Jillian Michaels – Beginner Shred

A review, because it’s ever too late to get into fitness.

Today is National Fitness Day, or so social media tells me. I’m late to the party. I rarely know about these things until I go on Twitter and see that ‘National XYZ Day’ is trending.

I was late to the party when it comes to exercise in general, too. I was the chubby kid who was very bad at sport and I dreaded PE lessons with every fibre of my being. I was in my 20s before I ever came to enjoy exercise.

It was Jillian Michaels who got me into fitness, and I fondly remember the pain of trying to walk upstairs the day after doing 30 Day Shred for the first time. Wow!
Not only did 30 Day Shred teach me that I’m stronger than I ever thought and that once you find the right exercise it can actually be fun, I also learned that it’s never too late to get into fitness.

Last year, in response to growing requests from fans, Jillian released Beginner Shred. At the time, I was just getting back into fitness after a long break, and had injured myself. Discovering Beginner Shred was great; it really helped get me back on track and working out regularly.
So, in the spirit of National Fitness Day, I’d like to share with you the review that I wrote for Lizitivity‘s blog.


Jillian Michaels – Beginner Shred

This review was first posted here, 06.06.2015

Beginner Shred
Jillian Michaels – Beginner Shred on Amazon

Following a knee injury last year (I’m apparently the clumsy kind of person who can hurt themselves just by getting out of bed), I found that my favourite Jillian Michaels workouts had too much impact and too many moves that aggravated it. I started looking for modifications that would allow me to keep going, and stumbled across Beginner Shred. It’s aimed not just at beginners, but people who may have taken time off exercising and are looking to get back into it gently, and people who may have had injuries and need a lower impact workout. Perfect!

Beginner Shred is, as Jillian says in the intro to the DVD, something that many people have requested. The structure is similar to the 30 Day Shred. It’s a series of three 20-minute workouts (25 minutes including the warmup and cooldown) that progress in difficulty. Each workout is broken down into three circuits, and you go through each circuit twice. You do each workout for 10 days, then move to the next level of difficulty. I had planned to have a rest day every 3 days, but I ended up taking more. To be honest, having more rest days isn’t a bad thing. Especially if you’re a beginner, it will allow your muscles to recover and grow stronger. I notice that after a 3-day break I’m stronger than after just one rest day.

For those of you who’ve done 30DS, you’ll recognise Natalie and Anita – they’re back to demonstrate the moves in Beginner Shred. If you’re looking to do the easier version, follow Natalie. If you want a harder modification, follow Anita. I wasn’t in the greatest shape, having only returned to working out a few weeks before my injury, but also not a beginner, so for most exercises I did the modified versions. Whichever you choose to do, this is still a tough workout. Because it’s only 20 minutes, Jillian works you hard. No rest, no giving up.

‘…everyone must start somewhere and there is no shame in doing the easier versions of the exercises, but the way we improve and get stronger is to try the harder modifications.’

Throughout the workouts, Jillian explains the moves, which muscles you’re working and what you’re going to achieve. She seems to know when things are getting tough and she encourages you to think about why you started, what you want from your workout, and why you matter. If you’re familiar with other Jillian Michaels DVDs, you may find that she’s shockingly gentle and nice when you start this. Don’t worry – by Workout 3 she’s promising to jump through the TV and kick your butt.

The other thing I love about Beginner Shred is that Jillian encourages you to try the harder modifications, even for one or two reps, or a few seconds at a time. She stresses that everyone must start somewhere and there is no shame in doing the easier versions of the exercises, but that the way we improve and get stronger is to try the harder modifications. ‘You are not fragile.’ It’s a great message and very motivational.

You don’t need a huge amount of space to work out in, and the moves themselves are not complicated. Amongst others you’ll do squats with shoulder presses, push-ups, donkey kicks, deadlifts with rows, mountain climbers… And yes, burpees make an appearance. You didn’t think you’d get away without doing some burpees, did you? Some of the moves require more balance than others. Anyone watching me try to do a backward lunge with a shoulder press would probably have wet themselves laughing. I’ve no balance. But after doing it for a few days I didn’t wobble as much and didn’t fall as often.

Workouts 1 and 2 are more strength-focused, with only a little cardio to keep your heart rate up. If you were looking for a modified jumping jack when you did 30DS, look no further. Jillian gives you step-out jacks in Workout 1. I preferred the moves in Workout 2 (with the exception of those backward lunges) and by the time the more cardio-intense Workout 3 arrived I felt considerably stronger. Not once did any of the moves aggravate my knee, and if I felt there was any chance of that happening I swapped to the easier version.

In all, I think this is an excellent DVD for just about anyone. Jillian is a great motivator; the moves are demonstrated and explained well. You can modify this to make it as easy or difficult as you need, and if you take your time, stick with it and push through the discomfort, it’ll have you feeling strong and energised in no time.


What did I do for National Fitness Day? Well, it was my day off so, as I usually do on days off, I took my borrowed dog for a walk. We ended up getting a little lost and finding a couple more hills than usual, and I cut the walk short because we were both getting hot and bothered. I took him home and we played football for a while.

Later in the day I jumped on the exercise bike, which has been my main form of exercise lately, since it doesn’t aggravate any of the pains and health problems I’ve been having. I’d hoped to do a little yoga session as well, but my body was having none of it.

Did you do anything special for National Fitness Day, or just stick with your usual routine?
Have you tried any Jillian Michaels workouts? What’s your favourite?

Feel the fear

Resuming my personal trainer diploma

feel the fearBack in February I made the decision to put my personal trainer diploma on hold. My health was shocking – I’d been unable to exercise for months because of breathing problems. I was stressed to the teeth, and I just couldn’t see myself being able to complete the course.

If I’m honest, my health is still not great (for different reasons now) and I’m only slightly less stressed at the moment. But the course can only stay on hold for so long, and knowing that it’s hanging there unfinished has been weighing on my mind.

On Tuesday I took the plunge and booked onto my 2-day Exercise for Older Adults course. I’m hoping that it’ll ease me back into the whole thing while I find a solution to my back/pelvic pain and regain some fitness.

There are a couple of options for the 4-day personal training attendance course, so I have either until the end of October or the beginning of December to get myself sorted and feeling able to do that.

In all honesty, I’m very anxious about the attendance courses. Having been unable to maintain the level of fitness I’d like over the past year, I feel as though I’ll be the most unfit person there and not taken seriously. As an introvert, I don’t do well in large groups and really have to psych myself up for that kind of environment. The good news is that I won’t be going alone to the first one – Liz will also be there, as she’s also signed up for the course. We’ll be the naughty kids at the back of the room…

What I need to remember going forward is that I have a sound knowledge of this stuff. I’ve been learning about fitness for years. So many years. I already hold a fitness instructor qualification. It’s confidence that I lack, and the ability to follow the training plans that I put together. That’s really something I need to work on.

For now, I’m taking the exercise easy until my doctors appointment (only 5 days to go!). Yoga is pretty much out of the question with my current pain and niggles, but I can get in a good 25-30 minute session on the exercise bike.

Following our squat challenge, The Hardcore Four are taking on an ab challenge – I’m modifying mine heavily so that it doesn’t aggravate my back. So far, so good.

I’m getting a couple of good walks in every week, and short lunchtime walks are really helping to ease the pain I get from sitting down for too long at work.
I only have half an hour for lunch, but yesterday I found a circular route that takes me from the office, along the canal and back.

The Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal

Yesterday was very hot and sunny, but the canal bank was beautifully shady. It was lovely to get out in the fresh air, see the ducks and moorhens, and just relax for a while. I’m going to try to make a habit of going out every lunchtime – I think it’s good for my mental wellbeing as well as for my back.

Henrhyd Falls

A walk in the Brecon Beacons

This post was meant to be written early in the week, as a bank holiday weekend recap. I’ve been more disorganised than usual this week, but I really wanted to share this little gem of a walk, so here it finally is.

On Sunday morning, as a break from the housework and wallpaper stripping I’d spent the previous two days doing, Alex and I decided we’d go out for the day. I’m notoriously indecisive and terrible at thinking of places to go, so I was glad that Alex already had a plan. He knows I love waterfalls (I love all types of running water, in fact. I find it so exciting and therapeutic at the same time.) and we’re trying to explore new places, so we set off to Henrhyd Falls in the Brecon Beacons.

Henrhyd Falls (which, as far as my limited Welsh can make out, translates as ‘Old Ford Falls’) are the highest in South Wales, and very easy to get to. There is a National Trust car park at the start of the trail down to the falls, but when we arrived it was jam-packed with cars and picnickers. Not surprising, since it was around midday on the Sunday of a bank holiday weekend. We found somewhere to park in the village of Coelbren nearby, and walked back to the start of the route.

The scenery along the path to the falls

It was a short walk down a steep hill, then across a wooden bridge and up some steps to the waterfall. The woodland surrounding us was green and lush, and our progress was pretty slow because I kept stopping to take photos.

The waterfall was stunning. We stood for a while to watch it and take photos, then decided we would take the path to the side and walk behind it.

Henrhyd Falls

I have a terrible fear of heights and falling, so on the slippery path with a drop to one side, it was slow going. If Alex hadn’t been with me, patiently waiting and helping me across, I never would’ve attempted it. I imagine most people would find it easy enough, though.
Boy, was it worth the effort for me! First time I’ve ever stood behind a waterfall; it was brilliant to see the water crashing down, and feel the spray.

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Behind the waterfall

We made our way back the way we had come, and decided to follow the path along the river, signposted to the village of Abercraf, for a while before turning around and retracing our steps to where we had parked. In all, the walk took us an hour an a half, although we stopped for a while at the waterfall.

Lovely water drips on the rocks, and a red-faced selfie

We didn’t realise at the time that the route we’d taken was almost exactly the National Trust’s ‘Henrhyd Falls and Nant Llech’ walk – we didn’t get as far as the landslide or old watermill, but I’d like to go back one weekday and do it when there aren’t as many people around. Henrhyd Falls would be a lovely spot for a picnic after a long walk.

‘Enter a race’, they said.

‘It’ll give you motivation’, they said.

So I did. I entered four. Oops.

The first is the Kolor Dash at Tredegar Park in Newport. I signed up in January with my friend, Liz. I’ve always wanted to try a colour run, and
as the charity organising this one is very close to my heart, I decided to sign up. It’ll be my first running and fundraising event, and Liz’s first since having a baby. Although I did sign up so that it would motivate me to train, because it’s a fun event and not a timed one, there’s no pressure. If we want to run, we can run. If we want to walk some of it, we can walk. Plus there’s a BBQ at the end, which I’m already looking forward to!

colour run

A couple of days after signing up for the Kolor Dash, some friends asked if I wanted to join them for the Parc Bryn Bach Rainbow Run in July. Of course, I said yes! A couple of days later, we all signed up for a Pretty Muddy 5k run in the autumn. Two fun events ticked straight off my running wish list – a colour run and a mud run!

Then, a few weeks ago, Liz asked if I wanted to do the Sospan 10k in Llanelli. I’ve wanted to sign up for a 10k, but worried that I would be too slow or not able to finish. I decided to go for it. Liz and her husband will be running, and pushing their daughter in the buggy, so we’ll run together.

I’m looking forward to all four of these runs. I know that I can run the whole of the Kolor Dash, albeit slowly. Since the other two 5k runs are quite a long time after that, I know I’ll be ok for those. The 10k is the one I’m most apprehensive about. I think that if I hadn’t signed up with friends, I would struggle, but knowing they’ll be there not only gives me motivation to train but means that I won’t chicken out on the day and let them down.

What was your first organised event?
What races and events do you have coming up?

A bad run

Better than no run at all?

I’ve waited a few days to write this post, just to get a little distance and perspective.

I had a terrible run last Thursday.

I wanted to write a blog post as soon as I got through the door, but I was in such a terrible mood that it seemed inadvisable.

I hadn’t run at all since the previous Monday, which had been a fab run with a friend. I don’t know about you, but after a good run like that, I tend to put too much pressure on myself for the next one to be just as good. So I put off going again. I skipped my Wednesday run with work colleagues in favour of going to a Latino Fit class, which I missed because I got stuck in traffic. The universe conspired against me then, with a few days where everything went wrong. You know they say things come in threes? I think this household had three sets of threes…

So by the time I was ready to run again, it had been nine days. I spent all day in work thinking about the run, which, since I don’t like to run alone, Alex had agreed to join me for. I knew it wasn’t going to be a good run. It had been too long since the last one, and last week was so hot. Still, I was excited to get back out there and when I got home from work I squeezed into my running gear and off we went to the park.

And it was shit. Right from the start, it was a struggle. I can’t say how much of it was down to the gap between runs and how much was down to the weather, which made me feel as though there was no air. I couldn’t fill my lungs; I gasped and wheezed all the way around.

I’ve been trying to improve my mental attitude and become more positive. (Readers who know me are now laughing in disbelief.) I ran telling myself I could do it, and I was stronger than my negative thoughts. Still, at the half mile point, when I hit a small incline, I uttered the words “sod it” and walked. I started to run again when I caught some of my breath back, but stopped halfway up the only hill on the route, and resumed running on the way back down. It wasn’t so bad for the next half mile or so. Somehow, I kept going. But I was slow. So slow. I apologised countless times for how slow and crap I was. The worst of it was that Alex hadn’t run with me in a long time, and this first run together since I re-started running (for the umpteenth time) was so much worse than all the others I’d done recently. All the way around the course I compared it to previous efforts, and concluded that it had never felt so hard. Clearly, the positive mental attitude was working…

Running up the final incline, I had to stop and wrestle my inhaler out of my running belt. I walked up that hill, puffing on it, and in the distance saw my usual running buddy. She was with a friend and they seemed to be enjoying themselves. I envied them, and I was embarrassed at the fact that I was walking and not enjoying myself. I ran the final stretch, got to the end (we were running the parkrun course) and wanted to cry.

I looked at Runkeeper. 3.27 miles in 41:14. 12:38 min/mile.
I compared it to the excellent Monday run. 3.35 miles in 38:42. 11:34 min/mile.
Awful, awful, awful.

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I told Alex I wouldn’t make him go running with me again. After all, he’s a good runner, and fast.

I wasn’t a happy bunny all evening. My lungs hurt, my pride hurt, and between wheezes and attempts to cheer myself up, I spent a lot of time staring at Runkeeper.
I looked back over recent runs and concluded that it wasn’t as horrendously slow as I thought. My Wednesday runs after work are always slower than that. Most of the runs I do with my running buddy, including parkruns, are only a little quicker.

Now, having had more time to think about it, I can see why it felt so awful.
I was putting pressure on myself to be better than was reasonable, given the gap between runs and the fact that the weather was against me.
I pushed myself too hard. Normally, when I go with my running buddy, we chat during the run. On Thursday, I could barely get out a couple of words at a time. I wasn’t running at my comfortable pace. Whether that was because I was desperate to ‘do better’ or because I didn’t want to be too slow because I was with Alex, I don’t know. Maybe a little of both.
And I spent the whole time beating myself up about being slow and useless and unfit. Normally, even when it’s a difficult run, I focus on the positives. The lovely park I run in, the fact that I’m out there and doing it at all, that kind of thing.

So Thursday was a bad day. But it’s not the end of the world. I got through it, despite wanting to give up and walk, and despite wanting to burst into tears at several points. My next run will be better, and I’ve been reminded of a few things not to do when I go out there.

Do you think a bad run is better than no run at all?
What’s your strategy for getting over a disappointing, discouraging, or just plain bad run?

2015

An exciting year – lots of big life decisions. Oh, and asthma.

So much happened last year that it’s difficult to know how to cram it all into a blog post. I’ve tried…

Early in 2015 I picked up my fitness routine again. I did Jillian Michaels workouts in my living room, Pilates sessions on the reformer in the spare bedroom, and then I started running again. I decided to use the C25k app to structure my workouts, and it worked really well for me for a few weeks, but I soon felt I could do more and went rogue for a couple of sessions, then stopped using the app. I’m not great at sticking to plans… I also started going to the free beginners sessions held by my local running club, which helped me to realise that I actually like running with other people. I never would have thought of myself as a social runner!

Springtime always makes my boyfriend and me want to get out and about even more than usual, and living near the canal meant we could walk straight from our house most evenings. One particular Sunday in June we did a lovely 15-mile walk along the canal from Blaenavon to Pontypool. We also walked up several of the mountains in our local area, and took my parents’ dog along for most of those trips.

Things took a bit of a turn for the worst when I found out that I was going to lose my job. The funding for my workplace had been cut, and everyone was in danger of being made redundant. Everyone but me, because I was on a fixed term contract. No redundancy benefits for me, just a ‘thank you and goodbye’. Cue much panic, and many hours spent looking for a new job.

It’s difficult to think of anything more soul crushing than the process of desperately looking for a job, especially when you know most of the jobs you apply for will just be something to pay the bills.

In the midst of it all were the Easter holidays. I had two weeks off, and I spent them not searching for or applying for jobs. I spent them walking and running and reading. I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do with my life, and I decided that sod it, I wanted to work in fitness. I wasn’t going to let other people put me off this time. I didn’t want to wake up every morning and go to an admin job, sitting on my bum, shuffling paper, not enjoying what I was doing with my life. So I did it. I applied for a 24+ loan, was accepted, signed up to do a course that would incorporate fitness instructor, personal trainer, and exercise referral qualifications.

Part of the reason I decided to take that plunge was because 2015 was the year I turned 30. I already felt I’d missed out on a lot when I’d been ill, and I hadn’t had a chance to really do some of the things that I wanted to. It wasn’t exactly an ‘ermagherd, I’m 30 and I’ve done nothing with my life!’ panic, but there was a definite feeling that I needed to start doing things that would make me feel more fulfilled.

My 30th birthday was great. They made a fuss of me in work, bought me plants for the garden and balloons. Ever tried to drive home in a 2-seater convertible with helium balloons on the passenger seat? I nearly didn’t make it to 31! My parents took me for a surprise Thai meal in the evening, and Alex had a cake made especially for me. He had also surprised me with a weekend away in North Wales, so that we could walk up Snowdon, which we’d been talking about doing for some time.

That was a bloody brilliant weekend. We stayed in a gorgeous B&B called Felindre Farm. If ever you’re looking to visit that area of the world, I highly recommend it. Gorgeous accommodation in a beautiful area, and the owners are lovely.
The Sunday morning we were supposed to walk up Snowdon it was rainy and gloomy. We ate breakfast, crossing our fingers that the weather would improve, and it did.

This is probably one of the best photos from the climb. I was still pretty cheery at this point.

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About halfway up Snowdon. Still smiling…

For the most part, I can’t say I was the greatest company to walk with that day. I found it a struggle, even though the Llanberis path is supposed to be the easiest route, and by the time we reached the summit I was very grouchy. The mountain was wreathed in mist, and there was no view from the top, so I don’t really have any photos of us when we got up there. By the time we walked back down, I felt like my knees were filled with broken glass, but after a lie down in the B&B and a shower I felt much better, and pleased with the achievement of making it to the top.
I had just finished getting ready to go into Bala, the nearest town, for a meal, when Alex got down on one knee and proposed.
He had wanted to do it at the top of Snowdon, but my face of thunder, combined with the mist and cold, had persuaded him that wasn’t the right time.

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The rest of the holiday was filled with congratulations from the owners of the B&B, as well as their other guests. We spent the day after Snowdon at the Lake Vyrnwy Spa, resting our tired legs. We visited the Red Kite centre near Rhayader, and meandered home on our last day via Barmouth, to be met with more congratulations from our families when we arrived.

In July I started a new job, working for an organisation I’d been trying to get a job with for several years. I instantly loved the job and the people there, and it was a job that really made me feel as though I was making a difference and doing something good with my life. It was only a temporary position, which fitted in well with my fitness qualification. By the time my contract ended, I would have all my qualifications and could move into the fitness industry.

I qualified as a fitness instructor a week after starting my new job. I was suffering from a cold, thanks to ‘new job germs’, but I made it through the assessments and passed.

Then I hit another big fitness-related problem. The cold became a chest infection. The chest infection didn’t clear up. After a month or so, the doctor gave me a Ventolin inhaler. It wasn’t until October/November that they diagnosed me with asthma and gave me a steroid inhaler. By that time I’d lost a lot of my fitness and hadn’t been able to keep up with my course. It felt like a bit of a disaster, but with some help from my tutor I plodded on to get my paperwork and assignments finished, then put the attendance part of my course on hold and tried to get my brand new asthma under control whilst building my fitness back up.

By the autumn we were in a position, with a lot of help from our generous families, to think about buying a house. We weren’t really looking, we just thought we’d go for a drive to see what was about. We found a lovely house for sale, and within a few weeks we’d viewed it three times and were in the process of buying it.

So many big life decisions in such a short time! 2015 was, despite some sticky moments and the inevitable stresses that go along with these types of changes, one of the most positive I can remember.

And now here I sit, a qualified fitness instructor and a (still very slow) runner. I’m engaged to the man I want to spend the rest of my life with, typing this post in the dining room of the house that we own. Funny how much can change in a year!

The difficult second post

Why I stopped running, and why I started again. And stopped again.

In December 2009 I experienced my first fitness setback. A sharp, awful pain in my left hip. I got out of bed one morning and found myself stuck, just holding on to the windowsill. It eased, and I drove to work. Or halfway to work, before pulling over into a car park, in tears of pain, ringing my boss and telling her I couldn’t come in.

I went to the doctor. No help. I went to my mum’s osteopath, who managed to ease the pain.

I started my fitness routine again. But the pain kept coming back. Every few months it would get too bad to continue, and it turned from just a sharp nerve pain to tingling in my leg. The doctor insisted it could be a tumour and I needed an x-ray. Thanks for that. That didn’t have me worried, panicked and crying at the drop of a hat for weeks. Yes, I’d have preferred if she had just not mentioned ‘tumour’ at all. Continue reading “The difficult second post”

The awkward first post

A VERY quick intro, and how I got into fitness.

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It’s an old photo, but this is a post about the past, after all.

I’m Laura. I’m 30 years old, from South Wales, and as of earlier this year I live in the Rhymney Valley with my fiancé and our three cats.

I always find introductions awkward, so I’m going to skim over that and invite you to check out my ‘about’ page to find out more about me and about this blog, including why it’s called Maximum Sloth.

This first post is going to focus on how I got into fitness in the first place.

Continue reading “The awkward first post”