Health

Nine best fitness videos

Think TV=couch potato? Truth is, with the right exercise videos and DVDs, your television could be the best piece of fitness equipment in your home

You can always find a reasonable excuse to sidestep exercise. Getting from work to that 6 o’ clock Pilates class is too rushed. Pack up the kids and get to the gym and back in a mere half-hour? Forget it. Enter the fitness video or DVD. The weather’s always fine in your living room – no commuting necessary. And many of today’s tapes offer workouts that start and finish in 15 minutes or less!
Every minute of activity counts. When you have time for a longer sweat-fest, though, jump at the chance. One study found that fitness videos that raised the heart rate for nearly 30 minutes burned the most calories. You also need to challenge your body with longer or more intense workouts as you get fitter, says Rod Macdonald, executive director of Can-Fit-Pro in Markham, Ont. Collect videos with different workout styles and multiple routines, adds Michele Olson, an exercise scientist at Auburn University, Montgomery in Alabama.
To get you started, we’ve identified nine great fitness videos (available at fitness and book retailers), from ab blasters and yoga to hip hop and high-low cardio. Still stuck on pause? Meet three women who know first-hand that flipping on a video workout can jack up energy and well-being while melting away unwanted pounds.

10 Minute Solution: Target Toning for Beginners

· 53 minutes
· $10 VHS/$20 DVD

The moves Five 10-minute workouts to help strength-training novices develop abs, thighs, buttocks, arms/shoulders and total-body flexibility. Can be done in sequence or separately

What you’ll need Three- to eight-pound hand weights for the arm segment; a towel for stretching

Five-star features Quick-to-complete workouts offer a variety of moves simple enough for beginners. Like lots of you-can-do-it cheerleading? This peppy tape will really motivate

Trainer’s tip The warm-up exercises are skimpier than the instructor’s shorts, so use another video’s warm-up or walk briskly for five minutes before starting

STOTT Pilates: The Secret to Flat Abs

· 120 minutes
· $20 VHS/$25 DVD

The moves Thirty-seven exercises for Pilates novices to tone your deep-abdominal and back muscles

What you’ll need An exercise mat

Five-star features Instructor Moira Merrithew clearly explains the technical stuff so you learn proper muscle activation and breathing for each move

Trainer’s tip Sample the more advanced bonus workout if your current routine is starting to feel too easy

Kathy Smith’s Flex Appeal: A Belly Dance Workout

· 68 minutes
· $12 VHS/$20 DVD

The moves Traditional belly dancing for beginners featuring a slow sensual routine and a faster ab-toning dance, each 20 minutes

What you’ll need A scarf to help you learn hip shimmies

Five-star features Lots of DVD extras, such as an excellent tutorial that breaks down each movement step by step

Trainer’s tip Don’t forget the soothing yoga- and Pilates-inspired stretches at the end. These moves will help you limber up for future sessions

Richard Simmons 80’s Blast-Off

· 33 minutes
· $20 VHS/$27 DVD

The moves Part low-impact aerobics, part cheesy dance numbers

What you’ll need Sturdy fitness shoes and a love of ’80s music

Five-star features The only thing more sparkling than Simmons’ personality is his signature tank ‘n’ shorts getup. The spirited gang of backup exercisers – happily devoid of stereotypical fitness types – is super-motivating, too

Trainer’s tip Simmons debuts the choreography without breaking it down first. Don’t be surprised if it takes a few tries before you’re in sync with all of the dance routines

QuickFIX Cardio Hip-Hop Workout

· 45 minutes
· $13 VHS/$15 DVD

The moves Three 10-minute hip-hop combinations plus one bonus dance number

What you’ll need Supportive fitness shoes and a fierce attitude

Five-star features Choreography is quite accessible even for non-dancers. Playful names such as “Saltshaker” and “Stir It Up” help you remember what move to do next

Trainer’s tip Keep up the intensity with each routine’s “dance lifeline” – a simple step to go back to if you get off track

Yoga Journal’s Ashtanga Yoga

· 60 minutes
· $12 VHS only
The moves Sun salutations and side bends, with a spiritual accent

What you’ll need A yoga mat

Five-star features Hawaii’s breezy coastal backdrop inspires and calms. The slower pace and repetition help you fine-tune technique quickly

Trainer’s tip Savour the final relaxation exercise (called savasana) – it fosters greater relaxation and self-awareness

The Works With Sharon Mann: Cardio

· More than 210 minutes
· $30 DVD only

The moves Kick-boxing, step-circuit moves and more for beginners and those who are advanced. Also available in a box set with body sculpting and yoga/Pilates editions

What you’ll need Everything or nothing. The DVD is packed with workouts for a stocked home gym or no equipment whatsoever

Five-star features Boredom is unlikely, given the 1,000 possible workout combinations, all with complete warm-ups and cool-downs and a variety of intensity choices

Trainer’s tip Before exercising, view “Sharon’s Workout Techniques” and “Workout Tips”

15-Minute Workouts for Dummies

· 65 minutes
· $10 VHS/$20 DVD

The moves Four 15-minute toners for weight-training newbies that work abs, arms, buttocks and thighs

What you’ll need Three- to eight-pound hand weights for the arm workout

Five-star features Lots of motivational tips and pop-ups (although sound effects and icons may grate on your nerves after multiple viewings)

Trainer’s tip Watch the entire video first for suggestions on making the exercises harder or easier. Hint: a mop or kitchen chair can help you maintain balance for standing exercises

CRUNCH: Fat Burning Dance Party

· 45 minutes
· $10 VHS/$20 DVD

The moves Three workouts for dance fans or co-ordinated beginners featuring salsa, funk and retro

What you’ll need Your groove on

Five-star features Energetic choreography sets the party atmosphere. Clear instructions also include plenty of opportunities to rehearse each move

Trainer’s tip Not a dancer by nature? Hit the rewind button to build confidence with one combo before advancing to the next

It works! Your video workout success stories

“I’m a fitness role model for my kids”
Vicki Lee, a mother of two in West Vancouver, dropped 25 pounds and has kept it off for six months. Her strategy? Smart food choices, Pilates classes, running and a mix of strength-training and Pilates videos. Lee has gained new confidence in her ability to work out. “School sports used to frustrate me – other kids seemed more co-ordinated than I was,” she says. “With videos, I don’t make comparisons. Instead, I focus on improving my heart rate, muscle strength and flexibility.”

Lee’s top tips
· Preview the workout first. That way you’ll know what to expect.
· Let the kids join in. Lee loves Yoga for the Kid in All of Us (available at
www.collagevideo.com).
· Try before you buy. Websites such as www.videofitness.com have forums that let you swap videos, and some libraries and video stores carry fitness titles. But choose current ones – safety standards have come a long way since Jane Fonda’s first release.

“I went from a size 14 to a size 4”
Andrea Berniquer slid her first fitness video into the VCR five years ago, alarmed at her 143-pound weight – heavy for her five-foot-one frame – and out-of-control cholesterol levels. “My physician was talking about putting me on medication,” she says. But living in rural Alberta meant that joining a gym wasn’t an option. Now 31 pounds lighter and living in Edmonton, Berniquer still prefers exercise tapes for their time-saving convenience. As she says, “If I had to drive to the gym with only 30 minutes to work out, I wouldn’t go.”

Berniquer’s top tips
· Be an early bird. Set your alarm an hour early to do a video before the day’s chaos unfolds.
· Plan your workouts in advance. Mark your video selections on a calendar and highlight each one you complete to make yourself accountable.
· Get comfortable. Rig up a TV and DVD player in the bedroom or somewhere you can close the door if you’re shy about exercising with your family looking on.

“I’m more flexible, and my core muscles are stronger”
It took only a handful of viewings before Mississauga, Ont., resident Marjo Johne felt at home with her Winsor Pilates workout. “The first time I tried it, I couldn’t touch my toes and struggled to go from lying to sitting using my abs,” she says. “Now I can do both.” Before, the biggest challenge (understandably) for this working mother of four-year-old twins was committing to exercise classes at set times.

Johne’s top tips
· Work with your own schedule. Heck, pop in a DVD at the stroke of midnight if you’re a night person. (Johne’s done it!)
· Create visible reminders. Prop the video case where you’ll spot it often, such as on the kitchen counter or your home-office desk.
· Stop rearranging the living-room furniture. Otherwise, you’ll get fed up fast. Instead, consider playing a DVD on your laptop or home computer in an emptier room.