Work harder, not longer with Ugi Fit, the gratifying and grueling 30-minute total body workout

Short, sweet and simple, that’s how I like my workouts. So I was excited when a friend told me about a new workout, developed locally but making waves internationally, that involves 30 exercises, 30 minutes, and just one piece of equipment.

Sitting on the floor of the bright studio in Vancouver’s South Granville neighbourhood after a private session, I chatted with Ugi (pronounced you-gee) creator and co-founder Sara Shears to get the scoop on how she came up with the squishy, weighted ball and challenging-but-short workout, and how she’s dealing with the overwhelming response to this new fitness craze.

Shears, who’s been a personal trainer for 18 years, began training celebrities while completing her Human Kinetics degree at UBC (it’s rumoured she’s worked with Salma Hayek and Rosario Dawson). She created a program called Elevate, an intense five-day-a-week 30-minute workout plus meal plan and a miraculous thing happened: those who  followed her plan saw amazing results. 

Motivated by the results, Shears set out to develop a system that would be non-intimidating and easy for anyone to follow and stick with. She knew that the rigorous-but-short 30-minute model was sustainable but she just needed the right package.

The Squishy, Weighted Ugi Was Born

After graduating from university Shears opened a gym with her husband that had personal training, boxing, kickboxing, and martial arts. Her AHA! moment happened when she came across an old medicine ball in the gym. It was squishy, yet heavy, and set in motion the creation of the Ugi ball, a beautiful, versatile and non-intimidating piece of equipment.

Melanie Finkelman, one of her personal training clients, was also a designer, and joined Shears as a partner to help design the ball. A third partner joined, Debra Karby, who had experience in marketing and strategic planning, and after two years of research and development the three women launched Ugi’s at home system in November 2010.

The system includes a Ugi ball (which comes in six fun colours and 6-, 8-, 10- or 12-pound weights), a DVD with five total body workouts (drawing from 140 exercises), a Ugi workout flipbook with pictures of the exercises, a healthy eating guide, access to Ugi’s online exercise library, and a smartphone app that provides an interval timer for the workouts.

Ugi – You’ve Got It!

Ugi stands for “you’ve got it!” You’ve got the tools, you’ve got the power, and now you’ve got it, so show it off!

The workout is based on a five-day-a-week model with 30 one-minute intervals, but can be modified to 30-second intervals for a 15-minute workout if you’re strapped for time, or increased to 60 minutes if you want to work out longer for three days a week instead of five.

There are dozens of exercises that provide hundreds of combinations, and you can take the equipment virtually anywhere from indoors to outdoors and even on the road (with a handy dandy carry bag).

The flexibility in time, exercises and portable equipment makes it easy to stick to, and Shears' philosophy of intense training means you’ll see positive results.

The Ugi ball is a tool you can stand on, kneel on, sit on or plank on, pick up, toss to a friend, or use as a weight. I was spent but energized after my 30-minute workout with Shears and loved the challenge of moving through 30 exercises in one-minute bursts while using the wondrous squishy ball – it’s a totally new sensation that really taxed my muscles in a novel way.

With exercises like wood chops, planking mountain climbers, triceps dips, and kneeling side leg lifts – performed back-to-back for one minute each – I challenged my strength, cardio, core, balance, coordination, agility and power.

Shears emphasizes the importance of functional fitness, meaning activities that produce results in your strength, endurance and flexibility and translate to everyday life. For that reason, barefoot training is encouraged to challenge the underused muscles in the ankles and feet.

Find a Ugi Studio

The initial intention was solely an at-home workout but the concept proved so popular that Ugi has taken off and landed in studios, gyms, bootcamps, schools, and even seniors’ centres around the world. Shears also offers workshops to fitness professionals wanting to learn the Ugi system and philosophy.

The best place to experience Ugi is right at the source, in the Ugi Studio where Shears and her team teach over 25 classes per week plus offer private, pairs or small group personal training.

But you’d better hurry if you want to try a class at the Ugi Studio because it’s closing at the end of February and they have yet to secure a new facility to move into. Vancouver also has a few partner studios that offer Ugi classes and personal training.

For more information on the stylish and fun Ugi, visit the Ugi Fit website and Ugi Studio website. The studio, open until the end of February, is located at 318 - 1529 West 6th Avenue.