I remember when Bob Harper first announced the Black Fire fitness program. I was so excited! Then I found out it would not be offered on DVD. You have to subscribe to Daily Burn and stream it. I was not only very disappointed but I assumed I would never try it unless it was eventually put on DVD. Well, it’s still not on DVD but I got a new Apple TV (Merry Christmas!). I downloaded the Daily Burn app to it and a whole new world of workouts opened up to me–including Black Fire! So that was the first thing I decided to do.
Black Fire is a metabolic strength fitness program created and led by Bob Harper. Well, that’s not entirely true. It is made up of 12 workouts; Bob leads 8 of them and another trainer, Anja Garcia, a gymnast, leads the remaining 4 workouts. Black Fire is described as a 60 day program to help you transform your body. Every workout is approximately 30 minutes long. Equipment used in the program is dumbbells, a medicine ball, a box (I used my square step at 12 inches) and a dowel (a broom stick or a light barbell bar). Daily Burn schedules your 60 day workout rotation for you. You just go into Daily Burn and it presents your workout of the day–you just hit play. There is also a nutrition plan. You do a workout every single day, but they are not all super-intense Black Fire workouts. Daily Burn also gives you recovery days (2 a week) and on those days they schedule yoga/flexibility workouts from the Daily Burn library.
I, of course, did not follow the rotation. Due to the length of the workouts (approx. 30 minutes each), I used them as doubles workouts (my second workout of the day). I tried each workout individually to find the ones I like and plan to return to. A really neat aspect of this program is that you are competing against yourself. Bob wants you to have paper and pencil for each workout. At the beginning of the workout he tells you how to keep score and at the end of the workout you tally up your score. You also enter it into the app at the end of the workout. The idea is that you are competing against yourself, trying to improve each time you do the workout (like you do in Insanity: Max 30), but each workout also has a message board that you can post your results to if you want and interact with other people who are also doing the workout/program. I actually really liked the idea of competing against myself but I also found myself competing against Bob’s exercisers.
This is a tough and advanced workout program. I am not sure what the title “Black Fire” stands for but I suspect it is the black fire of agony coursing through your muscles in the days following some of the workouts (DOMS). Several of these workouts gave me nearly crippling DOMS. And some gave me none. They are not all the same level of intensity. It is somewhat progressive, so Daily Burn starts you off with the easier workouts and works you up to the more advanced workouts. There are other ways to increase intensity as well–heavier dumbbells, a higher box and more reps/shorter recovery. I’ll note in the workouts below the ones that I plan to modify to increase intensity the second time I do the workout.
I do have to note something here. Daily Burn gives an estimated calorie burn for each workout and they are all in the 400-500 calorie range–for a 30 minute workout in which the actual “work” time is 20 minutes or less. I wear a Fitbit 24/7 except when I am in the shower and putting on make up in the mornings (that’s when it charges) and I never burned close to that amount of calories in any of the workouts. Not once. For every workout my calorie burn was 200 calories or less. Are they referring to EPOC (Exercise Post Oxygen Consumption or afterburn)–so it is estimating the calories you burn both during and after the workout? Maybe. But they could also be using an overweight and out of shape person as their example to estimate calorie burn. The heavier you are and the more physically unconditioned you are, the more calories you will burn. Just something to keep in mind. I loved most of these workouts regardless of how many calories I burned and I know they worked me well. But if you are in good physical shape, a regular exerciser, at a healthy weight and you are searching out the high calorie burn then maybe this program isn’t for you. Just something to consider.
I really enjoyed the majority of these workouts and have already scheduled most of them into my rotation calendar to do a second time. But there were a few I wasn’t too fond of and won’t return to. One of them was ABC 1. I just didn’t care for that workout at all. Since it was the first one I did led by Anja, I initially assumed I just didn’t like her as a trainer. But then I enjoyed her other workouts, so that wasn’t the case. I did do this program because of Bob and his workouts were my favorites, but Anja’s were very good too and a great addition to the program. Whereas the majority of Bob’s workouts use dumbbells, her’s are bodyweight strength workouts that use different exercises, so they compliment Bob’s workouts well if you are doing this as a program. She has two programs on Daily Burn that I am now very interested in trying: Inferno and Inferno HR. They look like really intense metabolic workouts. They are on my To Do List now. However, like Cathe Live, I will not be paying for a Daily Burn subscription when I am not using it much, so it will be a few months before I try Anja’s Inferno programs.
Cyclone 15 is 26 minutes long; 5 minute warm up and 2 minute stretch. The only equipment needed is one heavy dumbbell and a fitness mat. Bob recommends a 30 pound dumbbell for men and a 20 pound dumbbell for women. I started with the 20 pound dumbbell but about halfway in I didn’t feel sufficiently challenged so I grabbed my 25 pound dumbbell and that worked much better. The structure of the workout is a single circuit consisting of 3 exercises that you repeat for 15 minutes. The circuit consists of 5 V-Ups, 10 dumbbell swings, 15 goblet squats. If you keep up with his crew members you will do 11 rounds–so 55 V-Ups, 110 dumbbell swings and 165 goblet squats. I did keep up with the crew members and found this to be an excellent workout. Daily Burn estimates that you will burn 458 calories doing this workout. Unless that is somehow counting afterburn, I did not even burn half that. And remember–I did every single rep and every single round and I used the recommended dumbbell weight and upped it halfway through. I’m just sharing this information. It is an excellent workout and I loved it. It is intense and low impact and my legs are burning–inner and outer thighs. As would be expected from 165 goblet squats and 110 dumbbell swings! *Next day–inner thighs suffering DOMS. **2 days later inner thighs, outer thighs and glutes still suffer DOMS. The inner thigh DOMS is severe. Some of it might have to do with Sweet 16 (below).
Sweet 16 is 26 minutes long; 4 minute warm up and 2:30 minute stretch. All you need is a medicine ball and a fitness mat. The “16” in the title has several meanings. First, the working portion of this workout is 16 minutes long. You will be doing 2 exercises, each for 16 reps. You have one minute to complete each exercise, so between the two exercises, you will be doing 16 rounds total. Sweet 16. It ain’t very sweet tho! I am reviewing these workouts in the order I did them, so I did Cyclone 15 yesterday. And my inner thighs are sore. This workout fried my poor sore legs so that they not only felt numb afterward but I am walking funny. The two exercises are broad jumps and “No Wall Balls.” He recommends women have an 8 pound medicine ball and men a 10 pound medicine ball. The mat is a marker to gauge the length of your broad jump; he wants you to jump at least the length of the mat (so 5-6 feet). The No Wall Balls is a deep squat, holding the ball at your chest and when you stand, you toss the ball in the air and catch it–that’s one rep. Now, the amount of recovery you get after each exercise depends on how quickly you get through your 16 reps. The way this worked for me was I was pushing it with the broad jumps–it took me 45-50 seconds to do 16 with good form. I got through the No Wall Balls in about 30 seconds so I had a longer recovery. The broad jumps were the really rough part. They are what fried my legs even worse. I was counting these rounds and after we had gotten through 12, I was chanting to myself–only 2 more, only 2 more–meaning 2 more of the broad jump rounds! My legs and calves just felt “off” or not normal during the stretch at the end. I am not sure they have ever felt that odd at the end of a workout! That’s 128 broad jumps! Very tough! **This workout and Cyclone 15 tore me up–no joke! Every muscle in my body was severely sore–quads, hamstrings, glutes, core (front and back)–and my shins and tops of my feet! Yes! I could barely walk for 2 days after doing these two workouts!**
Triplet Ladder is 28 minutes long; 7:30 minute warm up and 3 minute stretch. You need one dumbbell (Bob recommends 15 pounds for women, 25 for men) and a fitness mat. This workout is based on the ladder concept. You will do a circuit made up of 3 exercises. The first time you do the circuit you do one rep of each exercise and each time you repeat the circuit you add a rep to it. You do this for 15 minutes. If it is the first time you are doing this workout then stick with the crew but once you’ve been through the workout once, work at your own pace and do as many circuits as you can. I stayed with the crew and I was into my 12th ladder by the time 15 minutes was up, but I could have done more than that. They took more breaks than I needed! Don’t misunderstand–I found this a tough and excellent workout, but I could have worked harder, which I plan to do the next time I do this awesome workout. The 3 exercises are: dumbbell snatch (doing both the right and the left arm equals one rep), hand release push ups and tuck jumps. For the snatch, you start with the dumbbell on the ground and snatch it from the ground overhead, return it to the ground then do the same thing on the other side of the body–that is one rep. For the hand release push ups, lower body all the way to ground (keeping body straight) release and raise hands when chest is on ground, place hands on ground again and push body up in a straight line–that is one rep. Everyone knows what a tuck jump is, right? Plyometric jump bringing knees to chest while in the air. I used the 15 pound dumbbell and found that sufficient for this exercise. I’ve been done with the workout about 30 minutes now and my upper back is burning. I am sure the “Black Fire” will be frying my muscles tomorrow. Remember, the level and intensity of this workout depends on you–the weight of your dumbbell and the speed of your reps with good form!
Bodyweight Tabata is 30 minutes; 4:30 minute warm up and 3 minute stretch. Equipment needed: a fitness mat and a box (I used my square step at 12 inches). This is a tough workout done in traditional tabata style. You do 4 exercises; each exercise is done traditional tabata style: 20 seconds of work, 10 seconds of recovery for 8 rounds. After 8 rounds you get a one minute break before moving on to the next exercise. It starts with the easiest exercise then just gets hard from there. Exercise 1 is air squats; exercise 2 is hand release push ups; exercise 3 is up and overs (jumping up and over the box); exercise 4 is burpees. I was definitely pushing it by the end of exercises 2, 3 and 4. Like all of the workouts in Black Fire, Bob uses a scoring system. For each exercise your “total points” is the least amount of reps you do in any one of the 20 second work phases. For example, for the up and overs I did anywhere from 21 to 28 reps during the 8 cycles. So my final score for up and overs is 21–the least amount I did in any one of the cycles. At the end, you add your score for each exercise together and that is your total score for the workout. My total score was 52. The idea is to compete against yourself so that each time you do the workout, you try to improve your score.
OTM Air Force Style is 30 minutes long; 4 minute warm up and 3:30 minute stretch. OTM stands for On The Minute and Air Force Style is referring to burpees. But we’ll get to that in a moment. Equipment needed for this workout is a dowel (you can use a light barbell rod or a broom stick) and dumbbells (Bob recommends 25 pound dumbbells for men and 15 pound dumbbells for women. I used both 25 and 15 pounds dumbbells.) Another tough workout from Bob! The structure is 4 exercises. Each exercise is done for 12 reps and you have a minute to do each exercise. You repeat these 4 exercises 5 times–so 20 one minute circuits. Now for the “Air Force Style”–at the top of every minute, before you start the main exercise you do 4 burpees. Every single minute. So by the time you finish this workout you will have done 80 burpees. What are the 4 exercises? 1. deadlifts (I used 25 pound dumbbells), 2. front squats (backs of dumbbells rest on shoulders, keep elbows up) (I used 15 pound dumbbells), 3. back squats (rest one dumbbell behind neck) (I used one 25 pound dumbbell) and 4. overhead squats (hold dowel by ends, overhead, with straight arms while squatting). Remember, 12 reps of each exercise after you complete 4 burpees. The sooner you get done with each exercise, with good form, you get the rest of the minute to rest. This usually equaled about 15 seconds for me. This workout is a butt blaster! 192 squats and 48 deadlifts–plus those 80 burpees.
Power 10 is 34 minutes long; 5 minute warm up and 3 minute stretch. You need a box (I used my square step at 12 inches), a fitness mat and a set of dumbbells. Bob recommends 15 pounds for women and 25 pounds for men. You use them for 2 different exercises. I used a set of 15 for one exercise and a set of 20 pound dumbbells for the other exercise. Power 10 consists of one circuit of 10 different exercises. The circuit is repeated 4 times. Each exercise has a specified number of reps you must complete and you have 30 seconds to complete your reps. So the quicker you complete your reps (with good form) the more recovery time you have before the next exercise begins. Except for the last 2 exercises in the circuit. They are done for 30 full seconds each time. I really liked this workout. Not the most challenging of the workouts I’ve done so far but it is a solid workout. I think the next time I do it I will raise my step to 14 inches and add some reps to some of the exercises. Some exercises I got done pretty quick and felt like I had too much recovery time! I did like this workout a lot tho.
Exercises (circuit repeated 4x):
- 10 Squat Thrusters (deep squat with DBs at shoulders, stand up and thrust DBs overhead) (I used 15# DBs for this one)
- 30 Wide Mountain Climbers (done with hands on box, feet jumping up beside box)
- 10 Box Jumps with a Squat (jump onto box and land in a squat)
- 30 Jumping Jacks
- 10 Split Lunges (plyo jump lunges)
- 30 Jump Ropes
- 10 Renegade Rows (I used 20# DBs)
- 30 Dumbbell Jump Overs (with DB on floor, lateral jump “over” DB–but Bob wants you to jump behind the DB, not actually over it)
- Deep Squat Hold for 30 seconds
- Elbow Plank Hold for 30 seconds
Strategic Endurance is 30 minutes long; 5 minute warm up and 2:30 minute stretch. All you need for this workout is a box (I used my square step at 12 inches). This workout consists of 3 exercises. You do each exercise for 2 minutes then you repeat all 3 exercises (for 2 minutes every time you do them) 3 times total. So the workout is 18 minutes long. Even the warm up is challenging! This workout is definitely about endurance. You are going non-stop for 18 minutes and it is scored by doing as many reps with good form as possible. As usual you are keeping score. I really thought I did pretty well–my final score was 318 reps. Then Bob’s 3 exercisers shared their scores in the 400-500 range! So… not as good as I thought! Definitely not the most fun workout I’ve ever done but it was hard work! The exercises are: 1. Burpee Step Overs (do a burpee facing the box, step over the box, turn around and do another burpee facing the box, step over the box and so on); 2. Tricep Dips off box; 3. Butterfly Sit Ups. Two minutes is a long time. I was able to keep going nonstop throughout the Burpee Step Overs and the Butterfly Sit Ups but not during the tricep dips. I had to keep stopping to rest my arms. BTW–Bob’s exercisers did, too. Even Bob said there was no way he could do 2 minutes straight of tricep dips so he expects you to have to stop and let your arms thaw out. So the exercisers (and me) took multiple breaks lasting a few seconds each time. ***Triceps full of that black fire for several days after this one (DOMS)***
Weighted Tabata is 30 minutes long; 5 minute warm up and 2:30 minute stretch. For this workout you need some dumbbells. Bob recommends a set of 15 pound dumbbells and one 20 pound dumbbell for women; for men, a set of 25 pound dumbbells and one 30 pound dumbbell. Plus you need one light dumbbell for the warm up (I used one 10 pound dumbbell for the warm up, a set of 15 pound dumbbells and a 25 pound kettlebell). This workout is set up the same as Bodyweight Tabata–traditional tabata style. You do 4 exercises; each exercise is done for 20 seconds of work, 10 seconds of recovery for 8 rounds. After 8 rounds you get a one minute break before moving on to the next exercise. With the right weights, this is a very intense workout. I was crying out in pained exertion by round 7 and 8. This workout really pushed me to the limit and I suspect I will be feeling it tomorrow. Exercise 1 is Push Press (a powerful overhead shoulder press that you use your lower body to push up). Exercise 2 is Dumbbell Swing (this is a kettlebell swing using a dumbbell–I just used a kettlebell). Exercise 3 is Bent Over Row. Exercise 4 is Thruster (holding dumbbells at your shoulders, squat deep and stand up, thrusting dumbbells overhead). The idea is to do as many reps as you can in 20 seconds with good form. Like all of the workouts in Black Fire, Bob uses a scoring system. For each exercise your “total points” is the least amount of reps you do in any one of the 20 second work phases. For example, on dumbbell swings I did anywhere from 11 to 13 swings during the 8 cycles. So my final score for dumbbell swings is 11–the least amount I did in any one of the cycles. At the end, you add your score for each exercise together and that is your total score for the workout. My total score was 55. The idea is to compete against yourself so that each time you do the workout, you try to improve your score. Another excellent Black Fire workout!
ABC 1 is 31:30 minutes long; 6 minute warm up and 4:30 minute stretch. A stands for Agility, B stands for Balance and C stands for Core. This workout is led by Anja Garcia. No equipment is needed. You will do 4 different exercises. Each exercise is done for 30 seconds with a 15 second recovery. You do five 30/15 rounds, you get a one minute recovery then you move on to the next exercise. Exercise 1 is X Squats (stand with legs/feet wide–the width of your mat; deep squat, standing, lifting one leg out to side w/ both arms overhead, bring raised leg to opposite elbow, return leg out to side, then lower to floor and squat; keep alternating sides). Exercise 2 is Surfer Get Ups (a burpee variation where you come up sideways with arms out like you are surfing). Exercise 3 is Fence Jumps (tuck jumps over your mat, land in a squat). Exercise 4 is Diamond Push Ups (hands close together, forming a diamond–so tricep push ups). The scoring is done the same as Bob’s tabata workouts. Now that all of that is out of the way–my thoughts. I did not enjoy it. Not at all. I didn’t like the exercises and Anja didn’t motivate me. I wanted to do Black Fire because of Bob Harper and I love his workouts. This one was unimpressive and I will not be returning to it.
Gymnastics Strength 1 is 32:30 minutes long; 5:30 minute warm up and 6 minute stretch. This workout is led by Anja Garcia and I take back what I said In ABC 1 review. I may not have liked her ABC 1 workout but I loved her Gym Strength 1. What an awesome and intense bodyweight strength workout! No equipment needed except a mat. Unlike the other workouts in this program there is no scoring. She just wants you to focus on form and precision. There are 6 exercises and you do each exercise for one minute. After one minute of recovery, you repeat all 6 exercises. So a 12 minute workout not counting warm up and cool down. But it is an intense 12 minutes! The first exercise is the handstand kick up and I swear I did not think I would be able to do this move. But not only did I do it, but my legs got so high I kept feeling like I was going to tip over and fall on my back! It was weird and very cool! The hardest move form-wise was the second half of the hollow body rocks where you are rocking in superman. Very hard for me to rock as much as the exercisers in the workout. I did my best tho! And the overall hardest move–the one that left me feeling the most exerted after the minute was up, was those donkey kick burpees! Great workout!
- Hand Stand Kick Up (exactly as it sounds, you will kick up into a handstand; you do have a lead leg you kick with and you change leads after 30 seconds)
- Hollow Body Rock (lay on back, legs and arms straight and overhead, legs and arms raised off floor (banana); rock in this position, shoulders and hips coming off the floor as you rock; after 30 seconds, roll onto stomach into superman and rock in superman position so that chest and thighs come off floor)
- Walking Push Up to Bridge (do a one leg push up, bring raised leg over behind you onto the floor, same side hand follows so you are now in bridge (or crab on hands) with hips raised, return to plank and repeat on other side of body)
- X Sit Ups (lay on floor, arms and legs wide and straight so body is in an “X”; sit up, twisting and bringing hand to opposite foot; alternate sides)
- Bridge to Swing (sit on bottom, legs straight in front of you, palms on ground, fingers facing toward feet; raise hips off ground, swing hips through into bridge (or crab on hands with hips raised high), then swing back through to start but hips never touch the ground the entire minute)
- Donkey Kick Burpee (do a donkey kick, stand and jump)
ABC 2 is 33 minutes long; 4:30 minute warm up and 5 minute stretch. A stands for Agility, B stands for Balance and C stands for Core. This workout is led by Anja Garcia. I like this one a lot better than ABC 1. The only equipment needed is a box and a fitness mat; I used my square step at 14 inches. This workout kicked my butt! It was super tough. The workout consists of a circuit of 5 exercises; each exercise is done for one minute. When you finish the circuit you get one minute of recovery before you repeat it 2 more times (for a total of 3 times). You score this workout the same as ABC 1 and Bob’s tabata workouts. I was wiped out at the end of this workout!
- Tuck Up: start in plank and jump feet in and out–it doesn’t count unless knees are under shoulders when you jump your feet in.
- BB Gun Squats: start standing on top of box w/ one foot in the center and the other off the box; squat until heel touches ground then stand; 30 seconds on each leg
- Inchworm: start standing, bend at waist, walk hands out to plank, do a push up, walk hands back to feet and stand, raising arms overhead.
- Candlestick Roll and Jump: start standing with arms overhead, squat, lowering bottom to ground, rolling onto back, and lifting legs overhead, roll back to feet and jump to standing.
- Donkey Kick Kick Through: do a donkey kick then kick one foot through/underneath you, out to other side while coming onto one hand; alternate sides.
Gymnastics Strength 2 is 29 minutes; 5:30 minute warm up and 4 minute stretch. This workout is led by Anja Garcia and man is it hard. It is basically the same set up as Gymnastics Strength 1 except you are doing one less exercise. There are 5 exercises and you do each exercise for one minute. You get a one minute recovery, then you repeat all 5 exercises. So a 10 minute workout not counting warm up and cool down. In theory, this should be easier than Gym Strength 1 right? Well, it’s not. It is even harder. But thankfully, there is no scoring. Anja again wants you to focus on form and precision. Most of the moves are not done fast because they are hard and you need to do them with control. This is an excellent bodyweight strength workout that will work your upper body very hard–you will definitely be building some muscle and strength. The only equipment needed is a box (I used my high step at 12 inches) and a fitness mat. Anja encourages you to take regrouping breaks if necessary to preserve form and I had to on the Box Push Ups and the Caterpillars–so hard. My favorite exercise was the Dive Bomber Burpees–excellent exercise that brought Mark Lauren workouts to mind! In fact, Anja’s workouts from Black Fire would fit perfectly in a bodyweight strength rotation with Mark Lauren’s workouts.
- Box Push Ups (pike push ups w/ feet on box)
- 180 Degree Box Jumps w/ one foot on box
- Scorpion to Mountain Climber ( start in plank and pull one knee in under body (toward chest), stretch bent leg back so foot reaches toward ceiling then twist, reaching foot toward wall on other side of body + 4 slow mountain climbers; alternate sides)
- Caterpillar w/ feet on box (start w/ feet on box, knees bent and hands on floor; walk hands out to plank, do a decline push up and walk hands back top box)
- Diver Bomber Burpees (start standing at top of mat, squat and place hands on floor, jump feet back to plank, do a dive bomber push up into a down dog then jump feet into hands, and jump to standing)