The fitness test: Tune in and train with the experts

Downloadable fitness programmes help keep your workouts varied and keep you motivated.

I don't mean to sound boastful, but there is a great gym on the top floor of the apartment block I live in. It is a good size with plenty of floor space, amazing views of Sheikh Zayed Road, all of the usual equipment and it is rarely busy. But in just over a year, despite my best intentions, I've only used it about five times, and when I have done, I've usually ended up staring at the view, wondering when I can go back down to my room and watch Gossip Girl.

It's not that I'm lazy, or that I don't appreciate how lucky I am to have a free, well-equipped gym on my doorstep, it's just that I lack the inspiration to use it. With every cardio machine - be it the treadmill, bicycle or rower - it's a case of mind over matter. I rarely push myself, and I find myself quickly getting bored. I suspect I am not alone. On those five occasions I have ventured upstairs, I have found out-of-breath and sweaty-looking residents being put through their paces by personal trainers. But while I completely understand the motivation for drafting in the fitness troops, in these difficult financial times not everyone can or wants to fork out the Dh200 to Dh300 per session generally charged by trainers.

Last week, however, I stumbled upon a budget-friendly solution for my gym apathy: The user-friendly, US-based website is part of a new wave of online training that is growing in popularity, and is claiming celebrity fans such as Courtney Cox Arquette and Sarah Silverman. The site contains lists of workouts, including a variety of treadmill, rowing and cycling routines, co-ordinated by some of America's top fitness trainers, including Natalie Coughlin, the six-time Olympic swimming medallist. All of the workouts use basic fitness equipment you can find in most UAE gyms.

Classes are available for download in MP3 format (for playback on an MP3 player or mobile phone) from US$8.99 (Dh33), and UAE credit cards are accepted. Feeling a little too anti-social to join my usual group classes last week, I decided to download an "iRow and Ripped" programme by Nick Narvaez, labelled by the site as "the top strength coach in Los Angeles". I rarely make it past three minutes on the rowing machines at gyms normally - I find it tiring and boring - so downloading a 30-minute programme was a tad ambitious.

I admit when the soundtrack began and Narvaez promised to get me "leaner, fitter and burning lots of calories today", before urging me to begin the five-minute warm-up with an upper body-only row, I felt a pang of embarrassment. I hoped the sporty-looking couple on the treadmills next to me didn't think I had never rowed before. I blocked out their glances and embraced the challenge. And I'm glad I did. Three minutes later, Narvaez had me rowing with alternative arms - all the time reminding me of good positioning - at a low to medium intensity before stepping up the burn for a 20-minute, fast-paced row.

In shock that I had managed to endure 30 minutes on the rowing machine without checking a watch, and determined to ensure this wasn't a fluke, the following day I tried a 30-minute "iTread Extreme" programme by Grace Lazenby. I'm only slightly less hateful of the treadmill than the rower, but the programme I selected offered a lot of variety: it incorporates sprints and hill runs with optional use of a skipping rope and is suitable for walkers, joggers and runners.

At times I felt the workout wasn't intense enough but Lazenby, who co-founded after 15 years in Hollywood's fitness industry, insists the speeds she gives are just guidelines and so whenever I wanted to push it, I just took the pace up a notch. It was great fun and worked me far harder than a straightforward run would usually have done. Then I sampled a free 12-minute trial of an iCycle class and found the cycling programmes to be as challenging as a spinning or RPM class, where different resistance and speed settings ensure your thighs are burning at the end of a 45- or 60-minute workout.

While the downside of an itrainer is that there is no one there to check on your technique, there are instructional videos available to download from the website where necessary; and all of the trainers through the different programmes constantly remind you of best posture - "abs in, chest out" - as well as providing visualisation techniques to get you through the rough parts. It's really perfect for anyone wanting to liven up their gym routine or anyone who is not a fan of a class environment but needs a challenge. And for those reluctant to leave their front rooms, there are even strengthening, stretching and dance classes you can do from the comfort of home.

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