For me, the words "workout video" evoke an image of Jane Fonda in an impossibly high-cut leotard, inexplicable belt and leg warmers, sighing, "Ooh! Buttocks tucks! These are my favorite!"
I blame my mother. That's what the psychiatrists recommend.
Most people my age probably have less disturbing associations like Tae-Bo or even Jazzercise, but not me. When I was a kid in the early 80's, my mother spent a good few years loyally following Jane's instructions, whether via video in our NYC apartment or audio cassette tape on the grass outside our summer cabin in Maine.
Still, I have to admit, I did inherit a love of working out at home. Or at least I'm more likely to actually do that than drive to a gym. Just my luck: Jane Fonda is apparently even launching a brand new workout DVD.
But these days the virtual workout universe has expanded, including MP3s, podcasts and game consoles like Xbox's upcoming remote-free Project Natal with motion sensor. "The misconception is that you get a better workout in the gym," explains trainer Jennifer Cohen, author of No Gym Required. "Actually, your gym commute can waste valuable training time. Thanks to financial constraints and time efficiency issues, home exercise has become the no excuses alternative." So, I've waded through this vast landscape, cringing past cheesy DVD cover art and catch phrases, and highlighted the best virtual workouts for all different types of exercisers.
As a wise woman once said, "Ooh! These are my favorite!"
For the A.D.D.:
Exhale's Core Fusion:
Pilates Plus, Thighs & Glutes and Body Sculpting comprise this three-part collection, ideal for dipping toes into the exercise game. Each DVD is broken up into five ten-minute workouts under Core Fusion's yoga, pilates and strengthening umbrella, so exercise-phobes with limited time can introduce one varied segment a day (Upper Body, Lower Body etc.) feel actual results and perhaps work up to more. Though Fred Devito does most of the talking, ever-smiling wife Elizabeth Halfpapp illustrates fitness level variations on postures or exercises. The scene is basic: The couple either stands alone or with a few regular (not nipped and tucked) looking mat-poised followers. Easy to mimic, the repetitive movements are uncomplicated, short and varied and end with yogic stretches.
The Real Body Kit:
Celebrity trainer, Kit Rich, who once nursed a knee injury and regularly scarfed burgers and fries, believes strongly in moderation, managing expectations and an enduring sense of humor. But she also believes in hard work. Her famed Pilates Plus classes are the current toast of global fitness hub, LA. Easily downloaded from website RealBodyCafe.com, Rich's new workout--a fusion of weight training and pilates using one's own body for resistance--was created at the demand of devoted clients as varied as Sting and Tiffani Amber Thiessen, who wanted a prop-free workout for travel. This video is the first of many and is only five-minutes long, but the six exercises should be repeated. That way the workout lasts up to 20 minutes, targeting the back, butt, arms and legs. It's harder than you think!
Wii Sports Resort:
Calling all gamers: Playing video games won't transform 98lb weaklings into body builders, but standing up and waving that Wii remote sure beats vegging on a couch. Plus, add a little competition and some cute avatars and hours truly pass without notice, even late into the night if you're not careful. Create a Mii in your image and then easily surpass simple beginner levels to open more "advanced" activities, requiring a bit more effort. Options like canoeing, basketball and cycling engage both arms effectively, especially if you're willing to throw yourself fully into the movements. For the most driven results, invite a nemesis to compete and then kick some butt.
The best thing about the P90X videos is that, for each workout, the remaining time ticks off clearly at the screen's bottom. That number represents a light at the end of tunnel, a not too distant moment when you can finally scream "Mercy!" and collapse in a puddle of your own sweat. That may paint an ugly picture, but for people who like to push themselves with a more hardcore workout and get serious results, any of the twelve "Extreme Home Fitness" collection DVDs will satisfy from Plyometric jump training to Ab Ripper X. In a padded workout room, upbeat sadist Tony Horton leads exercisers through "muscle confusion" workouts, basking in their challenging nature. He also offers fitness guides, nutrition plans and monthly "ONE on ONE" workouts at TeamBeachyBody.com.
For Wander Lusters:
If what's good enough for Debbie Allen is good enough for you, escape your comfort zone with trainer Tadeo Arnold's Latin-Caribbean dance and soccer skills fusion DVD (which comes with a soccer ball, meal plan and shopping list: lean meat, brown rice, sweet potatoes, green tea). Previously, "Tadeo" trained Broadway dancers, athletes and, well, Jesse Metcalfe, until one day he was inspired to combine his experience and create "Cuerpaso." Now, the workout trend is spreading with new classes at Reebok Sports Club and New York Health & Racquet Club. If you like Latin rhythms, this 50-minute workout is definitely an escape from the boring norm with an upbeat vibe and a routine compiled from the trainer's favorite moves like Brazilian bounce and toe taps to raise heart rate. You'll literally have a ball; a soccer ball, that is.
iTrain.com's Gold Workouts:
Get off the treadmill, out of the workout room and into the pool for Olympic gold medalist Natalie Coughlin's downloadable iSwim MP3 routines. Through H2O Audio Headphones and against the backdrop of upbeat indie tunes, Natalie Coughlin's pleasant voice walks you calmly and clearly through various water drills and strokes for either 30 or 60-minute segments. Of course, water workouts are low impact and especially good for people with certain issues like knee injuries. These are also a nice break from the gym norm.
For Low Impact/High Tone:
Gaiam Core Balance:
Charismatic celebrity trainer Ashley Borden, who has counted Natasha Bedingfield, Ryan Gosling, Mandy Moore and Christina Aguilera as clients, just released this first DVD, focusing on form, balance and core strength building. As usual, her specialty is simple, result-oriented exercise without risk of bodily wear-and-tear. This time she uses four muscle-stimulating rubber Balance Pods to heighten the workout's intensity and effectiveness, which are incredibly lightweight and inexpensive, especially considering the increased results. Standing atop them and working to maintain balance with Borden's direct and clear instructions makes the whole experience more engaged.
Wii Fit Plus:
With calorie counter and nutritional "burn" chart (indicating what foods you can eat based on your calories burned), Balance Board scale, body tests, goal setting, progress graphs and even mini-Miis for pets, the new Wii Fit Plus is a stat junkie's perfect storm. You'll exercise just to create new stats to check! Choose active individual exercises (Hoola Hoop or Boxing), "Training" games for balance and strength or existing targeted regimens and self-created custom combinations with "My Routine." Myriad options render excuses obsolete, especially because you'll be called on negligent behavior with Wii messages like: "It's been two weeks since your last workout!"
Step-by-Step BellyDance with Leilainia & Hemalayaa's Bollywood Dance Blast:
Kick off your dancing shoes for more exotic options: Acacia's Step-by-Step BellyDance is a carefully concocted lesson on how to roll, snap and twist your tummy and hips and thus tone abs and legs. Leilainia stands alone on a stage in an apropos outfit, quietly demonstrating moves. On the other hand, Hemalayaa's 50-minute Bollywood Dance Blast (also in "Booty" and "Burn" specific incarnations) is more cardio driven. She stands in a rug-covered room in comfy workout gear (and, okay, occasionally bindis and traditional Indian garb) with hair loose and leaps immediately into relatively simple Bollywood-inspired linked dance moves and exercises. The music alone will keep you moving.
For a Stretch:
Body Wisdom Media's Yoga Series:
This interactive DVD series includes realistic options like "Yoga For Inflexible People" with 35, 15 to 75-minute routines with focuses from "Hips" and "Shoulders" to "Energizing." They also offer beginner options and shorter versions to suit tight schedules. As the postures are all quite clearly explained, try any exercises you desire in any order you choose. Though mats, blocks and straps are required, the video even suggests innovative makeshift versions, if you find yourself without, like a strap made from two ties or a belt.
The NYC Ballet Workout
This class act DVD doesn't teach ballet dancing so much as mould dancer-like bodies (remember your posture!). Experience delusions of grace with plié-filled warm-ups set to ballet music, which actually offer the most fleshed out, continuous dance routines. For the actual workout, positions are stripped down to their simplest form by impossibly beautiful dancers, generally lit with a single spotlight in a dark room. Black and white dance montages, Sarah Jessica Parker's intro and voiceover from City Ballet's own Peter Martin make it ultra watchable, sort of like a hybrid between a workout video and a National Geographic series.
For the Starry-Eyed:
Tracy Anderson's Dance Cardio and Perfect Design Series:
Civilians are often preoccupied with celebrities. But, in Hollywood trainer Tracy Anderson's case, Gwyneth, Shakira, Courtney Cox and now Jennifer Aniston are the ones obsessed. Anderson's personal sessions and group classes are a tinsel town favorite and now her DVDs are an option too: Alternate Anderson's Dance Cardio and Perfect Design Series DVDs (and revolving custom routines online) for best results. She takes 3,000 varied muscle-awakening moves, which are specifically intended to lend a kind of feminine leanness, and makes them accessible, using props as simple as straps and chairs. In the dance version, she tries to keep choreography simple, though it may still be a bit challenging at first for less coordinated types.
David Kirsch's Ultimate Fitness Boot Camp:
And you thought models just starved themselves! Well, maybe they do, but in fitness Guru David Kirsch's workout with Heidi Klum, the super model and mother works hard for her hard body. You may be trapped inside, but the "total body transformation" 45-minute workout goes down on a Hampton's beach. Participants like Klum--beautiful as usual in black leggings and a coral-colored sports bra--do everything from jumping jacks to push-ups to upper and lower body exercises using very light weights. All the exercises are simple, but the sequence is challenging, probably especially on sand.