If you’d told me, two years ago, that I’d be something akin to a gym rat, I’d have laughed aggressively in your face and promptly buried mine in a jumbo-sized bag of Cheez-Its. But… here we are. Surprising even (/especially) myself, I’ve been working out consistently long-term, typically following Beachbody-branded home fitness programs: P90X, Insanity (including its sequel, the Asylum), and the Brazil Butt Lift. Of them all, my most recent venture is perhaps my favorite.
Enter: Chalene Johnson.
Look into the face of this woman… this deeply tanned, bleach blonde powerhouse of a woman. According to my sources, Chalene Johnson is an “American physical fitness authority, choreographer, author, and entrepreneur.” I, however, know her only as the exercise guru who, at the age of 45, has a body more tightly muscled and an energy more alarmingly exuberant than those 20 years her junior. She is scary and strong and I
like love her.
At first, though, I hated her. I’d been accustomed to male fitness instructors: weirdo bro coach Tony Horton, lovable bootcamp sergeant Shaun T, cuddly but killer dancer Leandro. In contrast, Chalene’s impossible perkiness and girlish goofiness grated on my nerves. I didn’t think I’d enjoy her emphasis on kickboxing, nor did I think I’d get very much out of her weightlifting regimen. In retrospect, I’ll shamefully admit that I probably discredited her on the basis of gender and/or appearance. I didn’t think this Real Housewives of Orange County-looking lady could deliver a butt-whooping work out. I was wrong. Thank goodness.
Chalene made her millions off of the popular TurboJam/TurboFire kickboxing workouts, but I’d heard much about her strength-based ChaLean Extreme program as well. Once I’d made up my mind to give her programs a try (having read testimonials from rabid, adoring fans), I decided to get the best of both worlds by doing a 90-day hybrid. The result?: one very well-rounded regimen involving high intensity cardio from TurboJam and heavy lifting from ChaLean Extreme.
Over time, I found myself favoring the ChaLean Extreme workouts for a few reasons.
- The workouts are shorter — usually concluding within half an hour, compared to TurboJam’s 30-60 minute range.
- The schedule is much more dynamic, cycling through different phases with new videos and goals: Burn (10-12 reps), Push (8-10 reps), and Lean (10-12 reps coupled with “extreme” sets).
- The heavy lifting means in strong, linear movements — much less frenetic. TurboFire incorporates interval training with traditional kickboxing drills, resulting in lots of dance-y, rhythmic sequences. I fumbled with the whole hand-eye coordination piece at first, but, after getting the routines down, was able to follow along with the sessions more easily.
- More personally, I was just tired of being a cardio bunny, having paid my dues with grueling high-intensity interval training. I’ve found it infinitely more rewarding to weight train: setting small, discrete goals and focusing my resources on meeting them. Lifting is challenging in a way entirely different from aerobics; rather than going through the motions of x number of exercises, you’re forced to engage and summon the energy to move y pounds z times.
This is, of course, with the understanding that any good conditioning program incorporates all aspects of fitness — endurance, strength, flexibility — to keep the mind and body stimulated. Just as I got burnt out on cardio-only routines, I’d surely get sick of solely sticking to the weights rack. That, though, was the beauty of mixing up Chalene Johnson’s two programs. In between my ChaLean Extreme sessions, I got to” zone out” a bit with cardio from TurboFire.
Oftentimes I didn’t put very much effort into the TurboFire workouts, channeling much more of my energy into the ChaLean Extreme components. Even so, I still found that my fitness had increased greatly across the board. My body, a tad softer from many weeks of birthday-related celebrating, became firmer and more defined — and I was able to put it to use, running 6+ miles easily without having to train up to it. I lost over six pounds (thanks, in no small part, to an extended round of Whole30 dieting) and built a lot of muscle — dropping maybe 5% body fat. Here, I’ll admit that I harbor a fear of “bulking up” through weight-training, but I’ve found that the pros far outweigh the cons.
The biggest pro: I’m able to eat way more. After a good lifting session, I can happily chow down on food without guilt. It really feels like my metabolism is boosted around the clock. When I was limited to cardio, however, I constantly calculated how many calories I’d burned and how many I could eat back to “balance the scales.”
The biggest con, with a caveat: Well, yeah, I did get more muscular… but it’s not a bad look. I was surprised to see some pretty big biceps bulging back at me in some of my recent vacation photos. While my guns will sometimes go off without warning, I don’t mind; the great majority of the time, they’re a concealed carry. I’ve still got the same feminine figure goin’ on — I’m just much more toned than before. If, perchance, my muscles want to make themselves known, that’s okay too. I ain’t ashamed of the fruits of my labor.
So yeah — Chalene Johnson and her programs changed my fitness, both in terms of my physique and my perspective. I’m happy to report that she proved my skepticisms unfounded. Shall I name the ways?
- I’ve learned to stop judging people by the pitch of their voices. Just because Chalene screams with cheerleader-caliber fervor at the camera doesn’t mean she can’t kick my ass.
- I now wholeheartedly embrace strength training as an essential component of athletic conditioning.
- I’m accepting that fitness can be very fun and very feminine. It’s important to take ownership of your identity as a female athlete. I’ve not reached Chalene’s level in this regard, but I sure hope to get there soon. Having her abs wouldn’t hurt, either.