Book Review: Total Knockout Fitness, Martin McKenzie & Stefanie Kirchner (2014)

Friday, March 28th, 2014

A Beginner’s Perspective

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.)

Written by Martin McKenzie (a personal trainer based in the UK) and Stefanie Kirchner (an expert in nutrition and holistic health), Total Knockout Fitness provides an overview of boxing for strength, flexibility, cardio fitness, and more. With a step-by-step explanation of total body fitness exercises, as well as boxing form, footwork, and punches, Total Knockout Fitness makes a nice intro guide for beginners. However, more intermediate and advanced practitioners may also appreciate the workout routines designed specifically for them.

Divided into fourteen chapters (or “rounds”), Total Knockout Fitness walks you through various boxing workouts. Starting with Round 5, the authors end each chapter with suggested workout programs that combine the exercises presented in that (and previous) chapters.

Round 1: Equipment – The authors briefly explain the equipment you may need for your workout: a skipping rope, gloves (fitness or bag), hand wraps, focus pads, punching bags, etc.

Round 2: Knowing Your Opponent – Your biggest opponent being yourself! Here newbies and pros alike are encouraged to assess their current fitness level by performing an assortment of activities (e.g., press-ups, crunches, star jumps, toe touches).

Round 3: Tipping the Scales in Your Favor – McKenzie and Kirchner offer some diet tips for good fitness, including a meal plan. While I’m happy that it includes vegetarian options (tofu, vegan meats), I do wish that they’d explored the healthfulness of a plant-based diet.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Atheist Yoga, Anton Drake (2013)

Monday, June 10th, 2013

Atheism & Yoga

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review at the author’s invitation.)

I’ve suffered from back problems most of my life. When I was younger, the likely suspect was an old, cheap mattress situated on the top of a bunk bed; in my young adulthood, nights spent sleeping at the bottom of a dog pile (sometimes five deep!) did the trick. And I won’t even get into my poor posture.

I started practicing yoga a little more than a decade ago in order to help relieve back pain. Not only did it work out the kinks, relieve stress and tension, and increase my flexibility, but yoga also helped me achieve a greater inner awareness: of different muscle groups, and how to alternately flex and relax them, sometimes simultaneously. This in turn aided me in other athletic endeavors, such as kickboxing and abdominal exercises.

I’m also a life-long atheist.

In Atheist Yoga, atheist yogi Anton Drake makes a compelling argument for the compatibility of yoga and meditation with atheism and materialism. Yoga’s “fundamental emphasis on introspection and self-mastery” is actually more suited to atheism than religious belief, Drake posits, because atheists are open to disbelief, aren’t censored by internal thought filters, and thus have an easier time both “losing” themselves and turning their focus inward, on the unconscious self. Atheists are better able to open their minds because they aren’t afraid of offending a supreme being or violating an external belief system.

(More below the fold…)

DVD Review: Kathy Smith – Kickboxing Workout (1999)

Sunday, March 4th, 2012

A great workout for beginners – but beware the Challenge workout, it’s a rip-off.

four out of five stars

I picked up a copy of Kathy Smith’s Kickboxing Workout on DVD a few months ago. Though I used to do Tae Bo religiously, my cardio routine fell by the wayside when we moved into a new house and [insert excuse after excuse here; reason #1 being that our new home has all-concrete floors and it took us a few months to outfit the gym with an appropriate mat]. Anyway, when I vowed to start back up again, I quickly decided against resuming Tae Bo. What with its quick switches between moves, sometimes confusing instructions, and uneven editing, I suspect that Tae Bo was a little too rough on my knees and ankles. Instead, I thought I might check out Kathy Smith’s workout; I have some of her other videos, including a few light weight workouts, and enjoy them…well, as much as one can enjoy an exercise DVD.

Kathy Smith’s Kickboxing Workout is just what I needed – an excellent workout for beginners. If you’re new to cardio and/or kickboxing, the 45-minute Basic workout is challenging but not impossibly so. Smith starts with a slow warm up, leads you into a moderately-paced workout (roughly 20 minutes in length), and then cools things down with a short “buns and thighs kicking drills” segment, followed by a “cool down stretch” and an “abs and back strengthening” workout. The run time is just over 45 minutes. I have a few minor quibbles – for example, switching or adding moves in the middle of a routine, which seems to me a no-no for beginners – but nothing out of the ordinary. Overall, it’s great.

If you’re expecting a more difficult routine from the 55-minute Challenge workout, forget it. Instead of putting together an entirely new routine for more experienced students – which is what I expected – Smith just adds two extra segments to the Basic workout and calls it a “Challenge.” Keith Cooke leads the added ten minutes of footage, which is divided into two segments: “Kickboxing Stances” (a review of the postures, which can hardly be called “challenging”) and “Challenge” (a few new combinations, again not super-difficult or especially intense). As much as I love the Basic workout, I’m super-disappointed in the Challenge; whereas I thought this might be a new routine I could move onto once I’d mastered the Basic workout, it’s really just more of the same. Increased difficulty isn’t just about endurance, but intensity too. 4/5 stars, with a point lost for the “Challenge” half of this DVD.

Also, can the class please stop wearing baggy pants? I need to see what your legs are doing! kthnxbai.

(This review was originally published on Amazon. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

And what if I love dogs, yoga and yogurt?

Monday, August 24th, 2009

The recent spate of probiotic/fiber-filled yogurt commercials is starting to make me loathe yogurt – even the vegan kind. And I freaking adore cherry and lemon Whole Soy!

These dairy-based offenses have become so frequent that even Sarah Haskins – who has poked fun at yogurt ads not once, but twice – cannot keep up with all the stupid.

First, we have this uber-obnoxious ad from Fiber One:

In case you can’t view the video, here’s the gist: A thin, blonde, WASP-y looking woman – who, incidentally, appears to have stepped straight out of the ’80s – runs into a friend at a Fiber One sample station, located outside the supermarket’s exit. Our fair WASP is dressed head-to-toe in oversized accessories: softball-sized “pearl” earrings and necklace; a bracelet that might have been fashioned out of a mug from Central Perk; huge, Pee Wee Herman sunglasses; a purse the size of a backpack; a heart-shaped pendant nearly as big as her head. And…a large dog. A Great Dane, perhaps?

The large accessories are supposed to make her body look smaller and thinner when viewed next to their comical monstrosity. Why resort to such crazy antics, the commercial suggests, when you can just go on a semi-liquid Fiber One yogurt diet and slurp your way to an eating disorder?

Aside from the emphasis on thinness (incidentally, neither of the two women are what you’d call “fat,” yet the need for dieting is not questioned, but reinforced), there’s some pretty casual and nefarious speciesism at play here. The dog is likened to an object, a fashion accessory, a tool of sorts; something to be disposed of when no longer needed. He’s not treated as someone, but something. Earrings, necklace, bracelet, sunglasses, purse, pendant, dog: one of these things is not like the other.

The disposal of “pets,” by the by, is a pretty serious problem. Perhaps this commercial might seem like a harmless joke – but try explaining the punch line to the three to four millions cats and dogs killed in U.S. shelters each year.

Thankfully, the next offender isn’t speciesist, rather, it’s just plain stupid.

(More below the fold…)

DVD Review: Yoga Wisdom for Neck Pain & Tight Shoulders, Allison Nolan (2005)

Monday, December 18th, 2006

Chase that upper-body pain and stiffness away!

five out of five stars

YOGA WISDOM FOR NECK PAIN & TIGHT SHOULDERS, with instructor Allison Nolan, is a great complement to Nolan’s other 2005 release, YOGA WISDOM FOR BACK PAIN & TIGHT HIPS. I own both DVDs, and together they help ease the aches and pains that occasionally bother my shoulders, back, neck, and hamstrings.

NECK PAIN & TIGHT SHOULDERS follows the same basic format as BACK PAIN & TIGHT HIPS. The DVD contains two different workouts. The first, Level 1, is the shorter of the two (at 36 minutes), and is aimed at beginners. Level 2 is only slightly longer (48 minutes), and is a bit more advanced. However, Nolan works with two “models”, one of which modifies the poses for the beginners in the audience. The second model generally follows Nolan’s intermediate-to-advanced lead, and Nolan sometimes pulls ahead with more advanced versions of the poses. Thus, a wide range of difficulties is demonstrated throughout, making both levels fully workable (and challenging) for all.

Many of the same poses used in BACK PAIN & TIGHT HIPS are repeated in NECK PAIN & TIGHT SHOULDERS. However, Nolan introduces some subtle variations that target the upper body, particularly the shoulders and arms. NECK PAIN & TIGHT SHOULDERS also includes some poses that BACK PAIN & TIGHT HIPS does not, such as stretches with a resistance band that works the shoulders, neck, and arms.

Overall, I think I enjoyed BACK PAIN & TIGHT HIPS slightly more than NECK PAIN & TIGHT SHOULDERS; it seems like the former did a better job of stretching and loosening the promised areas than did the latter. Even so, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend NECK PAIN & TIGHT SHOULDERS to anyone who’s suffering from stiffness or tightness in the upper body. It’s really a gratifying, effective workout.

My only quibble: all four workouts contained in BACK PAIN & TIGHT HIPS and NECK PAIN & TIGHT SHOULDERS use the exact same musical track. Since it’s not really possible to keep my eyes glued to the tv while I flow through the poses, I’ve learned to pick up on auditory cues to help me anticipate when a transition from one pose to another is ahead. Of course, this leads to some confusion and the occasional misstep when four workouts, all led by the same instructor (with the same voice, vocabulary, and speaking style), are set to the same score. At almost $20, you think they could have sprung for four unique compositions instead of one!

Equipment needed: A carpeted floor or a yoga mat; one to two yoga blocks; and a yoga/resistance band.

(This review was originally published on Amazon. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

DVD Review: Karen Voight: Yoga Power (2002)

Wednesday, August 16th, 2006

Strength + Flexibility = Yoga Power!

four out of five stars

Karen Voight’s YOGA POWER is really two yoga workouts in one: Yoga Strength, which utilizes a number of challenging yoga poses to build strength and stamina; and Yoga Stretch, which consists of a series of gentle stretches to increase flexibility.

The Yoga Strength segment is 30 minutes long, but you’ll be so focused on the poses that the time will fly by. This workout definitely isn’t for beginners! I’ve been doing yoga – on my own – for a few years now, and consider myself an intermediate, but some of the poses are much too challenging for me. Even following Karen’s workout partner, who is the modifier, I have trouble balancing during unfamiliar poses. However, none of the exercises is impossible; I’m confident that, with practice, I’ll be able to master them. The poses that Karen guides you through in Yoga Strength include Sun Salutation, Warrior 1 and 2, Upward Dog, Downward Dog, Down Dog Split, the Triangle Series, Plank, Side Plank, Awkward Chair, Dancer’s Pose, and Boat Pose.

In contrast, at 20 minutes, the Yoga Stretch segment is slightly shorter. Unlike Yoga Strength, it’s also suitable for all fitness/skill levels. The poses, performed primarily while sitting on the floor, are very gentle and forgiving. With Karen’s help, you’ll slowly stretch and relax all the body parts you worked in the first segment: your neck, shoulders, arms, back, hips, thighs, and legs. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the neck stretches are simply divine! My only complaint with this portion of the workout is that some of Karen’s instructions are a little sloppy and confusing. Overall, though, this is an anomaly: for the most part, Karen is an excellent instructor.

As far as necessary equipment, you’ll need either a carpeted floor or a yoga mat, as well as two yoga blocks (but you can make do with one block, if that’s all you have on hand). A yoga strap is optional for the Yoga Stretch segment.

Enjoy your workout!

(This review was originally published on Amazon. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

DVD Review: Yoga Wisdom for Back Pain & Tight Hips, Allison Nolan (2005)

Sunday, August 6th, 2006

Opens the hips, loosens the back like a charm!

five out of five stars

YOGA WISDOM FOR BACK PAIN AND TIGHT HIPS with Allison Nolan promises looser hips and a more relaxed back – and it delivers both in less than an hour! The DVD consists of two workouts: Level 1 runs 32 minutes long and is targeted at beginners, while Level 2 is longer at 54 minutes, and is meant for more advanced yoga practitioners.

Personally, I have been doing yoga for about two years, and I’d place myself in the “intermediate” category. As such, I generally stick to the 2nd level on this DVD. Level 2 begins with a gradual back warmup via The Cat/Cow pose, and then slowly builds in difficulty. Over the course of 54 minutes, Ms. Nolan guides you through a number of beginning to advanced poses, including Upward and Downward Facing Dog; Baby Cobra; Down Dog Split; Pigeon and Double Pigeon; Eagle Arms; Awkward Chair; Sun Series; and two Warrior Series, as well as a variety of forward bends and back bends. At the end of the workout, there’s also a five-minute abdominal section with the Baby Boat and Boat poses. The grand finale is a restorative segment that employs a yoga block to help you stretch out the lower back. I’ve never enjoyed a back stretch so much!

Level 1, which I’ve done several times now, doesn’t strike me as less difficult than Level 2, even though Level 1 is supposedly for beginners. In both workouts, Ms. Nolan has two models working through the poses with her; one of these modifies the poses for beginners, while the other follows along with Ms. Nolan, who is performing the poses at an advanced level. The biggest difference, to me, is that Level 1 is 22 minutes shorter. Thus, it makes for a nice, quick stretch when I don’t have time to do a full 54 minutes. It’s also a great warmup to the 30-minute Tae Bo DVDs that I sometimes use. However, the shorter workout does have one significant drawback: when you get to the more difficult poses near the end, you’re not as warm and flexible, and it’s harder to ease into some of the more advanced poses. (I find that my hips just haven’t had enough time to warm up for the Pigeon pose in particular.) Overall, though, both make for a very challenging – but do-able – workout.

As far as the quality of instruction goes, I liked Ms. Nolan’s teaching style. I didn’t find her overly peppy or annoying, and I thought her cueing was timely. I found that her descriptions of some poses helped me to better visualize and achieve them. She also avoided the standard New Age drivel that so many yoga instructors spout. My only complaint is that she tended to cycle through Downward Facing Dog / Plank / Baby Cobra / Upward Facing Dog sequence rather quickly. Other than that minor quibble, I thoroughly enjoyed the workouts, especially the longer one.

Equipment needed: A carpeted floor or yoga mat is a must for any yoga workout. You’ll also need at least one yoga block for the restorative stretch, and two if you’d like to modify the poses. Extra padding for the “sit bones” is optional.

(This review was originally published on Amazon. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

DVD Review: Iron Yoga, Anthony Carillo (2005)

Thursday, June 15th, 2006

Yoga on Steroids!

four out of five stars

The main premise of Anthony Carillo’s Iron Yoga workout is that you can maximize your yoga session by adding hand weights to increase the challenge. The result is a highly effective, low-impact yoga routine that demands great focus, endurance, balance, flexibility, and willpower.

The 54-minute Iron Yoga workout is led by instructor Anthony Carillo, who designed the routine as part of his training for the Iron Man Triathlon (this should give you some clue as to how effective and demanding the workout is). Although Carillo leads you through an advanced workout, there are two women working through the same routine in the background; one at a beginner level, the other, intermediate. The most obvious difference is that each instructor uses a different set of dumbbells. You can clearly see that the beginner is working with a 2-pound set, while the intermediate instructor sports a 3-pound pair (which is the weight I use). However, I couldn’t tell what weight Carillo was working with, and he never mentions it. Aside from lifting different weights, the beginner and intermediate models modify the yoga poses to demonstrate easier levels for less experienced yoga students. In general, the transition between poses is gradual enough that beginners won’t have any trouble following along, and the risk of tweaking a muscle with the weights is significantly lowered for all. Consequently, Iron Yoga is a great workout for both beginners and experienced yogis alike: you can vary both the weight and the poses according to your fitness level.

During the workout, Carillo leads the audience through a number of challenging yoga poses, including the triangle, several warrior series, awkward chair, tree sequence, and eagle. Poses that help with stretching and flexibility include the sun series, upward and downward facing dog, locus, pigeon, and child’s pose. Throughout the workout, he also incorporates various moves with the dumbbells to work the upper body. Examples include bicep, tricep, and wrist curls, tricep extensions, military presses, and lateral raises. These exercises are performed either while standing in mountain pose, or while holding some of the more challenging yoga poses (e.g., triangle). The dumbbell work, with few exceptions, involves three slow reps of each move while inhaling and exhaling deeply, and on the fourth count you must hold the move at “static peak” for several breaths. Depending on the yoga pose and the dumbbell exercise, this can be much harder than it sounds!

As an instructor, Carillo is great: simultaneously calm and soothing and motivational and encouraging (not exactly what you’d expect from an Iron Man!). On their own, neither the yoga nor weighted portions of the workout are exceptionally challenging; but combined, they make for a very demanding routine. I’ve been doing yoga for several years now (in addition to some light weight training, as well as pilates, kickboxing, and Tae Bo), and am in fairly good shape, but I still find myself sore the day after I do Iron Yoga. Of the many DVDs I own, this is probably in my top six favorites. It’s a fun break from the frenetic cardio sessions I’m used to, but it’s still effective, especially for toning the upper body. With both yoga and weights, it’s the best of two worlds. Kind of like yoga on (natural) steroids (!).

My only complaint is that Carillo has only made one Iron Yoga DVD to date (hint, hint!).

EQUIPMENT NEEDED: A pair of dumbbells and a yoga mat or carpeted floor. A masseuse for the day after won’t hurt, either!

(This review was originally published on Amazon. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

DVD Review: Lift Weights to Lose Weight, Kathy Smith (2006)

Tuesday, May 16th, 2006

Great weighted workout for all levels!

five out of five stars

Kathy’s Smith’s TIMESAVER: LIFT WEIGHTS TO LOSE WEIGHT is a fun, effective workout for all levels. The workout is divided into three sections: a 20-minute upper body workout; a 20-minute lower body workout; and a 7-minute bonus abdominal workout.

Throughout the upper body workout, you use dumbbells to work your arms and back. Other exercises include pushups and tricep dips. The lower body workout consists mostly of squats and side and back leg kicks/lifts. Finally, be prepared to do a number of different crunches during the ab section.

The nice thing about the upper- and lower-body workouts is that they can be as easy or as difficult as you like – just vary the weight of the dumbbells and ankle weights. Each has two different “Tracks” you can follow, too. The first track employs lighter weights and more repetitions, while the second uses heavier weights and allows for more frequent rests in which to recover. Half the class follows along with each track, plus there are textual cues on the video to help you keep up with your track, so it’s quite simple.

Although instructor Kathy Smith suggests that you do the workout every day, alternating between the lower- and upper-body segments (or do both on one day and then take the next off), I also do yoga, pilates, and Tae Bo, so I only do LIFT WEIGHTS TO LOSE WEIGHT about once a week. Even so, I can already see a difference, particularly in my arms and shoulders. I don’t use especially heavy weights, either – just 3- and 5-pound dumbbells and 2-pound ankle weights. I can really feel an ache in my muscles after the lower body segment, too. Finally, the ab workout is a “fun” (relatively speaking) variation from what I’m used to.

Speaking of fun, I really like Kathy Smith’s instructional style. She’s peppy and encouraging, but not to the point of annoyance (yes, I’m thinking of the wild-eyed Denise Austin here). I have a number of Smith’s workouts, and they’re all above par.

EQUIPMENT NEEDED:

The upper body workout requires at least two pairs of dumbbells: a light-to-medium set and a second, heavier set. During the workout, instructor Kathy Smith encourages you to alternate between the two. A padded bench is optional. If you don’t have a bench, you can get down on a carpeted floor or mat instead, but I find that a bench helps me to keep proper form, so I just use my coffee table with a towel for padding. However, you will need a chair for the tricep dips.

The lower body section requires a chair for support, and dumbbells and ankle weights may be used for a greater challenge.

The ab segment doesn’t require any extra equipment, optional or otherwise – just a carpeted floor or exercise mat.

Enjoy the workout!

(This review was originally published on Amazon. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

DVD Review: Billy’s BootCamp: Ab BootCamp, Billy Blanks (2005)

Monday, November 21st, 2005

Ab-solutely Awesome!

five out of five stars

Ab BootCamp is part of Billy Blanks’s newest (circa 2005) Tae Bo series, Billy’s BootCamp. I’ve been a Tae Bo fan for about two years now, and own many of his early DVDs, including the original 4-pack, Tae Bo II: Get Ripped (still my favorite), Ultimate Abs/Butt, and Ultimate Upper/Lower Body. While I love the early stuff, the Tae Bo workouts that he’s produced since switching studios (from Ventura Distribution to Good Times Entertainment) seem more stylish, but considerably less difficult, than his earlier work. I was especially disappointed with Tae Bo Cardio and the Tae Bo Capture the Power series. However, I found myself growing bored with what I had, so I bit the bullet and bought the Tae Bo BootCamp series. I’m happy to say that I don’t regret my decision one bit!

Unlike the other BootCamp workouts, the Ab BootCamp does not require the “Billy Bands” (a pair of elastic bands that loop around your feet and hands, thus adding considerable – almost impossible – resistance to your workout). Thus, you can purchase this one DVD on its own and not have to worry about buying extra equipment.

The workout runs about 35 minutes in length – and boy, oh boy, what a butt-kicking 35 minutes it is! As always, Billy starts out with some stretching and warm-ups. Next up are calisthenics, including a series of squats with pelvic thrusts that I’ve never seen in Tae Bo before. The class also spends a good amount of time in horse stance (squatting, butts thrust towards the floor), arms up, torsos twisting from side to side. This REALLY allows you to concentrate on your abs and work the waist. Billy has introduced this particular exercise in many previous workouts, but never in this much depth or for such a long period. You can really feel your abs and legs working here. Finally, it’s down to the floor for a series of crunches and similar ab exercises. Thankfully, Billy mixes it up a bit and allocates some time for stretching, which definitely takes the edge off the more extreme ab work.

I’ve only done Ab BootCamp about five times now, but I already notice a difference in my abs. I’m adding this one to my regular rotation, no doubt. Since it’s also slightly shorter than many of the other DVDs I own (by 15 to 20 minutes), it’s good for those mornings when you’re running a little late but still want to squeeze a decent workout in. A must for anyone who wants to work their abs (and who doesn’t!?). Five stars all around!

(This review was originally published on Amazon. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

DVD Review: Tae Bo Flex, Billy Blanks (2003)

Monday, November 21st, 2005

More Flexing, Please!

four out of five stars

I’ve been doing Tae Bo for about two years, and have mostly mastered the serious cardio workouts (of which Tae Bo II: Get Ripped is the most difficult). I purchased Tae Bo Flex because I wanted a Tae Bo workout that would focus on muscle definition (particularly in my abs) as opposed to cardio endurance. For the most part, Tae Bo Flex delivers.

Tae Bo Flex is different from previous Tae Bo DVDs in that the moves are performed more slowly, allowing the class to concentrate on the desired muscle groups. Additionally, after a certain number of sets, a move – for example, a roundhouse kick – is held, muscles flexed (hence the title of the workout), in order to strengthen specific muscle groups.

In general, each move is performed as follows: two sets of eight normal repetitions, a held position for eight counts, another set of eight normal reps, and then a final round of a flexed pose. Then, on to another move. During the course of Tae Bo Flex, you’ll do a number of moves in this manner, including the roundhouse kick, side kick, front kick, back kick, various punches, and some pseudo-speed bag. Most of the concentration is on your lower body, but the workout does include a few positions in which you’re flexing your arms as well.

For the most part, I enjoy the workout; it’s definitely something different than what I’m used to! However, it isn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. The cardio (i.e., the “normal” sets) is relatively light, and I never really work up a sweat. Also, you only hold the flexed position for eight counts – essentially, this only amounts to about eight seconds! – which isn’t very challenging. And this is coming from someone who has a very poor sense of balance, mind you! In fact, some of the previous Tae Bo workouts, such as Get Ripped Advanced 1 and 2, feature longer flex times than this. Finally, at just 45 minutes, Tae Bo Flex is about 10 minutes shorter than many other “Advanced” Tae Bo DVDs.

Although I’ve owned this DVD for about five months, I usually only use it on my “off” days – those mornings when I’m just too beat to work through some of the more advanced Tae Bo videos. Nonetheless, newbies might find Tae Bo Flex helpful. The leisurely pace makes it easier to learn the basic moves, and the flexing does allow you to focus in on your body. You really gain a sense of which exercises work which muscle groups, because you can literally feel them in action. Overall a decent DVD, but I’m going to knock off one star because there really should have been more flexing!

(This review was originally published on Amazon. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

Product Review: Gripmaster Hand Exerciser

Monday, November 21st, 2005

Great Product + Great Price = Great Way to Work Your Hands & Forearms!

I recently purchased a pair of the Gripmaster Hand & Finger Exercisers in order to help build forearm strength. As I was unsure which tension would be appropriate, I bought one each of the Light/Blue (5 lbs. tension) and Medium/Red (7 lbs. tension) grips. I’ve had them for a little more than a week now, and I just love, love, love them! Perhaps that’s a little more enthusiasm than anyone should muster up for exercise accessories, but I really do enjoy the grips. I leave one out on my desk at all times, and get in a little work here and there when I stop to read a document or whatnot.

The Gripmaster Exercisers are different from conventional grips in that you can either work your entire hand at once, or each finger individually (great for guitar players, I’ve heard!). One side features four small levers, each with its own spring, that can be squeezed together or one at a time. The plastic on the flip side is molded together so that you can work your whole hand as one unit. The black rubber cushion is removable, and you can place it on either side of the grip. It’s an awesome idea, and allows for maximum versatility!

Just for reference, I’m a female, in relatively good shape, but with painfully little forearm strength (my biceps are huge from years of Tae Bo, though!). The 7 lb. Medium/Red grip is do-able, but challenging. The 5 lb. Light/Blue grip, on the other hand, makes for a much easier workout; I oftentimes find myself squeezing it while doing other things, and I only feel it after a number of reps. If you’re a female and not in great shape, you’ll want to start out with the Light/Blue grips (or even the Extra Light/Yellow ones), and work your way up. Out-of-shape guys can probably get away with the Medium/Red ones to start. If you’ve got good hand/wrist/forearm strength, don’t even both with the lighter tensions – skip ahead to the Medium/Red or Heavy/Black.

Although I’ve only owned my Gripmasters for a week or two, and can’t personally vouch for their durability, they do seem sturdy and well-crafted. My fiancé’s brother, an amateur boxer and guitar player, used his for years without a problem, so I have faith that I’ll be squeezing these babies well into 2015!

(This review was originally published on Amazon. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

DVD Review: The Method: Pilates Target Zones (Upper-Mid-Lower Body), Jennifer Kries (2003)

Monday, November 21st, 2005

Ab-solutely Awesome Mix of Pilates & Yoga!

five out of five stars

Although I mainly stick to Tae Bo and kickboxing, I also like to throw the occasional yoga and/or pilates workout into the mix for flexibility and strength. I love Jennifer Kries as an instructor – she’s always peppy and cheerful without becoming annoying, and she does a great job of explaining the poses in such a way that even yoga newbies like myself can easily understand. Because I’ve enjoyed Kries’s DVDs in the past, I chose The Method: Pilates Target Zones: Upper-Mid-Lower Body when I needed a dedicated abdominal routine. As usual, Jennifer does not disappoint!

The workout is divided into three 25-minute segments: Abdominal/Centering, Lower Body/Grounding, and Balanced/Lengthening. The segment titles are a bit misleading, however; the first two, Abdominal/Centering and Lower Body/Grounding, focus on the abdominals via a series of “roll ups,” while the last portion, Balanced/Lengthening, is an interesting mix of yoga and ballet. The distinctions between Upper, Mid, and Lower Body aren’t as discrete as the titles would have you believe. Nonetheless, each segment is challenging and effective – I’ve noticed a definite improvement in my abdominal strength and overall flexibility since incorporating this DVD into my fitness program.

Abdominal/Centering, the first segment, begins with some breathing exercises, and then alternates between yogic stretching and increasingly difficult pilates “roll ups” that really (and I mean REALLY) challenge the abs. Lower Body/Grounding is more of the same, but this series incorporates the use of a lightly weighted bar to assist in the standing stretches and give a point of focus in the “roll ups.” Even so, you don’t have to run out and buy extra equipment in order to take full advantage of this workout – you can very easily substitute a broomstick or similar object for the bar (I use my Richard Simmons Ab Roller!). Finally, the Balanced/Lengthening section leads you through various yogic postures, including the Sun Salutation, the Proud Warrior series, and Awkward Chair (this one really works your legs!). Kries also includes a few ballet exercises, such as pliés and ankle presses (again, great leg work!).

I have absolutely no complaints about this DVD – which is very rare for me! The exercises are great, the instructor is engaging and encouraging, and the DVD format is suitable (i.e., each segment is its own chapter on the DVD, so you can easily customize your workout). Upper-Mid-Lower Body is especially worthwhile for those looking to firm their tummies. Along with Tae Bo: Billy’s BootCamp: Ab BootCamp, this is my favorite ab workout. And it shows – my six-pack is coming in quite nicely!

(This review was originally published on Amazon. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

DVD Review: Tae Bo: Ultimate Upper/Lower Body, Billy Blanks (2003)

Monday, November 21st, 2005

Awesome Assortment of Upper/Lower Body Exercises

three out of five stars

I’ve been doing Tae Bo for almost two years now; I started with the original 4-pack, gradually made my way through the Basic and Advanced workouts, and am proud to say that I can now do the Tae Bo II: Get Ripped DVDs (generally considered to be the most difficult in the Tae Bo series) without missing a beat. Along the way, I lost 30 pounds and gained a ton of confidence. Tae Bo is a fun and effective workout – if you’re in search of a new program, look no further!

However, if you’ve never done Tae Bo before, I definitely do not recommend the Ultimate Upper/Lower Body for beginners. This DVD features two 55-minute workouts, each of which is made up of clips from previous workouts. As the title implies, one workout focuses on upper body work (i.e., arms), the other, on the lower body (mostly legs, with some ab work thrown in for good measure). Both of the compilations tend to jump from move to move very quickly, with little explanation or chance for recovery. As usual, some of Billy’s instructions can be confusing or erratic, and the format in these “best of” DVDs exaggerates these flaws rather than eliminating them. This is disappointing; you’d think that the editors would have chosen the best representations of each exercise, but they don’t always. These problems also plague the other “Ultimate” DVD, “Ultimate Abs/Butt.”

Nonetheless, I love this DVD! I’m less than thrilled with some of Billy’s newer workouts – ever since he switched from Ventura Distribution to Good Times Entertainment, it seems like his DVDs have gotten more stylish but less challenging (e.g., the Capture the Power series). Thus, I find myself hoarding as many of the old workouts as possible. Luckily, Ultimate Upper Body/Lower Body makes a fantastic addition to my library!

The Lower Body workout, in particular, offers a steady yet challenging cardio workout, with lots of roundhouse kicks, sidekicks, knee raises, and squats. You’ll definitely feel this one the next day! I’m not as impressed with the Upper Body workout, though; many of the punches are performed while you’re balancing on one leg and thrusting the other foot to and fro. Consequently, I find myself worrying more about keeping my balance than executing strong and controlled punches during these exercises. Even so, the Upper Body workout really does work your arms!

An added perk of having split Upper/Lower Body (and Ab/Butt) workouts is that, if one part of your body is feeling especially fatigued, you can still put in a good workout without falling over from exhaustion. As my arms become more muscular, and I put more effort into my punches, I find that my arms wear out more quickly than my legs. On days when I can barely manage a decent punch, I just pop in the Ultimate Lower Body workout, since there’s very little arm work involved. I know Billy and the crew were probably just in search of a way to better maximize their profits when they pieced these compilations together, but the Best Of/Ultimate series definitely makes for an effective workout program, particularly in the long term.

In regards to the workouts themselves, I think the Lower Body deserves 5 stars, the Upper Body, 3. Production quality and editing is less than stellar, though, so I’ll have to knock 1 star off of the final average, bringing the rating to 3 stars total. The Lower Body workout alone is worth the price, though, especially if you’re starting to become bored with the Tae Bo DVDs you already own and find the newer ones a tad too easy.

(This review was originally published on Amazon. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

Book Review: Sport Stretch, 2nd Edition: 311 Stretches for 41 Sports, Michael J. Alter (1997)

Friday, July 29th, 2005

Jam Packed with Stretches for Every Muscle Group

four out of five stars

I’m a former couch potato who started doing Tae Bo and cardio kickboxing almost two years ago. I recently added yoga to my routine for flexibility, and pilates for strength and control, but found that I needed more. In particular, I wanted greater flexibility in my adductor muscles so that I could kick higher and with increased control. I found that I was also having some knee problems. So I checked out every book that my local library had on stretching and flexibility; out of the dozen or so books I looked at, I liked three of them, including “Sport Stretch,” well enough that I purchased my own copies.

“Sport Stretch” begins with a discussion of flexibility, then launches into descriptions of 311 different stretches. Most of these consist of a single illustration with a few bulleted instructions. The stretches themselves are arranged into chapters based on muscle groups, including feet and ankles, lower legs, hamstrings, adductors, quadriceps, hips and gluteals, lower torso, upper back, neck, pectorals, shoulders, and arms and wrists.

Additionally, the author includes an index at the beginning of the book that singles out stretches that are helpful for specific sports. One- to three-page sections are dedicated to each of the following: archery; baseball, softball, and cricket; basketball; bowling; cross-country skiing; cycling and triathlon; dance; diving; figure skating; football; golf; gymnastics; hiking and backpacking; ice hockey; in-line skating; jogging; lacrosse; martial arts; race walking; rowing, kayacking, and canoeing; sailing and windsurfing; skiing; soccer; squash; swimming; table tennis; tennis, racquetball, and handball; track and field; volleyball; water skiing; weight lifting; and wrestling.

As a BEGINNER, I found most of the stretches helpful. There were some standard moves that I was already familiar with from my high school gym classes, as well as some more challenging exercises I learned in yoga. However, a number of the stretches were completely new to me. I’m especially happy with the adductor section, as it’s exactly what I needed to help with my roundhouse kicks! Note the emphasis on “beginner,” though – because I’m such a novice, I really can’t say whether more advanced athletes will find “Sports Stretch” useful or not.

As much as I like the book, I do have a few complaints. Most of the stretches, with few exceptions, only have a single illustration. Given the minimalist instructions, many of the moves could have used at least one extra picture. Also, once I eased into certain stretches, I found it difficult to gracefully get OUT of them. It seems to me as though the author should have included “exit strategies” for some of a stretches, particularly the more advanced ones! Finally, a few stretches come with the following caveat: “This exercise may be too advanced or dangerous for even some elite athletes.” Now, I would think that “elite” or even “professional” athletes have trainers, and wouldn’t need to rely on a book for stretching advice – so I really don’t see why the author included these seemingly dangerous stretches. Unless he’s asking for a lawsuit! ;)

Otherwise, a great buy, at least for beginner-to-moderate athletes.

(This review was originally published on Amazon and Library Thing, and is also available on Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

DVD Review: Yoga Zone: Yoga for a Strong and Healthy Back, Andrea Ambandos (2001)

Thursday, June 2nd, 2005

The Best “Yoga-for-Back-Care” DVD I’ve Found!

five out of five stars

Yoga Zone’s “Yoga for a Strong & Healthy Back” is a must-have for anyone suffering from back pain (especially those yoga enthusiasts with sore backs!).

The DVD features two 20-minute workouts, each with a different set of instructors, in which you work through a number of useful stretches, twists, and poses to help make your back stronger and more flexible. The poses are relatively simple, so more advanced yoga practitioners might not find the workouts challenging enough – but they’re perfect for beginners and intermediates. I’d even recommend this to someone who’s never done yoga before – the instructors explain and demonstrate everything very succinctly, and transitions between poses are slow enough that you should be able to keep up, even if you’re unfamiliar with the exercises.

As an added perk, each 20-minute workout is further divided into four separate segments, so you can easily select which exercises you’d like to perform, and even craft your own customized workout.

(This review was originally published on Amazon. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

VHS Review: Jane Fonda’s Yoga Exercise Workout (1993)

Thursday, June 2nd, 2005

An awesome intro to yoga – if only there was a DVD!

five out of five stars

Jane Fonda’s Yoga Exercise Workout” is one of the first exercise videos I bought, and it’s still one of my favorites!

Jane starts out with a 20-minute stretching/toning routine that consists of a number of different poses. Next, she focuses on the Sun Salutation and leads you through a 15-minute segment based on the one sequence. She starts with the easiest variation of the routine, and gradually increases the intensity. Experienced yoga practitioners can repeat Level 3 (the most difficult level) three times, while beginners can stick to Level 1 (the easiest level). Throughout the segment, she repeats her demonstration of the lower levels for newbies. Jane finishes with a 15-minute relaxation routine. While some people might enjoy this section the most, I generally skip it.

Since beginning yoga, I’ve bought a number of other yoga instructionals, all on DVD; “Jane Fonda’s Yoga Exercise Workout” is the only VHS tape I own. As much as I like the workout, as well as Jane’s easygoing teaching style, I don’t use the tape as much as I should. I just don’t find the VHS tape as convenient as the DVDs, which usually have short segments that you can easily navigate through (many even let you customize your own workout). It would be great if they released “Jane Fonda’s Yoga Exercise Workout” on a DVD format (hint, hint, guys!). Other than this minor complaint, though, I’d definitely recommend “Jane Fonda’s Yoga Exercise Workout” to beginners and intermediates alike (advanced users might want to stick to some of Rodney Yee’s more difficult workouts).

(This review was originally published on Amazon. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

DVD Review: The Method: Precision Yoga, Jennifer Kries (2002)

Tuesday, May 31st, 2005

Great Stretching/Strengthening Routine

four out of five stars

I’ve been working out for almost two years; mainly I stick to Tae Bo, but I enjoy yoga as well. I find that it’s especially helpful for flexibility, and I often find myself incorporating different yoga exercises into my warm-up/stretching routine, prior to doing Tae Bo.

The Method Precision Yoga,” featuring Jennifer Kries, is a great introduction to yoga for newbies. Jennifer explains and demonstrates the poses very well, and she illustrates different levels of the same pose so that novices don’t get frustrated and the more advanced students don’t become bored. The workout is divided into three segments, each roughly 20 minutes in length: Strength & Vitality, Flexibility & Balance, and Serenity. I love each of the first two, especially Flexibility & Balance, but hardly ever do the Serenity portion. Jennifer walks you through such poses as Warrior I and II, the Sun Salutation, Downward Facing Dog, The Cat, Child’s Pose, etc. – mostly your standard yoga fare.

I own a number of yoga DVDs, and “The Method Precision Yoga” is invigorating without becoming impossible, like some of the ones that I’ve bought and hardly ever used. More advanced yogis might want to stick with another series, perhaps the longer Rodney Yee ones (sometimes I swear Rodney gets a little help courtesy of Adobe Premiere – no one should be able to do some of those moves!). However, “The Method Precision Yoga” is great for newbies and moderate-level students, and very useful if you just want a great stretching routine (some of the twists are awesome). I’m knocking one star off for its short running time, though – I’ve seen a number of more interactive DVDs with twice the number of segments.

(This review was originally published on Amazon. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

VHS Review: Billy Blanks’ Tae Bo: Instructional, Basic, Advanced, and 8-Minute Workouts, Billy Blanks (1999)

Tuesday, May 10th, 2005

Must-have introductory package for Tae Bo beginners!

four out of five stars

I’ve been doing Tae Bo for about 15 months, and have dropped 30 pounds (and counting!). I started at a very unhealthy 140 pounds (just for reference, I’m 5’4″), and I’m now down to a lean, mean, fighting-machine 110. I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been, and I owe it all to Tae Bo!

Before starting Tae Bo, I had tried several other workouts, to no avail. At one point I was working out with Jane Fonda an hour a day, every day, and was actually gaining weight! I bought the Tae Bo original 4-pack on a whim, but it sat on my shelf for years before I finally gave it a go – I had watched my sister do it, and it just looked too hard. Eventually I had trouble squeezing into my fat jeans and, frustrated, I made the commitment to lose some weight and stick with Tae Bo for at least a year.

I began by watching the Instructional video for a week and practicing the moves. Admittedly, this was rather tedious – the pace is very slow and you end up standing around most of the time. However, correct form is essential, both to prevent injury and properly work the targeted muscle groups. Before beginning even a Basic workout, you should definitely run through the Instructional video a few times. You won’t regret it!

Once I had the moves down, I went on to the 30-minute Basic workout, and stuck with it for six months. I was so horrendously out of shape that I had to stop for breathers, even though Billy gives you plenty of rest in between exercises. It took quite some time before I was comfortable with the moves, but I did get there. If you’re new to Tae Bo (or to exercising in general), you’ll probably find even the Basic workout to be challenging. Don’t give up, though – it might take some time, but you WILL see improvement. I was very frustrated at first, as I didn’t start shedding the pounds right away, and my lack of balance was a significant obstacle. Around the fourth month, though, I noticed some definite improvement, and was confident enough after month six to move on to the Advanced workout.

Initially, I found the Advanced workout to be difficult, but after a few months I had mastered it as well. By this time I had lost about 20 pounds and gained a ton of confidence. I finally retired the original Tae Bo workouts six months ago and moved on to the Get Ripped and Ultimate Abs/Butt series. After seeing how demanding the newer workouts are, I’m extremely glad I started with the original 4-pack – had I overestimated my abilities, I seriously doubt that I would still be doing Tae Bo. I probably would have given up within the first week instead!

The Advanced workout, which runs 55 minutes, is paced more quickly than the Basic workout, though it’s much slower than, say, the Get Ripped Advanced workout or the Ultimate Abs/Butt DVD. In addition to the kicking/punching combos that you learn in the Basic workout, you also do some floor work for your abdominals and gluteals. Billy really introduces a wide variety of exercises during this session, many of which you’ll see again if you try out other videos. This is a great intermediate workout – it really bridges the gap between the Basic workout and the more intense Advanced workouts that he produced later on.

For anyone who’s new to Tae Bo, I’d definitely recommend that you pick up this 4-pack before buying anything else. Each workout builds on the previous one and, when viewed in succession, they offer a great introduction to Tae Bo. If you try to just jump right in with an Advanced workout, you’ll not only get discouraged, but you might even hurt yourself. For those of you who are shopping around for a new fitness program, look no further – Tae Bo is fun and effective. Plus, with so many different DVDs available, you’ll never get bored or plateau. Should you find your mind wandering or your weight loss stalling, just try another workout.

A word of caution – Tae Bo certainly isn’t without its flaws. The production quality isn’t the best (this is especially true with the earlier videos). Billy also tends to switch quickly from one move to the next, and to do uneven repetitions on each side (a problem he has yet to resolve). Nonetheless, this is the best workout series I’ve tried. It’s transformed me from a couch potato to a fitness freak!

(This review was originally published on Amazon. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

DVD Review: Tae Bo Cardio, Billy Blanks (2003)

Tuesday, May 10th, 2005

Tae Bo buffs, beware – suitable for beginners only!

three out of five stars

I’ve been doing Tae Bo for 15 months now – I started with the original 4-pack, and after about nine months graduated to the Tae Bo II: Get Ripped Advanced and Tae Bo Ultimate Abs/Butt DVDs. I borrowed “Tae Bo Cardio” from my local library, and all I can say is that I’m extremely relieved that I didn’t shell out any money for it!

This is definitely not for experienced Tae Bo buffs. Despite its name (maybe it’s just me, but “Cardio” implies a fast-paced, intensive workout, no?), this DVD is definitely for beginners. The pace is very slow and I never did work up a sweat. In fact, I think some of the Basic workouts might be more difficult than this! Also, I’m not generally a huge fan of Billy’s musical selections, but it usually seems to fit with the workout – it helps me keep count and maintain motivation, even though it’s not something I’d listen to outside of Tae Bo. Yet, the music in “Tae Bo Cardio” was simply grating, annoying, and overwhelming – not at all inspirational. Perhaps that’s because, being accustomed to more difficult workouts, I didn’t really need much inspiration to get through this one.

Nonetheless, Tae Bo novices might like “Tae Bo Cardio.” It’s much easier to keep up with than are most other TB workouts, and runs at a steady pace. Even though I wasn’t too happy with it, I’m giving it three stars because it seems like a suitable DVD for newbies. They lose one star for the deceptive title, though. I can only imagine how peeved I’d be right now had I actually paid for this DVD! I’m currently shopping around for some new TB DVDs, but am hesitant to buy anything else with “Cardio” in the title (e.g., “Tae Bo Cardio Circuit” or “Tae Bo Fat Blasting Cardio”). If Billy calls this “cardio,” I’m better off sticking with Advanced workouts!

(This review was originally published on Amazon. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)