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New Videos Pump Up That Winter Workout

Posted - Dec. 19, 2003 at 6:40 a.m.



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You know the drill. You should exercise regularly for the health of your body and mind.

You know all the excuses, too. It's too cold, too wet, too dark. You're too busy, too tired, too out of shape.

And you know what you need to hear. Snap out of it! Get motivated! Get moving!

Fortunately, the fitness industry is providing plenty of new ways for you to work out in your warm, dry, well-lighted home and exercise at your leisure, when you've gotten enough sleep and it doesn't matter how sluggish you've become.

And if you thought that working out at home meant enduring the same old boring video day after day, think again.

Fitness pros have become masters at creating video workouts that can be customized and individualized to fit exercisers at every level. Whether you are a beginning, intermediate or advanced exerciser, you can adjust the equipment you use, the moves you do and the length of time you exercise to create a workout that works for you - and continues to do so for many years.

Here, from easiest to hardest, are four new tapes that are worth a look.

`LESLIE SANSONE: WALK AWAY THE POUNDS EXPRESS - BRISK WALK, 2 MILES'

When it's too cold or snowy to walk outside, Leslie Sansone can be the difference between getting some exercise and vegetating on the couch.

Her popular series of walk-at-home videos provides an easy way to get some cardiovascular exercise and a little bit of toning, and her newest offering is no exception.

"Walk Away the Pounds Express - Brisk Walk, 2 Miles" is an unwieldy title, but the program it offers is a great option for exercisers of all levels. The brisk walk is the middle level of Sansone's tapes; she also offers easy and advanced walks. They're available individually for $12.95 or as a three-pack set ($39.95).

Like Sansone's other tapes, this one uses four basic steps to simulate a multimile walk: walking in place, side-to-side steps, gentle kicks and knee lifts. Sansone assembles them in endless combinations, gradually increasing the tempo, to provide the equivalent of a 2-mile walk.

Working with a familiar class of 10 walkers (including one man who unfortunately is rarely visible on camera), Sansone begins with an easy warm-up of the basic steps. It's set to original music whose lyrics seem to consist of "power walk" repeated endlessly.

After about five minutes of this, she picks up the pace, walking and stepping and kicking at a good clip. The step combinations are easy, just the thing if you find dance-oriented aerobics tapes too difficult to follow.

For the last portion of the tape, Sansone adds a little toning, accomplished with the use of lightweight elastic bands called Stretchies or Dyna-Bands. These are included if you buy the three-pack set of her walking program, but they are also available at discount and sporting goods stores and at www.collagevideo.com ($4.95).

The routine ends with a cooldown and stretch and much clapping and cheering from Sansone and her group. It's a fun and easy workout, perhaps its best feature being that you don't have to worry if you flub a step or two.

`15-MINUTE WORKOUTS FOR DUMMIES'

The hottest trend in fitness videos isn't yoga or Pilates or even circuit training.

Instead, it's the segmented workout - a series of short, focused programs that can be done individually or strung together for a longer, more strenuous session.

That's the key to "15-Minute Workouts for Dummies," a 60-minute tape that offers four toning sessions that target the thighs, arms, buns and abs.

The leader is Gay Gasper, an enviably toned woman who shows her stuff in low-slung yoga pants and a bra top. She leads all the sessions and demonstrates all the moves, never once seeming to be out of breath, although you will be.

Though this is primarily a toning tape, it has a definite aerobic kick, especially if you do more than one of the segments.

As with all of the "... for Dummies" programs, this one includes the familiar pop-up icons that offer tips on form, explain jargon and give modifications to make the exercises harder or easier.

Each of the four segments begins with a warm-up that focuses on the body part to be worked. That means marching in the thigh section, big arm circles in the arms segment, leg lifts and knee raises in the buns section and twisting moves in the abs segment.

The meat of each program is familiar, but efficient moves: lunges and squats for the thighs, biceps curls and chest presses for the arms, leg lifts and kicks for the buns, a smorgasbord of crunches for the abs.

Gasper is an upbeat, knowledgeable leader, providing clear instructions and easy-to-follow guidance. Good camera work and those pop-up icons help explain proper form, often providing reverse or close-up views that show the nuances.

Each segment ends with a one-minute stretch, again targeting the muscles that have gotten the most use.

Perhaps the best thing about "15-Minute Workouts" is how easily it can blend with other exercise programs. Take a 30-minute walk in the morning, do one of the 15-minute toning segments at night and you've got yourself a pretty good daily workout.

`BARON BAPTISTE: POWER YOGA, LEVEL 1'

The ancient art of yoga, with its slow stretches and long, stationary poses, wouldn't seem a good candidate for shorter, more focused routines, but Baron Baptiste's "Power Yoga, Level 1" manages to make it work.

His 45-minute program offers three segments that can be done individually or together.

The first segment, called "Energizing," focuses on the classic series of moves called sun salutations, in which yoga practitioners move smoothly from standing to lying down to all fours and back again.

Over the 20-minute segment, Baptiste's seven-member class performs the series a dozen times, building strength and energy as the body slowly becomes more flexible.

The second section, called "Toning," concentrates on lower-body strength. As with the first segment, the emphasis is on flowing moves. Here, the exercisers start in familiar poses such as warrior (forward lunge with the arms overhead) and smoothly change the position of the arms or legs to eventually reach a new pose.

After 15 minutes of this, your thighs will definitely feel the burn.

The third segment, called "Stabilizing," works the abs and back. Though most abs programs call for crunches and more crunches, Baptiste's 10-minute workout offers different moves, performed slowly.

A seated straddle move, with the legs raised and the arms reaching through them, is this section's most challenging pose. This segment, Baptiste says, can and should be done daily, to increase core strength and ease back problems.

Baptiste is an encouraging, no-frills leader, but his singsong voice and penchant for calling his class "people" (as in, "Sink deeper, people") can be irritating. Even worse, he commits the unforgivable sin of giving the instructions as if home exercisers were standing behind him instead of facing him.

If you're a veteran of yoga practice, you'll adjust. If you're a beginner, though, you might want to try a more straightforward yoga tape first.

`TONY LITTLE'S BODY EXPRESS: TOTAL BODY WEIGHT LOSS'

Tony Little has to be one of the more entertaining fitness gurus to commit a routine to tape and DVD.

He's impressively qualified, a former bodybuilding champion who still has imposing muscles. His new video, "Total Body Weight Loss," provides a well-designed, 30-minute routine that works the large muscles of the upper and lower body.

But what is more likely to keep you coming back to this tape on a regular basis is Little's engaging style. He's got a bit of the preacher in him and more than a little Chris Farley - or, at least the Chris Farley who was given to suddenly shout out certain phrases while he was speaking.

"You're getting a good workout," Little explains in a normal voice that suddenly quadruples in volume without warning. "YOUR FIRST WORKOUT!!!!"

Little's program is simple and effective. It begins with an active warm-up in which Little dances around his Zen-like exercise studio. You can do the same at home, or ride a bike, walk, jog or use a glider or elliptical trainer. The point is to do from three to five minutes of light aerobics.

Then it's on to the routine's seven exercises - two each for the lower body, upper body and abs, and one for the back - which concentrate on large muscle groups.

The exercises are familiar classics: squats for the lower body, push-ups for the upper body, crunches for the abs.

Most of the moves use hand weights, although novices can do the moves without them at first. Women should start off with 3 pounds of weight, men with 5 pounds, and both should work up to using 10 pounds of weight for each exercise.

The most innovative aspect of the program is that Little specifies how long to perform each exercise rather than how many repetitions to do. Beginners perform the moves for 30-60 seconds, intermediates for 60-90 seconds and advanced exercisers for 90-120 seconds. A time line at the bottom of the screen lets you know how much time has passed.

Little demonstrates all the moves, but he saves the most detailed instructions for a special segment at the end of the tape where he talks, a fitness model named Jane performs all the moves and detailed diagrams show which muscles are being worked. Watch this part first if you've never tried this sort of exercise before.

The tape ends with a relaxing stretch and a surprisingly moving motivational speech from Little.

"You have to do what makes you happy, makes you healthy, makes you strong," he says. "You can do it. Believe that."

With Little in charge, it's hard not to.

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THE WORKOUTS AT A GLANCE

-"Leslie Sansone: Walk Away the Pounds Express - Brisk Walk, 2 Miles"

Cost: $12.95 (VHS), $19.95 (DVD).

To order: www.amazon.com.

Types of moves: Walking in place, knee lifts and side-to-side steps, plus gentle toning. For all fitness levels, and especially good for beginners.

Equipment: Walking shoes, stretchy exercise band (can be ordered above).

-"15-Minute Workouts for Dummies"

Cost: $9.99 (VHS), $14.98 (DVD).

To order: Call 800-433-6769 or go to www.collagevideo.com.

Types of moves: Four toning workouts, some using hand weights, that focus on the thighs, arms, buns and abs. For all fitness levels.

Equipment: Athletic shoes, mat or carpeted floor, two sets of hand weights (3-5 pounds, 5-8 pounds), straight-backed chair for balance (optional)

-"Baron Baptiste: Power Yoga, Level 1"

Cost: $9.95 (VHS), $14.95 (DVD).

To order: www.amazon.com.

Type of moves: Three active yoga practices, designed to energize, tone and stabilize the body. For all fitness levels, but best for those with some yoga training.

Equipment: Yoga mat, towel for support (optional).

-"Tony Little's Body Express: Total Body Weight Loss"

Cost: $12.95 (VHS), $19.95 (DVD).

To order: www.amazon.com.

Types of moves: Circuit weight training that focuses on large muscle groups. For all fitness levels.

Equipment: Fitness shoes, carpeted floor or mat, hand weights (3-10 pounds for women, 5-10 pounds for men).

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(c) 2003, Detroit Free Press. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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