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 amazon.ca

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 amazon.ca

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