Health Bytes: When fitness is a click away
Finding a routine that comes closest to addressing your personal goals, strengths and limitations are essential to working out at home.
January in New York is a dreadful time of the year. The fairy lights and flamboyant storefronts disappear after New Year, leaving behind a dank, dark, depressing city. Snow turns to slush, rainbow sweaters are cloaked with pitch-black coats, the subway stations-- frigid, filled with irate commuters and the homeless--are awful at this time of the year. I remember being particularly miserable that first winter; I was dealing with relationship angst (I always am, the story of my life), was struggling to cope at school and was homesick.
And yes, the weather wreaked havoc on my health, both physical and mental. I was morose, more often than not; desperately sad and lonely; very hungry (overnight oats and salad in winter are just a no-no) and lethargic. It was too cold to leave home to walk or go to the gym, and I could feel a new layer of fat pressing into the waistband of my jeans, and padding my thighs. The lack of structure and routine in my life at this time, essential for someone who grapples with crippling anxiety, made me feel even worse.
I could feel myself sliding. I knew I had to get an exercise routine back and fast. But the thought of leaving home and facing the snow and frigid air was daunting.
Enter Fitness Blender.
To the uninitiated, Fitness Blender is a website and YouTube channel that offers over 500 full-length workouts, easily accessed in the privacy of your living room. You don't need much to start, really, just a few hand weights (you can sub these with soup cans and water bottles if you’re super broke), a mat, thirty-odd minutes of your time and a bit of motivation.
I already had the mats and the weights lying around. I was on a temporary break from the then-boyfriend, which meant more me-time, so carving out 30-40 minutes wasn't hard. The motivation was a struggle--the cold had made me sluggish, loath to get out of bed. But I forced myself to, taking it one day at a time, trying not to get intimidated. Slowly, over time, it became a habit. I started feeling and looking better, began looking forward to my session on the mat.
I haven’t been able to pinpoint the exact moment when home workouts slipped into our world, but I imagine Jane Fonda may have been one of the best-known pioneers in this space. Fonda, who once used ballet to keep fit, switched to aerobic and strengthening after an ankle injury. And was hooked. She went on to open a workout studio in Beverly Hills, then wrote a book about fitness titled Jane Fonda’s Workout Book. The book became a runaway bestseller-- by March 13th, 1982 it was the No 1 on The New York Times non-fiction list, selling over a million copies over the next couple of years.
The video came soon after with Jane Fonda’s Workout Video hitting the streets by April 24th, 1982. Fonda, in her 40’s at that time, was a perfect example of her routine’s efficacy and the video did remarkably well, selling more than 3,00, 000 copies within a few months.
A bunch of aerobic queens popped up around this time, popularizing leotards, legwarmers and pretty little pink dumbbells. Jane Fonda, of course, but also Denise Austin, Kathy Smith, June Jones and Susan Powter.
The workout DVDs soon followed: P90X, focusing on overall fitness; Insanity, which relies on max interval training; multiple versions of Jillian Michael's circuit-style programs; Charlene Johnson's Yoga and Pilates combinations, and so on.
Then came social media, which opened the doors to even more players and introduced the idea of a fitness influencer-- an ordinary person who has used social media to garner fame and credibility in the fitness space. Perhaps the best-known face (and body) in this space is Australia-born Kayla Itsines, who built a $486 million empire via Instagram. In 2014, Itsines, a personal trainer, co-created what she calls the Bikini Body Training Guides with her partner Tobi Pearce and used Instagram to popularize the program.“ The primary aim when developing the BBG program was, and still is, to educate and support women throughout their health and fitness journey and help them to feel stronger and more confident in themselves,” she says in this interview with Forbes.
Over the last four or five years, several fitness influencers have cropped up across the globe: Jennifer Selter, Rachel Brathen, Amanda Bisk, Cassey Ho and Molly Galbraith are some popular ones; they all use personality, knowledge and the internet to create their hugely- profitable fitness empires.
For me, Fitness Blender changed the way I thought of exercise. I’ve always liked exercising, but till then, home workouts were a bit of a drag. I needed a class, a gym or a park to move my body. Perhaps it was due to the trainer I usually chose—Jillian Michaels-- whose 30-Day Shred's tough love and fat-shaming put me off terribly. But I could never be consistent with a home workout.
I also thought that thirty minutes wasn't enough to make a difference. And that you needed a lot of space and incentive to workout at home. Fitness Blender, however, proved me wrong: it was so fun and well-structured that, once I got past the initial mental block, I began looking forward to my sessions, barely missing them.
Through many assignments, a nerve-wracking thesis, multiple love crises, and even dealing with a friend-turned-abusive stalker, I found time for myself and felt way better for it. Burpees and chest-presses, renegade rows and flys, pullovers and crunches became my crack: I needed it, craved it really after a point. Within a couple of months, I had lost six pounds, was eating and sleeping better and was calmer overall.
Of course, finding a routine that comes closest to addressing your personal goals, strengths and limitations are essential to working out at home. Fitness Blender, for instance, really worked for me because they had low-intensity alternatives in their HIIT routines—with my achy knee, a lot of home routines that involve plyometrics are a bit of a no-no. It also helped that its founders, Seattle-based, Daniel and Kelli Segars seemed incredibly warm and kind and that these are very well-structured plans—liking your trainer (and plan) is crucial to sticking to a program. And whatever you choose, remember that form is vital. You can get injured if you don't take time to learn and be aware of it.
But I’ve discovered some fabulous benefits of home workouts on that journey. For instance, you can work out in the comfort of your own home, save time on the commute, don't need to dress up (I often just threw on a sports bra and worked out in my pyjamas). You don’t have to waste time at the gym, waiting for sweat-drizzled treadmills or cross-trainers. Nor do you get distracted by the men in sweaty tees, hogging the weight section, grunting and making orgasmic noises when they lift. They’re also extremely affordable compared to a gym: A Fitness Blender full-length scheduled program is anywhere between $7.99-$ 14.99, and the individual workout videos are free.
I won’t lie—if you’re looking at gains or chiselling your body a certain way— a home workout isn’t going to cut it. You need the mirrored interiors of a gym equipped with barbells, dumbbells, and cables for that. But if you’re just looking at staying fit, and looking nicer in (and without, too) your clothes, and you’re consistent about it, it works. It’s ideal for a casual exerciser trying to stay fit despite a crazy schedule, a new mum who can’t leave home easily because of her baby, or someone who simply cannot afford a regular gym membership.
Also, a cranky grad student. Do you know what they say about sweat being fat crying? Well, I'd like to modify it a little. Sweat stopped me from crying, more often than not. And for that, I truly owe Fitness Blender one. So, I’m going to go all fan girl on this one and share the link to their site. Try it out if you have the time, you may fall in love with it too.