Web-based exercise programmes can give you a varied training schedule to complete at your own convenience in your own home.
The fitness test: The world-wide workout
When Marcus Smith became bored with his rugby training five years ago, the former sport-science student and his friends decided to explore new ways to challenge their bodies by varying their workouts. Several years of training and research later, having been inspired by Crossfit training, the result of their hard work is available for the world to share - free of charge - at www.innerfight.com. Every week Smith posts a series of five workouts, which - based on cross-training principles that are designed to raise the heart rate and turn fat into lean muscle mass - should be completed over five days.
His site has more than 1,000 members worldwide, including members in the US and Canada. "We realised what we're doing is so user-friendly - the workouts only last about 40 minutes and are different every day, so always interesting - that we thought, 'Why not put it on a portal so other people could feel the benefits?'" says Smith, who lives in Dubai. With the summer humidity rising and the purse strings ever tight, I decided to take advantage of his goodwill and work out behind closed doors, courtesy of the website.
I've never been one for gyms or weight-lifting, but I am always seeking the as-yet-elusive Madonna-esque arms and abs of steel, and I am aware some strength training will probably need to be integrated into my slacking exercise regime. This time, not even the sight of four sets of 10 pull-ups could put me off. Every workout on the website consists of a set of different exercises, or sometimes several different sets, which must be completed in a circuit and repeated as many times as instructed. Images of the exercises referred to in the workouts are also on the site.
Despite the name, there is no fighting or fight training involved in any of the workouts - instead, Smith says it refers to and is inspired by the "battle within the mind", which most of us face every time we contemplate getting up off the sofa and going to the gym. (Even if it's just a lift-ride away). During the past week I have found myself jumping over benches, jumping on benches, skipping, performing back extensions, bicep curling, rowing 500 metres at a time, squatting and enduring the burn of plyo lunges.
Smith, who has a degree in sport and leisure management and has played rugby professionally, has developed more than 100 different training sessions - ensuring users will rarely find themselves repeating one more than once in a three-month period. Every workout I have attempted on the site during the past five days has been relatively quick to get through (though I admit to enjoying the skipping so much I carried on for an extra 10 minutes on one of the days) and while not always easy - I officially cannot do pull-ups, not even one, without the help of a jump and a chair to reach the bar - the repetitions are rarely so high that you can't get through it all.
I tend to judge how good a workout is by whether I ache - in a non-injured, good exercise way - the following morning. And I did, particularly after the leg-intensive sessions. For some of the exercises, if they are new to you, examining two or three images of the range of motion may not be sufficient to ensure correct technique. There were a couple of times when I opted to triple-check my positioning - particularly when attempting a deadlift - by finding a technical video online.
And none of the workouts specifies which weights should be lifted, namely because the size, fitness, experience and goals of each user will differ. However, I found it fairly easy to apply common sense - in my case, I simply started fairly low and increased until I was challenged enough to complete the final few repetitions without ever being in pain. Smith is more than happy to answer queries, and help with nutritional advice, via e-mail, telephone and sometimes even assisting at a local gym - though he stresses he does not earn a living by way of personal training: the site is a well-intentioned gift to the community.
"I can help you achieve a six-pack, if that is what you want, but we don't sell a six-week or two-month solution," he says. "This training is about a lifestyle choice. It is not a short-term solution. I have been training since I could, on a daily basis, and will continue to do so for the rest of my life unless I want to stop looking and feeling good." For more information: visit www.innerfight.com.