Monday, 24 November 2014

Regular Guy Fitness Club: Focus T25

The Beachbody company are responsible for most of the home workout DVDs you've probably heard about; their names range from bro-friendly portmanteau (TurboFire!!  Insani-Shred!!) to unfathomable abbreviations like "P90X3T", which sounds like a chemical weapon, only less pleasant.   The less well-known ones cater to specific niches like Brazil Bum Lift, as well as completely out-there concepts such as Body Gospel Workout, which looks like propaganda literature from a religious cult.

Compared to this lot, Focus T25 sounds straight-forward, and fairly tame - focusing isn't particularly strenous, and the T25 refers to the fact each workout takes 25 minutes.  This is the main selling point of T25 - maximising how you spend your time to get an hours worth of exercise into 25 minutes.  There's some "science" behind it apparently, in their own words:
"Major studies have shown that 30 minutes of exercise can be just as effective at burning fat and even more efficient than 60 minutes of exercise.  With FOCUS T25, you need to work out just 25 minutes a day to get in the best shape of your life"
There are 11 of these 25 minute workouts, split between two difficulty settings - for the first 5 weeks you use a rotation of the 5 Alpha workouts, and then move onto the Beta ones until the end of the 10 week program.  According to the promotional images, at the end of the tenth week you'll have achieved the kind of results you'd expect from Kim K's airbrush team.

Results like these are probably contingent on you following the included Nutrition Guide, which I won't be - strictly in the interest of sustainability; definitely not because I'm using a hooky copy of the DVDs which didn't come with the nutrition guide.  I can bring myself to work out for 25 minutes a day (most days), but if I have to follow a strict eating plan then I'd expect to last until approximately 11am on Day One.

If you have the time, money, resources and inclination to eat clean then you'll undoubtedly see better results in less time, but I don't, and I don't want to deny myself simple pleasures.  That really isn't what Regular Guy Fitness Club is about - there are already plenty of Men's Fitness/GQ articles which cater to people with that level of dedication.  As a compromise though I'll be eating a fairly sensible and balanced diet - more of an attempted lifestyle adjustment rather than a ten week health-binge - and sharing some of the recipes that I'll be using.

Visual results from exercise are entirely subjective and a pretty gross overshare, so I'll be judging T25's effectiveness on how it helps improve fitness level and strength by keeping a weekly record of some arbitrary statistics such as how many press-ups I can do (Currently one, on a good day, when the Earth's gravitational pull is particularly weak), how frequently I vomit during workouts, and perhaps how much I weigh and things like that.

I'm going to be explaining this from a complete beginners perspective, so apologies if some of my explanations seem patronising.

Day One - Cardio

Each of the workouts in T25 serves a different purpose, and Cardio's business is burning fat through whole-body exercises that raise your heart-rate and get blood pumping through your body.

The exercises are pretty familiar territory, you start off slow, with the a progression of knee-lifts incorporating your warm-up session into the main workout, helping keep everything to a tight 25 minutes.

After ten minutes of jogging, jumping, twisting and lunging - you hit the BURNOUT, when you spend a few minutes revisiting the manoeuvres you've just built up to, pushing yourself a bit harder than before.  After the first Burnout the exercises change to a squat-heavy section for another ten minutes or so, and then you do another Burnout, and then bookend the session with some controlled knee-lifts.

Shaun T - the creator and choreographer of each workout - is joined by a group of impossibly energetic, limber companions during all of the workouts, demonstrating perfect form, grinning away, and whooping when Shaun pushes them even harder.  As pleasant as they seem, their presence seems mostly pointless - there's no variation in their body type or ability, none of them ever stop to catch their breath, wobble when asked to stand on one leg, or even break a sweat; Derek, who looks like a 23 year old Hollister model is later revealed to be in his forties.

The only genuinely useful person is Tanya, who - despite demonstrating the fitness of an Olympic gymnast - performs the modifier workout; deviating from the standard manoeuvres to achieve similar results with less impact.  This is good for limiting how much stress you subject your joints to, and for when you're too out of breath to keep up with the other bionic men and women in Shaun's group.

Even with Tanya's modifier, there were a few instances where I had to stop for breath or try and get rid of a stitch by touching my toes - lunge progressions being particularly taxing on the thighs, as well as highlighting just how bad my balance and recovery is when performing 180 degree jumps - though at the moment I do most of my rotating on and office chair, so that's to be expected.

25 minutes didn't feel like the boot-camp torture I was anticipating, but it wasn't easy.

Day Two - Speed 1.0

The mission statement of Speed 1.0 seems pretty straightforward - it's a similar workout to the Cardio one, but faster to allow you to burn more calories in a shorter amount of time.  Expect jogging on the spot, jacks, a few burpees and lots o' squats.  Seriously, lots.

Doing all of this faster is also supposed to improve your agility by training your muscles to performing quicker adjustments and balances - this is supported by the stretches and holds which pepper the workout, and provide an occasional, welcome 30 second breather from the exercises.

The first sign of struggle came in during the cross-jack squats, when the arches of my feet starting absolutely howling - probably because I was jumping around in some clapped-out New Balance I've reserved for working out - so I had to look to my girl Tanya on the modifier to get a bit of relief.

Same for the alternating kick-burpees - the painful arches of my feet and my weak flabby arms meant I wasn't able to perform the manoeuvre as quickly as I'd have liked, so I went for an alternating kick-lunge instead.

The only Burnout in Speed 1.0 comes right towards the end of the session, and instantly transformed me from being short of breath but pretty pumped, to Jackson-Pollocking the floor with my sweat.  The last two minutes are reserved for a cool-down stretch/plank session, but I was grateful to use it as an excuse to stand still for a bit.

Day Three - Total Body Circuit

Full disclosure: I didn't actually get chance to do this on the Wednesday when I was supposed to.  Life gets in the way.  I did this on the Thursday though, so just pretend.

Total Body Circuit is more cardio, but as the name suggests it works out your upper body as well as legs, so in addition to squats (seriously, more squats?) there's more varieties of lunge, as well as planks and press-ups.

Some of the moves look straight-up karma sutra, I can't wait until I can plank, bring my knee up behind my ear and then do multiple press ups while holding the position.  Fingers crossed it'll only take four weeks.

Even for the more attainable upper body exercises I had to join in with Tanya's modifier, which usually meant planks and press-ups were done from a kneeling position to spare my puny biceps and weak wrists.  Regardless, there were still a few screams of "determination" (read: pain) towards the end.  The 25 minutes are rounded off with a particularly sinister running lunge right up to the last second, wringing every last bit of effort out of you.  Some people probably get a lot of enjoyment from this type of punishment.

Day Four - Ab Intervals

Dante managed to stick it out for 9 circles of Hell and that's pretty cute, but Ab Intervals comes in somewhere around 13th (The 10th Circle is ITV2; 11 and 12 are too obscene to publish).

Even if I wasn't doing this right off the back of catching up on yesterday's Total Body Circuit, I still wouldn't have enjoyed this in the slightest.  All of the moves are Isometric Postures, progressions which don't just work a muscle in the way a crunch would, but make that muscle hold the position which works it the hardest.

Tanya doesn't even have much to offer in the way of a modifier.  What the hell Tanya?  I trusted you, I thought we were in this together?

The biggest testament to Ab Intervals' difficulty is the sheer joy I felt whenever it was time to do Cardio as an interval.  Stick it out though, anything this unpleasant has to be good for you.

Day Five - Lower Focus & Cardio

Yeah that's right, every Friday you have to do two workouts, back to back.  Except I didn't because I was going away for the weekend and I had to get my hair cut and beat the rush hour traffic.  Soz.  Also it was only Lower Focus, which works out your legs.  I maintain that every day is Leg Day when you weight 15 stone, and that's the justification I'm using for skipping it this week.  For the sake of integrity though, I vow to do it next week.

Week One - Conclusion

As the first week serves as an introduction to everything that's going to be expected of you in the next five weeks, it's difficult to make any judgements on the program.  As the old cliche goes, you get out what you put in - in the next couple of weeks I'm hoping to wean myself off following Tanya's modifier and keep up with the rest of the group as my agility and general fitness levels improve, but for now it's useful to have her there.

That's not to say it's a breeze though; even starting off at the bottom of the learning curve T25 puts you through your paces.  At the moment that difficulty doesn't seem enough to put off new starters, instead serving as motivation to carry on and make Shaun T proud.  Whether I'll be saying that after another five days of squatting remains to be seen though.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Recipe: Beetroot & Parmesan Risotto with Rosé



In my head, risotto is famous for two things: being the go-to vegetarian option in mid-range restaurants, and tormenting more Come Dine With Me contestants than the correct pronunciation of “Dauphinoise”.  My fiance used to be a vegetarian, so I’ve reached across many dining tables to try the former; while they’re not specifically to blame for her ditching her morals, the prospect of eating bland, watery spinach and feta packet-rice every time we went out to eat wasn’t enough to keep her about dat life.  

Combining this with the calamitous attempts witnessed on CDWM left me in no hurry to try my own - too much room for error, and not enough effort to reward ratio to make it worth my time, I thought.  What an idiot I was.

Risotto couldn’t be easier - all you need is a decent non-stick pan and a bit of patience.  If you’ve already built a callus on your thumb then it’ll come in useful, but if not don’t worry; 20 minutes of constant stirring with a wooden spoon will fix that for you.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Regular Guy Fitness Club

As a guy who writes about food, my level of fitness is largely a product of my environment; an environment that, for the past 18 months, has been full of extravagant street food and high %ABV craft beers. It's a combination which has left me in peak physical condition - for a 56 year old heavy-smoker whose vices include port and cheese.

Confit-ing food isn't going to suddenly become less delicious overnight; I've shed my naive, ignorant dismissal of offal as being totally gross (except tripe, that is and always will be totally gross); I know now that it's entirely within the realms of possibility to deep-fry ice cream. These things can't be unseen or untasted, changing eating habits at this point isn't an option - once you go black pudding, you never go back, pudding.

I know I'm not alone - I've seen my peers stood around at food markets dribbling salted caramel into their beards, and a cursory glance at Instagram suggests you all share my dedication to discovering new, gluttonous ways to enhance Macaroni Cheese. The inevitable outcome of this is that we're going to expand, and in that case there are two options.

Option One:

Own it! Dove commercials and #bodyposi memes have persuaded everybody of the merits of being big - surveys show that 8 out of 10 anacondas prefer it if you've got buns - but there's a couple of risks involved with this one. Firstly not everybody can be Latrice Royale or Action Bronson; there's a chance you might not pull off the image with their pizzazz, and look more like an out of work WCW wrestler. There's also the health implications - you'll get out of breath on escalators, you'll be the subject of taunts if you ever have to boot an awol football back to a group of youths in the park, and then you'll die young. At that point all of your loved ones will think you're a posthumous dick for denying them several more years of your company, just so you could eat pizzas where the crust is made out of miniature burritos (patent pending). If you don't want your memory sullied, you can try Option Two:

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

An Ode to the Festive Bake


Each generation grows up with its own concensus of pop-culture artifacts that spell the impending Festive season.  Anybody who came of age between 1990 and 2008-ish - regardless of gender, race or social class - will be able to tell you that Christmas didn't begin until the first broadcast of the Coca Cola advert with the convoy of illuminated lorries and their unneccesary carbon footprint.

That wore thin after Youtube came out and let people watch adverts any time they wanted, and userpers to its throne came thick and fast; the announcement of each year's candidate for alternative Christmas Number One - Rage Against the Machine did it, Simon Cowell didn't give a shit, and the concept became a dead horse for serious "Musos" to flog each year - Elf popping up on Channel 4's program schedule one Sunday; Starbucks turning people's misspelt-name related angst into childish wonderment just by making their cups red, like reverse-matadors.

For me though, Chritmas begins when I walk past a Greggs - caution in my step due to the early-November sludge of damp leaves - and smell that familiar scent of the Festive Bake; a sensory trigger as salient as hearing the opening strings to Spice Girls - 2 Become 1, or seeing some Daily Mail-reading shithead post a Facebook status about Muslims trying to ban tinsel, or make Figgy Pudding halal.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Recipe: Chilli Beef & Red Miso Udon


Mondays have become de facto noodle-night in our house thanks to how easy it is to cram a load of chilli, ginger and garlic into a big bowl of ramen or udon and put the weekend behind us while catching up on Boardwalk Empire.   Due to the illegal/highly unethical nature of weekend workouts, Monday is the day to get back on the T25, so loads of noodles and vegetables provides good fuel for that.

If you've ever used one of those Stir Fry kits you get form the supermarket - a big bag of cabbage and beansprouts, egg noodles and a sachet of gloopy sauce for about four quid - you'll know that they kind of suck - the vegetables are all filler no killer, the sauce is cloying, and the noodles end up leaving their impression on the base of your wok, and reducing to mush in the meal.

I went to Fuji Hero last week and noted that they overcome this problem dousing the dish in curry oil, which tasted brilliant but went against everything Noodle-night stands for.  Rather than lubing my udon with oil, I made a little bit of stock using Miso paste, mirin and soy to stop them sticking to the wok - as a bonus, it helped cook them through properly, something else which is difficult when cooking such thick noodles quickly on a high heat.

I used mange tout and baby corn this time because they were in the reduced aisle at the supermarket, but feel free to experiment with the vegetables - just be really careful not to overcook them, a couple of minutes is plenty.  The same goes for the beansprouts, you want them to provide nice bit of crunch and texture rather than going limp and sagging all over the place, so put them in when everything else is cooked, take it off the hob and let the residual heat bring it all home.

Any ingredients that don't look familiar will be available in the world food section of any decent-sized supermarket, (including vacuum-sealed Udon which are much cheaper than name-brand versions or the bags from the vegetable section) or any nearby Chinese supermarkets which you should familiarise yourself with as soon as possible because they are a goldmine.

Serves 2.  Preparation 10 Minutes, Cooking 10 Minutes

Friday, 17 October 2014

Trinity Kitchen - 10 Highlights from the First Year


It's a common pop-cultural phenomenon for near-identical movies to come out at around the same time - I don't just mean copycats which wear their plagiarism on their sleeve, but actual massive coincidences like Deep Impact and Armageddon, The Prestige and The Illusionist, Mean Girls and NOTHING, because Mean Girls is one of a damn kind.  But what about Sharks Tale and Antz coming out so close to Finding Nemo and Bugs Life?

It's not just films - the current UK Top 40 contains no less than 39 songs that are about bums; or have videos with a tracking shot of somebody's bum for 4 minutes; or come on a bum-shaped picture-disc which looks like the artists' bum, and has an anus in the middle where you put the spindle.  Admittedly those 39 songs are more tasteful than the other charting record though, which has the misfortune of carrying Ed Sheeran's face on the cover.

In October 2013 this phenomenon spread to food, and it was a good month for Leeds city centre.   Before you had chance to wipe the Dough Boys sauce off your face at the newly-opened Belgrave, Trinity Kitchen was opening just down the road - a new kind of food court which snubbed the typical "Fast Food-Fast Food-Harry Ramsdens-Spud U Like-Fast Food" roulette, ingrained in the DNA of shopping centres across the country.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Recipe: Crab, Scallop and Black Pudding Jambalaya


I thought I'd have come up with a recipe for Jambalaya a long time ago, just to give me an excuse to say such a brilliant name over and over again until the word lost all meaning.  The final motivation came after a particularly somber Monday which dragged on for three-quarters of an eternity; a Ned Stark of a day that incessantly reminds you that Winter is coming, but all of the fun bits of it are weeks away yet; a day that somebody had imported into VSCO Cam, slid the temperature setting down to -8 and given everything and everyone a greyish blue hue.