Friday, 30 March 2012

The Wide Bride Strikes Back

        It’s that time again, readers. I’ve put on my sweatpants, poured myself a cold glass of orange squash and pulled up my legwarmers. I’m all ready to get warmed up and jiggle about in front of my lounge windows so I can fit into a nice white dress. Thank goodness this isn’t a video blog.

        Since the workouts I covered in last week’s blog were mostly aerobic, I decided to seek out something different. My search took me to the local discount video store, a veritable fitness vid treasure trove.

(Under £5 online/HMV)

        Yes, I know. Just hear me out.
Although the title of this DVD contains the words ‘pussycat’ and ‘dolls’, like so many merchandised DVDs, the glitzy gyrating girl-posse are barely featured. Instead, the workouts are helmed by Robin Antin, choreographer and the brains behind the PCD outfit.
Since this DVD came out relatively early in the group’s career (I understand there is now a sequel), the routines cover two songs: ‘Don’t Cha’ and ‘Buttons’. In a nutshell, these could be re-titled “Up-Tempo Boastful Lead Single” and “Gritty Bhangra-Styled Gyrate-o-fest”. The workouts, or ‘routines’ are broken down into a practice and performance run of each song, with a bonus ‘Burlesque’ section in the middle.
The first routine covers ‘Up-Temp’… sorry, ‘Don’t Cha’. Robin takes you through the moves one step at a time, stopping to recap the whole routine whenever you learn a new move. The collection of moves spans familiar dance/aerobics standards such as the lunge and box steps, and before you know it you’ve built up a fluid eight-bar dance routine. Both routines are tough yet rewarding, and your heart is constantly pumping. My face is flushing too, and not just because I’m hot – as you’d expect from a group named ‘Pussycat Dolls’, some of the moves are quite sultry!
For the Burlesque section in the middle, you’ll need a feather boa, a scarf, or a tie. All of the moves in this section involve flinging your prop around (please, I'll make the jokes) so if you’re pushed for space, take a moment to move all breakable trinkets out of the way. This section took a little more skill as well as a dollop of sauciness - if you’re easily embarrassed or have voyeuristic neighbours, perhaps skip this.
GOOD: It’s fun, and it gets you moving in ways you probably hadn’t encountered before. As it’s dance-based, you need a fair amount of co-ordination and flexibility, but because the routine is short and repeated so often, you’ll pick most of it up.
BAD: At one point, Robin suggests you wear high heels during your workout – I didn’t, simply because it seemed very dangerous! The moves get progressively trickier, requiring more agility and stamina so you might end up only using parts of the video.
UGLY: If you really can’t stand the Pussycat Dolls, you should know better than to buy this video (even though they’re barely in it).
THE LOWDOWN: It’s a good workout to have in your collection, simply because it provides a nice change from aerobics. The burlesque moves are fun and flirty, and the routines are easy to pick up. However, since the routines are so short (for example, the ‘Don’t Cha’ routine is one chorus long) you may get bored. Keep it on your shelf, but buy something else to go with it too.

(Less than £5 online/

I like musical theatre (big surprise), so I was delighted to find this DVD. In case you’re not familiar with the concept of Fame, a group of rag-tag misfits get a scholarship to a performing arts school and go on to achieve varying amounts of success. So how would this translate into a fitness video? Well, you’d assume there’d be a lot of dancing.
You’d be right: there are a LOT of dancers. If they’re not gyrating behind daft-named instructor K9 (no, not this one), they’re loitering dead-eyed in the background, like awkwardly posed shop mannequins. It’s a bit off-putting.
I’m going to be honest: I spent no more than ten minutes on this video. The warm up was comprehensive, until it got to the point where I had to lower myself to the ground to stretch – I knew there and then that it wasn’t going to happen without an accident occurring.
The next sections followed the same mould as the Pussycat Dolls’ videos: putting together a routine, and then performing it. Unlike PCD however, suddenly I was launched into moves with barely any explanation. They were too quick and too close together, and to make any sense of them I’d have had to pause the DVD and rewind it every five seconds. I struggled on for about five minutes, but after repeatedly kicking myself in the shin and swearing, I had to give up.
GOOD: It boasts an impressive repertoire of moves, including a stretching and ballet section I spotted in the intro that might have been good if I’d managed to get there.
BAD: Definitely not for anyone who isn’t already a very competent dancer, to the point where injury might occur.
UGLY: It was kind of a waste of money for me. Routines went by too quickly, and I just couldn't co-ordinate myself quickly enough. Admittedly, the amount of quizzical and annoyed expressions I pulled probably qualified as a facial muscles workout.
THE LOWDOWN: I can’t state enough – NOT A BEGINNER’S DVD. If you want to buy it and keep it back then feel free, but believe me when I say you need to be a very competent and flexible dancer to feel the benefit of this video.

(Under £3 online/

“Bellydancing?” I said to myself when I found this DVD. “Heh, my belly already dances when I run, thanks very much. I’ll give this a miss.”
“Go on,” said another voice in my head. “Give it a go. What have you got to lose – except about three stone?”
Once I’d finished creeping out the other people in the store by talking to myself in silly voices, I bit the bullet and bought the DVD.
At home, the doubt crept in again. With a name like The Goddess Workout and led by a woman called Dolphina, I was afraid it would be new-agey and fluffy, more about chakras than cardio. As the DVD started up, I was somewhat relieved to see it was set in a quiet studio with no backup dancers.
As we started warming up, I discovered muscles that I didn’t even know I had. Dolphina told me to clear my mind and make the workout an extension of ‘me time’. Fluffy as that sounded, I found that the more relaxed I was the easier it was to do the moves. I have limited movement in one of my hips, but she explained that a lot of people are naturally lop-sided and thus may find it easier to flex one side than the other.
Unless you’d tried it before, you wouldn’t think that bellydancing could work up a sweat and get your heart racing, but it really did. The workout loosened up my normally stiff back and hips, making the afternoon walk I went on later that day a lot easier. It was also a lot of fun! I hadn’t yet encountered a workout that I enjoyed so much. I kept going for 35 minutes, which seemed to go past in a heartbeat.
GOOD: Really fun, moves are easy and well explained. Dolphina (probably a pseudonym) is a pleasant instructor and puts together easy routines. You’ll feel the benefit of this workout.
BAD: Much like the Pussycat Dolls workout, you’ll know it’s not your sort of thing just by looking at the cover…but then, look how wrong my judgment of it was!
UGLY: I honestly can’t think of anything to put here.
THE LOWDOWN: If you’re looking for something different in a workout, try this. It works out the whole body as well as being relaxing at times. 

I feel I should point out that after a fortnight of trying these workouts at least once a day teamed with sensible eating, I've lost a surprising 9lbs. After the next Wide Bride installment, I'll be doing a roundup of my healthy eating plan as well as a guide to putting together a realistic workout regime. If you've found a fitness video you want me to try, leave it in the comments below - no challenge too ridiculous!  

Please note: Again, I didn't do all of these in one afternoon, and you shouldn't either. You should also consult your doctor before trying out any strenuous activity, changing your diet, or attempting homemade liposuction with a Henry hoover, a steak knife and a binbag. If they say yes to that, for the love of Aisha, change doctors.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Decisions, Decisions?

I’m not good at making decisions.

This information will probably come as no surprise to most of you who know me, and it certainly doesn’t come as a surprise to Neety. Yes, in case you hadn’t realised, this is the second contribution to this blog from the worlds luckiest man – Neety’s future husband, Brawny!

Anyway, now that I’ve introduced myself, let us go back to my previous statement. I’m not good at making decisions. When asked my opinion on something, or what my preference would be, my most commonly used phrases are “I don’t know,” “I don’t mind,” and “What do you think?”

I appreciate that this can be annoying and frustrating in equal measures, especially when planning a wedding. And I think that my beautiful blushing bride-to-be is an absolute saint to be putting up with me. Because not only am I indecisive, but I keep not being able to come up with ideas – and I know that Neety is worried that I’m not ever going to give an opinion for the wedding, or just agree with her with she makes a suggestion, but the fact is that she and I get on so well that everything she suggests, I like.

And, while I may have creative ideas when it comes to writing, performing or any of the other things I like to do on a daily basis, for some reason I seem to be lacking in ideas when it comes to a wedding. Because I just can’t think of the things that need to be done.

I know there are invitations to be sent out, I know there is food to be decided upon, I know there’s a guest list to plan, a cake to choose, suits to pick, a dress to.. well actually, I won’t have anything to do with the dress, but you get the idea. I know there are also nine million other things that I can’t even think of but will be currently occupying corners of Neety’s brain.  

The only things I have had any ideas about so far are music for signing the register (for which I am composing my own), cake toppers (which was just an extension of Neety’s idea anyway), and some vague ideas for suits.

So I’m making a pact. With her, and with you, loyal LADYBRIDE readers. If I do or do not like something, I’ll say so. If I have an idea, no matter how silly I may think it is, I’ll say so. And if I want suggestions or advice, I’ll ask Neety, but I might also ask you guys, if you don’t mind.

And whether it’s a sensible question (like “What colour should my suit be?”) or a silly one (“Do you think it’d be a good idea to have giant life-sized cake replicas of the bride and groom as the wedding cake?) I know that you guys will help give me some kind of answer. Or at least a funny comment.

And with that, I’m gone. Neety’s next post will be along shortly, I’m sure, and I promise next time I’m here that I’ll write about something more.. well… substantial. But bye for now. 

Monday, 12 March 2012

The Wide Bride Ventures Forth

        Good morning. It’s 10AM, freezing bloody cold in my flat, and I’m ready to review some workout videos.

        I’ve got all my equipment ready:

·         Nearby water bottle
·         Remote control, in case I need to pause
·         Clothing: headband, trainers, loose cotton top, jogging bottoms
·         Decent sports bra (Wonderbra no less: makes boobs look like doughballs but I did the jump test and they didn’t move)
·         Mobile phone in case I crack a hip and have to call Brawny

        Let’s recap my rules, shall we?

  1. No Davina McCall. Sorry, I really can’t face the prospect of exercise AND listening to her screeching.
  2. Check out the user reviews – HMV, IMDB, Amazon, whatever.
  3. Nothing too advanced. I’m only a beginner.

(Under £10 online)

Remember this video? You might want to give it a quick watch because these Lycra-wearing lovelies (and the token bloke) are the hosts of this workout. Don’t be put off by their appearance: you can have the body of Gisele Bundchen and you will still look daft while doing lunges in neon legwarmers.
We start off with a section called ‘Heat’. Unlike most fitness DVDs where the warm-up has to be selected, ‘Heat’ starts us off with some gentle rhythmic exercises. Our host Deanne Berry is quite charming, and thankfully she doesn’t love the sound of her own voice as most video instructors do. Within a few minutes, I am bouncing away. The music isn’t necessarily my cup of tea, but it fits the routines very well.
And then something odd happens. I’m instructed to squat right down as far as I can, and flex my pelvis towards the camera. I hit the pause button and close my blinds before obliging; thanking God above that Brawny is at work and praying my parents don’t inexplicably drop by for a visit. As in the Eric Prydz video above, we are treated to a brief glimpse or two of leotard-clad pulsating fanny, but I don’t break my concentration. As cringe-worthy as the experience is, I can actually feel it working.
We’re on to a neat little salsa break in the middle, which helps to loosen me off a bit, and then straight back into gyrating and lunging to Benny Benassi. Sadly it's getting too much for me and I don’t last much longer. At the point of stopping, I’ve done 25 minutes.
GOOD: It’s fun and un-patronising. The routines are catchy, and although they’re repeated once or twice you don’t get bored by them. The mixture of aerobics, salsa and stretching keep the routines from becoming monotonous, and at times it even feels like dancing rather than exercise.
BAD: It seems to go on forever, meaning that I had to stop after 25 mins. Some of the moves were a bit hard to grasp first time.
UGLY: Pulsating. Lycra. Groins. I'm sorry, it's churlish, but I'm a little put off.
THE LOWDOWN: Great fun, as long as you like to dance and have pretty good co-ordination. Not good for beginners, as you may hurt yourself trying to keep up with some of the more complex steps. Ideally recommended for people who enjoy the clubbing atmosphere.

(Under £5 online/price varies at Weight Watchers meetings)

Seeing as though I’m following the plan, I thought I might as well see what the WW ladies have to offer. Compared to the bouncy fun of Pump it Up, this one is a little gentler: ideal for beginners like me.
The DVD is structured very cleverly. You can choose how long your workout is, from five minutes to forty, and it will automatically tack on a warm-up and cool-down session at the start and end, so there’d be no chance of me accidentally snapping a hamstring. I’ve picked a twenty minute workout, since that’s roughly how long I lasted into Pump it Up.
The difference between this workout and the last one is bluntly obvious. As it’s designed to go alongside the Weight Watchers plan, it’s all about introducing gentle physical movement into your weekly or daily routine. It focuses more on aerobics than dance, and the moves are carefully explained by the hosts, who are a group of girls also following the plan: in a way, it’s quite refreshing to see that some of the girls are progressing in their weight loss challenges rather than being un-naturally bronzed, tanned and toned.
Just as I feel I’m getting a little bored of the routines, we go on to a Boxercise-style section that gets my heart pumping and my body moving from top to bottom. With Pump It Up’s dance-based steps I often felt like I was working out my legs more than my upper body, and subsequently worried that I’d end up looking like I’d accidentally swapped lower bodies with Popeye.
I make it all the way through the workout this time – though my water bottle is as dry as a camel’s rear end.
GOOD: It’s gentler, so it would suit anyone looking to kick-start a weekly exercise routine. Workouts are based on varied styles of exercise including dance, aerobics, boxercise and even Pilates.
BAD: Sometimes you can feel a bit like you’re not working hard enough, thus causing morons like me to overdo it. I got lucky, but if you’re impatient you’ll either end up going mad or switching it off.
UGLY: Can’t really think of anything – although like I said, if used to a much faster-paced workout, this isn’t really the DVD for you.
THE LOWDOWN: Great for beginners, people with limited stamina or movement, or people following a calorie-controlled diet such as WW, Lighter Life or Slimming World. Not so great for those looking for an energising, sweaty workout.

(Under £4 online)

Ah, Mr M. We meet again.
For those of you that remember the enthusiastic fitness guru from GMTV in 1990s, you’ll be familiar with the concept of Mr Motivator’s exercise routines. If you’re not (or if the sight of a moustachioed man in neon leotards caused your brain to reboot itself), Mr M is a happy-clappy chappie known for his interesting sportswear and penchant for making ladies say “UUUUGH”.
Like Move More, the DVD cleverly tacks a gentle stepping and stretching-based warm up and cool down section onto the end of each workout. Unlike Move More, where you pick a workout based on how long you wish to exercise for, Mr M gets you to pick the body part you want to zone in on. You basically pile up your workouts in a manner similar to an online shopping cart, and then press ‘Start’. It reminds me of a video game, and this probably excites me a little more than it should. I pick the ‘Tums’ section, the ‘Legs’ section, and then a bizarre collection of words called ‘Pyramid: The Daily Dozen’.
Each workout opens with a lovely sweeping shot of a Caribbean beach, Cliffside or poolside, with Mr M and his swimsuit and sarong-clad lovelies bouncing happily about in the midst of the sumptuous sea and sand. Already I was feeling like flinging on my bikini – despite the fact that it was minus four and raining, plus I’m about four stone too heavy for a bikini just yet. Mr M’s enthusiasm is infectious: looking at the user reviews on informs me that he’s still a popular favourite with women young and old, more so in fact than most other celebrity fitness “gurus”. Mr M doesn’t explain the moves, quite often simply calling out names like “Grapevine!” that dancers will be familiar with, but thankfully he doesn’t rush ahead, giving you time to catch up if needs be. There’s a fun and funky Soca Calypso section that I recall doing with my Mum: if you don’t get a workout from the dance routine, you’ll get one from the inevitable laughter as you attempt some of the moves. The girls (and guys – there’s more than one token one!) in the background seem to be doing the same thing!
After each focused workout, I really do feel like that part of me has been thoroughly put through the works – there is a satisfying ache of accomplishment in my stomach muscles. Once we get onto the ‘Pyramid’ section, I realise that the pyramid symbolises different levels of exercise. You can join in wherever you like, especially if the moves get a little too much. If you go though the whole workout, it acts as cardio training, which would be the gym equivalent of blasting your way through all of the equipment in five-minute blocks.
I manage to get all the way through the workout, and I have fun while doing so. With the five-minute stretch and ten-minute warm-up, I’ve easily done half an hour.
GOOD: Very much like Mr M himself, the workouts are bright, colourful and bubbly. Easy to follow and quite gentle, the workouts suit all. A lot of the reviewers rate it as good fun for kids and adults to do together, as it conveys a “exercise can be fun” message – and certainly this exercise is.
BAD: A minor thing – on one of the beach workouts, the microphone picks up the sea breeze a bit too much and Mr M can’t be heard very well. It’s quickly rectified, though.
UGLY: Can’t really think of anything, unless of course you find Mr Motivator annoying. In which case, you wouldn’t buy the DVD anyway!
THE LOWDOWN: As much as I hate this phrase, Mr M’s BLT is a ‘good all-rounder’. If you’re a fan of the Zumba craze, this is a fun DVD to pop on and have a (very close) girlfriend come over for a workout and a giggle. If you’re not into dancing, the Pyramid and dedicated body zone workouts are more than enough to keep your exercise routine both focused and varied.

Got a fitness vid you’d like to see me try? Leave your suggestion in the comments box or on our Facebook page. If I can find it, I'll try it.

Please note: I did not actually attempt all of these videos in one afternoon, and you probably shouldn't either, unless you're Chuck Norris (which you're not). You should also consult your doctor before trying out any strenuous activity, changing your diet, or chopping off a limb in order to shift a few lbs. Odds are he'll say no to the last one: if he doesn't, change doctors immediately.