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.

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