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8 motivating fitness DVDs

We asked certified fitness instructor Amanda Vogel to try more than 40 of the latest fitness DVDs. Here are her top picks

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woman fitness crunches

Exercise at home

The benefits of exercising at home with a fitness DVD are endless: With no travelling to and from the gym, you carve out more minutes for working out (faster results, anyone?). Plus, you can throw on any old outfit that’s comfortable and breathable. And there’s virtually no prep time-just fill up a water bottle, slip on fitness shoes (or go barefoot, if appropriate) and fire up your DVD player or computer.

Perhaps the biggest boon, however, is that many of today’s fitness DVDs are divided into mini workouts-some as short as 10 minutes-so it’s easier than ever to fit fitness into your day. You might even find, as I did, that you’re so energized after completing one segment that you press “play” on additional ones for more of a fitness boost and that critical calorie burn. On the flip side, if you need a rest, you have the freedom to press “pause” and come back to the DVD later.

To help you zero in on the best fitness DVDs led by credible instructors, I reviewed 45 of the latest offerings. Using my 18 years of experience and knowledge as a certified fitness professional, I short-listed eight of ?my favourite titles (including one 10-disc program) for a variety of interests, fitness levels and abilities. They’re all new-released in 2010 or 2011-and available for purchase at Canadian stores or websites. If you aren’t exercising regularly now, check with your doctor before starting a workout program.

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The Booty Barre with Tracey Mallett

1. For total-body toning (No bulky muscles here)

The Booty Barre with Tracey Mallett (Tracey Mallett) 60 minutes; $20

What you get: Four exercise segments (including a warm-up) of various lengths to tone and stretch your butt, abs, back, legs, arms and shoulders. It’s a fresh blend of standing and lying-down exercises inspired by Pilates, calisthenics, yoga and ballet, as well as other dance forms. This relatively new workout approach is based on using a ballet barre while exercising, but in this DVD, chairs are used instead.

Intensity level: To me, it felt like easy to moderate cardio, and moderate to challenging toning exercises. If you haven’t worked out in a while, it might feel tougher because of all the repetitions you need to do.

Highlights: Instructor Tracey Mallett-a Los Angeles-based Pilates instructor and star of multiple fitness DVDs-is encouraging and clear, and the total-body toning moves are creative yet sensible. The highlight of this DVD is its signature 30-minute “Booty Barre” workout: I really felt the leg lifts, lunges and pliés in my hips and butt, and it got my heart pumping, too.

My tip: I liked that this workout is done barefoot (it makes getting started even easier). However, I felt more comfortable wearing protective shoes during the 10-minute arm-sculpting segment with hand weights, just in case I dropped one on my toes.

You’ll need: A sturdy chair to hold on to for balance during the leg and butt exercises, plus three- to five-pound dumbbells. A yoga mat is optional.

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Bollywood Boogie Workout with Hemalayaa

2. For making exercise feel more like dancing

Bollywood Boogie Workout with Hemalayaa (Acorn Media Group, Inc./Acacia) 45 minutes; $23

What you get: Three 15-minute workouts based on dance moves from Bollywood films, integrated with the occasional “yoga-ish” pose (as instructor Hemalayaa describes it) for strength and/or for better flexibility.

Intensity level: This provides light-to-moderate cardio and encourages playful freedom of expression, such as leaping around in a circle.

Highlights: I’ll admit to feeling inhibited by some dance workouts because I can’t always get the steps right. But this DVD put me at ease right away. (How could you not let loose and smile doing a move called “Mermaid”?) For variety, you can select to hear just the accompanying music, or the music plus instruction. I recommend the latter-instructor Hemalayaa’s lighthearted but helpful cues add to the fun.

My tip: The “Goddess Infusion” segment makes a nice extended warm-up. After the workout, venture into the DVD’s bonus features and stretch to the seven-minute “Yoga for Everyone” excerpt. 

You’ll need: No shoes or equipment.

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Great Glutes & Awesome Abs with Geoff Bagshaw

3. For firming your butt and flattening your abs

Great Glutes & Awesome Abs with Geoff Bagshaw (208 Entertainment, Inc.) 53 minutes; $18

What you get: Three workouts: one 25-minute segment (includes warm-up) to tone your lower body and abs while in a standing position; a second 20-minute workout that does the same with floor work; and a five-minute stretching segment.

Intensity level: These workouts provide moderate-intensity strength training (you use just your body weight).

Highlights: Fellow Vancouver native Geoff Bagshaw-who is now based in Florida -is one of my favourite fitness instructors because of his very approachable style. In this workout DVD, he shares lots of effective exercise combinations. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill abdominal and glute exercises. My fave: pliés paired with curtsy lunges for zeroing in on your inner thigh, hip and butt muscles.

My tip: No need to bypass this DVD if you don’t have a full 20 or 25 minutes to tackle a segment. It’s easy to start and stop these mid-workout based on the time you have, as long as you factor in a warm-up and cool-down stretch each time.

You’ll need: No equipment.

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Ageless with Kathy Smith: Staying Strong

4. For strong muscles and bones, plus more confidence

Ageless with Kathy Smith: Staying Strong (Acorn Media Group, Inc./Acacia) 72 minutes; $23

What you get: Four 15-minute toning programs, each targeting one of the following body parts: arms, legs, glutes and core. In the introduction, instructor Kathy Smith refers to the importance of staying strong as you age, but these workouts are suitable for younger adults, too-and the DVD works well as a refresher on weightlifting basics. 

Intensity level: Harder toning moves (usually two sets each) are coupled with easier ones, which helps you go strong for the full 15 minutes. While portions were challenging, overall this provides a moderate workout.

Highlights: I liked how Smith-who’s a veteran DVD star-provided bang-on technique tips with impeccable timing (it’s as if she knew exactly when my form might falter!). Hunched-up shoulders during overhead presses? High hips during planks? Not on Smith’s watch.

My tip: Pair each workout with the 12-minute stretch that’s included in the DVD to help you limber up the areas you work in the exercise segments. Plus, pay careful attention to Smith’s informative tips. They will help you get the most from every move.

You’ll need: Three- to eight-pound dumbbells, a sturdy chair and a mat or towel.

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Element: Yoga for Stress Relief & Flexibility

5. For banishing mental and physical tension

Element: Yoga for Stress Relief and Flexibility with Ashley Turner (Anchor Bay Entertainment, Inc.) 73 minutes; $17

What you get: Two tension-busting programs (about 35 minutes each) from well-known yoga expert Ashley Turner: a gentle routine for relieving stress with lots of yoga breathing, forward bends and poses you hold in place; plus a second, more flowing practice for fostering flexibility.

Intensity level: The stress-relief poses were all done without standing up, and felt easy. The flexibility sequence was a bit more intense but still moderate. If you’re not flexible, you’ll find these routines challenging; yoga types will find them easy.

Highlights: I’ve already recommended this title to several friends, and here’s why: After doing this DVD with its calming, friendly instructor, I noticed an immediate improvement in my shoulders, jaw, neck-and mood. Everything just felt more relaxed. The exercises are based on the premise that if you reduce body stiffness, you will also dissolve mental tension, and they encourage you to hone in on “openness and freedom” in the body. It works!

My tip: Don’t skip the final relaxation exercise provided in the last few moments of practice-this still pose will really help to amplify your refreshed, mellow feeling.

You’ll need: A yoga mat or towel. If you find it challenging to get into certain poses, try them using a folded-up blanket, sofa cushion, or yoga block or bolster to assist.

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10 minute solution rapid results fat burner

6. For fast weight loss

10 Minute Solution Rapid Results Fat Burner with Cat Chiarelli (Anchor Bay ?Entertainment) 56 minutes; $17

What you get: Five quick cardio routines (taught by a Los Angeles celebrity ?fitness trainer who originally hails from Toronto) that pack a lot of heart-pumping, calorie-burning activity into workouts that are just 10 minutes each.

Intensity level: The workouts are easy to follow but challenging-I noticed my heart rate was up for the full routine.

Highlights: I loved these short, to-the-point routines with movements that lasted long enough for me to master them, but changed quickly enough so I never got bored. Segments like “Power Sports Drills” and “Cardio Max” include at least some high-impact movements-jumping jacks, for example-so choose the “Low Impact Fat Blaster” if you would prefer to go easier on your joints.

My tip: Don’t let the “Extreme Intervals” segment intimidate you-these 15-second high-intensity intervals are great for weight loss. However, I recommend that you march lightly in place even when you see the instructor standing still to explain the next exercise-moving your feet helps to keep your heart rate up while reducing your risk of injury. Press “pause” if you find you need more time to recover between the most intense intervals.

You’ll need: Supportive fitness shoes.

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TurboFire Intense Cardio Conditioning with Chalene Johnson

7. For kicking your results up a notch or two-or even three

TurboFire Intense Cardio Conditioning with Chalene Johnson (Beachbody) Multi-DVD/multi-week plan; $140

What you get: Designed as a 12-week program, TurboFire includes 12 workouts ?on 10 discs. The idea is to show up for “classes” six days a week with one rest day. A day-by-day schedule tells you which classes-sculpt, stretch and various cardio styles-to select. There’s also a meal plan with recipes. Workouts run from 15 to 55 minutes (the most strenuous ones are the shortest), while  stretch segments are 10 or 40 minutes. 

Intensity level: These workouts are fun, high energy and-be warned-tough. It helps to be exercising already about three times a week and to have strong joints because of all the high-impact jumps (though there is a backup exerciser who demonstrates low-impact versions).

Highlights: You do high-intensity interval training (HIIT)-where you exercise as hard as you can for 30 seconds, then rest for 30 seconds. This torches calories (lots of them), accelerates fat loss and eliminates workout plateaus. Not all the workouts are HIIT throughout, but those ones were my favourites. I liked going all-out and then walking around the living room to catch my breath. Although you probably have to really like exercise to enjoy these strenuous workouts (and the über-fit enthusiasts onscreen who make it feel like you’re in a live class), I was impressed with instructor Chalene Johnson’s motivating style-her enthusiasm pushed me to work harder than I would have if I’d been doing this on my own.

My tip: Select the “New to Class” option until you learn the basic but fast-moving patterns-you’ll still get a solid workout but with more time to break down and practise these intense routines. 

You’ll need: A resistance band (comes with the program).

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Patricia Friberg's Belly Beautiful Workout: Postnatal Fitness and Busy Mom Workout

8. For bouncing back after baby

Patricia Friberg’s Belly Beautiful Workout: Postnatal Fitness and Busy Mom Workout (Belly Beautiful Workout) 80 minutes; $20

What you get: Five segments for new moms: ab training and pelvic floor exercises; a workout you do with baby; a cardio routine you do solo; total-body toning; and an exhilarating stretch. Segments vary from about 10 to 25 minutes.

Intensity level: For new moms, this will be moderate to challenging.

Highlights: When I was a new mom, I would have immediately related to instructor Patricia Friberg, who’s six months postpartum on this DVD. Bonus: Her own squirmy, giggly baby appears by her side in the “Baby and Me Workout.” Unlike some postnatal DVDs, I see this one working even when your baby gets older or you have more than one child in tow. My five-year-old daughter definitely enjoyed doing parts of this one with me.

My tip: Keep this title handy even when you’re no longer postpartum-I enjoyed coming back to its rejuvenating stretch after doing other fitness DVDs.

You’ll need: A mat and fitness shoes for the cardio segment (otherwise, barefoot). Some routines use a small fitness/Pilates ball and resistance band (these are optional, but recommended for best results).


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