  The following week my number was magically reduced to 16, and I barely managed to stick with it. Great news, though: by the end of P90X3 I was able to match Her Goddess at 20, and that put a smile on my face that lasted almost as long as the pain on my back and shoulders. 😉

CVX. Cardio workout with weights.  Of all the routines of the first block, I would say this is the easiest for newbies, in part because you can pick a light weight, or even begin with no weight whatsoever.  You will still get a good workout that targets almost the whole body. Abs work mostly indirectly by holding your core. I like to use a medicine ball sometimes just to add variety.  For classic exercises with weights like Arms and Shoulders, I use 10 to 15 lb dumbbells, but for CVX I hold a maximum of 8 lb, sometimes I go as light as 5 lb.  A good, solid workout, not at all gruesome.

The Warrior. It is a total-body workout that requires no equipment, and is based on Tony Horton’s history of working with the US Military on bases around the world. The whole routine can be performed in a very tight space. Probably my favorite of the first phase, some of the exercises will be hard for newbies. One example of those is Elevator Push-ups: imagine that you have three levels of push-ups and you must hold your body at each level for as long as Tony calls it. Upper Level your arms are fully extended; Middle Level you are halfway between the floor and up; Lower Level you go as low as you can possibly go without letting your knees or chest touch the floor.  Yes, gruesome. But “it’s good for you“…  The Warrior involves some pretty intense cardio, in fact the series closes with 10 Super Burpees. Not for sissies. Don’t believe me? Watch this.  I am still working on that back kick. No amount of money would make me post a video of my attempts.  Let’s just say it is not pretty, and even the dogs were a bit put off by it. No, Phil has not seen my performance, and if it’s up to me, he never will… 😉

If you are interested in a very detailed review of the whole three phases of P90X3, click here. Each phase ends with a link to the following phase. The guy is hilarious and his views on the system are spot on. Like me, he has no association with Beachbody.com.

 

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HIGHLIGHTS OF PHASES TWO AND THREE

Two of my favorite workouts of phase 2 are Triometrics and MMX.  Triometrics is the 90X3 version of jump training (traditionally called plyometrics). It is less high impact, you will be doing each set of moves for 1 minute, but the minute is divided in 3 blocks of 20 seconds each.  The intensity of the move (speed, or height of jump) increases every 20 seconds. Warrior 3 squats is part of this series, so as you can see, it’s not just jump training, Tony incorporates strength and core exercises in this routine.   It makes it easy to tone the exercise down, if you are not feeling up to the challenge, stay at level 2.  Newbies could simply do a full minute on level one until they get used to it. I do think the original Plyometrics is better, but of course that workout is 56 minutes long.

MMX is kickboxing. A version of the original KenpoX on steroids. I love this one!  Real challenging, newbies will have a tough time not only with its intensity, but with the overall coordination, particularly until they memorize the names of each move. Tony adds sprawls to boxing moves, so your heart will be racing. Music is great, Alice the Goddess steals the show…  Cannot give enough praise to this routine!

My favorite workouts of Phase 3 are Decelerator and Accelerator.  In Decelerator you will contract a muscle powerfully and quickly, and then slowly relax it.  Most exercises will be ok for newbies, but those in the pull-up bar are tremendously hard. My nemesis? Elevator Pull-ups.  Exactly the same principle as I described for Elevator Push-ups, but in this case you are lifting your body up and down three levels on the pull-up bar.  I need to get one of the flexible bands  to incorporate to our bar like the one the girl is using, because I cannot do Elevator unassisted, I have to dial back to simple pull-ups.

P90X3 Eccentric Upper1
Accelerator
is a fun aerobic routine, harder than Triometrics, but with a similar principle: moves get more intense as the minute goes by.  Newbies will have no problem by sticking with the intensity they are comfortable with.

My least favorite workout of P90X3?  Isometrix. Based on yogic postures, you simply hold each pose for 45 seconds. It is cruel. You will be standing there on the longest 45 seconds of your life, with sweat pouring as if you’re running 10k on the hills of Arizona.  I am always super sore next day, even though no weights, no pull-up bars, no jumping were involved.  Hate it. But I do it because… “it’s good for you”… yeah, I hear you, Tony….

FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE SYSTEM. Having gone through P90X, P90X2, and P90X3, I must say Tony outdid himself with his latest version. I am absolutely in love with this system, not only for all the variety it provides, but because you are done in 30  minutes flat.  If I was asked to play fitness instructor for women over 40, this is what I’d recommend: get the original P90X system, and go through 2 cycles of it.  Then move to P90X3, go through it once. After that, follow a mix and match of both systems, tuning it to your personal needs. Don’t bother with 90X2, a few of the routines are pretty amazing, but in my opinion, you will get enough training without it.

The most intimidating aspect of P90X is the idea you must exercise 5 to 6 days per week, and by exercise we are definitely not talking “walk around your block twice“.  However, you can take what I already described as a “Zen approach to P90X”.

That’s when you decide that the system will be with you for the long run.

Not 90 days. Not 180. For as long as you are healthy enough to do it.  By making this choice, all of a sudden the stress and pressure will be gone.  You can exercise 4 days in a row whenever you feel great, you can skip a couple of days and get back to it later.

 No one is looking over your shoulder,
your body and your state of mind are your own domain.

Simply follow the order of the exercises so that you’ll target different muscle groups & different types of activities in consecutive days – muscle confusion, a term often used by the exercise geeks at Beachbody.com is a great concept and works:  by switching routines around your body never gets quite comfortable with the moves, and you will keep improving your level of fitness.

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ARE YOU TEMPTED, BUT A LITTLE INSECURE? I realize that two cycles of 90X + one cycle of 90X3 = more than 1 year of commitment. Keep in mind that the year will pass, no matter what.  Imagine that in 1 year you will be able to go through the original 90X as if it’s nothing, and will be getting comfortable with most routines of 90X3.

If the thought of dedicating one full hour for working out is too much, maybe going straight for P90X3 could be a viable option.  Yes, you will have to adapt many of the exercises in the beginning until you can perform them, but there’s nothing wrong with that.  You will be surprised by how fast your body will respond to the challenge.  P90X is fun. It is good for you. It will increase your strength and flexibility, which is definitely something we lose as we age. You will never get bored and you will never regret you started it.  Well, sometimes you will, but a couple of Aleve can take care of that.  😉

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WHAT TO EXPECT? The answer for this question depends on many factors. Your gender, your age, your health, the stage you are in your life. However, in general terms, I believe that anyone who goes through P90X will notice a profound improvement in the body.  In my case, the change was quite dramatic in the upper body and abdominals, and it became more evident during the second cycle of P90X, back in 2010. From reviews online, that seems to be the case for most women, whereas men see a lot of improvement within the first 90 days. Testosterone speaks loud, I suppose… Also, I should add that I never bothered with the nutrition program associated with 90X, it seems that people who need to lose weight benefit from following the recommended diet, and will have better results by doing so.

I hope you enjoyed my review, which might very well be the last one I write on the subject.  Even if Tony launches P90X4, I doubt I would go for it (yeah, right… ;-).  My personal goal is to reach 10  years of P90X with a minimum of 4 workouts per week.  That means I’ve got 5 more years of hard work ahead.  Of course, stuff can happen and interfere with this plan, but assuming I won’t have serious health problems (knock on wood), that’s my goal.  And then? I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, hopefully with strong legs, and a positive attitude!

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ONE YEAR AGO: Pasta and Mussels in Saffron Broth

TWO YEARS AGO: Triple Chocolate Brownies

THREE YEARS AGO: Shanghai Soup Dumplings

FOUR YEARS AGO: Bite-sized Chocolate Pleasure

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ANOTHER WALK ON THE FLIP SIDE OF FOOD: FOCUS T25

Disclaimer: This is a post exclusively on fitness. No recipe included.

t25-workout
For those who have been around my blog for a while, it’s obvious that I am addicted to Tony Horton’s  exercise routines. I already wrote two reviews about his systems: for P90X click  here, for P90X2 click here. However, I am always up for trying different videos, as four and a half years of Tony can get a bit repetitive.  When picking a new routine, two things are important to me: they need to be challenging, but shorter than P90X. In fact, one tricky aspect of Tony Horton’s classics  is that each video is at least 52 minutes long, with the YogaX demanding 90 minutes of my time.

Last month I got an email from Beachbody.com advertising a new product, the series called FOCUS T25. The instructor, Shaun T, is also the guy behind the famous Insanity workout. I immediately went online to read reviews and watch the infomercial about it.  I have bought one of his series in the past, the Hip Hop Abs, but did not care for it. I am familiar with Insanity (did the first workout a couple of times),  but it is too focused on aerobics and better suited for those interested in losing weight. However, even if those workouts did not appeal to me, I thought Shaun T’s enthusiasm and personality made him a great fitness instructor. And, let’s face it, his looks don’t hurt either. 😉  So, I gave FocusT25 a try.

T25

Nine DVDs total, five routines for the so-called “Alpha-Phase” that should last for a month, and five for the “Beta-Phase”, that would take 4 more weeks.  If you are in top shape you could potentially skip the “Alpha” and go for the kill.  I didn’t do that, so this review will cover only the first phase.  One important thing to add: all the Beachbody.com videos promise a full transformation in your body if you follow them to a T.   When you open the box of FocusT25, one of the things you will find is a recommended diet to follow for 5 days as you go through your first week of the program.  In the diet, you will consume from  1,200  to 1,600 calories per day (and that range applies for men too).  Anyone will have a pretty dramatic change in the body following this gruesome method.  I don’t pay attention to the diet component of any of these systems, all I want is a nice, effective workout.  Do what works best for you, and keep in mind the most important thing is to listen to your body, set sensible goals and enjoy the ride to get there.

T25totalbody-e1372266936487

For the Alpha series you won’t need any special equipment, all exercises use exclusively your own body.  A mat for abdominal work is all that’s required. If you intend to follow the system as laid out by Shaun T, you will be working out 5 days per week, with a double session (that is, 50 minutes) on the last day.  Then you use the Stretch DVD on day 6, and rest on day 7.  Each workout lasts for exactly 25 minutes, with a recommended cool-down of 2 to 3 minutes at  the end.   The investment of time is quite minimal, compared to most programs, but trust me, it will be enough. I did the first five series in consecutive days to get acquainted with the system (skipped the Stretch video), and now I am settling on a mix-and-match of 90X, 90X2, Focus25, and just a little bit of running. Variety is key for me.

DVD ONE: CARDIO WORKOUT.  A fun routine, fast-paced and organized with what Shaun T defines as “progressions”.  You start with one basic move, for instance, marching in place with the knees lifting above your waist.  After a minute of doing that you will increase the level of difficulty by doing the same movement on the tip of your toes, with the option of hopping a little bit.   Jumping jacks progress to double jumping jacks and then doubles with arms moving up and down above your head.  Lunges start slowly and controlled and then move to a lunge with a hop.  At any given time you can dial back and follow  Tanya, the girl who demonstrates lower impact variations (that is true for every single DVD, by the way). A few “breaks” in intensity make this series a little easier.  For instance, at half time he introduces controlled squats for 30 seconds or so, bringing your heart rate down a little.  Of course those squats progress into hop squats so that you don’t get too comfy. Time passes fast in this video and if you follow the non-modified version, you’ll need a towel to dry the floor.  😉   Very nice video, two thumbs up.

dontgiveup

DVD TWO:  SPEED 1.0.  Love, love, love this one!  A slightly faster-paced aerobic routine that also includes some  moves like the “burpee“.  If you are familiar with Tony Horton’s Plyometrics, some of the moves are similar, like the Heisman jumps.  Having done Plyometrics was a great help, because Shaun T built on some of those basic moves, making them faster and a little move complex. If a person is new to this type of exercise, it might take a few sessions to coordinate the movement of arms, legs, and waist.  The music is great, and again Tanya shows low impact variations, even for the tough burpee. Another thing I loved about this DVD was the incorporation of a little stretch in between the exercises. It feels almost like a break, which doesn’t happen in any other of his routines.  Two thumbs up for this video too.

DVD THREE: TOTAL BODY CIRCUIT. Holy tomatoes.  This one works you really really hard.  You will involve every single muscle of your body in this session, and there will be aerobics mixed with planks and push-ups.  Of all these videos I’d say this one was the hardest for me, and I had to stick with Tanya for a few moves. In  my review of P90X2 I mentioned that a mixture of aerobics and strength training is harder for me than one type of exercise all along, and this routine demands a constant switch from one type to the other.  I suffered, I struggled, but I must admit it was one of the best compilations of fun and challenging exercises in 25 minutes of self-inflicted torture. Two sore thumbs up.

pushup            (from WA Today)

DVD FOUR: AB INTERVALS.  I was very curious about this DVD, because as I said before, in my mind no other ab workout could match the quality of Tony Horton’s Ab RipperX.  It is not easy to compare both, because in the P90X system, the AbRipper is performed at the end of other series, so once you get to it, you will be doing only abs.  Shaun T Ab Intervals uses a different approach, mixing aerobics (jumps, and a lot of twist exercises that will engage the waist and core), with traditional abs and a lot of plank-type moves.  Instead of Horton’s method of many repetitions of each move, Shaun T often goes for isometric contractions holding them for a while.  Harder on the neck and lower back, if you have weaknesses in those regions, be careful and take breaks or modify the exercises. I had a blast with this video and was probably the easiest for me.  However, I had to cut short the last move of the series, in which Shaun T brings first one, then two, then three… all the way to seven burpees in a row. That was too much for my neck and lower back. But, apart from that, no issues.  Two thumbs up with a smile.

DVD FIVE: LOWER FOCUS.  As the name indicates, this video centers on legs, but you will train your core and lower back too, since there are plenty of squats and lunges as well as exercises based on the “chair pose” of yoga. Very intense, but again all the exercises that could potentially hurt those with joint issues can be toned down by following Tanya. Quite a few of the exercises are similar to those in P90X and 90X2. For instance, in P90X plyometrics you have an exercise called “hot foot”, in which you jump in one foot for 30 seconds, forming a cross pattern on the floor.  In Focus 25 you will wrap one foot around the ankle of the other leg and do ankle lifts then jumps.  Tony and Shaun T target similar muscles in those exercises, and have approximately the same level of difficulty.  Lower Focus might be easier than P90X Legs and Back, but it is far from a walk at the beach. Two thumbs up and a knee kick for the last routine of Alpha Phase…

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In summary…

I highly recommend this program for anyone healthy enough to exercise, without serious joint or hip problems.  When I wrote my review on P90X, one thing I made clear is that one needs to be in reasonably good shape to face it.  I believe Shaun T’s Focus25 will work for people who have not exercised in a while, but in that case he or she MUST follow Tanya’s modifications for a couple of weeks or so.  By doing that, all high impact is removed, but you still get a very decent workout.  Maybe some of the moves that require  upper body strength (push ups, planks) will be hard to do at first, but not impossible. Both Shaun T and Tony Horton have a similar training style: they pump you up, trying to make you work your hardest, but  always remind you it’s ok to take a step back if needed. On a side note, this is not the case for Jillian Michaels, but I will share my thoughts about her videos another time.

Focus 25 has the same high quality of other products from Beachbody: a nice timer at the bottom showing the progress of each series. A pop up message 5 seconds before each new exercise letting you know what comes next. This is particularly helpful on a routine that has no breaks at all. Would I quit P90X to use only Focus 25?  No, at least not in the near future. I need my Yoga and KenpoX, I love my dumbbells and pull-up bar too much to say goodbye to them. But whenever I’m pressed for time and want to have a nice, fun workout, I’ll be inviting Shaun T to be my coach.  Virtually, that is. Virtually.    😉

And to close the post, a little smile for the day:

mostinteresting

ONE YEAR AGO: Celebrate Wednesday with a Thai Seafood Curry

TWO YEARS AGOPost-workout Breakfast

THREE YEARS AGO: Semolina Barbecue Buns

FOUR YEARS AGO: Lavash Crackers

2012 FITNESS REPORT: P90X2

Disclaimer:  This is a post exclusively about exercise.
Back to food next week… 😉

As I mentioned before, I’ve been keeping exercise records since January 1998. Each month for the past 15 years I strive to exercise more than 50% of the days.  The only way I can keep my exercise routine going is by adding variety to it. P90X was perfect in that sense, so when I heard that Tony Horton was launching the P90X2 (December 2011), I had to try it. Similarly to my experience with the original system, it took me longer than 90 days to wrap it up, but I did it. I wrote a very detailed article about the original program, and hoped to do the same for the X2. However, I found a wonderful review online that saved me all the work. If you are interested, click here. I will instead simply summarize the differences between the two programs.

P90X22
A common question:
is P90X2 harder than P90X?   Yes. I would not start with the X2, as right from the get-go it involves exercises that are close to the top level of difficulty in the original program.  One example: Yoga-X ends the standing series with a sequence of Warrior III, Half-Moon, and Twisted Half-Moon. You will be standing on one leg for almost 3 minutes, balancing, twisting, breathing hard, wishing Tony Horton had never been born.  😉   Fast forward to P90X2, and you will see the Warrior III and the Half-Moon poses showing up not only in the yoga routine, but in the middle of strength-training and aerobic exercises as well.  While in Warrior III or Half-Moon you will be doing bicep curls, triceps kick-backs, abdominal crunches (yes, abdominal crunches while in standing splits), and other weight-bearing moves.  The bottom line is, in P90X2, you will see a lot more combined exercises that target many muscle groups simultaneously. They require balance, flexibility, and core strength all at the same time.

plyocide
Another aspect of P90X2 is a mixture of aerobics and strength training in the same routine.  It was a bit shocking to realize that doing 52 minutes of aerobics (original Plyometrics-90X)  is not as hard as 40 minutes of a mixture of  aerobics with strength-training (the Plyocide-90X2 routine).  Somehow the body struggles harder when demanded to constantly change gears. But, as Tony would put it: “it’s good for you”   😉

yogaX2
Surprisingly,  two routines of the new system are actually easier.  First, yoga. I was afraid of what 90X2 yoga would be like, but  it is shorter (you are done in 1 hour instead of 90 minutes), and the exercises are at the same overall level of difficulty of the original series.  Second, the abdominal workout from the original  series. Ab-RipperX is actually harder  (and I think more efficient) than the Ab-RipperX2.  In fact, I don’t even bother with it anymore, the original version is my default routine.

motivation
Some exercises of X2 are so incredibly hard that I was forced to adapt them to my level.  I simply will not do a pull-up and then curl my body up into a ball going over the bar.  One should keep in mind that Tony targets a broad audience including extremely fit men, who want to bulk up. They need to be challenged to their limits.  I also won’t attempt to do the push-ups balancing my body in four medicine balls as the top photo shows.  Tony Horton himself described that exercise as “doing push ups during an earthquake“.  Sounds like a ton of fun, but I rather not risk breaking my nose… 😉  When exercises like this come, he always demonstrates variations that do the job on a more
“humane” level.  And that’s the road I humbly follow.

progress

Having “graduated” from both programs,  I went on with a mix-and-match of the two, picking the routines the way I feel like and working out according to how sore I am. But, after moving to Kansas our life got so frantic that I had to find quicker workouts for some weekdays. I looked for alternatives lasting at most 30 minutes, but still challenging.  That’s how I got to Jillian Michaels’  6-Week/6-Pack,  Ripped in 30, and a few others of her many DVDs.   I will be reviewing her exercise program in the future.  It won’t be pretty, though. Expect some harsh words. I will say one thing upfront: unless you are very careful, you will get injured.  And I speak from experience (sigh). Stay tuned!

never say never

We never know what lays ahead in our path. I can only hope I will be healthy enough to follow the footsteps of this impressive woman! 

ONE YEAR AGO: Caramelized Bananas

TWO YEARS AGO: Roasted Lemon Vinaigrette

THREE YEARS AGO: Whole-Wheat Bread

SUPERMAN

As I’ve mentioned before, my fitness guru is Tony Horton, and I’ve been using his P90X system for 3  years.   I’m about to finish his awesome new series, P90X2, with only one workout left to do (yeaaaaah!).

I’d like to highlight one particular exercise in his routine, called Superman.  It’s already present in the original series, but in the X2 version it gets a little harder: instead of short 10 second intervals of the posture, you try to hold it for a full 45 seconds.  As the weeks go by, the idea is to raise your legs and arms higher, or add resistance by holding a bar.

I am sure Tony Horton would appreciate my own take on it, as it adds a bit more flexibility to the range of motion in the upper arms.   Normally, I get the added resistance from both sides, but due to the nature of the gadgets I had  available, this time the right side of my body got some extra attention!

ENJOY!

ON THE FLIP SIDE OF FOOD: P90X

When I married Phil, an avid runner, I started running too, and I got hooked on it.  Back in 2006  we both ran a marathon (my first, his second).   I felt like a million bucks and I hoped to do it again and again… and again.   But, my left knee had a different opinion, and after a few fights with it I had to accept that my days of long distance running were over.  What a bummer.

Sometimes, though, one door closes and another opens.  While struggling with my running blues,  I heard a grad student in our lab talking about this ultra-fitness program called P90X.  I though it could be something fun to try for a change.   Two years and 3 months later its become my main weapon to keep in shape, and to be able to enjoy all the food I like to cook, particularly the breads.  😉   So, if you’ve seen and wondered about the infomercials of Beachbody.com featuring Tony Horton, the guru behind P90X (Power-90 days-Extreme),  I invite you to join me  for a virtual walk through the system.

First of all,  is the system appropriate for anyone?
I’ll say upfront that P90X is not suited for those who haven’t exercised in a long time.  From my experience,  to go for it you should be able to jog for 20 minutes, to be capable of at least 20  sit-ups, and to reach the average number of push-ups for your age and gender (consult this table for  the general idea).  It will also help to have some flexibility, but it’s not essential.  I had none to speak of when I started.

P90X comes as 13 DVDs,  a couple of booklets describing the full nutrition program, and a transcript of each video. The exercises progress through Phases I, II, and III, each lasting 4 weeks.  They differ in the nutrition aspect,  and also  the exercises.  I’ll review the exercises of Phase I, which covers the basics;  phase 2 involves heavier weight training and more complex push-ups and pull-ups.  If you are interested then the first thing you must decide is which of the three programs to follow.   I went with the  “Classic”, geared for people who are not necessarily looking to lose weight, only get stronger.  Alternatives are the  “Lean” routine (less emphasis on weight training),  and “Doubles” (with two exercise sessions daily).   Doubles is obviously for those endowed with supernatural powers.

DAY ONE:  CHEST AND BACK
(58 minutes + 15 min Ab-Ripper)
This is a great routine:  a balanced mixture of push-ups, pull-ups and exercises with weights. A pull-up bar is not essential, you can use elastic bands instead, but I tell you that nothing beats pulling up the whole weight of your body, so consider investing in a bar as you improve your fitness level.  Women can do pull-ups by pushing off the back of a chair with one foot to help support the body until they (I mean… we!) develop enough strength to do a few without.

“Don’t say “I cannot do pull-ups…”
say  “I presently struggle with

(Tony Horton, in Chest and Back)

You’ll be doing several  styles of push-ups, including diamonds (my personal favorite!), and dive-bombers (hard but fun).  In between them you go to the pull-up bar and do what you can, using different grips, which targets different muscles on your back, shoulders and arms (chin-ups, wide front pull-ups, closed-grip pull-ups).  When the 58 minutes are over the DVD takes you straight to the abdominal routine, Ab-Ripper X (discussed at  the end of my review).

DAY TWO: PLYOMETRICS
Plyometrics is jump training.  This workout took me by surprise, because as a runner I thought that any other aerobic exercise would be cake.  Instead, some of the moves  (jumping knee-tucks, guitar jumps, just to name a couple)  left me begging for mercy.  The exercises are grouped in sets of 4;  the first three you do for 30 seconds, the fourth exercise is one-minute long.  Each sequence of 4 exercises is repeated once right away, then comes a little break to collect your lungs from the floor, and a new 4-move routine starts, for a total of 5 different sets.

You can do ANYTHING for 30 seconds, right?
(Tony Horton, in Plyometrics)

Children jump all the time  as they play, but as we get older, we stop jumping.  We might walk fast, jog, even run, but jumping is one activity that disappears from our repertoire.   With plyometrics, you slowly bring that skill back, and your level of fitness will increase quite a bit from doing it.  Plyo is quite a strenuous routine for the back, knees, and ankles, so if you have back or leg problems, then consider modifying all the moves to a lower impact version, demonstrated in the video by the beautiful Pam.  A great review of all exercises  in plyometrics can be found here.

DAY 3: SHOULDERS, BICEPS, TRICEPS
(59 minutes + 15 min Ab-Ripper)
This is the easiest of all the series.  My advice for the ladies: don’t be afraid of using a heavy weight.  Women are in no risk of bulking up, we don’t have enough testosterone to turn into a She-Hulk.   Get a weight that makes the 3 last repetitions really hard to complete.  And once you get comfortable with those dumbells, move to heavier ones.

The exercises are varied, fun, and challenging if you use the right weight.  At the end of this routine, you move to Ab-Ripper, for 15 minutes of final bliss… 😉

DAY 4: YOGA
(1 h 32 min)
P90X yoga  kicked my butt, shoved my face in the mud and made me feel miserable.  I vividly remember the beginning, when I had to stop and just stare at the screen, shaking my head in disbelief that those people could bring their bodies into those positions and hold them for 30 seconds or longer.   I had little flexibility, and not enough core strength and balance to face any of the moves after the 30 minute mark.  I intensely hated it. Hard to believe it became one of my favorites!

This is not a competition: do your best, and forget the rest!
(Tony Horton, in YogaX)

If you are into “real yoga,”   you may not like the P90 version of it, because Tony takes a few liberties with the concept.  I do it for the physical challenge, and I don’t let the absence of meditation and relaxation components bother me.  It helped me tremendously in overall strength, flexibility, and balance.

DAY 5:  LEGS AND BACK
(52 min + 15 min Ab-Ripper)
Three words: Not for sissies.  😉 Tony brings back the pull-ups, and you’ll do four different kinds, together with many hard exercises for the legs: lunges, balance lunges, “sneaky lunges” (performed on the tip of your toes for what seems to last an eternity), wall sits (regular and the cruel single-legged variation), and a few aerobic moves similar to those from plyometrics. Next day you won’t be able to take Mr. Horton off your mind. His words will still be burning your ears, but not nearly as much as the burning in your leg muscles, I’m afraid…

As if that wasn’t enough, Ab-Ripper closes the deal. When I do this complete routine I start with the Ab-Ripper because it’s just too hard to do it following Legs & Back.  Keep that in mind, maybe this small adaptation will help you out too.

DAY 6: KENPO
(58 min)
Kenpo is kickboxing.  The more I did it, the more I liked it! Apart from a long warm up that I skip without even feeling guilty, I love everything about it. Kenpo starts with simple moves involving the upper body, four different kinds of hits, performed 25 times with each arm, but the whole body is engaged at some level, as you are supposed to hit with your hips too. Next come the kicks, in several directions and speeds, and other moves mixing upper and lower body.   When you do Kenpo with enthusiasm – and it’s hard not to, with the music to pump you up –  you’ll experience a full body workout that is fun, intense, and will leave you pleasantly sore next day.

No rest with Kenpo. The five sets of moves are separated by a “break” that is anything but:  you’ll jog in place, jump rope, and do jumping jacks to loosen up before the next group of exercises.

AB-RIPPER X
(15 minutes)
I don’t have enough adjectives to praise this one!  I am addicted to the Ab-ripper, having tried many ab-programs before.   In my opinion, no other routine is equally  effective. Tony planned 11 exercises, each performed 25 times, that hit the muscles from different angles, for a fantastic mid-waist workout that will also target your legs.

Hit the pause button if you need it, stick with us if you can….
(Tony Horton, Ab-ripper) 

Since during the program you will be facing the Ab-ripper at the end of other series, it will never be easy, but if you do it barefoot, it’s a little less gruesome. Sorry, Tony…   I still do my best each time, but my best comes easier without shoes!  😉

A ZEN APPROACH TO P90X
It is easy to start the program obsessing about wrapping it up in 90 days, a task that is not easy, both physically and mentally.   The way I see it now, after doing it  for more than 2 years, P90X can be your exercise of choice in the long run.  By following the routines in a more relaxed pace you can get all the benefits from it without inflicting excessive pain to your body.   Take breaks.  Allow your muscles to fully recover, and enjoy the ride.

After completing two series, I now pick and choose the routines more or less according to my mood and what feels “right” that day,  with the goal of training 4 times per week, sometimes I might go for 5, depending on other activities like running. For added variety, I also like the 10 minute-trainer with Tony Horton,  a life-saver in very busy days.

But, I’m saving the best for last:  Beachbody.com will release P90X2  in December, and I HAD  to pre-order it!  I couldn’t resist it, after reading this review.  I intend to follow my own advice and take a Zen approach to it. Take it easy, and enjoy the ride!   Stay tuned…  😉

ONE YEAR AGOProtocol for a 15 minute dinner

TWO YEARS AGO: Cauliflower au Gratin

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