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March's Great Yoga Experiment & Giveaway! [Sandbag results are in!]

Posted Mar 01 2011 9:11am

Balance, flexibility, strength, puddles of sweat, strange men in teeeeny tiny spandex shorts Down-Dogging it right in front of you - the benefits of yoga are well-documented and numerous. (Okay maybe not that last one.) In addition to giving you a new vocabulary littered with phrases like "third eye" "chakra" and "chaturanga" (ten points if you can say "breaking wind pose" without giggling like a 3rd-grader!), yoga also has amazing mental benefits. Seeing as I'm certifiably nuts , anything that promises to shake the crazy out of me gets me all excited.

I am not new to yoga. In fact, if I could do whatever I wanted for exercise without worrying about being well rounded, I would do all yoga all the time. I love it. So knowing this you'd think I'd have done a Great Yoga Experiment ten times over already. But I haven't! I know, even I'm surprised. I've done Pilates. I've done meditation . I've done mindfulness. But not yoga. I think it's because I already know that I like it, that I'm reasonably adept at it and that it has great benefits for me and since the whole point is to "experiment" with my fitness, doing what I know and love isn't really getting out of my box.

I need back in my box. After distance running (October), Rachel Cosgrove's intense and heavy lifting program (November and December), the Fit Blogger's Fitness Challenge with Lindsey from Lean Bodies (January) and sandbags (February), I realized the other day that the reason I'm needing 9+ hours of sleep a night and feeling generally worn down is that I haven't had a break from intense exercise in over five months. Oops.

Part of my determination to not compulsively over-exercise anymore - which is still a battle, I'm not going to lie - is to build in rests into my Experiments. So this month I'm going to focus on resting, recuperating and getting back some of that mind-body balance I've lost lately. To do this, I'm going to do at least two but hopefully three yoga workouts a week. I'll still be doing some lifting in the gym and some running - the Gym Buddies and I are all running the Lucky 7 race on March 19th! - but my main focus will be yoga. My main goal this month is to try a Bikram Yoga class (that's a 90 minute yoga class in a room heated to 105 degrees (40 celsius). People rave about them and I've never tried one!

My main problem with yoga, and the #1 reason I don't do more of it even though I love it, is that most yoga studios do not offer childcare. At all. And paying a babysitter on top of class fees gets pricey. Thankfully, after searching the Internet for quality yoga videos, I discovered . If any of you yogis have not discovered them yet, you will love them! They have an extensive library encompassing a wide range of styles and formats and all the videos are done by experts in that field. Plus they give you the PDF file so you can see the pose sequences as it's hard to watch your laptop and yoga-ercize at the same time. It makes me want to weep for the hours I wasted watching grainy amateur clips on YouTube.

When I professed my geeky fangirl love to YogaDownload they not only offered me a free one-month subscription to YogaDownload but they also got me an a Manduka mat from Manduka (the best in the biz!), and an adorable yoga skirt from Mesheeky (you know how I love my workout skirts - pics to come!). But YogaDownload, Manduka and meSheeky want to share the love with you too so they're giving away the same package (plus some goodies I didn't even get!) to one of you! To read the contest details and enter to win, jump through to my contest page (sorry, advertiser's rules!). In addition, they're giving all of you a 15% off anything at YogaDownload, Manduka and Mesheeky.

I've already done several of their workouts and I'm in yoga heaven. And check it out, I'm already getting some of my inversions back:

Sloppy Scorpion! Yeah, that's the official name and everything, sure it is!

Sandbag Experiment Results
This month can be summed up in one word: " Ouch ." We ripped off nails, tweaked backs, shoulders and elbows, hit ourselves in the head, hit each other and dropped sandbags on toes more times than I can count.

Let me start with the good: I liked the sandbag as a tool. It added a fun twist to our weight lifting workouts and the instability really did make the moves harder. I especially loved my bag from Ultimate Sandbags - it was very well constructed and the handles made it easier to use. Our homemade bags did not hold up as well, if you recall.

Now for the not-so-good: It got boring doing sandbag-only workouts. While there are a lot of moves to do with them, the Gym Buddies and I liked them best when we used them as part of a circuit including other fitness tools like kettlebells, the TRX and free weights.

In addition, the weight was hard to adjust. The homemade bags just weighed what they weighed and that was that (until they broke all over the floor and suddenly got very light...). The Ultimate Sandbag had two pouches inside which meant it could either weigh 20 lbs or 40 lbs but switching the pouches out between moves was cumbersome.

Lastly they seem to be fairly injury prone - the instability that makes them a novelty also makes them somewhat of a liability especially when doing moves like swinging it around your head. While I personally didn't suffer any injuries other than the broken nails (I broke a nail every.single.time.), all the Gym Buddies complained of back, shoulder or elbow pain. And I should point out that I watched all the training videos and we were very careful with our form.

My results: I neither gained nor lost any body fat this month and my inches all stayed the same, as I would expect. We didn't majorly change our routine but rather just swapped out one kind of lifting/circuit training for another.

Here's what the Gym Buddies had to say about the Sandbag Experiment:

"I just disliked it. I think the whole idea of lack of stabilty to work your core and body differently has too high a risk of injury...especially with over the head work. Our makeshift ones were really bad, but even the one that you got was just too hard on the joints and had a high potential of back injury....and obviously elbow too." ~ Krista

"I wasn't a big fan of the workouts. I don't know if we were too ambitious with the weight, but even when we tried to lift lighter, it still felt like someone was going to get hurt. What I did like? The bloopers and laughs we got out of it . I DID see some results this month, but I think it was more from our P90X workouts (Charlotte's note: we started throwing in some P90X weight-lifting workouts about halfway through the month but we used the sandbags for several moves in there), eating better and maybe the creatine, which I continued to take, although not as frequently as last month." ~ Megan (she lost 2 pounds and inches all over!)

"I really didn't like the sandbag workout, I felt like i was going to get hurt or I just wasn't doing it right to get a workout out of it. I don't think I improved or didn't improve this month." ~ Daria

"I have mixed feelings about it. I think in the beginning we were overestimating our strength so that caused some injuries as well as us doing the move wrong-But even when we lowered the weight, I felt like it took more time trying to get the move down (without injuring ourselves) and when you finally did, the time was up. It also didn't help that we made our own (which I don't recommend unless you have a bag that's identical to the ones on the market) But I think if we stuck with 'real' sandbags the workout would have gone a lot smoother." ~ Allison

Obviously this was not a Gym Buddy favorite. I think the sandbag can be a great fitness tool when used in conjunction with other equipment but I didn't like it much just on its own. I'd also recommend a live tutorial to get the basics down and your form right and form is everything with these!

How do you feel about yoga? It seems to me most people either love it or hate it. What's the exercise you love to do the most? Anyone else in need of a rest as badly as I am?

Written with love by Charlotte Hilton Andersen for The Great Fitness Experiment (c) 2011. If you enjoyed this, please check out my new book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything for more of my crazy antics and uncomfortable over-shares!
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