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Channel Surfing to Fitness

By Stacy Gilliam
Special to washingtonpost.com
Sunday, February 7, 1999

If fitness centers don't quite move you, consider shaping up right in your own living room. All you need is a television, preferably with cable, some floor space and the gumption to get up and go. A step platform and some light dumbbells are also helpful.

Nothing can beat the convenience of rolling out of bed and into the best spot in the room. No traffic, no parking hassles, no sign-up sheets, no public showers. You also have the luxury of videotaping your favorite conditioning programs for a late-day workout.

But beware. An at-home regimen, like any other fitness routine, takes intense discipline. It's easy to cop out on exercising when your bed is a few feet away. And, you're forced to deal with commercials for some shows, which may mean you're getting less than a half-hour's workout. You also miss the guidance of a live instructor; if you're doing an exercise incorrectly, no one is there to straighten you out.

But on the upside, working out at home is the perfect routine if your time and funds are limited and your distractions are few.

There is a decent assortment of workout shows on television these days and you are likely to find one that you like. Here are a few we've reviewed to get you started. Check your own cable guide for showtimes in your area.

"Fit and Lite," 7 - 7:30 a.m., Lifetime
Lifetime, Television for Women, puts the perky Denise Austin in your home for an hour a day, beginning with "Fit and Lite." From the sandy beaches of the Bahamas or the sunny deck of a Disney cruise liner, Austin makes you wish you were there with her. The show is a combination of low-impact exercises, anti-aging movements and yoga. The tanned blonde with the toothy grin motivates you with phrases like, "If you rest, you'll rust" or "Smile, you're burning fat!" But if you can stomach that, Austin seems knowledgeable about her craft. She talks you through each exercise, reminding you not to slouch or explaining which muscles you're working. She warms you up, cools you down, then enlightens you with her Daily Wisdom.

"Daily Workout," 7:30 - 8 a.m., Lifetime
At 7:30, Austin livens it up with her "Daily Workout" segment. The scene changes and the music gets peppier as she delivers a high-impact aerobic set for about 10 minutes. The rest of the show is dedicated to toning a particular body area. During commercials, which most often feature Austin pushing her fitness videos or other products, she instructs you to keep moving. If experience is important to you, Austin has more than 25 videos on the market and she's a former gymnast.

"Gotta Sweat," 10 - 10:30 a.m., ESPN2
If you want the feel of an animated fitness class, "Gotta Sweat" may be one to try. An army of beautiful folks gathers in a resort setting for an upbeat, energetic cardio romp. Step aerobics is popular here so you should have a platform to get the full effect. The pace is advanced, but you're instructed to work at your own speed. With the camera working in shots of each class member, it's a little difficult to pick up the routine. Listening is key to keeping up with this vivacious bunch.

"Body Shaping," 10:30 - 11 a.m., ESPN2
Everyone on this show is gorgeous, tan and without an ounce of fat in sight. Slow motion shots of the crew running on the beach even bring to mind a "Baywatch" episode. But, this handful of certified trainers make working out look like fun, and isn't that more the point? The energy is high, the attitudes are lively. Within 30 minutes, "Body Shaping" supplies a combination of aerobics and strength training. The cardio set is high impact, particularly for step aerobics. This is not for beginners. They move fast even when they're breaking the motions down, so be prepared. The remainder of the show is for strength training and abdominal exercises, machines and weights included. This may not help you at home – unless you have a handy home gym – but you could take "Body Shaping's" tips to the gym. Bottom line: These guys are fun to look at, but unless you're equipped with fitness machines, you can't take advantage of all the fun.

"Body Electric," 11 - 11:30 a.m., WHMM, Howard University TV
For a subtler approach, "Body Electric" offers a more mellow aerobic setting. Margaret Richard with her two eager partners work out to soothing jazz music. (And if a song grabs you, the bottom, lefthand screen displays the title and artist.) Richard uses a step along with leg and hand weights, which you may want to invest in for this program. Hers isn't the most energetic set, but it's thorough and challenging. Toning exercises dominate this program. Plenty of work on the biceps and triceps, push ups for the chest muscles and killer floor work for the inner thighs. Halfway into the program, Richard offers her Food for Thought, dishing out a minute of advice on counting calories, dieting and nutrition. This program's best feature: no commercials, which equals more exercise.

"Homestretch," 11:30 - noon, WHMM, Howard University TV
"Homestretch" feeds your desire for strong abs and muscle definition. Amy, the spirited instructor, tells you exactly what you need before she starts. She volleys between using hand weights and long stretch-bands that you tie around your foot or hand to work the legs and arms. Amy has a lively, talkative style to her routine. It's mostly pep talk to the viewers or idle conversation with her two assistants. If you're not sure where to buy an exercise band like Amy's, a number for orders is flashed at the end of the program.

"Yoga Zone," 6 - 6:30 a.m., FX
If stress reduction is your goal, "Yoga Zone" may be an ideal place to start. Surrounded by calm waters, trees and singing birds, two lithe instructors guide you through a series of mind-relaxing body movements. It's a quiet show with Yanni-style music in the background. But the aim is to settle your mind so try not to fall asleep. There is much attention on breathing so you're often instructed to "inhale, exhale and surrender into a pose." Yoga beginners are encouraged not to push the body beyond its comfort level. During very few commercials, Alan Finger, "Yoga Zone's" founder, provides tips on breathing and keeping a clutter-free mind. He also pushes his video. But in the meantime, you're asked to hold the last movement, which, keep in mind, could get uncomfortable. The show's instructors try to get you to visualize yourself on the beach, lying in the sand, breeze blowing through your hair. You may not be, but at least you've started the day off in a peaceful state.

"Yoga Zone" appears in the Washington area courtesy of Fit TV, a cable channel that may not be carried by your local cable company. But FX hosts Fit TV shows for one hour a day as does Fox Sports, from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Unlike "Yoga Zone," the other Fit TV programs aren't shown consistently. Check out the channel's Web site at www.fittv.com to peek at its other dynamic programs. One show that is worth catching is called "Fitting It In." True to its name, the show packs in a 20-minute workout along with a 15-minute cooking session. Granted, you probably won't feel much like cooking a healthy meal in the morning, but the hunky "Body Gourmet" is a joy to watch. The 20-minute aerobic exercise segment is brief but high-powered. If you're looking for something quick that can be done everyday, this show might be a taping option.

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