No more sweatin’ to the oldies

Getting fit at home doesn’t have to be an ’80s flashback— unless that’s what you want

Jane Fonda gets a bad rap, but when she can make a workout look like the street-dancing scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, you know she must be doing something right.
Jane Fonda gets a bad rap, but when she can make a workout look like the street-dancing scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, you know she must be doing something right.

Since the ’80s, the popularity of home aerobics has been gaining.

People like Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons became stars of the exercise world first through vinyl record albums that included photographs of positions in the liner notes, and later on video.

Today, DVDs are still a good way to begin exercising if you feel like you might be out of shape or
don’t want to display your step skills—or your spandex—publicly. It’s also a good way to learn a new technique: maybe you’ve mastered step, but aren’t too familiar with Pilates—there’s a video for that. There seem to be so many different kinds of DVDs available nowadays that it can be hard to navigate through them all. It’s hard to know what terms like “beginner” and “advanced” mean in practice
and sometimes something as little as an annoying host can be enough to ruin a good workout.

I sampled six very different DVDs in the hopes of providing some kind of guide through the scary world of enthusiastic instructors and scarily tight outfits, to find a good, at-home workout.

The Firefighters Workout

This video promises to help viewers get into shape using the same methods and exercises done by firefighters. Part of the post-9-11 buzz around emergency services, the video is hosted by Captain Michael Stefano, a fairly typical-looking broad-shouldered, mid-40s NYPD firefighter with a heavy Long Island accent. The video is divided into two sections: the “Proby” routine for beginners, named for probationary firefighters and the “Salty Dog” routine, for veterans. Based purely on the ick-factor of the “Salty Dog,” I decided to start as a “Proby.” The warm-up is an eight-minute long combination of walking on the spot and some scary-looking dynamic stretches that remind me of the ones my Grandpa used to do—after learning them in the army in World War II.

Backed by another firefighter and two female “fitness pros,” who wear cropped, spaghetti-strapped “I Heart NY” T-shirts, Stefano leads a fairly basic workout that focuses mainly on strength building, using lightweight dumbbells. The video uses a lot of fire imagery and scenes of firefighters heading into emergency situations. During the one-arm rows for instance, we see a firefighter in full gear screwing
hose on the fire hydrant, apparently demonstrating how strengthening that muscle group will help when I’m faced with the task of fighting a fire.

The workout is set in a fire department locker room, with a massive U.S. flag centred in the background. Besides obvious cheesiness including an opening equence set to synthesized sirens that shows the members of Stefano’s team sliding down fire poles and some pretty blatant machismo, the workout doesn’t offer anything new. While pushups and squats are tried and true strength-building
exercises, you don’t need a video to tell you how to do them.

Walk Away the Pounds with Leslie Sansome

Promising to provide viewers with a one-mile walk inside their own home in 18 minutes, this is definitely the video for the lazy or the busy. Host Leslie Sansome looks over 40, and her dry, blown-out hair and drawn-on eyebrows remind me of my high school gym teacher. At first, I seriously had my doubts—a walking video sounds like something for geriatrics.

The steps are extremely basic—side steps, knee lifts, and small kicks—which works out perfectly with my tendency to get confused with complicated step sets. The heavy bass music makes keeping rhythm easy and the routine surprises me with its ability to keep my attention. Unlike more complicated routines that require taking breaks and changing positions, it’s easy to stay focused
on the brisk walking.

While it’s not a heavy-duty workout, this video is the perfect for those days when you don’t really want to work out, but end up guilting yourself into it anyway.

Jane Fonda’s Complete Workout

When I first began my exercise experiment, nearly everyone I talked to said I just had to do a Jane Fonda tape. Luckily, the public library still has a copy of Fonda’s 1989 classic, Complete Workout. Complete is no exaggeration. This is a total of 77 minutes of strength building and intense step aerobics. All physical benefits aside, the video is worth watching just for the revealing, belted body suits with matching slouch socks and big hair. I’m pretty sure Fonda is the only instructor I saw who was noticeably wearing makeup and big earrings.

The workout is set in a pretty pink dance studio and the music is heavily synthesized, reminding me of the sound laser beams make in movies. The warm-up starts out pretty basic, with some stretching and is followed by a strength-building routine with some lightweight dumbbells. The real fun starts with
the 30 minutes of step aerobics. Step sets include familiar moves like grapevines and side-steps, as
well as a hilarious set of steps that includes “twist and shout” and “pony ride.”

By the end, the group of exercisers look more like that street dancing scene in Ferris Bueller than athletes. One serious episode of WTF occurs in the middle of one routine, when a green screen
featuring some ’60s mod kids jumping up and down appears behind Fonda. Minutes later, Fonda announces “Do your own thing!” and an impromptu dance party takes place, during which
Fonda swings her arms around randomly while two other women dosey-do. This video is definitely
worth watching ’till the end.

One thing I appreciated about Fonda’s video was the absence of step-counting (I’m going to be
hearing “Five, six, seven, eight” in my dreams for months to come).

Instead, Fonda mixed it up with “Uh-huh, uh-huh, oh yeah” every once in a while. While some people
might like to take their workout seriously, I found the quirkiness of this video endearing—and between
grapevining and “doing my own thing,” I found I actually got a good workout.

Carmen Electra’s Aerobic Striptease Strip Workout

Among her many talents, apparently Carmen Electra is also both an expert on fitness and a stripper. Who knew? On this DVD set, Electra brings the two together, somehow stretching a workout to include nail-biting, running fingers through hair and ass-slapping. The first video includes a “dancer’s warm up”— consisting mainly of slow stretches—and two full strip aerobic routines. The routines themselves are definitely not high-impact or sweat inducing. The activity I’ll get from stripping with Electra (for the record, no clothes are actually removed) is a little more than I’d expect from a slowmoving Pilates workout. There are no difficult steps or intense positions—mostly it’s just slow hip rolls while rubbing your hands over your body. The hands are very important. Apparently any typical exercise, from squats to stretches, can be made sexy if you get a little grabby with yourself.

It’s clear from the videos that Electra really doesn’t know what she’s doing as a fitness instructor.
A demonstration of a striptease around a chair shows her in a man’s dress shirt and fedora, nervously
counting out loud “five, six, seven, eight.”

While the whole idea of this video is pretty silly, that’s what makes it fun. It’s not going to be an intense workout, but it will definitely provide some laughs, especially if you do it with some friends.

Billy Blanks Tae Bo II: Get Ripped Advanced Workout

Billy Blanks and his trademarked style of martial arts is back—though unfortunately this time without he cropped yellow tank top. The video case says that tae bo is “changing the world—one body, one life at a time.” While I can’t say my life was changed after one session, I definitely got a good workout.
Blanks leads a studio of about 30 people in powerful aerobic session that relies heavily on variations of kicks, roundhouses, punches and jabs. Bouncing around in his yellow moon-boots, Blanks is one of those fitness instructors that I hate—he never does the actual workout. Instead, he’ll demonstrate a move once, and then walk between his sweating minions, holding a punching bag and saying “Yeah,
girlfriend!” when they hit it. The one time that he does actually participate in the action, he turns his
back to the camera to demonstrate some squat-kicks and yells “Look at my butt!”

Besides the shimmery blue body suit that Blanks wears, this video doesn’t have any of the cheesy strobe-lighting during “double-time” segments that past videos do, making it much easier to follow along. Overall, Get Ripped provides a really vigorous workout, and I found the martial arts aspect made it more interesting than the average step class.

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