Thursday, December 26, 2013

Workout Review: More Cardio Strength by Michelle Dozois

As mentioned in my previous post, it’s not too early to start thinking about your New Year’s resolutions, if you enjoy making those goals every year.  After days or weeks of indulging in holiday treats, you may feel the need to get back on track for 2014.  Having a healthy eating plan is essential to your overall wellness, but so is a fitness routine.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be highlighting some video-based workouts that could be just the thing to jumpstart your goal to exercise more this year.

First up is Michelle Dozois’ More Cardio Strength.  Michelle is a top fitness instructor who has come up with the very effective Peak system to maximize your results.  Like its companion More Cardio Interval Burn, this routine features five ten-minute blocks, with each block broken into two five-minute segments.  Countdown graphics are at the bottom of the screen, indicating how much time is left in each portion. Each segment pair is virtually identical, beginning at a Basecamp level, which is fairly easy and prepares you for the next level. She quickly moves into the Ascent portion of the workout, which is usually about two minutes in length.  Ascent segments are not incredibly difficult, but I find that there are usually one or two moves that surprise me in how they challenge me.  So the Ascent portion is not easy by any means.  It’s just a lower intensity than what comes later. This is the portion of the workout when the hand weights are used.

The next couple of minutes are spent in the Climb portion of the segment, which is mostly focused on cardio and does not use the weights.  While two minutes might not sound like a significant amount of time, Michelle really pushes her viewers.  The Climb is uncomfortable, and definitely gets your heart rate moving quite a bit.  The final 30 seconds or so of the segment are spent in Peak mode.  This portion is an all-out blast of energy, pushing your body to its limit.  It’s the kind of exertion that you probably could not sustain for more than a minute if you tried.  It always takes me to the limit of what my body can do. I welcome the following Basecamp segments, as they give us a chance to breathe and regroup.

After the five-minute segment is completed, she moves on to the next segment, beginning with Basecamp again. The choreography changes for each of the five blocks, so participants are challenged in different ways every 10 minutes. The workout concludes with a solid 5-minute cool down and stretch, which leaves you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated.

I love the moves that she’s chosen for each block. They’re challenging, fun and there’s almost always an easier modification for those of us who aren’t quite ready to do everything in the routine.  Because the steps are so innovative, I would highly recommend watching the 55-minute routine ahead of time. First-time viewers will find that the moves come on very fast when you’re not familiar with them.  In fact, it took me a number of run-throughs before I could follow along comfortably.

What makes More Cardio Strength different from More Cardio Interval Burn is the inclusion of weight training during the Ascent segments.  You will need a pair of light hand weights and a heavy pair.  The definition of “light” and “heavy” will vary from person to person.  The key is to find weights that challenge you and are difficult, but not so difficult that you can’t perform the moves.  When your body becomes stronger over the weeks of using the video, simply increase the weights.  Beginners may want to try 5 pounds and 8 pounds as they start out.  And of course, follow your doctor’s instructions before beginning any fitness regimen.

Studies have shown that we can achieve a better fitness level with the inclusion of weight training. It builds lean body mass, so that even sitting still, your body burns more calories. Our bones are strengthened by the work, and we’re better able to complete the daily tasks of life, such as picking up our children or hauling heavy boxes when we move into a new home.  When all of our core muscles are challenged during the workout, we reduce the possibility of lower back pain.  The benefits are many, and well worth the inclusion of strength training into our routines.

I’ve done cardio and strength combination training videos for years, and Michelle’s are definitely some of my favorites.  Her strong enthusiasm is very contagious, and he encourages you to give it your best throughout the entire class.  Her fellow cast members (who have also partnered with her for a long time in the Peak system) seem genuinely glad to be in the program and have a great rapport with each other.  The soundtrack music is amazing. Michelle’s choices for each segment are so incredibly motivational.  There have been many days when I have heard music from Peak workouts running in my head, and I actually begin to look forward to sweating buckets and giving it my all in challenging moves like burpees and sit-outs.

As with many of the videos in the Peak series, some these workouts are not for everyone.  A significant portion of the choreography is high impact, requiring strength, speed and endurance. I would estimate that intermediate exercisers would be safe to give it a try. Modifications are offered for the more difficult moves, which I appreciated during my first tries with this workout, but it’s still very challenging.  If you’re just starting out as a Peak exerciser, do your best and give it your all.  Use the modifications if needed. Don’t expect perfection; just push your body a little more each time and have fun!

Here's a listing of each of the Peaks performed during the workout:
  • Block 1 - No Peak required, as we're still getting warmed up.  But make no mistake, this block will jump start your body in short order.
  • Block 2 - 180° Squat Touch Downs - I don't have any problem performing these. The trick is, how fast can I move, how many can I crank out before the bell rings?
  • Block 3 - Side to Side Squat Down Jumps - These are fun, but tough.  Getting all the way down in a crouch, popping up to jump to the side takes alot of of me, quickly.  Again, it's a question of how many I can do of these in half a minute.  You can see a bit of this at time marker 1:53 on the YouTube video below.
  • Block 4 - Big Tuck Ski Jumps - The side-to-side motion of this Peak isn't too difficult; it's the tuck-jump portion of the move that is super-hard for me.  I've been working on my tuck jumps for years, so this is a work in progress.  Getting my knees up is a big challenge.
  • Block 5 - Knee Slappers - This tuck jump has the added difficulty of getting the knees separated wide and high enough to slap without bending over at the torso.  In my opinion, it's by far one of the most difficult Peaks in the series. This move is at 3:51 in the aforementioned YouTube video.
Block 5 Knee Slappers

If you’re ready to push your fitness to the next level and are new to Michelle’s Peak workouts, More Cardio Strength and More Cardio Interval Burn are a great pair of workouts to do this. While they are follow-ups to the 10-workout Peak Fit program, they can stand alone as separate routines as well. Be prepared to work hard, sweat profusely, have fun and feel great! You’ll love the sense of accomplishment, your body will love its greater health, and others will see a difference in you as you become stronger, leaner and fitter.  Before long, you can get in the best shape of your life and actually enjoy the hard work it took to get there.  Take the next step in 2014 and become a Peak Fit participant.  This is the year to make it happen!

Four-Minute Preview of More Cardio Strength

Connect with Michelle Dozois and Breakthru Fitness


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