Thursday, June 12, 2014

Barre Fitness with Jessica Smith

THE WORKOUT: Barre Fitness with Jessica Smith  ($14.95, In Wellness Systems LLC)


WHO CAN DO THIS: You'll need good balance and enough experience to protect your back during some of the moves in these mostly low-impact workouts.

THE BREAKDOWN: Three 20 minute workouts—cardio, standing, and floor—are based on ballet moves. Lots of turnout, pointed toes, relev├ęs, arabesques, and graceful arm movements (considerably more graceful when Jessica does them than when I do) require strong core, arms, legs and even feet. The cardio segment has high-impact options.

Jessica is a real charmer and currently my favorite fitness pro. A trained dancer, she makes everything look easy and it’s not, but she does it with a smile and no preening so I never feel like a clod even as I flail and wobble. The cardio segment is most challenging of the three for me; my arabesque combination is not something to which I would want witnesses. I particularly like Barre Burn, the standing segment, because I usually find working with weights tedious and this is a pleasantly fresh approach.

THE SWEAT FACTOR: Ballerinas only look like they're floating on air. This is all hard work. And it's not even real ballet.

BUT IS IT FUN? It is, although I enjoy the floor and standing strength workouts more than the cardio because I'm such a klutzy ballerina. But I hope to master it someday.

WHEN IT'S OVER: You will feel it, shoulders to toes.

GEAR AND APPAREL: All three segments are done barefoot. The standing segment uses light weights and a sturdy chair, the floor work uses a small soft ball or a pillow.

FINAL WORD: This one is in heavy rotation for me these days; a new favorite.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Elements of Yoga With Tara Lee


WHO CAN DO THIS:  These three DVDs (sold separately) can build a yoga practice, as long as you already know the basics, since form is not discussed. Earth is aimed at beginners, Air & Water take it up a notch; Fire is for intermediate and advanced yogis.

THE BREAKDOWN: Each of these three DVDs has three practices to be done one at a time or all together. Earth is basic, with lots of slow, deep stretches; Air & Water requires a little more strength and includes a lot of twists and some balance; Fire requires strength and stamina, with lots of planks and binds.

Tara Lee is calming in voiceover. She doesn’t provide instruction on form as much as yoga talk what opening the body can do for the mind and how fire in the belly can provide strength and motivation.

Earth and Air & Water are in a pretty lakeside setting (a flock of white birds that flies by is a nice touch); Fire in done at night, lit by flaming pots.

THE SWEAT FACTOR: The first practices of Earth and Air & Water are gentle and you probably won’t work up a sweat, but the other practices on each add a little more challenge. Fire starts energetically and just gets harder. I had to throw in several unauthorized child’s poses to catch my breath and give my muscles a break, and at some points all I could do was laugh. You want me to do what?

BUT IS IT FUN? I love Earth and Air & Water and they have gone into heavy rotation. Fire is too challenging to qualify as fun for me, though I might do the first two practices when I feel like working hard.

WHEN IT'S OVER: Doing all three practices of Earth or Air & Water leaves me feeling calm and loose and I sleep well those nights. All three parts of Fire leave me panting and drenched in sweat.

GEAR AND APPAREL: Mat and optional block.

FINAL WORD: Air and Earth are two of my new favorite DVDs. I respect the Fire DVD and it’s every bit as good, but it is a workout to which I can only aspire at the moment.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Zayna Gold Healing Through Movement

Today I have a guest post from my friend (and first editor) Nancy Kruh. I sent Nancy this DVD because she maintains a regular fitness program but also has had health problems that made her a perfect candidate to test this out. Thanks Nancy!

THE WORKOUT: Zayna Gold Healing Through Movement (Boston Body, $19.95)


WHO CAN DO THIS: Anybody, but it's tailored for people suffering from irritable bowel disorder (IBD) and other chronic digestive disorders.

THE BREAKDOWN: An IBD sufferer herself, Zayna is a Pilates instructor with studios in Boston and other DVDs to her credit. She created this video for people who may not feel like exercising but want to anyway, and for that alone, it's a creative and much-needed product. I've battled gastrointestinal distresses over the years, but -- full disclosure -- I tried out the video when I was feeling fine, so I had to keep a mindset about its purpose as I exercised. What I found was a good balance between caution and challenge. I felt like I'd had a workout, but it definitely didn't do me in, which is the sort of exercise I'm looking for if I don't feel well. It's also the sort of exercise that can help me feel better.

The 45-minute program is divided into four parts: upper body, lower body, full body (which combines the movements of the first two), and a core workout. The movements are mostly traditional exercises -- bicep curls, presses, squats, lunges. Because doing exercises while lying down can be painful for IBD sufferers, you're standing for all the exercises in the first three parts.

Zayna offers a calming, healing presence during the exercises, and she places a huge emphasis on breathing, which definitely helps the body relax and get the full benefit of the movements. This video is touted as Pilates-based, and it works the core, but if you're expecting any attention to flexibility, you'll be disappointed. In her intro, she stresses the importance of keeping the spine "supple and flexible," but there is no stretching in the entire video and only one exercise that requires even the slightest twist of the spine.

THE SWEAT FACTOR: A light glow. More if you choose to repeat any of the parts, as she suggests you do.

BUT IS IT FUN? Only in an "it's good for you" way.

WHEN IT'S OVER: You feel like you've accomplished something, which is a good feeling if you're feeling bad.

GEAR AND APPAREL: Comfortable clothes. Optional: hand weights (you pick the poundage) and mat or towel (for the core workout).

FINAL WORD: You'll probably get the most out of it if you're not feeling well. Otherwise, pick something with more spunk to it.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Ellen Barrett Live Fusion Floor Workout

THE WORKOUT: Ellen Barrett Live Fusion Floor Workout (Buff Girl Fitness, $15)


WHO CAN DO THIS: Anyone—provided beginners don’t expect to complete all reps of all movements. It’s not as easy as you might imagine.

THE BREAKDOWN: Just because this entire workout is done on the floor doesn’t mean you won’t work hard. This is an extremely creative 40 minutes—even familiar stuff is given a twist. For example, instead of doing full pushups the regular way, you do them one arm/side at a time, keeping the other side low and working pecs, lats, deltoids and probably more. Moves all work multiple body parts and are flowing and repetitive; they stretch and strengthen simultaneously, and they feel good while they work you out.

Lots of these exercises are done leaning on one or both hands. Pay particular attention to Ellen’s instructions about distributing your weight across your entire hand so you don’t end up with wrist pain.

THE SWEAT FACTOR: Keep up with Ellen—who is cheerful and friendly without being frenetic—and you should sweat.

BUT IS IT FUN? The novelty makes it fun.

WHEN IT'S OVER: You might be surprised by how well worked out you feel.


FINAL WORD: Having adopted a standing desk about a year ago, I’m ready to sit down by the end of the day, when I usually work out. This DVD will probably get a lot of use.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Pilates Towel Workout for Strength & Mobility

THE WORKOUT: Pilates Towel Workout for Strength & Mobility



THE BREAKDOWN: This is a lot more mobility than strength, unless it’s been a very, very long time since you’ve done anything harder than sitting, in which case you might get a bit of a core workout.

The towel adds extra stability and resistance to side stretches, sit-ups, hip openers, and leg lifts in this very gentle 30-minute workout. Moira Merrithew, who with her husband developed a system called Stott Pilates, talks mostly about working out morning kinks, but I sometimes do it at the end of a long day in front a computer.


BUT IS IT FUN? Stretching is always fun.

WHEN IT'S OVER: I felt a little looser around the neck and shoulders. How much you feel it will depend on how tight you are and how long it’s been since you’ve moved around like this.

GEAR AND APPAREL: Mat and a towel that’s maybe four feet long.

FINAL WORD: A perfect slow start if you’re fixin’ to start thinking about maybe embarking on a fitness program.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Jessica Smith and Peanut

My co-blogger Kritter turned me on to Jessica Smith, who is my new favorite fitness pro--and she has lots of great workouts available for streaming on YouTube. She's likable and low key, her workouts run from 10 minutes up, lots to mix and match, lots of variety and novelty, and Peanut, her dog.

Peanut is the star of this workout. Watch it, and then check out her others. Some of the workouts Kritter and I both like are Tank Top Arms, Barefoot Fusion Walk, Bikini Body Circuit. Lots and lots to choose from here. She also has some full-length stretches, which can be hard to come by. Haven't tried one yet but it's on my list.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Jane Fonda AM/PM Yoga


WHO CAN DO THIS: Anybody with a modicum of mobility, but it's aimed at beginners in "Prime Time." Over 50. (Like me.)

THE BREAKDOWN: I started working out in the 1980s with Jane Fonda (and Richard Simmons). When I look back at those early long, relentless, leg-warmered pain/gain workouts, I wonder how I had the 1) patience 2) stamina 3) time. But evidently I did.

We all get older, including Jane, who is (startlingly) 75-yearsold and looks amazing. Yeah, of course she’s had “work.” But well done work. No-pain, no-gain Jane has been replaced by a kinder, gentler Jane, although there’s remains an edge to her that says, “Yeah, I could still kick your ass, I’m just being nice.”

This DVD includes five ten to 15 minutes workouts, three for the morning, for energy and strength; and two for the evening, for mobility and relaxation.

The morning abs and back workout moves slowly and gently and includes crunches and leg lifts, bridges and such, all done on the floor. The energy workout includes some chair pose, some warrior two, some eagle hands, interspersed with lots of stretching. The strength segment uses light hand weights to work the upper body while the lower body gets a workout with bent-leg postures. The evening workouts are just gentle and stretchy and pleasant.

Jane’s workout buddies look good, too—and I love the blowups of Jane’s old workout video covers on the wall. I remember that Jane.

THE SWEAT FACTOR: If you’ve never exercised, you might work up a glow. I almost broke a sweat doing the strength segment with five-pound weights, but not really.

BUT IS IT FUN? It’s pleasant.

WHEN IT'S OVER: If you’re just starting out, brava!

GEAR AND APPAREL: Yoga mat and light hand weights.

FINAL WORD: A quality beginner's workout, especially if you're at that slowing-down age.

Hey, I have a new book out. It's called The Introvert's Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World. If you are an introvert or want to better understand the introvert in your life, I hope you'll check it out. Also, come hang out with me and other introverts on Facebook.