It must have been a rare form of heat stroke but six weeks ago, at the height of the summer, Anna Magee decided it would be a terrific idea to spend August doing a different workout every night.
There were practical reasons. My husband Kevin was away all month and I didn’t want to go home to an empty house every night. Secondly, after growing up a chubby teen, discovering aerobics in the 90s and dropping to a size 10 (from a size 14) in my 20s, I now like to keep fit but I was bored with my workout.
The slow jogging – I called it jogging, others like my husband called it ‘granny shuffle’ – and light dumbbell training I’d done a few times a week for the last six months had become less attractive than my duvet and wasn’t working anymore.
I’d put on five pounds and felt flabby all over. My skinny jeans had pockets of fat sprouting out over their waistband. Most people would try a different workout, I wanted to try them all.
Moreover, each day a torrent of press releases landed in my in-tray gushing about new workouts burning a guzillion calories with this or that celebrity fan. I wanted to see for myself.
Each night in August, I attempted a different workout, whether in a class, gym, app, online or using home gym kit.
To gauge effectiveness, I wore a KiFit armband, a body monitor that uses skin temperature, steps, motion and sweat levels to get an accurate picture of calorie burn. Then Kirstie Tew, a sports scientist at Ki Fit calculated a calorie burn per minute for each exercise so I could compare and contrast the burn for each.
There were surprises: I burned more calories per minute walking, than I did doing some of the most hyped – and expensive – workouts. Indeed, on the day I couldn’t get to a class I moved around more throughout the day, taking the stairs at work, getting up to walk to the other end of the office once an hour and walking home from the station. That day, I burned 100 more calories over the course the day than on most of the days I did an hour’s workout.
I also learned there’s nothing hotter in fitness right now than High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Every trainer, his wife and their dog are extolling the virtues of this exercise method that features short intervals of hard-as-you-can-go movement – anything from jumping, cycling, rowing, push-ups, you name it – for a period of 30-45 seconds interspersed with rest periods of anything from 30-90 seconds. It’s makes you sweat like a horse, increases your metabolism and has the same effect of more moderate training in a shorter time. Fitness nirvana for the time-pressed.
Then there was the data. Oh the data. If you think your accountant is the most numbers-obsessed person you know you haven’t spoken to the instructors and fitness nuts running the latest classes coming out of the States right now. Many of these classes began by weighing me and taking other vital stats before strapping me into a heart rate monitor before I was even allowed to think about getting on any exercise equipment. Then my burn, training zone, fat burn levels, eye colour and star sign (just kidding) would come up up on a giant screen that’s at the end of the room visible to the entire classes.
In fact, as a bit of a data-holic myself that’s where the biggest lesson I learned came in: don’t believe your treadmill – or anything else that gives you an ‘estimated’ calorie burn. The workouts I was doing sold themselves with lines such as ‘burn up to 1000 calories an hour’ but according to my Ki Fit, I rarely burned more than 350.
According to Kirstie Tew: ‘This ‘low burn rate’ illustrates how individual calorie burn is and why treadmills can be misleading,’ she says. Calorie burn is determined by a person’s weight and the amount of muscle on their bodies, she says.
Those with more muscle burn more (I clearly don’t have much). Calorie burn is also determined by your dieting history, says Tew. I have been a serial dieter for 20 years and that’s trained my body to be more efficient at holding onto calories, she explains. That’s why I burned so much less than other people doing the same workout. It means I’m now stuck working out for the rest of my life so I figured I better make it interesting.
Here’s a rundown of what happened and an honest rating for each workout.
The hype Ashton Kutcher and Daniel Craig train in this bare knuckle fighting style used by the Israeli Defence Forces I found We started with the basics: strikes, elbowing, kneading, kicking and punching then began sparring with pads. I was paired up with a burly civil servant, David and had to use my arms to fend off his attacks with a faux-knife! My forearms got a bruising and I was terrified of being hurt but it was oddly exhilarating, concentrating on not getting punched takes your mind off your heart about to jump from your chest. Total Burn 281 calories (90 minutes) Burn per minute 3.1 Rating 5/10
The hype Private members’ club meets luxe gym with panelled walls, shiny gym equipment and even a calming reading area. I found Workouts are 15 minutes and focus on heavy weight lifting to increase metabolism by building muscle (it burns more calories than fat). Creator Zana Morris, a nutritionist and personal trainer pushed me through squatting 100 kilos and about 100 abdominal and waist exercises. It was all over in 12 minutes but I did almost pass out. Total Burn 127 (12 minutes) Burn per minute 10.5 Rating 8/10
The hype Yogalosophy (Seal Press £14.99) is a new book by Mandy Ingber, yoga and fitness trainer to Jennifer Aniston and Kate Beckinsale. I found Ingber’s 28-day programme includes 14 toning moves and half an hour of cardiovascular exercise of your choice everyday. I did a 30-minute brisk walk (which burned more than most other classes per minute) before doing Ingber’s moves on the kitchen floor, yoga poses mixed with backward lunges, squats and push ups. Total Burn 302 calories (one hour, ten minutes) Burn per minute Yoga 2.2, walking 7.1 Rating 7/10
The hype Yin yoga holds poses for minutes rather than a few breaths to instil relaxation. I found It was Sunday night and I was tired so I did Yin Yoga which required little more than lying around on cushions on yogaglo.com (see day 18). Teacher Felicia Tomasko made us hold postures for up to eight minutes which hurt my hamstrings and eventually made me yawn. Not a workout but an insomnia fix. Rating 5/10 Total Burn 111 in 60 minutes Burn per minute 1.9
The hype Ex-Newcastle footballer Alan Shearer is a fan of this souped-up circuits class done at high speed on new Speedflex machines, ‘isokinetic’ weights that provide support you as you lift for tone without bulk. I found Weight lifting moves such as overhead lifts and ‘clean and jerks’ are done on each Speedflex machine (these feel easier and less jerky than regular weights so can be done at higher speed) for 30 seconds alternating with 30 seconds of high-cardio moves such as burpees and step ups. Rating 7/10 Total Burn 285 calories in 35 minutes Burn per minute 8.1.
The hype Boom Body classes use dumbbells to work the upper body along with the lower on a stationary bike. I found The class at Boom Cycle in Shoreditch was like a spinning rave party and I was over the mean age by 20 years. The addition of hand weights for bicep and tricep lifts and the instructor’s shiny enthusiasm broke the monotony of pedaling along on a bike that went nowhere at different speeds. Rating 6/10 Total Burn 209 Burn per minute 3.9
The hype The most dangerous martial art, Muay Thai is kick-boxing with punching, kneeing and elbowing – Ryan Gosling, Juliette Lewis and Matthew McConnaughey are fans. I found In bare feet and boxing gloves, participants began by shadowboxing, jabbing, cutting and doing Rocky impersonations in the mirror. We partnered up – I again with a man, Ben – and sparred for 25 minutes of highly aerobic kicks and punches each until we were both dripping in sweat and laughing at how bad we were at it. It was oddly gratifying, I’d had a bad day at work but afterwards felt a Xanax-like calm. Rating 9.5/10 Total Burn 329 in 60 minutes Burn per minute 5.5
The hype ‘Do you envy Barbie and her rubber limbs?’ is the selling line for Splitz classes, at London Dance Academy (LDA). Cool New York clubs like Equinox now also offer classes dedicated to solely to stretching. I found In pairs we began sitting on the floor facing eachother, our legs a V-shape pushing against our partner’s shins to open up our inner thighs. The bittersweet stretch was followed by attempting the splits with the teacher – a willowy dancer-y type – using the weight of her body to push us into the stretches by which time I was wondering how on earth I could get out (of both the stretch and the room). Rating 3/10 Total Burn 94 in 30 minutes Burn per minute 3.1
The hype When Frank Underwood, Kevin Spacey’s character in Netflix’s House of Cards started using a Water Rower which mimics the dynamics of rowing on real water, I had to hunt one down. I found I had it delivered to the office and did it at lunchtime for half an hour. The Water Rower is made in raw ashwood, feels smooth to use and flips up on its side so it doesn’t scare the guests. But it’s monotonous. I did an interval session of one minute hard, one minute easy, 15 times which with a Green Day album on my playlist that made it bearable but at the end of the day it’s rowing. Rating: 5/10 Total Burn 292 calories in 30 minutes Burn per minute 9.7
The hype An app that lets you take your yoga anywhere on your tablet or phone. I found There were five choices: Ocean, Desert, Mountain, Sun Salutation A or Sun Salutation B but no explanations so randomly I chose Ocean, an ‘intense yoga flow’. The interface was a badly animated lady on a beach with creepy organ music and a Suri-like voice that were anything but relaxing. 20 minutes into the repetitive sun salutations, I wanted to throw the iPad across the room. Rating 1/10 Total Burn 114 in 60 minutes Burn per minute 1.9
The hype Celebs like Demi Moore, Christy Turlington and Zooey Deshcanel are flocking to Physique 57 studios in in the US where the 57-minute workouts combine ballet, barre moves, Pilates and toning exercises. I found I did a new online class at home using my dining chair as the barre. We needed hand weights and a medicine ball (I used a cushion). At the ‘barre’ we worked hips, thighs, love handles and tummy with hip shimmying, plies, and demi-plies on tip-toes before repeated sets of full-push ups and planks while the instructor, a skinny smiling assassin shouted to imagine yourself in a bikini. Rating 6/10 Total Burn 146 in 57 minutes Burn per minute 2.6
The hype Barry’s Bootcamp, LA say their treadmill and weights sessions are the reason Amanda Seyfried, Jessica Biel, Katie Holmes and Jake Gyllenhaal look so good. The London one opened in July. I found In a club-like atmosphere and low pink lighting, the workout is spent part sprinting on treadmills part doing resistance exercise with weights. It was like being at a dance-party in the 90s only the rush was endorphins not Ecstasy. Sweaty and fun with instructors that look like beefed up Christian Bales high fiving everyone. Total Burn 349 in 60 minutes Burn per minute 5.8 Rating: 9/10
The hype Athletes train in high altitude locations to increase their performance and at the new Altitude Centre in Central London you can do spinning, rowing and treadmill running for non-athletes in a room set at a 2700 metres high. I found Even pedalling casually on the bike, my muscles hurt and when we did the intervals: two lots of 10 second bursts uphill at high speed interchanged with 90 seconds’ rest my legs felt they would break. Altitude training causes muscles to tire quickly and hurt is what reportedly leads to a fast-track in fitness and more calories burned.Though deprived of oxygen I could barely breathe afterwards I felt a wave of serenity as outside the chamber, your body takes in more oxygen leading to serotonin, the brain’s happy chemical, being pumped into the brain. Rating 6/10 Total Burn 300 calories in 30 minutes Burn per minute 10
The hype From Les Mills who brought us Body Pump in the early noughties, GRIT is based on High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) which alternates 30-45 seconds intense exercise with 30-45 seconds rest, said to be equivalent of an hour’s moderate activity. I found 30 minute of intervals including burpees (exercise spawn of Lucifer) full push-ups, sprints, jump squats, running on the spot bringing knees up past your hips and near cardiac arrest inducing jump lunges done for 45 seconds at a time. The finale featured ‘compound’ exercises: 2-3 moves in one – squat, star jump in the air ‘frog-jumping’ for 30 seconds continually. How I didn’t end up in A&E is anyone’s guess. Rating: 9/10 Total Burn 150 calories in 25 minutes Burn per minute 5 calories
The hype Hybrid fitness or ‘Frankencise’ fuses exercise disciplines – ‘Kickasana’ mixes yoga and boxing, ‘Piloxing’ combines Pilates and boxing. I did ‘Framework’ a mix of dance, fitness, yoga and Pilates at trendy East London fitness studio, Frame. I found On yoga mats we moved into downward dog then out blared ‘Don’t stop til you get enough’. Then we swooped into plies and arabesques while shadow boxing, our top halves imitating Muhammed Ali, our bottom halves Darcey Bussell. Like having leftover pizza for breakfast, oddly rebellious but not sustainable. Rating 3/10 Total Burn 180 calories in an hour Burn per minute 3
Hype Moving around more during our days is a concept known as ‘incidental exercise’. Research has found it’s more beneficial to metabolism than doing an hour’s formal workout, then sitting all day. I found When a friend and said she was in town unexpectedly, starved of non-fitness related social contact, I dumped my planned workout ‘Aerial yoga’ (who does that?) and tried moving around more all day. I went running up the stairs to the sixth floor when I needed the loo, walked from the office in Waterloo to Soho to meet my friend then home from the Tube in Stratford clocking up over 10,000 steps on the Ki Fit monitor, the daily number you need for weight loss, obesity researchers say. I burned more calories throughout that day than in most of the days I did an hour’s workout. Rating 9/10 Total Burn 2206 throughout the day (about the same or more than most workout days) Burn per minute 1.5
The hype High intensity Interval Training (HIIT) on your phone with exercises done for a set amount of time resting for another set time. I found Craving the simplicity of a jog in the park, I took my phone along and worked some HIIT into it by this free HIIT App. You choose the ratio of hard training to rest period – I chose 40:20 and an automated man’s voice announced each move such as planks or jump lunges. With no video I didn’t know what some of the moves were and during ‘corkscrew burpees’ I impersonated a dog chasing its tail and scared the children on the swings. Rating 3/10 Total Burn 419 (25 minutes jogging, 25 minutes doing the HiiT app) Burn per minute 7
The hype New online yoga studios means for a subscription costing around a tenner a month, you can have access to unlimited classes. I found All Yogaglo.com’s classes are shot at the flash Yogaglo studio in central Los Angeles. It’s easy to search and you can tell it the time, style and level you want and the video streams fast to your phone, tablet or Mac. I did teacher Marc Holzman’s class with dynamic, challenging yoga poses with relaxing deep breathing. Blissful (and at £11.50 a month, cheap). Rating 9.5/10 Total Burn Burn per minute [LEFT MONITOR AT WORK!]
The hype A combination of gymnastics and Olympic-style weight lifting CrossFit is loved by Jessica Biel and Cameron Diaz. I found The CrossFit gym where my ‘beginner’s bar squat technique’ class took place had rubber flooring with heavy iron weights leaning on the walls. We learned ‘Olympic Bar’, the one Zoe Smith lifted in the Olympics. After half an hour’s tutoring from ex-dancer teacher we did a ten minute workout of squatting with the iron weight on our shoulders (I was carrying 10 kilos, Smith can rest in her bed) in three continuous sets of 21. About three squats in I thought there was no way I could do another 18. But I groaned on through – in the spit and sawdust atmosphere, it seemed rude not to – and despite coming last (again) a sense of achievement I dined out on for days after. Rating 8.5/10 Total Burn 116 in 60 minutes Burn per minute 1.9
The hype Women flying up and down poles in gangster movies made it look easy too, how hard could it be? I found We each took one of the nine poles in the room and Melissa, our sexy teacher (who loved flicking her hair everywhere) taught us = body rolls and kicks and pole dancing’s staples: spins and lifts. These required the grip of a Russian wrestler and hurt my hands and wrists – I caught myself in the mirror making facial expressions that screamed ‘Get me a valium’ rather than ‘Come here, big boy.’ My ankles, banging on the pole instead of gracefully flying through the air, were bruised the next day. Rating 2/10 Total Burn I couldn’t wear the arm band as you need as much skin exposed as possible to ‘stick’ to the pole (don’t ask) Burn per minute
The hype A circuit training app that trainers had told me about that always seemed in the top ten apps in fitness magazines. I found Choose the body part you want to work – upper body, lower body, rump etc – tell it the time you have and you’re off. I did a full body workout in which you get 30 seconds on each exercise and a 30 second break every few minutes. Every exercise move you can think of is covered – all manner of tummy tighteners, jumping jacks, star jumps, kicks and the usual planks and push ups with no equipment needed plus a video option. Great functionality. There’s a free option or a £2.99 ‘Pro’ from iTunes. Rating 9.5/10 Total Burn 440 in 45 minutes Burn per minute
The hype Over 400 classes that take place all over the UK run by ex-soldiers and Marines with an emphasis on sprints, agility training, chasing people, relays, tags and strength work. I found My class was run by Rob, an ex-Commando who’s his mission in Wanstead Flats was to make me cry with uphill sprints, chasey ‘agility drill’ games and relays carrying heavy backpaks that I always lost. Partner work was close and at one point my head was pushed into some poor woman’s neck. Rob scream hammed up versions of sergeant major clichés such as ‘I have seen more action in Tesco!’ rather than being humiliating it makes for an inclusive, fun and warm atmosphere. Rating 7/10 Total Burn 349 in 60 minutes Burn per minute 5.8
The hype Lazaro Alamanares is a Cuban body builder whose classes on the activechannel.com feature high energy kicks and jumping moves called ‘plyometrics’ mixed with abdominal and strength work. I found I did two 12 minute sessions, free on the activechannel.com (also on Sky Channel 281 or Freesat 408) which alternated high energy sweat-inducing jumping jacks, running on the spot, boxing and kicking with strength moves like sit ups and squats. Lazaro was surrounded by other gorgeous Cubans who made jump lunges look easy and like such fun but for me it was so painful it had to work. My hair was soaked with sweat in 25 minutes. Rating 8/10 Total Burn 112 in 25 minutes Burn per minute 4.5
The hype Exercising at high intensity creates an effect known as Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), increased calorie burn after the workout. The new Hot5 App [launched on August 22nd] uses intense five minute workouts for this effect. I found Sleek HD video, workouts in different themes and eight different trainers to choose from make it user-friendly and sleek. I did Total Body and the moves worked me hard in five minutes including those sodding mountain climbers where you have to do push ups with one knee up towards your armpit. You can ‘add’ up workouts to make a longer one (or near death experience). It’s free, you start with 500 credits and each workout unlocks more workouts, though you can also pay for them too. Rating 9/10 Total Burn 56 in five minutes Burn per minute 11.2
The hype Drew Barrymore and Kelly Osbourne are fans of barre training, classical dance-inspired workouts using the ballet bar as their base. I found I tried the ‘Mixed Barre’ class online (barrecore.co.uk/virtual) which fried my core and derriere. It was mainly deep, small movements the barre (again my dining chair) such as plies and arabesques held for what felt like hours working deep within the muscles we never seem to feel but want to tone – inner thighs, butts and those fleshy bits at the top of your waistband. Rating 7/10 Total Burn 137 in 45 minutes Burn per minute 3
The hype New fitness raves mean ex-clubbers can get into a big, sweaty venue with light shows and loud music and still be home for the 9pm drama. Zumba Riot is souped-up Zumba in darker, louder halls and clubs. I found I tried it on a Monday night at Chiswick Town Hall, kitted out with two fake flame throwers, massive speakers and dimmed purple lighting. It felt like an old school disco but once the music started I caught the vibe and followed the instructor’s butt shimmying moves and felt 22 again. Rating 7/10 Total Burn 342 calories in an hour Burn per minute 5.7
The hype All over the States, it launched in London last month (in David Lloyd), and claims to use the most proven scientific theories of fat burning to get the body into its ‘orange’ or maximum fat-burning zone, 84 per cent of its maximum heart rate. I found Half the class started with treadmill sprints and the other half did combinations of light weights, balance training and core exercises. We each wore a heart monitor and giant screens showed which training ‘zone’ we were in – grey (super-easy), blue (easy), green (hard-ish), orange (optimum fat-burning) or red (too high, slow down!) plus the percentage of our maximum heart rate we were working at while the instructor pushed and prodded us to go further and harder. Rating 9/10 Total Burn 352 in 60 minutes Burn per minute 5.9
The hype Sandbell classes are based on Functional Fitness which takes moves like squatting, lunging and push-ups and adds passing, throwing, pushing and pulling to mimic how we move in real life. Instead of dumbells, sandbells are used which are are neoprene bags full of sand in different weights. I found We dropped, passed, threw and slammed the sandbells in moves such as the Rainbow Slam, where you stand feet wide apart, slam the sandbell on the floor outside of the right foot then squat to pick it up, rotate it overhead and repeat on the other side which felt like they were working muscles I didn’t know I had. The second section called ‘Play’ had us doing frog jumps and knee-ups over the sandbells relay-style. Sweaty, fast and exhilarating. Rating 9/10 Total Burn 220 calories in 25 minutes Burn per minute 4.9
The hype The new Prime Mover app takes you through a progressive workout programme, can be done anywhere with no equipment and tracks your progress, like having a trainer in your pocket. I found Workouts are 21 minutes long and based on HIIT. You start in Level 1 with 30 seconds hard work, 30 seconds rest and starts from a basic level so it’s great for beginners. The app competes with you by asking you to fill in how many of each exercise you did after each set then sends little messages such as ‘Are you sure you’re awake?’ A bit like having a pushy trainer on your back. The first workout’s free then workouts 2-9 cost £3.99. From iTunes. Rating 6/10 Total Burn 75 in 21 minutes Burn per minute 3.6
They say At new women-only Hiitgirl gyms in London and Yorkshire, classes are 30 minutes, based on HIIT training and designed give women a quick workout that delivers results. I found On a large screen at the front of the room a stopwatch timed our sessions of 40 seconds hard exercise alternating with 20 seconds rest. The first 15 minutes was ‘Muscle Moves’ such as squats, lunges and abdominal moves using large weighted balls and the second half were, ‘meta moves’: knee ups and frog-jumps on a mini trampoline along with intervals on a stationary bike for 15 minutes. Afterwards I was ready to take on anything – except another 30 workouts in 30 days. Rating 9.5/10 Total Burn 182 calories in 30 minutes Burn per minute 6.1