odds and ends from a life under construction

focus t25: we got distracted

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I’ve been a Beachbody customer for a while now. Maybe it’s connected to my love of infomercial products, because this is a company that has the pitch down cold. But these products (and I’m speaking of the fitness programs, not the shakes and supplements) work if you’re committed and give 100%. To date, I’ve done Turbo Jam, ChaLEAN Extreme, Slim in 6 and Les Mills Pump. This is over many years, guys; I didn’t try them all in the past six months or anything. But they all have great production values and a variety of workouts so you don’t get bored with the program. And I’m not a coach, so I’m not trying to sell you anything. They’re just a very visible brand in the space.

The latest product to come from Beachbodyland is Focus T25, starring their current wunderkind Shaun T (he of Insanity, Hip Hop Abs and Rockin’ Body – I don’t have to own the programs to know all about them). I’d been looking for a program to supplement my running that Jason and I could do together (me for more fat loss while getting in some strength training and him to build muscle), and the idea of working out together for just 25 minutes every evening after Evan had been tucked in held immense appeal. The program itself is 10 weeks long, 5 weeks in the “Alpha” cycle and 5 week in the “Beta” cycle. One would assume the Beta cycle is more intense or difficult, and the Alpha cycle is foundational.

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Like all their recent programs, the packaging was professional and not overly bulky (Turbo Jam and ChaLEAN Extreme, at least when I bought them, came in much larger boxes, and Pump necessitates it with the barbell that comes with the program). Everything you need comes in a box that’s about 4″ square and less than 2″ deep. Inside is a booklet with sleeves containing all 11 of the core program DVDs, the program nutrition guide, a “fast track” diet guide to quick and immediate results, and the quick-start guide that walks you through the program specifics. You also get a two-sided calendar with the Alpha workout calendar on one side and the Beta calendar on the other. Each calendar day asks you to indicate how you performed on that day’s workout, and there’s a place to record your measurements at the end of each week.

The alpha and beta DVDs are clearly divided in the booklet – open from one end of the book for Alpha workouts, and flip the book over and open from the other end for the Beta workouts. In the center of the book is a smaller version of the workout calendar – handy if you want to just take your booklet when you travel without taking down a calendar that’s been tacked up on the wall. The Alpha and Beta cycles are also color coded (Alpha is yellow and Beta is orange) so you can keep things straight.

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A resistance band was also included with the set, although I already have resistance bands of my own. Which is fine – I can adjust intensity as I go with a variety of bands. If you buy from Team Beachbody or one of the Beachbody coaches, you also get an additional ab workout; since I bought my program from Amazon, I just had a lonely empty slot for that DVD in my booklet (you can buy it separately for around $20 on the Beachbody site).

After the program arrived, it took a couple weeks for us to get started. Either I was busy or Jason was, or we were just exhausted or plain forgot that we were going to exercise in the evening. And since the program comes with a calendar, there was a certain OCD satisfaction for me in kicking things off on a Monday. But we finally managed to carve out the time and clear out our living room enough to pop in the first workout, Alpha Cardio.

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If I could describe this workout in one word, it would be sweaty. Holy moly did we sweat. In order to fit a full workout into 25 minutes, Shaun T does not give you breaks. No water breaks, no catching your breath, just quickly moving from one exercise to the next. Each individual exercise is only done for around 30 seconds, so there’s never time to get bored either. There’s no equipment used – everything is done with your own body weight from a standing position.

The exercises are progressive – lift one knee slowly, lift the other slowly, lift each knee quickly, now lift both, etc. – and Shaun is pretty good at giving verbal cues and explaining exercises as he does them. Unfortunately, it’s not like there’s really time to demo workout moves before the clock starts, so if you’ve got two left feet it might take a couple times through to get the moves down. But the difficulty also doesn’t come from the moves themselves but from the pace and progressive nature of each move. The moves themselves are standard – jogging, jumping jacks, lunges, squats, etc. – but things move very quickly to keep your heart rate up.

The corner of the screen has timer, counting down both how much time is left doing a particular exercise and how much time is left in the entire workout. More than once I turned to Jason and huffed out, “Oh my god, we’ve only been doing this for three minutes?!?” or “Oh my god, this can’t be only 30 seconds!” And several times I had to modify exercises; plyometrics are my weakness, so any time there was a lot of hopping or jumping I could only make it partway through before modifying to something with less impact. Luckily there’s a woman in Shaun T’s workout crew doing the low-impact variation you can follow, although sometimes the editing cuts away from a wide shot where you can see her to focusing on one of the other team members, and when it’s right when a move change happens, you don’t always get to see the modification immediately. Also, the pace of the music didn’t match the pace of the workout. It was hard to sync up because the beats were totally off.

Another fun little wrench Shaun likes to throw in is the Burnout. Twice during the workout he increases the pace of the moves to really crank up your heart rate. Each Burnout segment only lasts three or four minutes (or HOURS, for real), but they’re exhausting. The first time it flashed on the screen, I didn’t know what to expect; the second time, I audibly groaned. The Burnouts are killer. And that was Alpha Cardio.

[As an aside: Shaun T’s husband (I think?) is in the video, and I noticed his *ahem* package was not secured in his very baggy shorts. And then I couldn’t unsee it. I mean, you bounce for practically the entire workout. Everything flails! There was flailing! I felt a little dirty.]

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Day 2 called for Speed 1.0. We popped it in not knowing what to expect and discovered… more cardio. The exercises were slightly different, and balance and stability moves were incorporated between faster-paced movements so you had the illusion of a rest (although your body laughed at the mere mention of that idea). But it was more standing and bouncing and sweating and Burnouts. I could tell by the end Jason was disappointed (although he appreciated that the music on this DVD matched up with the moves). When would we be entering beast mode?!? We both felt worked out, but I was starting to get the impression that this program wasn’t going to be enough strength training to satisfy us.

And… that’s as far as we’ve gotten. Two whole days out of ten weeks. I hesitate to say we failed, because it’s not like we forgot to do the workouts. And Shaun T is a great trainer – good cues, good form tips, motivating without being annoying. We just didn’t feel like they were going to meet our goals, which is probably on me for not reading the program description more carefully. I fell victim to the hype, y’all! I’m definitely going to try out the rest of the DVDs – it’s not like there are many other places to get an effective 25-minute workout. There’s also Focus T25 Gamma, and it sounds like it’s more focused on strength than cardio, so we might try that one eventually. For now, we’re going to see how it feels to make Tony Horton our master

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