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FROM THE ARCHIVES: A guide to exercise DVDs

Vox reviews some of Columbia's most popular workout DVDs

January 16, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST

I’m a living-room workout kind of woman; and no, I don’t mean reaching for the remote control. I mean strengthening, stretching and sweating, all in the space between two couches with the coffee table pushed out of the way and the TV as a virtual instructor. I’ve been an avid in-home exerciser since high school. What I lack in training, I have in experience. I’ve done enough DVDs to be able to analyze them and pick some winners.

For guidance, I turned to Patti Ross, an independent health, wellness and personal training consultant in Columbia. She helps people set up workout areas and develop exercise programs in their homes. With a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and certifications through the American College of Sports Medicine Physicians, she knows her stuff.

Top workout DVD picks

What are the top names and titles in DVDs? Here’s a look from a few different sources.

Top 10 most checked-out DVDs in Daniel Boone Regional Library system:
Yoga Conditioning for Weight Loss with Suzanne Deason
The Biggest Loser: The Workout — Weight Loss Yoga
Cardio Pilates with Ana Caban
Yoga for Absolute Beginners with Marlon Braccia
T’ai Chi for Health: Yang Short Form with Terrence Dunn
Pilates Powerhouse Workout with Jillian Hessel
Easy Pilates with Ana Caban
The Biggest Loser: The Workout — Boot Camp
Yoga and Pilates with Louise Solomon
Yoga for the Rest of Us: Essentials for Every Body best sellers:
Jillian Michaels: Ripped in 30, Killer Buns and Thighs, 30-Day Shred, etc.
Bob Harper: Ultimate Cardio Body
Leslie Sansone: Walk Away the Pounds Ultimate Collection
Cindy Crawford’s Shape Your Body Workout
Denise Austin: Pilates for Every Body
Pilates Abs by Ana Caban, from Gaiam
Pussycat Dolls: Dancer’s Body Workout
The Biggest Loser Workout, Vol. 1
The Firm: Cardio Overdrive
Dance with Julianne: Cardio Ballroom best sellers:
Jillian Michaels: Ripped in 30, Killer Buns and Thighs, 30-Day Shred, etc.
Insanity: 60-Day Total Body Conditioning Workout DVD program
The Biggest Loser: The Workout — Cardio Max
Rodney Yee’s Yoga for Beginners, by Gaiam
Belly Dance for Beginners, starring Leila
Prenatal Yoga starring Shiva Rea, by Gaiam
Yoga for Beginners, by Body Wisdom
10-Minute Solutions: Prenatal Pilates
Leslie Sansone: Walk Away the Pounds Ultimate Collection

Ross says if you have room for an exercise mat or a ball and a few feet of space, that’s enough for exercising at home. Here’s her advice for getting started safely: learn to use the equipment, don’t do heavy lifting in a vulnerable position, make sure there’s nothing sharp around you and use a non-slip mat.

Ross doesn’t do much with workout DVDs, but she doesn’t like extreme ones such as P90X or Insanity — she says if you’re not trained, some of what they entail isn’t safe. The best DVDs include thorough explanations, varying intensities, different lengths and certified instructors, “not just some supermodel or movie star who decided they want to do a workout video.”

Look at, Barnes & Noble, Target or Walmart, and you’ll see celebrity names. Judy Pruitt, public services librarian for Daniel Boone Regional Library, says people seem drawn to Dancing with the Stars and Kim Kardashian workouts. By the numbers though, the most popular DVDs at the library are mostly yoga and Pilates. Pruitt says the library’s workout DVD selection often looks slim because most are usually checked out, so to get a good one, you’ll have to reserve it in advance.

Vox tried some of the most popular exercise DVDs, as ranked by the library, in stores and online. Before you run out and buy a DVD you’ve never tried before, check out our reviews and pick the one you think will work best for you.

The Biggest Loser: The Workout — Weight Loss Yoga (2008)
Time: 20 minutes to an hour, depending on which levels you do
Equipment: Exercise mat, weights (optional), weighted ball (optional)
Mood: Empowering

This is a yoga of muscle, not mentality. If you want traditional yoga focused on body awareness and focus, then look elsewhere. But if you want your yoga to be a tougher workout, this DVD is a good one.

In terms of variations, The Workout — Weight Loss Yoga has it all — whether you use the weights and the weighted ball is up to you, and the DVD shows how to do each move with or without the extra equipment. Can’t quite hold the plank position all the way? No problem: There’s a modification for that. Just starting? Do level one. Been doing this for a while? Try level two, and then move up to level three. Want a longer workout? Do all three together. Trainer Bob Harper is tough but also good-natured and encouraging. He emphasizes proper technique, and there are plenty of people in the virtual “class” to watch for modifications.

In my book, The Biggest Loser is a winner — at least, in terms of doing a yoga workout.

Cardio Pilates with Ana Caban (2004)
Time: 50 minutes
Equipment: Exercise mat
Mood: Cheerful, energetic

Pilates is all about the core, the middle of the body and abs. This DVD is no exception — it’s good abdominal work without a single sit-up. Ana Caban blends 30 minutes of traditional Pilates and yoga moves with about 15 minutes of cardio.

The pace makes this a good first-time Pilates DVD. It’s slow enough to focus and put concentration into each movement. Caban demonstrates and explains her movements clearly. Not all of the movements are easy to do, but they are easy to follow. An exercise mat is a must for this one because you’ll spend a lot of time on your back, which includes some rolling movements.

Although the first 30 minutes kept my attention, the cardio portion is tedious. Marching, twisting, arm swinging — they get old fast. So what’s the verdict on this one? It’s a good introduction to Pilates and good for a bit of rejuvenating cardio, but not the best choice for a super challenging workout.

The Firm: Super Cardio Mix (2002)
Time: 63 minutes
Equipment: Hand weights, weighted ball (optional), aerobic step
Mood: Invigorating, upbeat, positive

Spandex, cleavage and muscle — lots of muscle. Make that lots of spandex, too. But just because the clothes aren’t the latest fitness fashion, that doesn’t mean this workout is out of date. This one takes the prize for being the hardest workout. It’s also the most fun.

Beginners should use caution. This DVD assumes you’ve achieved a moderate level of fitness and that you’re used to working out. It also assumes you have some knowledge of proper exercise technique.

To add to the challenge, it’s fast-paced. Even with experience, don’t expect to pick up all the moves the first time — it’s an exercise not only testing endurance and strength, but also coordination. Basically, it’s 63 minutes of high-stepping, calorie-burning, arm-swinging aerobics. But those 63 minutes were so worth completing.

Jillian Michaels: 30 Day Shred (2008)
Time: 20 minutes
Equipment: Exercise mat, weights
Mood: Intense, tough, but fun

I’ve heard enough stories about Jillian Michaels to be nervous about doing her workouts. So when I did level one, I was surprised at how well I was able to handle it. It was hard, but not like The Firm: Super Cardio Mix, which is three times as long.

So I tried level two. Here’s an excerpt: “I want you guys to feel like you’re going to die.” That’s a feeling I usually try to avoid, so I took parts of level two easy.

That’s the good thing about Michaels — as tough as she is, she emphasizes doing what’s right for you. There’s a modification for almost every move. Along with Michaels, there are two other instructors to follow: one for beginners and one for power houses. And proper technique is a must with Michaels.

The workout is divided into three six-minute circuits with three minutes of strength training, two minutes of cardio and one minute of abs. If you want to pack a hard workout into a short amount of time, then here you go. Just be warned — it’s a tough 20 minutes.

Leslie Sansone Walk at Home: Walk Slim Fast Firming (2007)
Time: 30 minutes
Equipment: Resistance band
Mood: Positive, low-pressure, relaxing

If you want a light workout or are just starting to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine, this could be the workout for you. If you exercise regularly and are looking for a challenge, you might want to look elsewhere.

The workout starts with a walking warm-up, then incorporates basic arm and leg toning exercises with a resistance band. Sansone explains each move as she demonstrates it, and she’s easy to follow. She doesn’t do traditional sets of exercise repetitions; instead of counting the number of bicep curls, Sansone says to go until your muscles get tired. This could work if you have the drive to push yourself, but it could also be license to slack because there’s no set goal. If you’re looking for encouragement, Sansone’s your gal — she smiles, chats and sprinkles instruction with an occasional giggle.

If you’re used to physical activity, chances are you won’t break a sweat, but you will get extra movement into your day.

Rodney Yee: Daily Yoga, by Gaiam (2011)
Time: 5 segments, 15 to 25 minutes each, designed to be done individually
Equipment: Exercise mat, resistance band
Mood: Serene

Calm. Soothing. Thoughtful. That’s just what I’d expect from a yoga DVD, and that’s what I got with this one.

Although some of the poses were difficult to do on the first try, they were explained well. Yee illustrates the nuances of technique and movement — even down to the toes. There’s an emphasis on an acute awareness of the body in addition to the element of conscious relaxation. This DVD is less about heart-pumping exercise and more about body awareness and well being, though it certainly left me feeling lean and limber.

My flexibility was challenged, but in a good way. Although Yee explains poses thoroughly, he doesn’t make modifications for beginners; he demonstrates fully and expects viewers to follow suit. But if you’re up for a challenge, it’s a soothing routine to try.

If you’re easily bored by repetition, don’t worry; this DVD has five days of routines. Although the focus isn’t on breaking a sweat, I still felt as if I worked hard.

10-Minute Solution: Quick Tummy Toners (2008)
Time: 10 minutes each, or 50 minutes total
Equipment: Exercise mat
Mood: Cheerful, calm

The 10 Minute titles seem to be popular, based on what I’ve seen in stores and online. There are quick toning versions, fitness ball versions and even a prenatal video. I decided on 10-Minute Solution: Quick Tummy Toners. After all, who couldn’t use a few extra minutes of abs?

This DVD features five different abdominal-focused segments, and they’re quite different: crunch-free abs, yoga abs and sexy, sporty abs. It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure type workout. The difficulty is determined by which segments you do, how many you do, and how hard you push yourself.

This DVD allows for different levels of experience — the instructor gives gentle encouragement to hold longer and stretch farther. Along with that, there’s a reminder that it’s OK to work at your own level.

By itself, each segment isn’t enough for a daily dose of exercise. But they’re great supplements to other work, and when done in pairs or all together, the segments could make for a good workout for targeted toning. They’re also a good way to squeeze in a quick burst of movement.

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