Fitness videos to the winter rescue

Health: Even if you can't get to the gym, workout tapes can firm the belly, sculpt your shape and align your chi.

February 20, 2000|By Vikki Valentine | Vikki Valentine,Special to the Sun

When winter starts pitching out its worst weather, the first thing I do is order a pizza. After downing a pound of cheese, my next step is to figure out how to work it off.

With the gym closed or the icy roads treacherous, workout videos become an essential part of a winter survival kit.

I took the opportunity during the recent bad weather to order a pizza -- extra cheese -- and test some of the hottest new workout tapes.

Exercise videos are great, particularly when you can't -- or don't want to -- leave the house. But don't make these workouts the most important part of your fitness routine.

The problem, says Michele Blake, a counselor for the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, "is that there isn't anyone there in person to help you with modifications. ... If a person is a beginner, they're not going to know how to customize it to their level."

But if you aren't motivated to get to the gym, Blake says, videos are a great way to get your workout in.

A word of caution: Always consult your doctor before starting a new exercise program. And go easy on the pizza.

"Bellydance Fitness for Beginners"


Belly-dancing is gaining popularity in the fitness world, and for good reason. Twins Veena and Neena Bidasha offer a deceptively simple yet surprisingly effective workout.

Their "hips, buns & thighs" tape has you undulating, swishing and squeezing your waist, hips and backside awake. After being locked into a chair eight hours a day, your hips will shout "hallelujah!" as belly-dancing moves loosen them up.

The music is soothing and the graceful moves are refreshing. The Bidasha's 30-minute workouts are gentle enough for beginners but effective enough to make your muscles feel it.

"David Carradine's

Tai Chi for the Body"


Although neither buff, sexy nor wearing a thong, David Carradine is the latest celebrity to add his name to the fitness video market. Oh no, my friend, the teachings of the Shaolin monk Kwai Chang Caine did not die with the "Kung Fu" TV series in 1975.

Carradine's videos -- tai chi, kung fu, kick-boxing -- build on his 40-some years of martial arts experience.

"Tai Chi for the Body" is like a 30-minute self-administered body massage. You stretch and tone your muscles as you slowly move through basic, flowing tai chi positions. I even held my very own tingling chi (life energy) between my hands on my first try!

Carradine's video was the only one I sampled to include what AFAA's Michele Blake says all tapes should have: a person facing the same direction as you, performing the moves.

Atta boy, Grasshopper.

"Billy Blanks Tae-Bo Live"

$24.95 each; $59.85 for the set of four

The Tae-Bo Live four-pack are the newest workouts from the Billy Blanks fitness machine. I've witnessed the wonders of kick-boxing firsthand, but never through the Blanks workouts, which started the kick-boxing phenomenon.

I tried both basic workouts and one of the advanced tapes, and I didn't feel the love, only the hype.

You will sweat, burn and be impressed by Blanks' choreography. But as an instructor, he should be rapped across the knuckles.

Unless you're an aerobics or kick-boxing fiend, stay away from the advanced workouts. These superhuman-paced tapes offer no low-impact options and little talk of form (stomach in, knees soft, pivot from the heel).

The basic workouts are more reasonably paced and do come with a passable breakdown of the moves. If you're just getting into shape, the 30-minute basic videos will do the trick. If you're at an intermediate level, put the two tapes together, or skip Blanks and try a better-taught Denise Austin or Kathy Smith tape.

"Crunch Boot Camp"


This video by Crunch Fitness is for people like me who seek out the searing pain that comes with lifting weights.

All that's required for this full-body workout is a pair of 3- to 10-pound weights. Instructor Susan Hitzmann works through such a variety of drills -- push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks, squats, rows, triceps presses, that the half hour is up before you know it.

Pay attention Billy Blanks: Hitzmann performs moves that are clear and easy to follow. She constantly reminds you of your form, and one member of the squad does a designated low-intensity workout throughout.

The only thing that could make this tape better is if it were twice as long. Still, it's a top-notch beginner tape and perfect for intermediates who want to get in a quick workout.

"Karen Voight YogaSculpt"


YogaSculpt will be the workout we do on space stations in 2050. As Karen Voight quietly commands you from her shadowy set with space-agey music playing, you can almost hear the gentle roar of the ship's engines.

Although extracted from ancient yoga postures, the workout has the streamlined feel of the future as your body forms and holds sleek lines and angles.

There's no bouncy-bouncy cardio routine here. Instead, slow, controlled movements force you to balance and locate yourself in the space around you.

It's shocking how hard it is not to move, whether balancing on one arm and one leg, or all fours. The sore muscles in my back were proof of that.

Shaping up

Where to shop: Borders Books & Music Blockbuster Video

For fitness news and reviews:

Oxygen Magazine

American Fitness Magazine

What to look for in a video workout:

* AFAA certification, or an instructor with a degree in physical education.

* A warm-up and cool-down segment.

* More than one level of inten-sity demonstrated.

* Length. Know whether you're getting a 30-minute or 60-minute workout.

* A demonstrator facing the same direction as you.

* An instructor who constantly gives tips on proper form -- that's the way to avoid injuries and maximize your workout.

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