Reviewing a book on my blog is a new thing for me, but since this is a fitness blog and 15 Minutes to Fitness is a fitness book, I decided it was a good idea. So this may be the first of several fitness book reviews since I not only purchase lots of workout DVDs, but I also read lots of fitness and nutrition books.
I’m sure many people know who Zuzka is. I actually own 3 of her workout collections (Zcut Kettlebells, Zcut Power Cardio and Zcut Power Strength)–they have been on my To Do list for a while. A little history on Zuzka. She started out posting short, HIIT workouts on YouTube and garnered tons of followers–including my daughter. I didn’t (and still don’t) do YouTube workouts, so even tho I was interested, I never tried them. However, her following grew, she created a website and community (Zuzkalight.com) and started putting her workouts on DVD, which is when I purchased them. She has become so popular that Jillian Michaels even used her as one of her trainers in BodyShred.
Now Zuzka has written a book (actually, the book is written by Jeff O’Connell, editor in chief of Bodybuilding.com; I guess she co-wrote it?) so that you can do her workouts anywhere, any time–even if you don’t access her via the internet or on DVD. Pretty cool! And bonus–the workouts require no equipment. They are bodyweight only, HIIT level cardio + strength workouts–so very metabolic. In addition, she lays out a basic meal plan and gives recipes.
That’s the summary. Lets move on to the details of this book.
15 Minutes to Fitness breaks down Zuzka’s philosophy, her history, diet tips, 30 workouts and then a pictorial description of every exercise included in the workouts. Zuzka loves to workout–it is her form of meditation but, according to her, she only works out 15 minutes a day. Now, even tho I haven’t done her series on DVD, I do own them and I have viewed them to record the lengths of the workouts (for planning/rotation purposes). If done properly, none of the workouts on her DVDs are actually 15 minutes. They are all approximately 30 minutes because they include a warm up and a stretch. Both of which should also be included into the 15 minute workouts in this book. However, Zuzka does not even recommend warming up before the workouts or stretching immediately after… even tho she includes warm ups and cool downs/stretches on her DVDs. She does talk about stretching but she never recommends doing it immediately after your workout. So, if you purchase this book and do the workouts, make sure to warm up first, cool down after then end with some stretching.
Zuzka believes you shouldn’t work out just for the end result: a slimmer body. You should do it for intrinsic reasons–how it makes you feel: stronger, younger, more energy–and the health benefits. This is true and something I agree with. She mentions this because people will purchase this book or her DVDs with the goal of looking like her. Well, if you are overweight and out of shape, that is not going to happen quickly. And it will not happen at all without a lot of hard work. Many people quit when they don’t get the quick results they are looking for. Nothing happens overnight, so you need to also focus on the many other benefits of exercise to help motivate you to continue until you start seeing results.
She also touches on something I very much believe in (other trainers such as Tony Horton and Chalene Johnson believe in this, too, and both discuss it in their books and/or podcasts)–that you have to make exercise a habit. Such an ingrained habit that not working out feels wrong to you. It isn’t easy to do and it definitely doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a long time to create a true, ingrained habit but that is what exercise is for me and for celebrity trainers such as Zuzka, Tony and Chalene. We do not even consider not working out because our day would be off, all wrong. The only way to to make this happen is to just do it every single day. Schedule a standing appointment that you never break except for an emergency. Soon, fitness will be an integral part of your life, too. Zuzka likens working out with such consistency that it is as much a part of your daily routine as brushing your teeth: “Consistency trumps motivation.” This is so true. There are times I am just not feeling it but when my alarm goes off at 4:30am, it is such an normal part of my daily routine that I get up and workout anyway, regardless of my level of motivation. I don’t even think about it.
So, I am totally on board with Zuzka’s discussion on the psychology of making fitness a part of your life. No one can make this happen but you but she does a very good job of sharing her experiences and giving motivation to help the reader make it happen for themselves.
Then we move on to Zuzka’s nutritional philosophies and my own opinions diverge. But before I discuss that, it is important to discuss her actual workouts. This is not the order these topics appear in the book, but you need to understand why I think one of her recommendations for diet should not be followed.
As mentioned above, Zuzka recommends 15 minute workouts (the 15 minutes does not include a warm up or cool down). Many people will pick up this book based on the title alone. Only 15 minutes? Sign me up! That is, until they attempt one of these workouts. They are very hard and very challenging. Zuzka’s workouts are based on HIIT: High Intensity Interval Training. This is extremely intense training methodology in which you do an exercise all out, as hard as you can for a short amount of time (20-60 seconds) then recover by doing something at a lower intensity for a short period of time (again 10-60 seconds). HIIT is a very effective method for burning maximum calories, not just during the workout but for many hours afterward (EPOC effect: Exercise Post Oxygen Consumption, or afterburn affect). BTW–this is based on well researched science. Because of how hard you are working, you cannot do these workouts for long periods of time, so it makes sense that the main portion of your workout is only 15 minutes.
Now, Zuzka’s workouts are based on HIIT training, except…. that isn’t the way they are presented and described in this book. I cannot speak for her YouTube videos or even the DVDs I own since I haven’t done them yet. In the book, for each workout Zuzka gives you a list of exercises she wants you to complete and how many reps you perform of each exercise. You do this list using the AMRAP method: As Many Rounds As Possible. For example, you have 5 different exercises and you are supposed to do 20 reps of each. You complete all reps of all 5 exercises then you just start over and keep repeating all of the reps of all 5 exercises until 15 minutes us up.
So…. where are the intervals? Where are the recovery periods? How can you go all out for 15 minutes straight w/out stopping once? You can’t. It’s not possible. And that is how your recovery periods are “built in” to the workouts even tho Zuzka never explains it (tho she should). You cannot go all out for 15 minutes straight. If you find you can do the workouts for 15 minutes w/out stopping then you are doing it wrong. If you are working as hard as you can, you will find that you will have to stop multiple times during your 15 minutes. Now, depending on your fitness level, how many and how long your rests are will vary. My rest periods never exceeded 10 seconds tho I probably took about 5 in the 15 minutes. I was breathing hard, my face was red and I was sweating. It was a super tough 15 minutes! Zuzka worked me hard!
What kind of exercises are you doing? Plyometric exercises such as tuck jump, jump lunges, push up variations, mountain climbers and variations, burpees and variations, pistol squats (a very advanced and difficult exercise) and much more. It is intense cardio and bodyweight strength training. Excellent and effective workouts overall. I did workout #1 for the purpose of reviewing this book. I set the timer on my iphone for 15 minutes and got busy. The exercises I did were jump squats (20), push ups (10), burpees (20), jump lunges (10) and mountain climbers (20). I got through 5 rounds. Excellent and very challenging workout.
This leads me to the diet aspect of this book. Zuzka eats and recommends a low carb diet, 50 grams of carbs or less a day. Now, I do not disagree that people in general (myself included) eat too many carbs–particularly of the highly refined, sugary sort. Everyone needs to cut back or cut out that kind of crap. However 50 grams of carbs is not a lot for someone doing intense workouts. But since I am reviewing this book, I decided to do this for a week. Just so I could give an accurate review.
Some background on me. I workout more than 15 minutes a day–generally 1 to 1.5 hours a day. And my workouts are intense. Not always HIIT level intense (tho I also frequently do HIIT workouts, as well) but intense just the same. And even tho I do fasted workouts in the mornings (I workout first thing in the morning on an empty stomach) I am able to sustain intensity and energy for my entire workout. And I eat carbs. I do not count my carbs. I do count calories and protein grams (to make sure I don’t eat too much of the former and get enough of the latter). But I know I eat well over 50 grams of carbs a day.
So, for a full week, while working out as I always do (1 to 1.5 hours a day) I ate less than 50 grams of carbs a day. It was hell. Hell. I had no energy. I was exhausted. My workouts hurt in a way they never have before. I became seriously sore from workouts that should not have made me so sore. My husband noticed a change in my mood (and did not like it). I didn’t sleep as well. And I struggled to get through every single workout I did. Working out stopped being fun! And I love to workout! Screw that! If you do not want your workouts to seem like hell or a major chore that you dread–then you need to eat some carbs! More than 50 grams a day. Again, I am not saying donuts or chocolate, but fruit, lots of veggies, whole grains. Eat some oatmeal! Fuel your workouts! BTW–I was not low carbing when I did Zuzka’s 15 minute workout. I did that workout two days after I began eating at my normal carb level again.
Aside from the carb issue, Zuzka gives a lot of good information on eating clean and portion sizes, as well as the amount of calories you should be consuming. She also gives recipes. In the interest of reviewing this book I made one recipe, a breakfast frittata. It was delicious. Seriously delicious. I loved it. But it took an hour to make from beginning to end–and I chose one of the easiest looking recipes in the book! Overall I found the recipes to be complicated with long lists of ingredients and instructions. And none of the recipes have the calories or nutritional breakdown. So… not very useful if you are following her calorie and carb recommendations!
It really made no sense. How can you write a diet and fitness book with calorie and carb recommendations, and yet offer lots of recipes with zero nutritional breakdown? In fact, she does not even list serving sizes! For the frittata I made, I calculated the calories as I made it. I cut it into 4 servings. Each serving had 181 calories, 18 grams of protein and 2.5 carbs. So it does fit into her diet plan very well–but how is the dieter to know this? Particularly one who has not been tracking their food for the majority of their adult life like I have. Zuzka’s book does not give instructions on how to calculate the nutritional information of a recipe. How are readers supposed to plan their meals if they have no idea how many carbs or calories the recipes have? Or even how many servings the recipe makes? Not to mention she only wants you to workout 15 minutes a day but spend more than an hour in the kitchen for each meal? It doesn’t fall in line with the title of the book at all.
Finally, this book ends with a chapter full of recommendations on how to make this plan work for you and to be as healthy and successful as possible–hydrating, stretching, sleeping, mediating, etc. All good information. She also recommends working out in the morning which I agree is the very best time to workout. Zuzka recommends it because she believes it clears your mind, and makes you alert and ready for your day. I agree with all of that but I also believe people should workout in the morning for two other reasons.
First, if you workout first thing in the morning, it is done with and out of the way first thing. As the day progresses a million things will get in the way of your workout if you plan to do it later in the day. Sick children, having to run to the store, a headache, a phone call–your lack of motivation. All kinds of things. But if you make it a habit first thing in the morning, doing it right when you wake up, not only is it out of the way but you are not giving your mind time to make any excuses! I am not even fully awake until my warm up is over! I am not thinking of reasons why I don’t want to do it. I just do it! The other reason is, sometimes the early morning, before anyone else in your household is awake, is your only time alone, to devote to yourself. How do you want to use that time? For me, it was (and still is) to focus on making myself better. Getting in a great workout with no interruptions, my home gym all to myself in a quiet house. I love my morning workouts. They are my time and I refuse to give them up. My kids are no longer at home, but when they were, it was the only time I could workout undistracted. Because my kids always seemed to need something from me, regardless of what I was trying to get done.
In the end, the best time for anyone to work out is the time when they can do it consistently. So do whatever works best for you, but studies have shown, the most consistent exercisers are those who exercise in the mornings.
In summary, this is a great book to get people started on their road to fitness. The workouts, though very challenging, effective and intense are easy to follow. Some of the nutrition basics are solid though the recipes need work and low carb recommendation is a bad idea when combined with daily HIIT workouts. The best part about this book is Zuzka’s motivating encouragement to make fitness a very important and integral part of your life.