Thursday, August 4, 2011

My workout week: Cardio,
barre and weight training

I haven’t written a new DVD review for Fantastic Fitness DVDs in ages because I’ve developed a weekly workout routine that I really like that seems to be getting the best results.
   This means I’m sticking to a few fitness programs each week that are achieving the best muscle tone, keeping weight gain at bay and stirring my metabolism into faster action.
   And I like doing them in a certain combination each week, which also seems to be the best, most result-getting path for me to take.
   Every week, I work out three times, and do one of each of these types of workouts. I sometimes mix up the order, but it usually goes like this:

Monday: Cardio – I love a good, sweaty exercise session that aims purely to get the heart pumping.
   These days, I’m turning most often to TurboFire workouts to get my ticker in top form. This high-intensity cardio program from trainer Chalene Johnson, a next-generation program after her very popular Turbo Jam, offers several challenging-but-doable workouts of various lengths.

Wednesday: Barre – In the continual battle to tone thighs, butt and abs, barre workouts work the best for me.
   So named because they’re done at a ballet barre or a home substitution such as a chair or sofa, barre workouts are extremely challenging but yield extremely good results.
   I also like that they also have a very strong cardio component – doing these workouts gets the ol’ heart pumping!
   These days, my favorite barre workouts on DVD are Carrie Rezabek's Pure Barre (although I have a big problem with the warm-ups, which I have complained about often on this blog) and DVDs from trainer Tracy Anderson, creator of The Tracy Anderson Method.
   Actually, Anderson’s method isn’t exactly a barre workout – it’s more in a category of its own with its emphasis on fluidity and many exercises that are done on a mat. But I include it here because it achieves the same results as a barre workout to target tone the problem areas of thighs, butt and abs.

Friday: Weight training – Once a week, I turn to my set of Bowflex SelectTech weights and my set of ChaLEAN Extreme DVDs to lift my way to leaner muscles and a faster metabolism.
   ChaLEAN Extreme, a program also created and led by Chalene Johnson, emphasizes the slow lifting of weights (or the pulling of resistance bands) to burn fat and encourage the growth of lean muscle.
   Since starting her workouts at the very beginning of the year, I’ve noticed a definite change in the tone of my arm muscles, and of my hamstrings.

Now, this blog entry isn’t meant to say I’ll never try another workout DVD – far from it. In fact, I’m always on the lookout for the next DVD that’s going to deliver a challenging workout and results at home.
   So the reviews will keep coming, just fewer and farther between.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

My favorite (and not-so-favorite) DVD trainers

The trainer – for me, he or she can make or break a workout on DVD.
   I can’t stand trainers that are mean, and I will only tolerate ones that are boring or never smile if the workout is good or technique is well explained.
   One very popular American trainer immediately fell out of favor with me when I felt like I was being yelled at in boot camp during her workout. I gave away her DVDs to others.
   For me, a good trainer is one who motivates a person to push harder while staying positive all the time. Good trainers are always cognizant of the different fitness levels of people in the home audience and cater to them by showing exercises at different fitness levels.
   A good sense of humor or a sparkling personality never hurts, either.

With that in mind, here are some reviews of the trainers on the DVDs I own. Some reviews are good, others not so much:

Best overall trainer: Chalene Johnson, creator of Turbo Jam, TurboFire and ChaLEAN Extreme from Beachbody wins this by a landslide.
   Johnson is cheerful and energetic without being annoying. She constantly and firmly encourages people to push harder, without making the workout feel impossible. Her crew always has people demonstrating exercises at different fitness levels. She explains proper form well, especially in the weight training program ChaLEAN Extreme.
   When Johnson says it has been a treat to work out with the person doing her DVD, I believe her. I think she really does care about her exercise audience and how people are progressing day to day.
See the Beachbody Chronicles for reviews of TurboFire and ChaLEAN Extreme

Most charismatic: Shaun T, the affable creator and leader of Hip Hop Abs and Insanity from Beachbody, could get a smile and laugh from anyone. Although his easygoing manner is sometimes non-existent on the Insanity DVDs because the workouts are so tough, people can see his motivating level of happiness on Hip Hob Abs.
See The Beachbody Chronicles for reviews of Insanity

Best explainers of technique and proper form: Elisabeth Halfpapp and Fred DeVito, the married couple who created the Core Fusion exercise technique, wins this title for their earliest DVDs. While their latest DVDs assume some knowledge of their technique, their first ones do not, and they take a lot of time explaining to the viewer how to properly do the exercises to make them most effective. 
Reviews of Core Fusion DVDs

Trainer that shows even the fittest will sweat: Bob Harper’s recent DVDs have an extremely fit-looking crew that is drenched with sweat and breathing hard mere minutes into the workout. I like that Harper makes a point of showing this; it’s motivating to exercisers at home who are busting their butt. Although Harper constantly pushes his audience, I find he is generally understanding about different fitness levels. He shows modifications for jumping jacks, which scores instant points in my book.
Reviews of Bob Harper's DVDs

Best “no-frills” trainer: Whenever I feel like I need a good old-school calisthenics-style workout delivered in a no-nonsense way, I turn to Jackie Warner. She crams a lot of punch her DVDs, but has an engaging, tomboyish manner that makes the challenge more fun.
Reviews of Jackie Warner's DVDs

Funniest: Tony Horton of P90X always manages to crack me up, no matter how corny the joke. According to Wikipedia, Horton once did stand-up comedy, and this makes complete sense to me.
See The Beachbody Chronicles for reviews of P90X

Most easygoing: Four trainers make their way into this category.
   - Shiva Rea, the famous yoga teacher, can always be counted on to make the day feel more relaxed. Her calming voiceovers on her DVDs, shot in gorgeous locations, explain well the yoga moves, so you don’t need to constantly be looking at the TV. Reviews of Shiva Rea's DVDs
   - James D’Silva, the trainer on Trudie Styler’s workout DVDs, is also a master of the calming voiceover. His narration, in combination with the classy, relaxing music, make Styler’s DVDs a great way to check out of the world for a awhile. Reviews of Trudie Styler's DVDs
   - Gillian Marloth and Teigh McDonough, creators of Yoga Booty Ballet from Beachbody, have created workouts that have a “do-what-you-can-and-enjoy-it” quality that’s great for beginners. Reviews of Yoga Booty Ballet DVDs

Trainer that seems to expect you’ll be able to whip through the workout the first time through (not a good thing): Carrie Rezabek, creator of the Pure Barre exercise technique, takes this title because all of her DVDs seem to have the expectation that the workout will seem easy to you, the exerciser.
   This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Pure Barre is really tough, the kind of workout that will seem nearly impossible for complete exercise beginners. Though each DVD comes equipped with a section that demonstrates technique, the actual workouts have no mention of doing the easiest form of an exercise, and modifications are extremely rare.
   Rezabek smiles a lot, but it’s little consolation to those trying to get through her tough workout. And, as I’ve grumbled about before on this blog, Pure Barre warm-ups are the absolute worst.
   But, all in all, Pure Barre workouts are darn effective, and that’s why Rezabek gets to stay around.
Reviews of Pure Barre DVDs

Most boring: Tracy Anderson never cracks a smile on her DVDs. Her narration is humourless, unmotivating and at times doesn’t keep up with the action that is happening on the screen. Her Perfect Design Series DVDs are shot in a studio that looks like a piece of industrial hell. If you are an eternal pessimist, you may just like this workout.
   Anderson’s DVDs will keep being played by me, though, because her Tracy Anderson Method technique is innovative and challenging.
Reviews of Tracy Anderson's DVDs

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Review of Pure Barre - 16th Street: 2

As I grunted and groaned my way through the warm-up of the DVD Pure Barre - 16th Street: 2, it again struck me that Pure Barre warmups are the most ridiculous, impossible start to any workout that I’ve ever done.
   After a few knee-ups, you’re right down to the floor, doing intense abdominal work, push-ups, side planks, and tough tricep and bicep work.
   “This ain’t no warm-up,” I said, doggin’ it all the way through the first few moments, letting myself have it easy by cheating on form and promising I would work at full potential during the workout itself.
   I did that, and so I was proud.
   The only reason I try to look past Pure Barre’s frustrating and shocking warm-ups is that the workout gets fabulous and definite results.
   Smaller thighs? Check. Sucked in stomach and sides? Check. Lifted seat and toned hamstrings? Check.
   The workouts are all 35 to 45 minutes long (16th Street 2 is 35 minutes long, workout and cooldown included), so the torture moves along at quick pace and is finished before you know it.
   Like all Pure Barre DVDs, 16th Street: 2 is a workout comprised of small, intense movements that target the thighs, abs, butt and arms. The standing moves are done at a ballet barre, chair or window sill, while the ab exercises are done on the floor.
   Like 16th Street: 1, workout 2 uses an exercise tube joined at the middle in the shape of a figure eight, or you can use my substitution of an exercise band without handles tied into a circle at a point that provides a reasonable amount of resistance.
   16th Street: 2 is similar to 16th Street: 1 (Click for my review) in its moves, but it seems to be just a tad more challenging. For example, the thigh work in 16th Street: 1 includes a move where the band or tube is put under one foot and around the ankle of the other. The one with the tube around the ankle is raised forward off the floor, pointed, and then traces tiny circles with the big toe.
   In 16th Street: 2, the challenge is ramped up by the other foot being lifted off the floor onto the tippy-toes while the other foot is doing the tiny circles. It’s hard, and may even become bothersome to the foot that is raised. I put my foot down when it did.
   Another tough move in 16th Street: 2 is when the tube or band is placed under both feet. One foot is on the ground, the other is bent at a 90-degree angle to the floor and flexed. The bent foot presses back repeatedly against the band, creating a tough exercise for the hamstrings. Mine even felt like they were cramping at one point, so I just dropped the band when that happened and continued.
   As part of the seat work, a wacky and very tough move called the pretzel is put into play. Sitting on the ground, one leg is bent and put forward, and the other bent and put back, making the body naturally lean towards the leg that is forward. Raising the arms into the air with the band or tube in hand, the hip of the leg that is in the back is pushed forward in small repetitions. It's tough, so I either stuck with the most basic exercise shown, dropped my arms or leaned more to the side in order to complete the pretzel section.
   The ab work of 16th Street: 2 is a bit different than 1. In 1, much of the ab work was done by an exerciser putting the band under both feet, leaning back, pulling the band through the knees and doing very small crunch movements.
   In 2, the band is put around the thighs, just above the knees, then an exerciser leans back and does small crunching movements, often while pressing out the thighs against the band.
   Like 1, 16th Street: 2 provides a challenging, muscle-burning workout that goes after common problem areas like a thing possessed.
   My only wish is that a Pure Barre warm-up could actually feel like one.

Pure Barre - 16th Street: 2 at

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Review of Pure Barre - 16th Street: 1

Pure Barre is deceiving.
   The exercise technique's moves don’t look like much. They’re so tiny, with a span of mere inches, that people who watching a Pure Barre workout for the first time may be tempted to think it’s a snap to do.
   But it’s far, far from easy.
   Pure Barre is a fierce workout, causing intense burning in the area being targeted during an exercise, and sometimes soreness afterward.
   I was reminded of the technique’s power to set the abs, seat, arms and thighs on fire by one of the latest Pure Barre DVDs, 16th Street: 1. Pure Barre creator Carrie Rezabek leads the workout in a Denver studio.
   Even though this workout is just 35 minutes from start to finish, including a warm-up and cooldown, it surprised me how exhausted I was when it was over. I was also thrilled that I was able to keep up with it, modifying occasionally.
   In this workout, Carrie and her crew use a double resistance tube, attached in the middle like a figure 8.
   I simply used a resistance band (without handles) and tied it into a circle that provided reasonable resistance.
   The tube or band is incorporated into all the exercises, including the warm-up, which to me isn’t really a warm-up at all.
   It’s actually an arm workout. After just a few seconds of lifting the arms and legs, exercisers hit the floor to do push-ups, plank, side plank, then stand and use the band to exercise the triceps with a few different moves.
   The first official exercise segment is thighs, which is done standing at a support such as a window sill or chair.
   The exercises here include: Putting the tube around the thighs at a point higher than the knees, lifting the heels off the ground, keeping them together, then bending down and up an inch; tucking the hips forward and back; putting the tube under one foot and around the other ankle, and lifting the leg with the tube around the ankle forward slightly off the floor in small pulses and stretches.
   The seat segment is next, and it starts at the support. The tube is put under both feet, then one is flexed and lifted up behind in tiny lifts and circles.
   Exercisers then hit the mat, put the tube around one ankle and behind the other foot, and face the floor on all fours. The leg with the tube under the foot is lifted off the floor in tiny movements to work what Rezabek calls the Pure Barre ledge – the area where the seat meets the leg.
   The abs come next. In a sitting position on the floor, the tube is wrapped around the heels of the feet and pulled through the knees with the hands, with the upper body leaning back as far as possible. From here, small crunches are done, with one arm up and then the other, then the body is held still and the tube pulled forward and back. Oblique work is done by twisting slightly from side to side.
   Each segment is followed by a short stretch to lengthen the muscles after the intense work. These are certainly welcome, but Rezabek doesn’t remind exercisers to stick with the most basic level of the stretch if they don’t feel like going any further.
   I never push myself in a stretch – it can cause serious injury!
   I did my own stretch at the end of the workout, letting my abs, thighs and seat relax after being put through the ringer.

Pure Barre - 16th Street 1 at

Review of Pure Barre: Lowry Lofts 1 and 2

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Review of Tracy Anderson
Perfect Design Series: Sequence I

As I write this, I’m in the midst of a battle against soreness and pain induced by a round with Tracy Anderson Perfect Design Series: Sequence I.
   If I laugh, my abs are wracked with pain. When I move my arms in any fashion, they hurt. I brace myself before I sit or stand and wince as I complete the action.
   But, like the sicko I am, I love it all – that means this mighty tough workout from Tracy Anderson, an American trainer, has done its work.
   My first encounter with one of Anderson’s DVDs was with her Mat Workout, one of her initial offerings issued a few years ago.
   I liked it enough to order her next three DVDs, Perfect Design Series Sequences I, II and III. They can be ordered separately or in a package of three on her website.
   Though Sequence I is aimed at beginners (II and III are for more advanced execisers), it is very challenging.
   On the 49-minute Sequence I DVD, Anderson re-iterates her exercise philosophy of activating small muscle groups, which she says are often ignored in most workouts, to bring out sexy curves and lines.
   In doing so, she has created a unique exercise technique, sometimes referred to on her first DVDs as the Tracy Anderson Method.
   I haven’t encountered her unusual moves anywhere else, such as those in the arms section of Sequence I.
   “I’m always working in different patterns,” says Anderson as she switches into yet another short sequence of arm movements, which run the gamut of flapping, slapping, circling, stretching, reaching and gripping of imaginary objects.
   It feels and looks a little silly but it seems to be effective, making the tops and bottoms of the upper arms burn.
   The parts of the workout that are done on the floor seem a bit like a barre workout, a bit like Pilates, and a bit like yoga, but with Anderson’s own spin.
   For example, there’s the very first tough exercise on the DVD after the warmup. The starting position is on your knees on the floor, with the butt off the feet and the body straight. You lunge forward and a bit to the side on one leg, then swing your upper body forward as the same leg goes back into a straight arabesque position behind you.
   After a just a few repetitions of this, my heart rate was up, I was sweating, my butt was beginning to burn and my core was activated.
   Other moves that target the butt, thighs and core include:
   - Starting on all fours facing the ground, one leg is pushed up behind the exerciser in an arabesque, then brought down at a wide angle to the ground until the knee touches the floor. This is done accompanied by a “rocking” push-up motion.
   - While lying on one’s side and propped up on one elbow, an exerciser reaches out the top arm and leg in the opposite direction.
   - With arms and legs on the floor and body facing up and lifted from the ground (as if a person was about to do tricep pushups), one leg is lifted up, crossed over the other and brought back to the initial position. This was actually too difficult for me to do and I had to do the move with my behind on the ground.
   The mat abdominal section is next on Sequence I, and it employs Anderson’s way of doing crunches, which I think is easier to accomplish than other ab workouts I’ve done.
   Anderson crunches slightly from the floor, head cradled in her hands. Her upper body doesn’t go any more than a few inches off the floor, while the legs are used in different patterns to work the lower abs.
   In the standing abs section, an exerciser shakes it up a bit as they move their hips and ribs in opposite directions. It’s a technique Anderson calls “rib isolations.”
   I did my own stretch at the end of the workout, finding the stretch offered at the end of Sequence I too short.
   My one complaint about this DVD is its visual grimness. It’s filmed in barren studio at night. Anderson, who narrates her own moves in a voiceover, never cracks a smile.
   It seems as if the having of fun is being looked down upon, which I sometimes find discouraging – but I'm definitely not discouraged enough to not keep tackling the Design Series videos.
   I look forward to the pain and soreness the other Sequences bring.

A complete list of reviews on Fantastic Fitness DVDs

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

When it comes to working out,
I'm a homebody and a lone wolf

Why do I work out at home with DVDs instead of going to the gym?
   Simple – I can’t stand the idea of holding back because I’m self-conscious!
   I’m not against gyms at all. Many have top-notch equipment and offer excellent classes and training advice.
   And many people find a group atmosphere motivating when they’re working out.
   Not me. I’ve always preferred working out alone.
   While I exercise, I sweat profusely, I groan and I grunt. Sometimes I give myself a pep talk or talk to the trainer on the TV.
   By not worrying if someone will see my cherry-red face or the line of sweat that has formed at the back of my yoga pants, I can work out at my peak ability.
   I can lose my balance or miss a rep without feeling I’m being watched.
   I can tumble out of bed, throw on some workout clothes, put in a DVD and get working. There’s no fuss of getting a bag together or worrying if my hair looks right and if my workout clothes look slobby.
   With the great variety of workout DVDs I have at home, I can pick from dozens of different workouts, including cardio, weight training or ballet barre. I don’t have to wait for a specific class at a certain time.
   It’s not just a physical gym that I stay away from – it’s virtual ones as well.
   Beachbody’s “online super-gym” is promoted at the beginning of each of the company’s DVDs. Exercisers are encouraged to “log on now,” to see what Beachbody workouts others are doing.
   This idea absolutely mystifies me. I simply don’t find it motivating to know what workouts people are doing the same time I am. I’m accountable to myself only.
   There are also the DVDs that try to make me feel like I’m a gym with others.
   That’s the case of Beachbody’s TurboFire, an excellent cardio program on DVD led by trainer Chalene Johnson. The set is designed to look like a gym fitness class, with rows of exercisers facing Johnson.
   As much as I like TurboFire, I find it mystifying that the videos are promoted with the idea that the exerciser “has the best spot in class."
   I simply don’t need a communal cloak to motivate me.
   You won’t be seeing me at the local gym or a virtual one anytime soon – I’ll be sweating my heart out happily at home.

A complete list of reviews on Fantastic Fitness DVDs

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Beachbody Chronicles: An Insanity workout I can do without feeling like I'm dying!

Finally: An Insanity workout I can do without feeling like I could barf up a lung.
   Core Cardio & Balance is a “rest” workout DVD of Insanity, the high-intensity cardio workout program led by Shaun T.
   It’s meant to be done in the week between Month 1 and Month 2 of the program.
   “You’ve been pounding your body for about four weeks now,” Shaun says during the Core Cardio & Balance workout, explaining that it’s meant to provide some rest to your heart and muscles.
   “You shouldn’t feel super-exhausted at the end. If you do you’re doing it too hard.”
   I have been pounding my body, but not with Insanity only. I mix the program’s workouts in with my other excellent DVDs.
   I was glad I didn’t feel super-exhausted at the end of Core Cardio & Balance. I was able to get through it well, generally keeping up with its pace and only modifying once or twice.
   I found it much more doable than the other Insanity workouts I’ve done so far, which are very challenging to the heart, lungs, body and mind. Core Cardio and Balance has a slightly slower pace than the other workouts.
   Apparently a “rest” workout in Insanity means “a workout you might be able to do without wanting to call the paramedics,” for average exercisers.
   The 37-minute Core Cardio and Balance workout starts with seven minutes of light cardio and 3.5 minutes of stretching as a warm-up.
   The main section is about 20 minutes of cardio and standing core-strength exercises, as the workout’s title suggests.
   Cardio moves include:
- Ski hops – light hops from side to side with the feet and knees together.
- Hit the floor – touching the floor from a slight crouching position with one hand, then the other and a slight hop in between.
- Level 1 drills – Burpees with push-ups and running action thrown in.
- Heisman – Running in place with a deliberate side-to-side motion with knees high, as if running through a set of tires on the ground
- Moving plank walks – “walking” from side to side in a plank position, which is holding the upper-part of a push-up. This is too difficult for me, and so I did push-ups and held a stationary plank instead.
- Jab switchs with jump squats – facing in one direction, doing an alternating punching motion, then jumping to the other direction and doing the same.

Following the cardio moves are some standing core exercises, which will be familiar to fans of Shaun T’s Hip-Hop Abs workout program.
   These exercises include standing on one leg and lifting the opposite knee up repeatedly, and bringing one arm down and the knee on the same side up, doing a slight crunch with the oblique ab muscles.
   The final exercise sequence is done from a wide pliĆ©, also known as sumo squat. From this stance, the arms are pulsed up and down or make small circles. It is challenging, but I was able to do it, thanks to the ballet barre workouts I have been following.
   When Core Cardio & Balance was over, I felt surprised and a little shocked that I didn’t want to cry – I felt rather refreshed, in fact, and was ready to tackle the day.

The Beachbody Chronicles: My adventures using Insanity, P90X, TurboFire and ChaLEAN Extreme

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Beachbody® Chronicles: ChaLEAN Extreme® goes from slow to fast with Burn Intervals

The Burn Intervals workout of ChaLEAN Extreme® seems like the complete antithesis of everything Chalene Johnson teaches in her weight training program on DVD.
   All of the main workouts emphasize the slow, controlled lifting of heavy weights. The maximum number of repetitions done in a set ranges from eight to 12.
   Burn Intervals, on the other hand, has exercisers doing lots of reps with light weights as recovery intervals during cardio drills.
   Johnson says Burn Intervals has different purpose than the other workouts.
   While the slow lifting workouts are meant to build muscle and burn fat, the many reps with light weights in Burn Intervals are meant to build muscular endurance.
   It is a little confusing to the mind, what with Johnson going from telling you to “go heavy or go home,” and then suddenly to do a “bazillion bicep curls” with light weights.
   But it’s worth the shifting of gears because Burn Intervals is an excellent, challenging circuit training workout.
   Cardio drills lasting 1.5 to two minutes in length alternate with “recovery” sessions lasting 1.5 to 2.5 minutes of quick lifting of light weights (or a light resistance with a resistance band).
   “Jumping rope” is followed by bicep curls; speed-skating by overhead shoulder presses; bowling lunges by bent-over tricep extensions, and burpees by lateral raises.
   As always with Johnson’s workouts, excellent modifications for jumping and high-impact movements are shown.
   Burn Intervals is also where Johnson’s two trademark workout programs meet: Turbo Jam (and TurboFire) and ChaLEAN Extreme.
   Some of the cardio spurts are kickboxing drills that come right out of the Turbo Jam playbook.
   Those familiar with Turbo Jam will feel right at home, while those who haven’t tried it may be prompted to give it a whirl.

Read more about the workouts in ChaLEAN Extreme in The Beachbody® Chronicles

Friday, May 13, 2011

Review of the Tracy Anderson Method Mat Workout DVD

I’ve wanted to try a Tracy Anderson workout DVD ever since I read a column written by Leah McLaren in the Globe and Mail a few years ago.
   McLaren was writing about the Tracy Anderson Method, a hot new workout technique that both Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna had adopted and were practically endorsing publically.
   I’ve read that Madonna has since moved on, but Paltrow is still loyal to Tracy Anderson, an American trainer.
   The main reason I hesitated from buying Anderson’s Mat Workout DVD was because I couldn’t get it directly from or without going through a secondary seller or paying an astronomical shipping rate.
   But I finally gave in a month ago and ordered the Mat Workout directly from Anderson's website. I felt it was time to try it.
   The workout is aimed at giving you a “long, lean, sexy, defined look” and a “teeny, tiny dancer’s body,” according to Anderson.
   The only equipment needed is a chair and a light pair of hand weights, no more than three pounds.
   Anderson leads the exerciser through a series of moves that leave the abs, arms and butt burning. Ironically, while this is called a “Mat Workout DVD,” most of it is done standing up, with only the last few minutes done on the floor.
   I’ve got quite a bit to say about the 57-minute workout, so I’m going to write the rest of this review in point form - the things I liked and disliked.

I liked:
- Anderson’s emphasis on body flow. She’s all about letting the rest of your body move in response to the work a single part may be doing. For example, when you’re facing a chair, holding onto it, and lifting a leg out to the back, you’re encouraged to lean forward and back with your upper body if you want. It makes for a more relaxed workout, rather than keeping the rest of the body nearly still while one part works. “It’s really important that your whole body be involved,” Anderson says.

- She frequently changes the angle from which a muscle is being worked. It seems she switches just as soon as you’re sure you can’t do a single more repetition, and you are happy to do a different exercise. This is especially true for the standing portion dedicated to toning the butt. She moves seamlessly through moves such as bringing the knee up high beside the body to extending it to the side. The burn is there, but there is some relief from frequent angle changes.

- There is a good warm-up and cool-down. With a series of quickly-moving yoga-inspired stretches such as side angle pose and standing forward bend, Anderson gets the body limber at the beginning of the workout and stretches it out nicely at the end.

- It’s not too bad for an exercise beginner. The moves are relatively easy to follow, and if broken up into small bits at first, the workout can be done.

- The abdominal section is amazingly doable – I was able to get through it without stopping for a rest! That doesn’t mean it’s easy – my abs were burning. But Anderson’s approach of lying on your back, putting your legs a bit apart and lifting up your head up slightly from the ground seemed to get the work done without an accompanying I’m-surely-going-to-die feeling.

- The no-weight arms section is a terrific upper-body workout. With arms out at a 90-degree angle to the body, Anderson moves them forward and back, up and down and in a smacking motion to get the arms burning. It’s only a seven-minute section, but it feels like an eternity.

I didn’t like:
- Anderson's claim that heavy weights create bulk. She begins the weighted-arms section by telling exercisers to never go above three pounds in each hand – anything more will create bulk, she says. Since I’ve been doing an excellent weight-training program on DVD called ChaLEAN Extreme, I know Anderson’s claim of bulk is complete B.S. I’ve been lifting heavy weights in a slow, controlled manner with ChaLEAN Extreme, and my arms have gotten smaller and definite muscle tone has appeared. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t use light weights for this workout – Anderson goes at a quick pace, and so light weights are essential so injury isn’t caused.

- There’s not a lot of narration of the moves, and very little explanation of proper form. Anderson sometimes doesn’t even say when she’s changed from one exercise to another, forcing a person to watch closely. She doesn’t show a lot of personality, and there is just a smattering of encouragement to exercisers here and there.
That said, Anderson’s lack of talk may be an enduring quality for those who don’t like a lot of excess chatter when they’re working out, and like a “do-it-and-get-it-done” type of workout. The lack of constant narration does fit in with her “go with the flow” exercise principle.

- Anderson's statement that she really doesn't like people using other workouts. Forget that! I'm going to keep using the DVDs in my fine collection -- exercise variety keeps me motivated!

Will this workout help me achieve a “teeny-tiny dancer’s body?” I must admit being sceptical about this, since petite I am not. Perhaps I’ll need to write a follow-up entry to let you know if Anderson’s promise comes true.

A list of every review on Fantastic Fitness DVDs

The Beachbody Chronicles: My adventures using P90X, Insanity, ChaLEAN Extreme and TurboFire

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Jumping jacks - my exercise enemy

Jumping jacks are my exercise enemy.
   I truly hate that classic calisthenics move that mimics making a snow angel, but standing up.
   Because I have big boobs!
   When I do jumping jacks, they whip up and down like a force unleashed, causing my bra straps to slip off my shoulders.
   And it hurts the poor things – for me, doing jumping jacks is literally a pain.
   I can handle jumping, as a few of the home workout DVDs I do require it. I can do these moves, such as doing a skiing motion from side to side, or setting up a basketball, because they are slower and more concentrated.
   Jumping jacks are simply too fast.
   I have liked or disliked workout creators on the basis of how they describe jumping jacks to their at-home exerciser followers.
   An extremely well-known and popular trainer, who shall remain nameless, instantly lost any future loyalty from me when she spoke on the subject on one of her best-selling DVDs.
   She said: “I have 400-pound people who can do jumping jacks. So can you.”
   No, I can’t, and I resent such an assumption!
   On the other hand, celebrity trainers such as Chalene Johnson and Bob Harper show excellent modifications to jumping jacks on their DVDs, allowing for low-impact versions.
   These trainers have won my long-term loyalty.
   So, celebrity trainers, never assume that your audience at home can do all the exercises in exactly the same way you do, and never use an exercise to shame someone as motivation.
   It simply doesn’t work.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My feet are smaller, and other
strange results from working out

In the past year, I’ve noticed a strange phenomenon: My feet are smaller.
   I used to take a size 9½ or 10 in shoes, but now I take a 9. I also don’t need wide width shoes anymore.
   Why is this?
   I think it’s because my feet have toned up!
   It’s just one of the weird occurences I’ve witnessed with my body since I’ve been working out with DVDs at home.
   As could be expected with working out regularly, I have lost weight and toned up all over my body. Exercise has also been key in helping me maintain good blood sugar and cholesterol levels and an ideal blood pressure.
   While I am far from a perfect body or ideal weight, some of the best physical successes are:
   - My arms are much more muscular and smaller. Blouses that were tight around my arms are now loose.
   - My back, particularly the top between the shoulders, is much more toned – there is actually noticeable muscle definition!
   - My hamstrings are getting hard as a rock and my butt is lifted higher.

But some more unusual things have happened, like the smaller feet, that I never expected.
   Some may seem logical with weight loss and toning, but it didn’t really occur to me they could happen until they showed up.
   - My fingers are smaller, and my wedding rings fit looser. I no longer need to run water over the rings to get them off!
   - I have higher arches in my feet. While I never had a problem with “flat feet,” the arches I do have are much more defined and impressive. It’s a lot easier to walk in heels, too, because my feet are stronger. I credit barre workouts (click for reviews of the ones I use) with my better arches.
   - The area right under my kneecaps toned up. It’s surprising how much fat a person can carry there! Almost immediately after I started working out, the lumps of fat disappeared.
   - My armpits have lifted and become deeper. I don't know how else to describe it. This seems to have come along with my arms getting more muscular on the top and bottom. I credit the weight training program ChaLEAN Extreme with my nicer arms and armpits.
   - The lump of fat I had right under the back of my neck is gone, replaced by smooth muscle.
   - My facial features are more defined. I must admit, however, this is because I do a nightly facial workout (click for the review) that has lifted my cheeks and helped suck up some chin fat.

What is the moral of the story? Regular exercise, beyond its obvious benefits, holds a few pleasant surprises too.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Review of Xtend Barre: Lean & Chiseled

Xtend Barre: Lean & Chiseled is a great new entry into world of barre workouts on DVD, and the barre workout I would most recommend to beginners.
   That’s not because this workout doesn’t kick it – it certainly does.
   It’s because the DVD has a good tutorial on the moves, there is a great warm-up and cool-down, the workout pace is reasonable, and achievable modifications are shown for each and every exercise.
   Professional dancer, choreographer and Pilates instructor Andrea Rogers of 10-Minute Solution fame developed Xtend Barre.
   Xtend Barre is described on the DVD package as being a combination of dance (ballet) and Pilates. That’s definitely the case, but Lotte Berk Method practitioners will also recognize moves in the workout.
   Rogers says it’s a workout that combines “stretch, strength, stability and stamina.” She’s right: While you’re toning your body, you also get a great cardio workout.
   She emphasizes that consistent practice is the key to gaining the stamina needed to complete the workout in peak form all the way through. It’s good advice – don’t expect to do the workout with the ease of a professional ballet dancer!
   Andrea and her two-woman crew on the DVD wear a type of gripped sock during the workout, but I went with bare feet.
   The entire workout from start to finish is 55 minutes, but it can be broken into different sections.
   The first is the six-minute warm-up that gets the body well prepared for the work ahead with moves such as knee raises and plies.
   Section two is an 11-minute upper-body workout, which I didn’t use because I like the arm work I get with the weight training program ChaLEAN Extreme.
   However, the section looks challenging and is likely effective. Light hand weights are used for most of it with exercises such as tricep extensions, but for other exercises, such as balancing in an arabesque position and flowing the arms in and out, the weights are dropped.
   The main part of the workout is the 23-minute barre section, which is done with a chair.
   Here we find exercises inspired by ballet positions. In one, starting in first position, the heels are lifted up, and the body is lifted and lowered.
   Another is a front attitude. The leg lifted in front of the body is pulsed upwards, then inwards, then in circles around and to the ground.
   Yet another exercise begins in a curtsy position, then the leg is brought out to the side to an extension. At full pace, this provides an amazing cardio challenge.
   Other exercises are similar to those found in Lotte Berk Method workouts.
   One, for example, is leaning forward with the arms bent, resting on the chair back and the head resting on the arms. From here, one leg is lifted into the air and pulsed, creating a killer move for the backside.
   Following the barre workout is a 10-minute core section.
   Pilates is definitely at play here, with many of the moves using both the upper body and the legs to work the core. There’s scissoring the legs while twisting the upper body for the the elbow to meet the opposite knee, and roll-ups, a classic Pilates move that I’m unable to do without first gathering momentum.
   The workout ends with a terrific five-minute floor-and-standing stretch.

Xtend Barre: Lean and Chiseled on

Friday, April 15, 2011

Review of Bob Harper: Ultimate Cardio Body

“I don’t know if I can do it, Bob,” I said to Bob Harper’s face as he looked back at me from the TV screen.
   The Biggest Loser trainer was ordering a new round of mountain climbers (alternately pulling the knees to the chest from the top of a push-up position) and I wasn’t sure I had it within me to keep going.
   But something about his ever-so-slight Tennessee twang, his hilarious knee-length socks (they need to be seen to be believed!) and my own inner drive made me get up and keep going to the finish line of the hour-long workout.
   I was doing his latest DVD, Bob Harper: Ultimate Cardio Body.
   On the cover, it’s billed as Bob’s most powerful workout yet.
   I find that a bit puzzling, since Bob just released a series of DVDs last year called Inside Out Method that I found plenty challenging – unless powerful and challenging meant two different things in the workout world.
   I reviewed two DVDs from the Inside Out Method on this blog, Pure Burn Super Strength and Body Rev Cardio Conditioning.
   Ultimate Cardio Body takes up where Inside Out Method DVDs left off, with more of Bob’s cardio-and-weight combinations and circuits: Spurts of cardio are followed by lifting of light weights. There are also compound movements which use the lower and upper body at the same time.
   Some of these compound movements are a bit scary, such as the plyo lunge jumps while holding weights. This move is done starting in a lunge position, then jumping up and landing with the other leg in front – all while holding two weights in the hands with the arms at the sides of the body.
   I didn’t like the idea of jumping with weights, and so didn’t use them for this move.
   There are just a few jumping moves in the workout, and even these can be modified to be low impact.
   In fact, this DVD is great for people who don’t like to jump during their workouts. Many of the moves are low impact, such as knee lifts, front kicks, speed skaters, push-ups, lunges and squats.
   The moves are very easy to follow and are repeated often, which helps an exerciser to keep good form.
   The cooldown and stretch is just a scant 2 ½ minutes, which is very short for a workout of this length and difficulty. I did my own stretch at the end, as I often do after workouts.
   Though it is essentially low impact and simple to follow, that doesn’t mean this workout is easy, as can be guessed from what I wrote at the top of this entry.
   It is exhausting and requires a person to push past the sweat and thudding heart and keep going.
   But once you reach the “finish line,” as Bob calls it, a feeling of pride and washes over you – you did it!

Bob Harper: Ultimate Cardio Body at

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Beachbody® Chronicles:
"Burn It Off" adds some straightforward cardio to ChaLEAN Extreme®

“Burn It Off,” is the all-cardio-all-the-time workout included in the ChaLEAN Extreme® exercise program on DVD.
   The slow lifting of heavy weights which comprises the rest of the program is absent for this workout.
   Rather, this is a kicker l’il exercise session for the ol' ticker that contains some light jumping moves.
   It’s perfect for those exercisers considering moving on to other Beachbody programs that use plyometrics (jump training) in intense cardio workouts such as P90X® and Insanity®.
   But the jumping is certainly optional – the entire workout can be done low impact, which is demonstrated well by two of the women in Chalene Johnson’s crew. (Johnson is the creator and leader of the ChaLEAN Extreme program.)
   The workout is 27 minutes long from the beginning of the workout to the end of the cooldown. Some of the exercises can be done with a thigh-toning band.
   “Burn It Off” starts with tap the floor, which is putting the one leg back in a light lunge, touching the floor, then standing or jumping up.
   Other exercises in the workout include:
- Plank with knee pulls: In a plank position (holding the top of a push-up), the knees are brought in one at a time at a fast or slow pace.
- Jumping jacks, with or without a thigh toner. The option given is stepping and squatting deeply on one side then the other.
- Speed skaters, with or without a thigh toner
- Football drills
- Lateral lunge with a lateral raise – using a light hand weight, an exerciser leans over to one side, then stands up, lifting the lunging leg off the floor. The arm with the weight is pushed up into the air.
- Three-point stance – jumping up from a position on the ground that looks like the move from football.
- Screamers – One leg is forward and bent, while the other is put back in a slight lunge and then pumped forward and back at a quick pace. The screaming part comes in if Chalene’s instructions to put all the weight on the front leg are followed – the butt gets worked!

Stay tuned to Fantastic Fitness DVDs for The Beachbody® Chronicles - a series of articles about the adventures my husband and I have using ChaLEAN Extreme®, TurboFire®, P90X® and Insanity®.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Review of Trudie Styler's Pure Sculpt

Trudie Styler and her trainer, James D’Silva, get down to some serious toning of the abs, butt and arms on Pure Sculpt.
   Pure Sculpt is one of Styler’s series of workouts for Gaiam. On each of the DVDs, she and D’Silva exercise at theTuscan villa she owns with husband Sting.
   The setting is stunning and the music relaxing, but don’t let that fool you – this is a challenging workout that gets the body burning.
   Pure Sculpt is divided into seven 10-minute workout segments.
   The segments can be put all together for one comprehensive toning workout, or mixed-and-matched as needed one at a time. I like to tack on a couple of these segments after a cardio workout.
   The first segment is an excellent yoga-style warm-up that limbers up the core and legs for the work ahead with moves such as forward bends, downward dog and cat/cow stretch.
   The second and third segments are the two Core Conditioning routines.
   The first routine is a more “traditional” core workout, with crunches and bicycles. There are Pilates-style moves here too, such as keeping legs and/or arms off the ground and pulsing the arms.
   The second Core Conditioning routine is less traditional. Its core move is lifting the body off the floor from one side to another with one hand and leg. It’s powerful stuff.
   There are a lot of roll-ups, too, starting from lying on the ground on one’s back and rolling all the way forward over the legs. I am unable to do this unless I get some momentum going!
   The fourth and fifth segments of Pure Sculpt are the two Lower Body routines, which effectively target the butt.
   Routine 1 is done lying on one’s side, with the bottom leg forward and bent while the top leg engages in exercise moves. One is lifting the leg from a parallel position to the bottom leg to a perpendicular position and back, while another is making small circles with the top leg, again perpendicular to the bottom leg.
   Routine 2 of Lower Body starts with a person lying on their front on the floor, head resting on top of the hands. From here, the legs do small movements such as lifts upward and to the side.
   The second part of the routine is done on all fours. With arms and knees on the ground, moves such as leg lifts and pulses are done one leg at a time.
   The final segments of Pure Sculpt are the two Pure Arms routines.
   Since I get an effective upper-body workout by using ChaLEAN Extreme (click for the latest review of this program), I have not tried either of these routines, but they look as if they would be fun.
   With weighted gloves on their hands, Styler and D’Silva make flowing motions with their arms in different patterns, such as a flying or zig zags. It is almost like a dance routine, but without the lower body.
   There is no concluding stretch on the DVD, so I did my own.

Trudie Styler's Pure Sculpt at

Review of Trudie Styler's Warrior Yoga

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Review of Exhale - Core Fusion: Bootcamp

Elisabeth Halfpapp and Fred DeVito are back with their latest workout DVD, Exhale - Core Fusion: Bootcamp, and this time the husband-and-wife fitness team are aiming to get your heart pumping.
   On their past DVDs, the couple presented their Core Fusion exercise technique, a mix of the Lotte Berk Method, Pilates and yoga. The emphasis was on toning the butt, thighs, abs and arms with tight, controlled movements.
   On Bootcamp, elements of yoga and Pilates are definitely still present, but there also some straightforward, more athletic moves that make for more of a cardio workout.
   Jump backs, or burpees, is the primary athletic move used to get the pulse racing. From an standing position, a person bends and puts their hands on the floor, jumps or steps back into a push-up position, jumps back to the forward position and stands up again.
   Jump backs are challenging enough on their own, but Elisabeth and Fred throw in a curve ball to make things even harder. They use playground ball, placed between the hands, and put that on the ground instead of their hands.
   The challenge to the core this presents is absolutely spectacular, and absolutely difficult. I can’t do it, and so stick with the modified exercise without the ball. There are weights present at several times during the workout, too, but they are optional. (I take definite advantage of this.)
   Despite having the name Bootcamp, which implies a person will get whipped into shape from a level of little or no fitness ability, this isn’t a beginning level workout. It’s tough.
   Well, I take that back slightly. It may be suitable for beginners if tackled in the 10-minute segments that comprise the whole 50-minute workout.
   The first segment, Cardio Flex, is a super warm-up that is comprised of yoga moves and very light cardio.
   Cardio Sun Salutations, the second segment, takes the classic yoga sequence of lunges, downward dog poses and plank positions and speeds it up. Warrior poses, and holding the plank position (the up position of a push-up) are also present.
   Next is Jump Backs Part 1, with the exercise I described before being the primary focus of the routine. There are other poses used often, too, such as chair pose – holding a squat in the downward position and holding the arms out straight in front of the body.
   Jump Backs Part 2 is more of the same, with jump backs interspersed with lunges, balancing in a sumo squat, and lifting up the ball in one direction and doing a ballet arabesque on the other.
   As Core Fusion practioners know, a Core Fusion workout isn’t complete without a belly-burning abdominal section. It’s the last main segment on this DVD. It includes roll-ups (which I can’t do without gathering momentum first) and doing arm and leg exercises while in a “C-curve,” – holding a crunch in an upward position.
   Weights are included with some of the moves in the abdominal section, but they are optional.
   The DVD has two bonus sections: A five-minute thigh and core section with the playground ball, and a five-minute stretch section that starts with some light back work.
   Following the stretch section is a good way to finish the workout. I follow it, and then add a few stretches of my own.
   Core Fusion Bootcamp accomplishes what that it sets out to do – get the heart pumping while still doing some hard-core toning of the body.

Exhale - Core Fusion: Bootcamp on

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Beachbody® Chronicles:
The Lean phase of ChaLEAN Extreme® is TOUGH!

In her ChaLEAN Extreme® Lean Circuit 3 workout, Chalene Johnson says if your muscles shake while doing the exercises, that’s a good thing.
   I took that to heart as I watched my poor arms quiver with effort as they slowly pushed hand weights overhead, hands facing each other.
   Johnson’s trademark constant encouragement was definitely needed while I made my way through the Lean Circuit 3 workout, the third in the Lean Phase, earlier this week.
   The Lean Phase is the third of the three ChaLEAN Extreme phases. The first two are Burn and Push. Each phase has three workouts.
   There is really only one good word to describe the Lean Phase workouts of ChaLEAN Extreme: Tough.
   I am finding them much more brutal than the Burn and Push phase workouts. That’s a good thing, though – since the Lean phase is the last phase of the program, it should be the most challenging.
   In an effort to promote lean muscle and burn fat, the ChaLEAN Extreme program emphasizes the slow lifting of hand weights until muscles fail, or reach complete fatigue (the entire program can also be done with a resistance band).
   In the Lean Phase, 12 repetitions are done of each exercise. The exercises are also compound in the Lean Phase, meaning the upper and lower body work at the same time.
   And the compound combinations can be absolutely crazy.
   One exercise was so challenging I was immediately forced to do the modification. It was the chest fly with abduction.
   Lying on one’s back with a resistance band around the ankles, an exerciser is to lift the legs straight overhead, and while lowering the weights down to the ground, lower the legs, and when raising the legs, raising the weights over the chest.
   You can bet it’s tough, and I went right to the modification – keeping the legs bent at the knees with the calves parallel to the floor, and doing the flyes.

Click to read more about the exercises in Lean Circuits 2 and 3

The Lean Phase of ChaLEAN Extreme is tough Continued . . .

This blog post is continued from a previous one. Click to read the first part of the post.

In the Lean Circuit 2 workout, exercises concentrate on working the shoulders. Because I have less-than-stellar strength in my back and shoulder muscles, I was often forced to choose lighter weights to do the required repetitions with good form.
   In the Lean Circuit 3 workout, exercises concentrate on working the chest muscles. I was able to choose heavier weights in this workout and still reach failure with good form.
   Here are some of the compound exercises that can be found in the Lean Circuit 2 and 3 workouts:
- Double arm row with single leg lift: With a resistance band around both ankles, an exerciser leans forward with a weight in each hand. Lifting up the weights in a row, one leg is lifted off the ground.
- Lateral raise with hamstring curl: With a resistance band around both ankles, an exerciser lifts weights out to the side while bending up one leg in a hamstring curl.
- Plank with a single arm row: An exercise that requires a lot of care. While holding the body in a plank position (the top position of a push-up), an exerciser lifts up one arm, weight in hand, in a row.
- Kneeling overhead press and crunch: On the knees on mat or towel, an exerciser lifts weights overhead, then brings them down and crunches over to work the abdominal muscles.
- Travelling push-ups: While doing push-ups, moving from side to side. I simply did push-ups in one place, on my knees, to modify this difficult exercise.
- Army crawl: An exercise that I was thrilled I could do without modification! Holding a forearm plank position, one knee is brought forward at a time.

Read a review of Lean Circuit 1

Stay tuned to Fantastic Fitness DVDs for The Beachbody® Chronicles - a series of articles about the adventures my husband and I have using ChaLEAN Extreme®, TurboFire®, P90X® and Insanity®.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Beachbody® Chronicles: Let's get ready to rumble - Insanity® vs. barre workouts

One night last week I was complaining to my husband about being sore after doing Physique 57, a type of barre workout, in the morning.
   “Barre workouts are really tough. In their own way, they’re just as hard as Insanity,” I said.
   As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I knew I had the idea for my next blog entry: Insanity versus barre workouts.
   It’s a tight match-up.
   Insanity®, a series of workouts on DVD from Beachbody, is harder than hard.
   But barre workouts are also tough as nails. They require the same amount of stamina and focus as Insanity does.
   Both Insanity and barre deliver butt-kicking workouts in different ways: Insanity for cardio, and barre for butt, thighs and abs.
   Both stick with your body and mind for the hours and days after doing them.
   The toughest barre workouts on DVD I currently do are Physique 57® (click for my review) and Pure Barre® (click for my review of the latest DVDs).
   They are inspired by the Lotte Berk Method, an exercise technique that uses small, targeted movements to work the muscles of the body. Many of the exercises are done at a place to rest the hands and keep balance, such as a ballet barre, chair or sofa.
   By the time one of these workouts are done, my abs, butt and thighs are always burning and I wonder how I was able to get through it.
   The same is true with Insanity – when one of these workouts are done, I always marvel at myself for getting through it without dying.
   Insanity workouts, created and led by Shaun T, are intense cardio sessions that use movements inspired by athletic training such as running in place, hurdles, and push-ups. A lot of jumping is involved.
   While barre workouts provide targeted toning for the lower body and Insanity a supreme workout for the heart and lungs, both also get deep into the other’s zone of dominance.
   Here’s what I mean: While barre workouts deliver the toning goods, they are also super cardio workouts. My heart pumps like crazy and sweat gushes down my face.
   Insanity, in turn, does have toning properties, especially when it comes to moves such as push-ups. My shoulders have never felt such burn after some Insanity workouts.
   Even though Insanity and barre workouts make me grumble, I won’t put either of them aside because, at the end of the day, I love a challenging workout that delivers the goods.
   And I like variety, too. For me, boredom with a workout is the most powerful motivation killer.
   Insanity and barre workouts will continue to go head-to-head in my workout week.

A complete list of barre workouts reviewed on Fantastic Fitness DVDs

Stay tuned to Fantastic Fitness DVDs for The Beachbody® Chronicles - a series of articles about the adventures my husband and I have using ChaLEAN Extreme®, TurboFire®, P90X® and Insanity®.
Click to like Fantastic Fitness DVDs on Facebook

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Beachbody® Chronicles:
Moving to the Lean phase of ChaLEAN Extreme®

I’ve officially moved on to the Lean phase of ChaLEAN Extreme®.
   It’s the phase in which Chalene Johnson, creator of ChaLEAN Extreme, promises that “amazing things are going to happen to your body, and we’ll have fun doing it, too.”
   I’ve been having fun so far and have seen results from the first two phases of the program, Burn and Push, so I’m optimistic Johnson’s promise will be kept.
   I enjoyed my first Lean phase workout, Lean Circuit 1, when I did this week.
   In the Lean phase, compound movements are used in its three workouts. This means both the upper body and lower body are used in each exercise. In the Burn and Push phases, it was either the upper body or lower body alone doing most of the work.
   Like the Burn phase, in the Lean phase you are encouraged to choose weights that are heavy enough that will make a targeted muscle reach failure, or complete fatigue, by 10 to 12 repetitions. (You can also use a resistance band.)
   And you are also meant to do each exercise slowly, lifting the weights in a concentrated, deliberate fashion.
   Johnson says it’s a method of weight training that will help build lean, sexy muscles, burn fat and help the metabolism fire.
   In Lean Circuit 1, the biceps and triceps are targeted with nine different challenging sets over the course of a 44-minute workout.
   There is, for example, the tricep extension in a runner’s lunge. Lunging forward and leaning over the front leg, an exerciser then does a tricep extension with both arms.
   The bicep curl with a hamstring curl has an exerciser putting a toning band around one ankle and under the other foot. Using a chair for balance, the foot with the band under it is pushed backward while the opposite arm is used for a bicep curl. It’s an exercise that’s absolutely murder on the hamstrings!
   The plank with a tricep extension is also challenging. One arm holds the body in a plank position (holding a push-up in the top position), while the other does a tricep extension, weight in hand. There is the option to doing the exercise on one’s knees, one that I certainly used!
   The high I always felt when doing the first two ChaLEAN Extreme phases was here again, so I’m looking forward to delving into the other Lean phase workouts.

Stay tuned to Fantastic Fitness DVDs for The Beachbody® Chronicles - a series of articles about the adventures my husband and I have using ChaLEAN Extreme®, TurboFire®, P90X® and Insanity®.
Click to join Fantastic Fitness DVDs on Facebook

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Beachbody® Chronicles:
Doing an Insanity® workout on Shaun T's terms

I tried to beat the horror of an Insanity® workout warm-up recently by skipping it entirely.
   That’s right: The warm-up for all Insanity workouts is absolutely horrifying.
   Jogging, power jacks, butt kicks, high knees, log jumps – these are thrown in your face the minute you start the workout routine.
   While you will definitely be warmed up when it’s finished, it’s nearly as difficult as the cardio workout that follows – when you actually get to it, that is.
   There's an annoying seven-minute stretch plopped in right between the 11-minute warm-up and the central cardio workout. In the Month 1 DVDs, the cardio workout ranges between 15 to 20 minutes.
   Don’t get me wrong. I love a good warm-up, and a bit of a stretch thrown in with it. In fact, a good warm-up is essential for me to perform well during a workout.
   I just don’t like such a long period of time between a warm-up and the workout, especially since the warm-up itself is so challenging. It’s deflating mentally and physically for me.
   So recently I took a different tack – I started with a 15-minute HIIT workout from TurboFire, then put in Insanity’s Plyometric Cardio Circuit (both workout programs are produced by Beachbody.)
   Since I was raring to go from doing a high-intensity interval training workout with TurboFire, I went right to the core 17-minute cardio workout of the Plyometric Cardio Circuit, leaving that annoying warm-up and stretch behind.
   It felt good and I was able to do it, later on I started to think about what I had done.
   I like to do a workout the way it’s designed. A trainer usually has your best interests in mind when he or she prepares a routine. Many trainers have been educated in the science behind what they are presenting and have developed what they believe to be the most efficient way to exercise.
   Although it truly escapes me why the stretch between warm-up and cardio needs to be so long, I wanted to do the workout the way Shaun T, who created the insanity program, designed it.
   So last week, when doing the Cardio Power & Resistance workout for the first time, I went for the whole 40-minute routine again: Eleven minutes of warm-up, nearly seven minutes of stretching, and about 18 minutes of cardio. I did my own stretch routine at the end.
   Cardio Power & Resistance, like other Insanity workouts, has two circuits in the central cardio segment. Both circuits are repeated twice, and you are encouraged to increase your speed in the second circuit if you can do so without compromising form.
   The first circuit in Cardio Power & Resistance is comprised of power jumps (jumping high with knees bent), belt kicks (squatting then kicking with one leg at a time), V push-ups (body is in a V position facing the floor) and tricep dips.
   The second circuit is comprised of hurdle jumps, globe jumps (jumping right, front, left and back and touching the hands to the ground each time), moving push-ups (I did regular push-ups instead), and floor sprints.
   When I was finished, I was glad that I had completed another difficult Insanity workout, and that I had done it on Shaun T’s terms.

Stay tuned to Fantastic Fitness DVDs for The Beachbody® Chronicles - a series of articles about the adventures my husband and I have using ChaLEAN Extreme®, TurboFire®, P90X® and Insanity®.
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Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Beachbody Chronicles®:
ChaLEAN Extreme® is a treat for the body

“This is a treat!” says Chalene Johnson on one of her ChaLEAN Extreme® DVDs as she and her crew get ready for a challenging new move.
   A treat – it’s an excellent description about how I feel about ChaLEAN Extreme, Johnson’s fitness program on DVD from Beachbody that aims to burn fat and build muscle with the slow lifting of heavy weights.
   I start my workout week on Monday with a ChaLEAN Extreme DVD. It’s a great way to ease into exercise after a couple days of rest, which I often take on the weekend.
   I feel as if the muscles in my body are being slowly massaged, and the joints are being oiled up.
   Don’t get me wrong – there’s no free ride with this workout program. ChaLEAN Extreme is tough.
   I’m currently doing the Push phase, the second of three phases in ChaLEAN Extreme (the first is Burn, the third is Lean), and you are challenged to reach muscle failure by eight repetitions.
   That means you need to choose weights that cause the targeted muscles to feel absolutely fatigued by six to eight reps. With many of the exercises, a breakdown set of three more reps is done after the initial six to eight.
   Momentum is not allowed – just the slow, concentrated lifting of the weights.
   My husband and I use Bowflex SelectTech weights, but the entire program can be done with resistance bands.
   My heart rate rises, sweat pours down my face and I breathe heavily.
   And if you keep proper form and use heavy weights as Johnson advises, you will definitely feel it deep in the muscles.
   Something about that feeling causes my body to sing and my muscles to thank me for taking the time to challenge them.
   And this feeling lasts. I feel relaxed and focused for the rest of the day, and I sleep like a baby at night.
   I think ChaLEAN Extreme is a program that’s suitable for fitness beginners, particularly those who are looking to work out but are hesitant to be jumping or moving around too quickly right away.
   Although a beginner would eventually need to add a cardio component to his or her fitness regimen, ChaLEAN Extreme can provide a basis of muscle building that will not only shape the body but also a focused mindset about exercise and how to take on its challenges.
   For fitness veterans, ChaLEAN Extreme provides a wicked at-home weight training program to add to their repertoire.
   For both groups of exercisers, it’s a real treat.

Stay tuned to Fantastic Fitness DVDs for The Beachbody® Chronicles - a series of articles about the adventures my husband and I have using ChaLEAN Extreme®, TurboFire®, P90X® and Insanity®.
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Friday, February 25, 2011

Review of Personal Training with Jackie: Crunchless Xtreme Abs

The name of Jackie Warner’s workout DVD, Crunchless Xtreme Abs, is a bit of a misnomer.
   In my mind, a crunch when exercising is anytime you are on the floor and lift your upper body to the point your shoulders are off the ground.
   And there is plenty of that going on in this workout, believe me.
   It would be more accurate to call it Situpless Xtreme Abs, as this movement isn’t found on the DVD.
   Aside from labelling, I have absolutely no other complaints about this workout – it is fabulous.
   It got my abs burning, my heart pumping and the sweat pouring – and it was fun! I felt the work later, too – I told my husband it felt like my upper abs had been scraped against a cheese grater.
   The first of the two 15-minute routines on the DVD is standing ab work, a concept made famous by Shaun T in his Hip Hop Abs DVDs from Beachbody.
   There is a bit of a warm-up, but it is slight – you get right into working the core with movements such as lateral punches.
   Other moves in this section include lifting your legs up one at a time and bringing your straight arms down to meet them; bending over in a squat and alternately punching to the opposite foot; and squatting and rotating at the torso.
   Jackie uses weights in some of the exercises, but they can be done without just the same, and I found myself not using a weight a lot. The exercises were challenging enough on their own!
   The second 15-minute routine is the floor work, and it’s tough.
   Here you’ll find crunch action, including lying on one’s back, twisting the legs out, bringing them in and crunching the upper body to meet them; and doing a side plank and bringing the top knee up and crunching down the top elbow to meet it.
   The plank position (holding a push-up at the top) is used judiciously in this section, as it does wonders for working abs. In this position, several exercises are performed including twisting at the waist, lifting up one leg at a time and doing burpees (jumping up from plank than jumping back into it).
   There are plenty of good modifications shown in this section, so all the moves, though challenging, are definitely do-able.
   Both 15-minute sections have very short cooldowns. I did sections together, standing then floor, and then did my own stretch, as I do at the end of every workout.

Crunchless Xtreme Abs at

Review of Personal Training with Jackie: Xtreme Timesaver Training

A complete list of reviews on Fantastic Fitness DVDs

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Beachbody® Chronicles: Feel like you're in a martial arts movie with Kenpo X from P90X®

“You’ll feel like you’re in a martial arts movie. It’s a lot of fun,” I promised my husband about Kenpo X, one of the 12 P90X® workout DVDs that I wanted him to do with me.
   After I showed him moves from the workout such as block-hammer and drag-claw-punch, he was sold.
   I did Kenpo X by myself for the first time on Friday. My husband joined me on Monday morning when we had the day off together.
   “As advertised?” I asked as we stretched afterwards.
   “Yes, that was awesome,” he said.
   That’s what I thought the first time I did it.
   Tony Horton, creator of P90X, promises at the Kenpo X intro that after you’re done the workout, you’ll feel like a million bucks.
And he’s right!
   I got a great cardio workout, and felt oddly refreshed afterwards. My husband felt the same way.
   Kenpo X is based on a type of martial arts called Kenpo karate, which is characterized by the use of quick movies in rapid-fire succession.
   Punches, kicks and blocks are at the core of the workout, served up in different varieties and combinations.
   Each combination begins slowly and begins to increase in speed. For added impact and motivation, some awesome yells are added in the last few reps of each combination.
   Between the two of us, my husband and I must have beat up at least 500 bad guys by the end of the hour-long workout.
   We could get some bad guys two at a time, such as a move where you knee one in the gut and get the other in the groin with a back kick.
   There were “breaks” during the workout, 1.5-minute sessions where you can get water and towel off, but quickly return for some high knees and jumping jacks before going back to beating people up.
   One part of the workout I skipped because it goes against all I have learned about exercising safely is the deep floor stretches that happen in the warm-up. I did the standing stretches that run for about five minutes at the very beginning of the workout, but skipped the five-minute section that follows where Tony and his crew hit the floor for deep yoga-style stretches that I did not feel my muscles were warm enough yet to do. On other workout DVDs, you are constantly being told deep stretches are only fit for the end of the workout when the muscles are nice and warm.
   There is another short but decent stretch at the end of Kenpo X that targets the back of the legs. My husband found these were enough for him.
   As I do with most workout DVDs, I also did my own series of stretches at the end of the workout.
   I’m looking forward to feeling like a million bucks again with Kenpo X.

Stay tuned to Fantastic Fitness DVDs for The Beachbody® Chronicles - a series of articles about the adventures my husband and I have using ChaLEAN Extreme®, TurboFire®, P90X® and Insanity®.
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