Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Review of Element: Pilates Weight Loss for Beginners

When it comes to Pilates and yoga, I am definitely a beginner.
I find both those modes of exercise to be challenging to my body and mind.
   Thus, I’m a fan of a good beginner’s workout in both of those disciplines.
   Element: Pilates Weight Loss for Beginners is perfect for me: I find it demanding, though not impossible.
   Brooke Siler, who leads the workout, never stays in one exercise position for too long, ensuring that the muscle fatigue and burn doesn’t get too overwhelming.
   I love the 20-minute “Pilates-concious” cardio section that begins the complete 50-minute workout.
   It is a terrific way to wake up the body and mind and get the heart pumping for the mat section ahead.
   The cardio section begins with breathing exercises, arm circles and side reaches, and ends with challenging moves such as deep pliés, lunges, push-ups, side-angle pose and the elephant press (facing the mat, lifting up on the forearms and feet in a plank position, then lifting the butt up and back down to the plank position several times).
   Then it’s on to the 30-minute mat work section, where several classic Pilates exercises are found including the 100, pelvic lifts, rolling-like-a-ball, the seal, side kicks, the saw, the bicycle and leg beats.
   All of these exercises are challenging, but because workout’s pace is reasonable, I am able to keep up and do them all in proper form (though I need to modify some along the way.)
   The workout finishes with some push-ups.
   There was no final stretch, so I did my own.

Element: Pilates Weight Loss for Beginners at amazon.ca

Another good Pilates workout: Trudie Styler's Core Strength Pilates

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Review of Yoga Booty Ballet Master Series:
AM Latte and Goddess Abs

“Good morning, and welcome to your day,” says Teigh McDonough at the beginning of the Yoga Booty Ballet AM Latte routine.
   Her words are the bright and happy welcome to a light workout that gets the heart pumping a bit and the body limber before the day’s action begins.
   It’s a perfect routine for when you’re not in the mood to do a hard-core strength or cardio workout, but still want to wake up the heart and mind with some physical activity.
   The Yoga Booty Ballet exercise technique is the creation of Teigh and Gillian Marloth, and this routine employs the key parts of the technique – predictably yoga, dance and ballet.
   The 33-minute routine begins with about 15 minutes of opening meditations and breathing exercises – a great way to drag yourself from the shackles of sleep.
   Teigh and Gillian then move on to a funky little dance routine and some ballet moves – about 12 minutes worth.
   A series of yoga sun salutations, then a closing meditation, conclude the routine.
   “Bring goddess energy, empowerment and excitement to the rest of the day,” says Teigh encouragingly at the end.

Goddess Abs, the companion DVD to AM Latte in a two-disc set, is a compact, 20-minute workout that concentrates on the abdominal region.
   Teigh and Gillian use a small exercise ball during much of the routine, but it is not absolutely necessary to have one.
   The abs will certainly burn at times with this workout, but there are periods of relief, particularly when Teigh and Gillian change body positions to work the abs and core from a different direction.
   The routine starts with an exerciser sitting cross-legged on the floor, passing the exercise ball in front of the body, then twisting back, one side then the other, and touching the ball to the floor.
The longest part of the workout is done lying on the floor, and using the ball in various ways in combination with crunches.
   For example, with the ball placed under the knees, the lower body is lifted off the floor while the upper body does a crunching motion. The ball is then put between the knees, and is squeezed together each time the lower body comes off the ground.
   Another exercise is holding the legs straight, ball in between the thighs, and lowering the legs to a 45-degree angle off the floor and then lifting them straight up again.
   A closing meditation finishes the routine.

Yoga Booty Ballet AM Latte and Goddess Abs at amazon.ca

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Review of Squeeze Stronger

Squeeze Stronger, a DVD from Hollywood trainer Tracy Effinger, left its impact on me long after its 80 minutes of gruelling work was over.
   My sides ached, my legs felt like they had undergone some sort of trauma, and my triceps had never felt quite so sore in the couple of days after I did the workout.
   But it added to my sense of accomplishment for finishing the workout and keeping good form while doing so – my body was recognizing my efforts.
   Squeeze Stronger is Effinger’s sequel to her first DVD, Squeeze.
   Squeeze Stronger is harder and more vigorous than Squeeze, and is so a good “next step” workout.
   Squeeze is Effinger’s formula of small, intense muscle movements that target and tone the entire body. It is descended from the Lotte Berk Method, an exercise technique that has inspired other workouts such as Pure Barre and Core Fusion.
   The Squeeze Stronger workout is comprised of two main sections: a 35-minute upper body and waist routine that includes a warm-up, and a 45-minute lower body and abs routine that includes a final stretch.
   The arms are targeted first in the workout. A set of light hand weights is needed – and I really mean light. Starting off with weights that are too heavy will cause immediate exhaustion. As it is, the arms will burn as the biceps, shoulders and triceps are worked from several angles.
   Then comes the waist work, for which you need to haul out a broom. The broomstick is placed over the shoulders and the arms along it, and an exerciser bends from side to side. It will be felt the next day.
   Push-ups finish the upper body section.
   For the lower-body section, a chair is needed for balance. The feet are placed in a narrow V and lifted from the floor, and from this position deep thigh bends are done. Other standing thigh work, such as deep pliés, follows.
   “Knee dancing” is featured next. Sitting back on the feet, an exerciser pushes their hips up off the feet and forward, repeating this action over and over.
   The “pretzel,” a nightmarish move, involves sitting on the ground and swinging both legs to one side. While leaning on one’s arms to the opposite side, the background leg is lifted off the ground. It’s very hard, and thankfully Effinger shows a modification – leaning completely over on one side on the elbows, which makes it easier to lift the leg.
   An abdominals section comes next. Gripping the broomstick with both hands, an exerciser leans back and does little crunches, then proceeds to move the stick above the head and back down again.
   The hips are worked last with a series of pelvic lifts.
   A welcome final stretch concludes the workout.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Review of The New York City Ballet Workout

“Ballet is for each dancer a private affair of the soul,” remarks Peter Martins, balletmaster in chief of the New York City Ballet, during the closing stretches of the New York City Ballet Workout.
   It’s just one of the touches that made me feel a bit like a real ballet dancer while following the DVD.
   The workout is chock-full of passés, relevés, tendus and arabesques, all set to ballet music.
   And Martins narrates it all as actual ballet dancers complete the moves.
   The DVD answers a question I’ve always had: Do ballet dancers do abdominal work or push-ups?
   Yes, they do! Crunches, bicycles and push-ups were all present in the workout.
    Floor exercises came first after the warm-up and before the standing ballet poses, an approach I liked. Usually, it’s standing exercises before floor or mat exercises in many other workouts, but I was happy to get crunches and push-ups out of the way first.
   Also included in the floor work are leg lifts done while lying on the back and the side, and back work done by lifting the arms and legs while lying face down.
   There is one section I skipped on the DVD: Section 4, which is a series of slow and deep stretches. I prefer to stretch deeply after a workout, and so breezed past this.
   After the floor sections, the standing dance work begins.
   Here we encounter the moves Martins says ballet dancers do every day – plié (bending at the knees), relevé (lifting up the heels), degagé (lifting the leg off the ground), tendu (pointing the toe to the ground in the front, side and back), passé (lifting the toe to the knee of the opposite leg), and arabesque (lifting one leg to the back at a 45, then 90-degree angle to the floor).
   It is all great fun, and I definitely felt the impact later in my thighs and butt.
   The thing I like most about this DVD, though, is that it forces me to keep my tummy pulled in all the time.
   It just doesn’t feel right doing ballet with your stomach hanging out – it seems to be counterproductive.
   People who like a lightning-paced workout with a techno beat backing it may be disappointed with the New York City Ballet Workout.
   Although it is certainly challenging, it is subdued.
   But if you’re a fan of classical music, ballet, or of holding your stomach in while you work out, this DVD is for you.

The New York City Ballet Workout on amazon.ca

Another good ballet-based workout: Trudie Styler's Sculpt and Tone Ballet

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Review of Keeping Fit: Strength, Pilates and Cardio

The Keeping Fit series of DVDs is targeted at women in their 40s, 50s and 60s.
   But I’m 36, and I was sweating like crazy and getting a fantastic workout with the DVDs, particularly with the one called Strength.
   I think most people will find the DVDs to be challenging, except perhaps the most advanced exercisers.
   The DVDs, called Keeping Fit Strength, Keeping Fit Pilates and Keeping Fit Cardio are available individually or in a package of three.
   Andrea Metcalf, who designed and hosts the workouts, is extremely personable and motivating.
   She offers plenty of easier and harder modifications for all the exercises, allowing beginners to give them a good try, and to challenge people who are getting fitter and stronger.
   Each DVD workout is about 50 minutes long, and is comprised of 10 five-minute segments, including a warm-up and cooldown. Beginners can sample a few segments if getting through an entire workout is too difficult.
   The Strength workout, which really got me sweating, requires hand weights.
   Metcalf uses compound movements to work the body – this is moving the upper and lower body at the same time. Examples of these exercises are squats and bicep curls and shoulder press with reverse lunge.
   She also offers balance challenges to work the core, such as balancing on one leg and lifting the arms to the side.
   The workout then heads to the mat, and includes moves such as the tuck and roll and pelvic lifts.
   The Pilates DVD was like a dream come true for me – the workout was so doable!
   It was unlike any Pilates DVD workout I have done or seen. There wasn’t a constant emphasis on keeping the legs at a 45-degree angle to the floor, and there was no Pilates 100!
   However, there are some moves that resembled classic Pilates, such as small leg circles and roll-ups.
   Rather than a full-blown Pilates workout, this DVD more like a total body toner done on a mat – and it’s challenging.
   There are exercises done from a position of lying on the ground facing up, such as tapping one leg to the ground at a time, pelvic lifts, and tricep dips.
   Other exercises face the ground. One starts with all fours on the floor, then lifting an opposite arm and leg for a balance challenge, while another is lying with the whole body on the ground, then lifting the arms and legs to work the back.
   The Pilates DVD ends with some great stretches for the core muscles.
   Keeping Fit Cardio is an easy to follow, energetic routine that features low-impact moves inspired by popular dances.

Keeping Fit - Strength, Cardio, Pilates three-pack at amazon.ca

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Friday, November 5, 2010

Review of Shiva Rea: Creative Core Abs

When I watched the introduction to Shiva Rea - Creative Core Abs, I felt like I was seeing a late-night infomercial that was speaking directly to one of my deepest desires – working the core without repetitive crunches or sit-ups.
   “Many people have a resistance to doing focused core work. It’s often approached as a duty, something that must be done without much pleasure and usually for external reasons,” says Rea, a world-renowned yoga teacher, in the introduction.
   “This pressure for outer appearance can stifle the creative fire inside through repetitive, mechanical movement.
   “The purpose of this DVD is to offer you a set of creative and innovative tools for core strength and integration.”
   So – strengthening abs without repetition. Is it really true?
   Yes, I was pleased to find. The Creative Core Abs routine uses fluid movements that change often – just like yoga.
   The fluidity of movement, combined with the terrific music and lovely location on a dune in White Sands National Park in the United States, makes for a much more pleasant way of working the abs than crunches.
   But don’t think this workout is for sissies: There will be burning in the core, particularly in the third and most difficult segment (you can do each segment on its own or all three together.)
   The first segment, 10 minutes long, is called Water Core. “(With the) invocation of the circular and fluid power of water, we will cultivate a receptive, creative and playful core strength,” says Rea at the beginning of the segment. Doesn’t that sound fun?
   The segment starts from a kneeling position, from which an exerciser leans back and forth in a pulsing motion. Then there are moves such as lying on the ground and drawing up the pelvis and circling it about; twisting the lower body from side to side from a position of lying on the ground; and then lying on the side and reaching out the hands and legs as if doing a sidestroke.
   In the second segment, Spontaneous Core (eight minutes long), Rea takes the exerciser through a series of movements done facing upwards while lying on the ground. These include reaching legs out one at a time, then putting them together and pushing them upwards by lifting the pelvis off the ground.
   Rea then encourages the exerciser to put the moves together in a spontaneous pattern – strengthening the core through freedom of movement.
   Fire Core is the third segment, and it is 17 minutes long.
   It’s the toughest of the three segments, as it uses variations on a sustained plank position to work the core.
   In yoga, plank position is holding the upright position of a push-up (it can be done on the knees.) From plank, Rea draws the knees in, one at a time, to the navel, and increases the speed that this is done until it almost resembles running.
   After the plank variations, Rea stands for some yogic squats and warrior poses, and finishes with a twisting “kriya” – twisting from side to side along the axis of the spine at a faster and faster pace.

Shiva Rea: Creative Core Abs at amazon.ca

Another good workout for the core: Pure Barre: Pershing Square 1

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Review of Bob Harper Inside Out Method:
Pure Burn Super Strength

Thirty-five minutes into his Pure Burn Super Strength workout, The Biggest Loser trainer Bob Harper innocently announces it’s the halfway point.
   There’s no warning that those who stay on past this point will be physically punished more brutally than they were in the first half of the workout.
   It’s a perverse concept, getting it worse if you continue.
   But that’s when I found that the part deep inside of me that wants to conquer the world came out and I was able to finish the full 60-minute workout with pride in my heart.
   Pure Burn Super Strength is extremely challenging. I’m sure it would even give advanced exercisers a run for their money. Bob’s very fit-looking crew of two women and one man have sweat running down their bodies and they grunt their way through parts of the workout.
   Armed with a pair of hand weights, an exerciser moves through muscle-training moves such as bicep curls, overhead presses, rows, deadlifts, tricep extensions and chest presses. Weighted squats and lunges keep the heart rate elevated.
   There are few moves that don’t use weights, such as push-ups, forearm plank and crunches.
   And then there are some moves for which Bob’s crew use weights, but for the sake of actually getting through the workout, I dropped mine.
   The T-stand is an example of such a move. It’s a variation on side plank, with the body in push-up position and then twisting to one side and then the other, extending an arm into the sky. A push-up is done in between twists. It’s difficult enough without weights!
   I did what I needed to do to finish the workout in good form – modifying moves, pausing the DVD occasionally and dropping weights.
   Bob says at the beginning and end of the workout that it can be done every day. Not quite! I can only do it when I’ve had at least one day’s rest between workouts and lots of sleep. Otherwise, Pure Burn Super Strength will do nothing but frustrate and annoy.
   The DVD also has a 20-minute beginner’s segment that is a decent workout in its own right. Bicep curls, tricep kickbacks, lateral raises, push-ups and crunches are some of the moves in this segment.
   Even though Pure Burn Super Strength is maddeningly tough, it did bring out a part of me that I enjoy encountering – the part that rises and conquers a challenge.

Bob Harper Inside Out Method: Pure Burn, Super Strength at amazon.ca

Click for a review of Bob Harper Inside Out Body Rev Cardio Conditioning

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