The appeal of 'Buns of Steel' exercise video series appears to be bottomless

February 24, 1993|By Chicago Tribune

It's the hippest hip workout around. Jay Leno makes jokes about it in his monologue. It's been mentioned in the "Cathy" comic strips. Undoubtedly, it has become a part of pop culture. It's "Buns of Steel."

But what is "Buns of Steel"?

"Buns" is a nine-tape exercise video series from the Maier Group of New York and it not only has become a phenomenon, it has created a new fitness superstar in the form of instructor Tamilee Webb.

Ms. Webb, 32, is a 5-foot-3-inch bundle of energy and muscle who seems to indeed have buns of steel (and legs, arms and especially a stomach of steel).

"People are starting to recognize me more and more when I go out," says Ms. Webb, speaking via telephone from the Webb International offices in San Diego. "They say, 'Aren't you that "Buns of Steel" girl?' " she says, laughing.

And exercise mavens who were originally laughing at the title aren't laughing anymore. The $14.95 "Buns" videos were all over Billboard's chart of top-selling health and fitness videos for 1992. The original "Buns of Steel" was the fifth best-selling exercise video of the year, and Ms. Webb's videos, "Buns 3," and "Abs" 1 and 2 were all on the list as well.

"Buns" started as a one-shot exercise video from the Maier Group, a company that also markets exercise videos such as "Dancin' Grannies."

The company hired athlete and health-club owner Greg Smithey (a Chuck Norris look-alike) to make the first "Buns of Steel" video in 1987. Thanks to an enticing photo of Ms. Webb's very muscular backside on the box, the video became a hit.

So there was a sequel. And then a three-quel, in which Ms. Webb finally had the chance to show the rest of herself.

Ms. Webb, who has a master's degree in exercise science, was a well-known fitness instructor in the San Diego area when she was asked to model for "Buns of Steel."

"I was teaching at the famous Golden Door health spa where I trained Christie Brinkley, John Denver and other celebrities who come to the Golden Door," she recalls.

Ms. Webb had also published the book "The Rubber Band Workout" in 1986 and had worked on the "Today" show's Dr. Art Ulene's "Balanced Fitness" video series.

"Although the first video just featured my body with my head cut off [in the jacket photo], I was glad to take what I could get," Ms. Webb says. "Being a professional instructor, it's really hard to break into the consumer market if you're not a model or a movie star."

The response to Ms. Webb's grueling squat-and-lunge workout was so good that she was asked to do more videos: "Abs of Steel" [1 and 2] and "Buns of Steel 4 [Advanced]" and "Buns of Steel Beginners."

The videos do work, Ms. Webb says. "People buy them as a joke because of the name and then they discover it's a great workout."

Ms. Webb herself has a body to die for: only 13 percent body fat, while the average body fat for a woman is 20 to 24 percent. "I don't know my weight," Ms. Webb notes. "People should listen to what their clothes tell them rather than their scales because muscle does weigh more than fat."

Ironically, Ms. Webb says she was constantly teased about her backside when she was a child. "It's so funny because as a kid, my brothers teased me about my big butt -- to the point where I cried," she recalls. "And now, it's making me money. My butt has always been my problem area, so I've always done that extra work to get the tone and firmness."

Consistency is the key to exercise, Ms. Webb says, and she shows no signs of stopping. Within a few weeks, her new videos -- a revised "Buns 2," a step-exercise video "Buns 2000" and "Thighs of Steel" -- will be on the market.

She's also appearing on ESPN's "Fitness Pros" exercise show.

In the future, Ms. Webb is looking to do even more "Buns" videos and to publish another exercise book. She's also getting married this year.

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