New Workout Ideas

Want to work out but hate going to the gym? Cheri Sicard reviews some popular fitness videos to help you work out in your own home.

Just the facts, ma'am

The Step Reebok videos that started the step training revolution are led by the woman who invented it, Gin Miller.These are still among my favorite workout tapes and I come back to them again and again.What I especially like about all three of these videos is their almost "industrial" look and feel. The lighting and sets are very modern and the attitude is "we're here to workout." Which means there won't be any cute, bubbly, perky instructors constantly reminding you of what a "good time" you're allegedly having. There are plenty of verbal instructions, but it's just the facts.

Also of merit is the heavy percussion, jazz based soundtrack that allows you to just get into a zone. Listen to the drums and before you know it, you've done the workout! I think this is an important reason why I don't get bored with these tapes, even though the choreography is basic and easy to do.

Gin Miller's cueing on all three videos is excellent. The choreography is simple, nothing dancey. Even so, she breaks down each combination so you can easily learn as you go.

Step Reebok: The Workout

The tape that started it all, this is an excellent first step training tape. Which is not to say that it's only for beginners, this tape can actually keep up with your fitness levels for a long time, as you can modify it to make it more difficult. That's one of the great things about step training, as you become more fit you can add height to the step or modify many of the moves to add intensity. All the moves shown on this tape, however, are low impact. The video ends with a short toning section, which also utilizes the step. This consists of three sets of push-ups, three sets of tricep dips and a short abdominal routine. The entire workout is 50 minutes long.

Equipment -- A step bench is needed to do the workout.

Step Reebok: The Power Workout

This is a tough workout! The basic moves of Step Reebok are presented in a new routine with power or high impact moves like hops and jumps. The power moves really raise your heart rate quickly, but if you know the basic steps (which you will if you have the first tape) it's easy to modify down, as your personal level of fitness requires. 

I've been exercising regularly for about two years, and there are still a few places in this video when I have slow down. It's always a challenge and really gives me sense of accomplishment after I've finished. The entire workout is 50 minutes with the emphasis strongly on aerobics, although you will get some lower body toning in the process.

Equipment -- A step bench is needed to do the workout.

Step Reebok: Circuit Challenge

It has been shown that circuit training actually burns more calories than working out a steady pace. For example, if you jogged for an hour on a flat course, you would burn fewer calories than if you jogged for an hour on a course of hills and valleys. The reason is your exert more energy on the hills than you save on the valleys. Miller puts the principle to good use in this innovative, 50-minute full body workout. In this case the hills are represented by one minute of intense step aerobic segments that alternate with one minute toning intervals. There's no time to get bored and you work all the muscles in your upper and lower body as well as abs and back. 

Miller gives modifications throughout the tape for beginners, and part of the class always works out at the beginner level while others do the high intensity moves. This is another tape that will serve you well for a long time, as you can modify it as your fitness level progresses by adding more weights or height to your step. The video ends with a short four-minute abdominal routine and three minutes of stretching.

Equipment -- You will need either a few sets of dumbbells (3 and 5 pounds will suit most people, if you're more advanced you'll probably also need a set of 10 pound weights). A step bench is also necessary to do this workout.

The New York City Ballet Workout

If you grew up taking ballet classes (as I did) or ever dreamed of taking ballet, you'll love this new workout. This 60-minute workout covers 17 ballet exercises. No special equipment, other than a mat and a towel are needed as most of the work that would normally be done at a ballet barre is done on the floor.

The emphasis is definitely on toning, although a few short segments will get your heart going, just not for long enough to be considered aerobic. The exercises will help tone and lengthen your muscles, build strength, especially in the core muscles of the abdomen and back, and help improve posture and flexibility. 

I do enjoy this workout and do it reasonably often. That said, I have to put a few serious disclaimers in this review. While I love Peter Martins narration (his voice is almost hypnotic) there simply is not enough of him on this tape. In other words, the cueing leaves something to be desired.

Patterns will change often without verbal cue. While this isn't a major problem when you're in a position when you can comfortably see the screen, there are times when Martins instructs you to "follow the dancers." Well, it's physically impossible to do some of the moves and still see the dancers. I also would have liked to hear more instruction and coaching on the proper form of the moves. There is some, but more would be better.

I've had fairly extensive ballet experience in my youth and didn't find the moves or instructions difficult. However, when I did this tape with friends who had no previous dance experience, they wished for more instructions and explainations, especially of ballet terms and positions, although they quickly caught on.

The classical, orchestral soundtrack is beautiful, inspiring and a nice change from other workout videos. Visually, however, the director often went for style over substance. Sometime the dancers are short in shadow or at such angles that it makes it more difficult to see the proper form. This isn't as serious as it sounds as the angle soon changes and you're able to see better, but it is a minor annoyance when combined with the lack of cueing and instruction. I almost get the feeling (and I may be correct in this, I don't know) that the tape was produced as a souvenir of the New York City Ballet first and a workout second. If this tape were re-edited with additional cueing it would get a much higher recommendation from me.

So, I give this one a thumbs up, but with reservations. If you have ballet experience you'll probably like this workout. If you don't have dance experience, you can easily learn the moves by watching a few times. The choreography is basic and impact is generally low, with a few exceptions. It's a fun workout to do and quite challenging. Beginner modifications are shown for some exercises, although there is no verbal instruction to accompany them.

Following the workout are short video profiles of the New York City dancers who starred in the workout: Helene Alexopoulis, Albert Evans, Edward Liang and Deanna McBrearty. Actress and ballet fan Sarah Jessica Parker provides a brief introduction.

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