Get it 'n' flaunt it
Looking for an alternative to the gym? Then make like the stars with these three stellar fitness programmes
WE ALL know the problem. You want to get in shape; you know it will make you look better and feel fitter. But how to get started? Or even harder, keep going after you have.
Perhaps you've tried the gym membership or the yoga classes, but found it doesn't work for you. If so, maybe what you need is something different -- and the solution might be just around the corner.
In a Crumlin park, a converted Fairview warehouse or a Dun Laoghaire Pilates studio, we mere mortals can follow the fitness regimes that help the famous folk to flaunt it.
Setting a goal like looking good for your summer holiday is an excellent start, say the fitness experts. And there's plenty of star-style routines on offer, often at non-stellar prices.
So where to begin? Here are three possible options to get you in shape for the summer and hopefully keep you that way for the future.
Personal trainer John Connor doesn't try to soften the blow. The 27-year-old, red-headed Dubliner begins by pinching a client with a set of calipers that measure the fat accumulation on different parts of your body.
The size of the deposits tell him a lot about your diet and wellbeing, he says, as he grabs hold of a sizeable lump of flesh beneath my shoulder blade.
"Your body doesn't tolerate carbs, and you're quite stressed," is the cheerful verdict. "There are some issues with your liver as well," he adds.
Connor, along with trainer Eoin Lacey, runs a new personal-training gym on Richmond Road in Dublin's north side, where sessions cost between €65 and €100, including the assessment.
Connor's advice: clean yourself out through a food detoxification programme to shift stubborn fat deposits. He hands over a list of foods for the next four weeks: loads of green veg, grapefruit, protein (eat a handful every meal), nuts and juices -- no fruit at first, and no grains for at least two weeks. No matter how many times you read the list, breakfast rolls and scones from Avoca café aren't on it.
"A detox means no grains, no alcohol, and no tea or coffee," Connor intones, his own physique a testimony to his advice. Easy for him to say.
It's pretty tough going at first, with symptoms including headaches and cravings. The caffeine withdrawal is worst on day three, and it never really gets easy to stop eating toast.
But Connor's regime makes a lot of women happy at the altar. "Brides are the best," he says. "They'll do everything you tell them to -- they've got motivation, because they're obsessed about fitting into that dress."
Male clients are happy with the results, too. Singer Ronan Keating says his fit new look and seven per cent body-fat reading is all thanks to Connor's training.
The trainer's approach is understated but tough, and a typical workout starts with full squats, then back pulls, shoulder pushes and squats.
And just when you think it's over, Connor marches you up and down, pulling a specially designed weight-loaded sled attached to your waist with a rope and belt. This takes a bit of humility as it's done just outside the gym, where people stroll by wondering why you would pay to perform like a husky.
After exercise, O'Connor recommends having a green drink (such as barley grass) and water with good salt added. It all sounds like torture, but day seven into the detox and the headaches go, energy levels start to rise, and you even begin enjoying the exercise regime. And my 19pc body-fat reading is down one notch towards the target 14pc.
On day eight, with a magnanimous sweep of a muscled boulder of a shoulder, Connor says one coffee is OK. "Only the one," he grins, "before you go on a serial-killing spree." He can laugh, but guess who'd get shot down first?
Contact: john.connor @lycos.com
In a Crumlin park, a group of 16 women, watched by an enthusiastic audience of their own small children and babies, stand to attention by a set of round metal weights that look like cannonballs with handles.
Instructor Shane Nicoletti niftily steps around a toddler to shout: "Pick 'em up; do swings and high pulls."
The weights, called kettlebells, might look like a convict's ball and chain, but this punishment is entirely voluntary.
If you believe the hype, Geri Halliwell says it's kettlebells she can thank for her six-pack stomach. And, while body reincarnations aren't exactly rare for the serial dieter, the former Spice Girl looks honed and healthy on her new regime.
Originally from Russia, the round metal weights can be hard to manoeuvre at first -- but you soon learn to use your whole body to stabilise their not unnoticable gravitational pull.
Nicoletti, of the National Kettlebell Training Centre, runs six outdoor classes a week, costing between €7.50 and €12. He also does corporate training.
For the first exercise, the 38-year-old US-trained instructor orders the chain gang to grab the kettlebell by its thick handle and swing it upwards, trying not to take themselves in a wobbly arc behind it.
This is the catch, where you flick the bell at the top, and you soon learn good technique to avoid wrist-bruising collisions. It's followed by a horrible exercise called the Turkish get-up, where you push your body up from a sideways position -- without using your hands.
The strain makes your gluteus feel maximussed, but maybe that's the secret behind Jessica Biel's behind -- the Hollywood star is another kettlebell fan.
"I couldn't walk for the first week, and it was even hard to go to the loo," grins Sarah Nolan, 34, a mother of four from Crumlin. But she's hooked on the training, and does three classes a week.
"I'm definitely a different shape now," she says. "I was still using the excuse, 'I've just had a baby' even though he's nearly one. I'm much stronger and I've got rid of those muffin tops."
The benefit is echoed by all the women doing the training, and Nicoletti says a well-conditioned person can burn up to 1,500 calories an hour doing a kettlebell workout. That compares with roughly 600 calories running on a treadmill and just 300 for a yoga session.
The training tools might seem new but they have a historic pedigree.
The word girya, meaning kettlebell, first appeared in a Russian dictionary in 1704, and they have been used for centuries by strongmen before they took off in the west a few years ago.
"We just laughed when we first saw them," says Michelle Byrne, 42, a mother of two from Kimmage who has lost nine pounds since taking up the training.
"It really tones you up -- especially your bum," she says and there's enthusiastic agreement from the others in the class.
Nicoletti orders us to sprint up a grassy slope, and it feels almost like a rest after tossing the kettlebells in a range of movements that get your heart pumping and leave your legs like jelly.
A loud horn cuts across the park as the women haul the bells upwards. "Gaaa-waaan," a male voice roars from the passing truck.
"Same guy, same time, every week," say the women. "We must make his day. But he never comes over to say hello."
As they shoot 16kg upwards in an effortless sweep, it's easy to see why.
Contact: info@kettle bellsireland.com
Pilates was all about therapeutic stretching and strength training. And then it met LA-based fitness guru Sebastian Lagree, who decided to do something about a common complaint -- the exercise just wasn't tough enough.
And so Pilates Plus was born -- a heart-pumping workout guaranteed to keep everyone happy -- from cardio kings to stretching slaves.
Dubliner Emma Forsyth, 32, flew to Los Angeles for six weeks' training under French-born Lagree before opening the first Pilates Plus studio outside the US.
"I wanted to give people an alternative to the gym," says Forsyth, whose relaxed approach puts everyone at ease.
"Classes combine weights and Pilates to strengthen and tone, but keep the heart rate up as well burning calories."
Forsyth charges around €30 a session or €199 for unlimited classes for a month at her studio on the ground floor of a terraced house in Dun Laoghaire, where an array of proformer beds take centre stage.
This is a daunting body-length black bed, with straps and loaded springs adding resistance equivalent to 20-50lb when extended.
Once you get the hang of it, the bed provides an intense workout, challenging muscles you may not even know existed, particularly those in the legs and core.
The classes attract a range of people from students to grandmothers, and Forsyth's clients include ex-footballer Paul McGrath, The Clinic actress Leigh Arnold, and male model Darragh Hayes.
The studio has six of the workout beds, so there's no escaping Forsyth's gimlet eye as you follow her instructions to perform poses with cruelly misleading names such as Angelface, Catfish or the Teaser -- an inner-thigh burner that's more like torture than tease, as you try to hold the sliding-black platform still.
It's only a two-inch stretch, but it seems impossible to stay put.
Dumbbells are used to pump up the workout -- another variation from traditional techniques -- and the 60-minute class leaves you clear on why this is dubbed "bootcamp Pilates".
But the exercise is quickly gaining a celebrity following, with high-profile fans including Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox, Jessica Simpson and Ben Stiller.
Even knockabout English novelist Martin Amis is a Pilates fan, although he admits the exercise can be perceived as girly.
"But it works," says Amis, who boasts he no longer needs to suck in his stomach when he sees an attractive woman.
Contact: 01 280 6120, or www.pilatesplusdublin.com