Archive for the exercise Category

Review: Your Shape Fitness Evolved 2012

Posted in diets, exercise, Fitness, gaming, General, health, Motivation, Motivational, opinion, reviews, running, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on January 17, 2012 by Jim St Ruth

Your Shape Fitness Evolved was something that I was really looking forward to. The original Your Shape for Kinect was a great fitness product, though it suffered from a lack of variety and a confusing menu structure, as well as issues with the body tracking .The first trailers for the product seemed to show that these three issues had been solved; greater variety, extensive routines and customisation and a new tracking system developed by Ubisoft to make the feedback and scoring system much more accurate.

I’ve been using YS2012 since it was released in November 2011, so I’ve had plenty of time to try out the different routines, set myself some goals and ache where necessary… it’s been fun, mostly good exercise and another great way to burn off those calories, but it’s not been without its problems and annoyances. A mixture of good and bad, then and, whilst some of these issues just come down to personal choice, several mar an otherwise great experience.

Silhouettes and Interface

The first thing that you’re presented with is the new user silhouette; load up YS2012 and you’re there in all your glory for a moment before the software magically wraps your on-screen self in cling film and shrink wraps it tight. You play, not as a cosmic-coloured shadow of yourself, but as some strange plasticised doll version of yourself and, unless you wear something on your feet, your legs end in stumps. It’s funny to see, and to watch your toes appear as you lift them off the floor, but it’s also a little annoying. I’m pretty self-conscious and whilst it’s great to be able to see a more accurate version of myself on-screen, I don’t actually want to recognise that it’s me. This will bother some people and other hardly at all, but it would have been nice to have the option  to change between the two.

Next you’re presented with a much improved interface, which is reminiscent of Microsoft’s Metro style interface. It’s much easier to navigate than the previous iteration of the game; ‘ much easier to find, and divided into coloured categories so you can quickly swipe between sections to the set of routines that you want. There’s also a welcome user section, where you can set yourself goals and view milestones and totals for your workouts – but this needs more than a total number of press ups down to be useful of keep me motivated. Much of this section either doesn’t actually do anything (for example a ‘favorite moment’ panel that seems to randomly come up with a day, but there’s no way for you to say which recent workouts were your favourites, and other such panels that have labels but that you can’t actually press) or the information is extremely limited. It seems odd that whilst the system has collected so much data about you, so little of it can actually be seen. Many users might just want to do the workouts, but th marketing suggests it as a great way to get a really good workout; it’d be nice to be able to see some stats on what I’ve achieved to help keep me motivated and encouraged. This user section therefore seems like some people had some really great ideas, and they were either never followed through on or compromised somehow; more on this feeling later.

Exercises

The exercises themselves seem to be greater in number, and indeed Ubisoft tout the software as containing over 90 hours of routines. That’s a big claim to make and, to be fair, though there is a lot of mileage and variety in the routines on offer, it seems like a claim that’s just not true. I admit, I haven’t gone through and counted up the hours, but after having gone through most of the exercises on offer, it feels like an exaggeration.

There is plenty to keep you going though; from workouts grouped together by muscle group and some decent cardio routines, toning exercises, routines to help you prepare for several sports and then dance routines, cardio boxing, yoga and their ‘zen energy’ classes (which are based on Tai Chi), what ever your mood, there’s something there for you. Ubisoft have also included a set of warm up routines which were absent from YS2010; something that users have been crying out for, and to be honest they’re pretty good. Stretching work or relatively low impact exercises like virtual jump rope or a virtual ‘Simon Says’ mini game are on offer amongst others, and it’s easy to be impressed.

Two sets of routines that are worth a specific mention are the ‘Run the World’ and ‘Boot Camp’ options.

The former set you running round virtual representations of major world cities, and with its curved streets it looks like the Matrix’s White Room version of Inception. Unlocking more routes as you progress, you’re not simply there to jog, but take challenges wich are presented to you as a guide talks about landmarks of interest around you. The challenges can be tough, depending on your ability, with tasks like keeping your knees up for sixteen seconds pushing your ability. The Run the World is a nice option, and it’s easy to compare it to the jogging routines on Wii Fit Plus and feel that this comes out the better of the two. It feels more professional and less like something for the kids; fun, but seriously aimed at improving your fitness rather than something just to get you off the couch.

The Boot Camp, however, was a nightmare to try to complete. The exercises were great and I would have enjoyed the routines, except for the Boot Camp approach itself. I’ve never been one to take being shouted at, least of all by a piece of software. Whilst some people have really enjoyed these routines and think the approach is useful or even funny, it just wound me up.  The Boot Camp section didn’t get more than one-quarter of a run through; personal preference again, and there’s plenty of other routines to keep me occupied.

The cardio routines are great and really make you sweat, but in many there were one or two exercises that I either just plain didn’t like or could do. The triple side step punch is a good example, where the trainer moves with something approaching superhuman speed; my body just won’t move that fast and it’s easy to cheat and just hope and punch on the spot to still burn some calories, but it feels wrong to cheat at something that’s meant to improve yourself, and this is one area where the cracks in Ubisoft’s body tracking technology begin to show.

The Yoga and Zen workouts really show these cracks and open them wide open; white lines are overlaid on your on-screen double’s body, arms and legs in an approximation of your basic skeletal structure, and they turn green when it thinks you’re in the correct position. It gets ridiculous when, although you’ve managed to get all those lines to go green and you see your perfect routine score go up, your leg suddenly decides to spin around in its socket and then wrap itself behind your head. Unsurprisingly, this halts your perfect routine count, and is hard to correct without you making the affected limb move away from your body so that the tracking system can spot it again. For exercises like Yoga and Tai Chi, where a calm, relaxed approach is needed and encouraged, this is just off-putting. There have been complaints of similar problems in other routines, particularly affecting the right side of the body. Whilst lighting is obviously an important factor in getting tracking right, many users report that the same exercises in YS2010 work perfectly under exactly the same conditions, and little seems to being done by Ubisoft to correct the errors.

It’s also worth pointing out that whilst there are exercise groups to workout areas like your glutes, legs, arms and back, the chest is notably absent. Whilst there’s going to be overlap with compound exercises, it’s disappointing not to see a dedicated section that other major muscle groups have been given.

Customisation

One of my main criticisms is, though, the lack of customisation in the game.

The adverts show men and women selecting routines and chaining them together, and the impression is given that you can choose specific exercises and build up your own routines; neither is actually possibly. This doesn’t ruin the experience or lessen motivation at all, but it mars the experience. Why be shown something that you can’t do? Considering that such options are given to you in Wii Fit Plus, it’s frustrating to see it absent in an otherwise superior product; if Nintendo could do it three years ago, why can’t Ubisoft learn from them and do it now. It’s not as if Wii Fit and Wii Fit Plus weren’t popular, and asking users about their experience of other products seems a basic part of market and product research.

It might not sound like a big deal, but it’s an important issue. Some people live in apartments and can’t go bouncing around their living rooms, but they can do most of the exercises, just not stamp their feet. Some people have minor injuries that prevent them from doing one or two parts of the routine. Some exercises can be just downright annoying. Instead of making people stand still and wait for this bit of the session to end, or feel that they just can’t do a routine because of the exercises it contains, why not just allow them to edit those exercises out? For a workout game that supposedly gives people choice, this seems like an obvious omission.

Other Niggles

There are several other niggles that I’d like to mention.

Firstly, the session time and calorie counts have been removed from the game altogether; at no point whilst you are working out can you see how long your session has been, or how many calories you’ve torched. To do this you have to log into Ubisoft’s Your Shape Centre portal; a web area that’s full of its own bug, and whether it’s in another room or on another device doesn’t matter. I want to be able to check my session’s progress, feel great about my efforts right away, and maybe even push myself to burn a few more calories right then and there. That’s not going to happen if I have to go to my PC or bring up the app on my phone. That would take me out of the experience I’m having right then and there. It’s here, with the split between Xbox and web/app that the feeling of the vision for the software being compromised really shows. There’s a disparity in function, and it’s both unwelcome and seemingly pointless. It’d be great to check out my routines online sure, but I want that on the Xbox within the software that I’ve bought too. I also don’t want my goals to be changed online without me saying; set up a goal of burning 1,000 kCal in ten days in one area, then view it or edit it in another and the time’s reduced to three days. If I reset the value, it either doesn’t register or deletes any progress towards my goal made so far.

Reporting this or other issues to Ubisoft gets a response within a couple of days, but watch out! If you don’t update the ticket it’ll close automatically within 24 hours, whether or not a solution has been provided, and most often it isn’t. This, and the lack of communication and apparent monitoring on the official forums give the impression that Ubisoft isn’t listening. They’ve taken your cash and made a run for it. Ubisoft release a lot of great games, but they also release a lot of games that are very buggy on release. I pay £40 or $60 for a piece of software, I want it to work, and if it doesn’t I expect bug fixes to be released. Ubisoft doesn’t seem interested.

The main area where this is a problem is the calorie counting. After many complains about the new calorie counting system (which was apparently a MS system that worked off your Kinect profile, and estimated much about you), Ubisoft released a patch to address the issue. Now finally able to input my age, height and weight into the system, the new system throws everything in the air and introduces further disparity. Two minutes of vigorous jump ropes gives a burn of 7 kCal, as does two minutes of yoga. Cardio boxing used to give me between 70 and 90 kCal in fifteen minutes, depending on the routine; now it gives me 17.  I can only presume that the calorie values are estimated using your stats and a MET (Metabolic Equivalent of Task) as a multiplier; the system is based on averages from research with many people, and gives a good approximation, but it seems that the MET values in YS2012 are wrong and haven’t been corrected.

What’s the point in a fitness game if the calories are so wildly wrong. They’re only ever estimates without hooking people up to proper monitoring equipment, but the figures are way out and if your certain the values for one exercise are wrong, how likely is it that the values are right for any of them?

It’s also impossible to import DLC from the YS2010, meaning that in some areas (such as cardio boxing) you’re actually more limited than in the previous versions of the game.

Verdict

A good, solid product from Ubisoft with some problems, both major and minor. If you want variety in your fitness routine, and don’t have the time or money for the gym, then you’ll enjoy it, but you need to be tolerant of the game’s bugs and turn a blind eye to the calorie counting.

Review: Tesco Diets

Posted in Cooking, diets, exercise, Fitness, General, health, opinion, reviews on July 27, 2011 by Jim St Ruth

Continuing my quest to lose some body fat, two weeks ago I thought I would stump up the £28 for an eight week membership of Tesco Diets.

My aims were simple:

  • Track my calorie intake for eight weeks.
  • Lose body fat.
  • To cook some new recipes (given in the Tesco Diets diet plans).
  • Be more conscious about what I’m eating so that when I come off the diet plan I’ll be more aware of what combinations and quantities of foods constitute over eating/ consuming more calories than I burn.
  • Use the calorie tracking to spot areas of my diet where I can easily, and healthily, cut calories and support my fat loss.
  • To do this in as simple and as hassle free a way as I can – there’s no point in making this a chore.
  • To come up with/ use the meal plan to cook main evening meals that are healthy for me and my partner.

Those are pretty simple aims and when I joined Tesco Diets I was initially very impressed. They offer a wide variety of diet plans, from low GI to mediterranean and low-fat diets, even offering specialist diets for people with diabetes. My first issue came when I was looking through the sample meal plans – a breakfast loaded with fruit and other sugars on a low GI plan isn’t good, and certainly isn’t low GI.

When you sign up, you enter your sex, height, weight – all the obvious things that you’d expect for a dieting tool. Then you set your preferences for imperial or metric weights for you and meal ingredients and as well as being able to say whether you’re diabetic, wheat intolerant or vegetarian, you can also exclude some foods from the meal plans that you simply don’t like. For me, this was eggs, and I was really excited about a system that let me say that; I wouldn’t have to go through and remove scrambled eggs from the meals. The meal plans are created automatically, but you can change both the ingredients and the actual meals themselves. Tesco Diets provides a reasonably long list of meals, and you can search for ingredients to build your own recipes, save them as favourites and get easy access to them at any time – and all the while it tracks your total calorie intake, alongside carbs, proteins and fats. You can also change your diet at any time, and create new meal plans whenever you want.

In these respects, Tesco Diets is extremely interesting for anyone wanting to shed some pounds and, along with the ability to monitor your fruit and veg, calcium and water intake, the focus on eating healthily seems spot on. That you can set aside an alcohol allowance for the week makes it even better; you don’t have to go without the foods you like. Then, as well as a weekly weigh-in and feedback from a Tesco Diets Mentor once a week, there’s a user forum to ask questions and get support from people. If you have a family, or even if there’s just two of you to cook for, you can select to have easily scalable meals in your meal plan, plus budget meals for those of us who need to watch their pennies – like me.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? I certainly thought it did… However, beneath an exciting and motivating exterior there are a number of big problems with Tesco Diets that the team either doesn’t seem to want to address, don’t know what to do about, or simply just don’t understand.

Firstly, the meal plans regularly too me over the recommended calorie and fat intakes for a day, and brought me in under the recommended intake for protein. When I spoke to a mentor about this, I was told that things should even out over the course of the week, but I couldn’t help but feel that they should have put more attention into providing recipes and plans that made you follow your intake budgets.

Then, looking at the details of the meal plans, it became apparent that there was often a good 15 – 20 minutes of cooking and preparation for lunches. This is simply idiotic. few people, whether working, looking after the kids, or simply those lucky enough to have the freedom to do what they want, want to spend that amount of time cooking every day. The meals themselves have simple enough recipes to follow, but have items like and orange or an apple tacked on the end because the recipes themselves don’t provide you with your 5-a-day; so the nutritional aspects of the diets feel tacked on. The recipes themselves are a mixture of quite interesting to… to be honest, completely awful and it seems that the people writing the recipes have no idea how to cook.

One recipes for a stew-like meal required a tin of tomatoes to be simmered with herbs and onions for twenty minutes before doing anything with this sauce… why? No meat had been added, so why would you do something like that? Certainly the development of flavours wasn’t a consideration.

My next steps was to say, hands up and be honest, what am I really looking to use Tesco Diets for? I decided on forgetting about new recipe ideas and simply use the system to put in my own meals, track my calorie, protein and fat intake and look for areas where I lower the quantities of carbs and fat that I’m eating. I’m taking medication that has the side effect of weight gain but, although I’m active and healthy enough to have a steady weight, actually weight loss is pretty hard for me.

So, I stripped out all the meal plan suggestions and put in meals of my own; everything for a simple breakfast, salads for lunch and a healthy home cooked dinner, to more convenience foods and ‘throw in the over’ meals like fish fingers, chips and peas. You can easily search for ingredients to build up the components of your meals, but it soon became obvious that actually finding the products I eat wouldn’t be easy.

One of the appeals of Tesco Diets is that it includes both brand and non-brand foods. I don’t regularly shop at a big name supermarket (£1.20 for a whole cucumber, Sainsbury’s? Honestly?), but I do once a fortnight or so for food that I can’t easily get anywhere else without paying for a bus ride that would cancel out any savings I make by not simply dropping into Sainsbury’s. Tesco Diets lists generic brand, but also food from Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Aldi and M&S amongst others… however, the foods they list are very incomplete, and this is frustrating in the case of Tesco products because the Tesco grocery site holds all the nutritional information for their own products.

After spending a week and a half searching for rough calorie, fat and protein-alikes for food like petit pois, Tesco Salt and Vinegar Crisps, and other obvious  things, I left a message on the forum asking why Tesco Diets doesn’t simply have the data from the Tesco groceries website? The reply state d that if I wanted any specific item added then I should just email one of the nutritionists and ask for it to be added… which kind of defeats the point for me. It seems I can either track things roughly in real time if I go on a Big Supermarket website and search for an item, or I an wait up to twelve hours or them to add last night’s dinner to their database.

For £30 I don’t expect to have to do that. I expect it to already be there… especially since Tesco already have the information for their own products..

It was suggested that, because of my problems finding items and tracking them, that I could switch to the Totals diet, which was completely customisable… and then Ryvita Crackerbreads vanished from the database. The system is so buggy – and so slow – that it seems the content of the database changes according to what diet you’re on. When this is something as obviously diet-friendly as Ryvita, that’s a big problem.

Then came the issue of Preferences. I set measurements for my weight and body to imperial, but my measurements for food to metric. People tend to use one system or the other, and a lot of people (including me) find measurements in their unfavoured system baffling. For me, I weigh food in grams and kilograms and find ounces and pounds confusing, but I always weight myself in pounds or stone, and measure my waist in inches… a little strange, that combination, I admit, but Tesco Diets doesn’t care. It lets you chose whatever you want… except that it doesn’t work.

Some foods were given in grams, as I requested, but no matter what I did some were still given in ounces. I’ve got a set of electronic metric kitchen scales at home, so I have to work things out in my head. This isn’t a big problem, but why give you the chance to set a preference if it doesn’t make any difference. The response from the team basically restated the problem, without realising that it was a problem. That’s no good. Neither is giving food quantities occasionally in ‘portions’.

Tesco Diets still has much to offer the dieter and I’m happy that some people have had great success with the system, but I wanted something that was simple to use for my money and Tesco Diets is just too filled with niggles for me to use. I changed to the Totals diet plan and was presented with things in calories, grams of fat and protein, and a points system that looked superficially similar to Weight Watcher… but on changing to the Totals plan I wasn’t given easy access to information about what that points system meant, or even how many points I was allowed.

There are a number of other niggles to the system, but I’ve covered the main points that were a bother or an annoyance to me. There are many plus sides to the system too, but for me it hasn’t had enough time spent on developing it. I expect those things just to be done right for my cash and, although I’ve fed back my concerns to the Tesco Diets team, I’m not paying for them to have a think and make the changes; they should already me there after having the site set up for a reasonable amount of time.

I cancelled my account, knowing that they don’t give refunds.

I did get one very useful thing from it though: I don’t regularly consume more calories than I burn.

I’ll just forget the calorie counting, pick up the exercise some more, track what I’m eating this week and eat less of it next week. That seems to be the best way forward… it’s just a pity that it cost me £28 in having that concept confirmed.

Kinect: Review… Into The Second Week

Posted in dancing, exercise, Fitness, Games, General, music, opinion, PS3, reviews, xbox on February 15, 2011 by Jim St Ruth

It’s almost two weeks since the Kinect arrived, along with Kinect Adventures, Your Shape Fitness Evolved and Dance Central. Since my first post ion the Kinect was the most read article on my blog, I thought I’d follow it up now that I’ve had chance to play the games and use the shiny black nodding camera some more.

So, like the rush of stars that heralds the entry into hyperspace, let’s begin… Don’t get dizzy now. It’s only a special effect.

Kinect Adventures

After my initial excitement had worn off, I came to quickly realise how much I’d misjudged this game. In a rough, overall sense, the game is fun, but once you start to pay attention to what’s actually happening it becomes obvious that this isn’t even a good game to give away as a freebie with the Kinect itself. The game is, to put it mildly, laggy as hell. Jump in the game and your on-screen character will jump half a second later. meaning that you often miss jumps whilst playing white water rafting, or miss the balls bouncing back at you in the Kinect Adventures 3D version of Breakout.

Even my initial excitement at being able to animate and voice an unlocked character proved to be woefully embarrassing. The animals barely move, no matter how much you shake and jig, and the in-audio capture is terrible. I’ve got a low amount of background noise and the game only picks up a muffled, noise-filled signal. It’s dreadful and the game is hard to play. I got the distinct feeling that the Kinect was released before it was really ready for market… and perhaps that is still the case, but seeing as Dance Central and Your Shape were so much better, I think that it’s really just Kinect Adventures being a real stinker of a game.

It even gave my partner a headache watching me play with the lag. Launch games rarely make use of a system’s full capabilities, but there’s no excuse for Kinect Adventures, Microsoft. Truly diabolical.

Your Shape Fitness Evolved

Without a shadow of a doubt, this is finest fitness game or product that I’ve ever used, besides the home gym and dumbbells.

There are a handful of personal training fitness programs ready for you to try, alongside ‘Zen’, boxing and a number of gym games, and Ubisoft have promised more on the way. I have to be honest that I’m a little wary of Ubisoft software, as they have released several games in the last year that I don’t think were fit for market – and where fixes were either heavily delayed or did nothing to sort out problems. (Yes Splinter Cell: Double Agent, I’m looking at you).

Your Shape, however, is an excellent product. The routines seem to be well thought out and, even if they seem focused on your lower body, they do give your torso and arms a workout too. The software is simple to use, though a little confusing in some areas. My only issue is that on completion of one of the personal fitness routines, it tells you that you have eleven sessions left until the end of that program… but if you decide to do another personal fitness program, you lose any progress made so far. You still keep your calorie count, and you gain nothing special by completing the full twelve sessions from each set, so you don’t lose anything at all… but it’s confusing and the official forums are full of questions about how this works. It’s just misleading, is all.

There has been some criticism from people saying that the Kinect doesn’t recognise moves, but you simply have to make sure that you’re doing what the trainer is doing – and they provide an on-screen mirror for you to see the trainer from the front as well as a two-thirds view from the back. Match their moves and face the camera and it’s great. If the trainer criticises you for not being in step when you know you are, just make sure your form is spot on and that you are face-on to the camera.

This isn’t Wii Fit, by any means, but in the best way possible. Wii Fit is, by Nintendo’s own admission, aimed at making people more aware of how much exercise they do and what foods they eat. It’s exercises are really only maintainance exercises. It won’t really give you any tone and you won’t lose any weight unless you go overboard with it, or do other exercise as well.

Your Shape, however, is much more the full on exercise program that I’ve been after. It’s demanding, but you’ll want to come back to it. It helps tone as well as burn carbs and, whilst I think I’ll stick to my weights routine away from Your Shape for muscle-building, the programs in Your Shape are great and I’ll continue to use them every day. I’ve used it eight times in fourteen days (it was my birthday, so hang overs have prevented more use)… but I’ve lost nearly an inch and a half off my waist in that time. I look slimmer, feel slimmer and I’ve even had people notice.

If you’re after a fitness program with some variety, whether it’s to compliment an existing routine or for something that you’ll use as your only main source of exercise, I couldn’t recommend Your Shape enough.

Dance Central

Wow! I’ve been playing on this almost every day, hang over or no hang over. It’s great fun, the dances range from easy to very challenging and there’s a reasonable range of music, with more to come for purchase through the Xbox Marketplace.

With its neon lights, colourful settings and funky dancers with attitude, it never ceases to entertain… and there’s a calorie counter on there too. I track the estimate number of calories I burn in any physical activity because it helps keep me motivated, and if I’m dancing in the living room for half an hour I certainly want to know where it’s got me. It’s easy to break out into a sweat playing Dance Central and the Break It Down tutorials make it easy to follow the dances – especially with the Slow It Down option for when it’s hard for me to track what each limb, hips and head are meant to be doing in one go.

I read on a forum that someone, a guy, was looking to get the game but was worried that some of the moves might be a bit too feminine. You shouldn’t worry about this at all. Some of the moves are pretty feminine, but so what? If you’re playing on your own, then just have laugh and get into it… the same if you’re going to play Dance Central as part of a group… and the more you put into the movements, the better your score.

I love this game to bits, and would cry if it were taken off me. Anyone that tried would face a dance-off, and if i still felt threatened I’d kick them in the shins. It’d serve them right. Dance Central deserves to be owned and, out of all three games, the motion controls for the game’s menus are the most easy to use and well thought out.

My only hesitation is that there are a few too many rap or hip-hop songs on the song list; for the most part, it’s just not my type of music. You can’t please everyone all of the time, though, and I think the team at Harmonix have done an excellent job at trying. There’s certainly plenty of other songs in there to keep me happy… a few more tracks (pop or disco, please Harmonix) at the easier end of the challenge scale would be appreciated though, but perhaps I’ll laugh at my noobiness to the game in six months time.

Highly recommended.

As for the Kinect itself, I think it’s a great product with a potentially interesting  future. I’m not a MS, Sony or Nintendo fanboy, I want all three consoles to do really well, but would be great to see some more compelling titles for the Kinect and the PS3 move, though. At the moment I feel that all my Wii has to offer me is Mario and, whilst I love Mario, the other two consoles seem to have much more going on for them right now.

Motion control, when implemented in games like Dance Central, is definitely compelling and great fun.