The Moving Crew

Fitness on Demand -- With a Little Help From DVDs

By Vicky Hallett
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, January 9, 2007

When time's short, the weather's lousy or the gym's not a remote possibility, fitness DVDs can be a godsend. Here are a few of my favorites, moving from beginner to advanced:

Walk Yourself Fit ($20) For exercise newbies, there's no better starter routine than going for a walk: It requires no special skills, clothing or gear, and can be done anywhere at any time. So why would you need a DVD to lead you? And why would you want to stroll around the family room? Well, as Prevention's Chris Freytag explains (while pumping her arms and keeping a quick pace and a chipper demeanor), with this DVD there's no skipping your scheduled stomp if it's rainy, cold or dark outside. Plus, she keeps your heart rate up -- there's no pausing to window-shop or chat with a neighbor.

The Workout: Folks who haven't exercised for a long time will want to start with "The Cardio Workout." It's a 20-minute routine of simple aerobic moves that all involve walking. (Try stepping up to the "the salsa walk" or "the power walk.") After that feels comfortable, you can try jogging in place with "The Accelerated Workout," or using light hand weights with "The Body-Shaping Workout." Even advanced exercisers may dampen their brows sampling these.

Extras: Although a DVD may be fine for gloomy days, viewers will probably want to hit the sidewalks sometimes, too. So the package includes a bonus audio CD that gives guidance for outdoor walks. Freytag's cheerful voice pops in to give encouragement, and shifting beats let listeners know how to change their pace. On the DVD, Freytag also offers tips in segments on perfecting your walking technique (don't make your stride too wide!), exercises that prevent foot pain (try lifting your ankle and writing the alphabet in the air with your big toe) and signs you need new walking shoes (if they look cruddy on the outside, it's already too late).

Denise Austin: Fat-Burning Dance Mix ($15) The chances of hearing a few notes of a song and thinking, "That makes me want to work out," are slim. But tunes do bring people onto the dance floor, which is why fitness goddess Denise Austin's newest DVD disguises a sweat fest with four dance routines. And it doesn't hurt that dancers are known for those killer, slim-limbed bodies.

The Workout: After a five-minute warm-up, viewers dive into dance moves. "Jazz & Pop" lets you dream you're in the chorus line of a Broadway show, with big kicks, spread arms and dramatic foot drags. In "Latin Groove," Austin puts together a routine of mambos, shimmies and whole lot of hip-shaking. The "Club Funk" steps won't do anyone much good at a club today, but viewers can imagine their family rooms transformed into discos as they throw their arms into the air and spin. Those are each 10 minutes long, and move at a pace that makes it possible to learn the choreography and string it together by the last two minutes. The "Ballet Sculpt" segment runs 15 minutes, and as Austin pliƩs, lunges and pushes up, you may realize that prancing alone won't give you toned arms and solid abs. Then, of course, there's a cool-down. Although there is a lone dude in the back row of Austin's dance crew, this is a decidedly un-macho DVD.

Extras: An interactive custom workout option lets you pick which sections of the DVD you'd like to do and in what order. So if you can't stand "Jazz & Pop," you can leave that off; or if you just want to do "Ballet Sculpt," you could do it six times in a row. Not that we'd recommend that . . .

The Biggest Loser Workout, Vol. 2 ($15) The first step in dropping 214 pounds, as Erik Chopin did to win the last season of NBC's "The Biggest Loser," is believing that you can do it. And watching the familiar faces of contestants from the second and third seasons of the show drenched and panting behind trainers Bob Harper and Kim Lyons lets viewers know that these are people just like them, instead of the perky stick figures who usually populate fitness DVDs. If they can slim down and firm up, so can you. But Harper and Lyons let everyone know it's going to take determination -- and a lot of sweaty T-shirts.

The Workout: There are nine segments to mix and match that add up to 90 minutes of heart-rate-raising exercise. A beginner routine might incorporate the warm-up, the low-intensity cardio workout (a quickie kickboxing class), functional flexibility (a stretching session that requires a stability ball) and the cool-down. To up the energy output, throw in Bob's boot camp, which feels like 15 minutes of personal training, using a stability ball, medicine ball and hand weights. Guys and gals can also add sex-specific high-intensity segments: Power sculpt for women focuses on butts and thighs (think loads of lunges, ladies); while power sculpt for men targets their arms, chests and abs (and get a pair of heavy hand weights, gentlemen). The men's cardio dives into interval training, and the women's cardio is simply exhausting. Because each segment is short, there's always a new exercise (and muscle group) to focus on (and the pain never lasts too long).

Extras: If you never tuned in to "The Biggest Loser," you can get a taste for the reality show with the "Inspirational Stories" segment. Contestants gush about how losing weight has changed their lives by reducing their health problems and making it possible for their kids to see them as active adults. Prepare to tear up. Then get cooking, with six healthy recipes for dishes, including breakfast taco muffins and turkey kabobs.

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