November 30, 2004

Workout Videos for Every Step to Fitness ; Choices Range From Perky to Sedate

Q. I will be working downtown and taking the bus home and will miss some of my workouts at the gym. I have done high-low impact and step aerobics for 10 years or more. I am used to working out SMWFS. Can you suggest a good CD or video that I can use at home? I am 53 and in good shape.

I'm no expert on fitness videos, but I checked out some recent releases:

* A company called The Firm offers the "Calorie Killer" workout, a perky, 43-minute session led by five instructors, one doing the easy version for beginners. The catchphrase on the box says, "Do you want a better body in less time?" and the pace and background music during the workout send the suitable "hurry up, get moving!" message.

The point, of course, is to burn fat, and the approach employs a combination of aerobics and light weight-training maneuvers. Some of the movements employ short stools, called "Fanny Lifters," and others employ "The Firm Sculpting Stick," which can be reconfigured into hand weights.

Produced by Good Times, the video is part of The Firm's Fast & Firm series and retails at about $17.95, but you can get it used on and other venues.

Will this be enough to help someone in shape and dedicated? That's impossible to say. The Firm also has a video it calls "Super Cardio." Perhaps "super" is more intense than "killer."

See for more information.

* Speaking of perky, the prolific Denise Austin has released another video. This one is called "Denise Austin Power Zone, The Ultimate Metabolism Boosting Workout." It includes four distinct segments that she says produce twice the toning and fat-burning results in half the time.

There's a maximum cardio segment, an upper-body-toning workout and segments that work the lower body and abs. It includes 25 minutes of cardio work, followed by 10 minutes each of upper- and lower-body resistance and abs.

The nice thing about the DVD version of this is that you can easily skip ahead to the particular workout you are interested in on any given day. It's a long DVD, but she offers it in distinct, bite- size segments.

She makes considerable use of a resistance band that comes with the video, using it to supplement nearly every motion.

As the title makes clear, this is about boosting metabolism and burning fat. Austin claims that if done properly and in combination with a balanced diet, the workout can help "drop two dress sizes in only six weeks." I suppose that would depend on your current dress size.

See for more information.

* Austin's boast may be well and good, but I preferred "Tom Holland's Total Body Workout." For one thing, guys are hard to find in the fitness-video arena. And his video was so refreshingly no- frills and devoid of over-enthusiasm that it seemed a little retro.

Holland wears a tank top that shows off muscular arms and shoulders, and he does basic toning and abdominal exercises. Most videos these days feature an army of assistant exercisers surrounding the star. But Holland is alone. It's just him, his dumbbells, mat and bottle of water. He even does jumping jacks and moves efficiently through the workout. I appreciated all this and actually got a challenging workout.

The 45-minute workout does have an original soundtrack that is set at a cadence of 117 beats per minute that he suggests users follow.

See for details.

* For a relatively dated but effective home workout, you might check out "Kathy Smith's Fat Burning Breakthrough." The thinking behind this one is that you need to "overload" your body with higher intensity if you want to break through weight-loss plateaus.

The video offers two 18-minute step-workout "waves" that progress through ever-harder intensities, building to a peak before slowly tapering. The two sessions can be done as separate workouts or combined into one 36-minute exertion.

As with most videos these days, Smith has cohorts helping her show ways to make the workout easier if you're not in her kind of shape. A brief weight workout follows each cardio session, and an abdominal and back routine and stretch conclude the tape.

See for more information.