An Exercise In Artificial Excitement

July 23, 2008

Okay, Sarah has really waited for this one.

Finally, finally, I am back on a regular workout routine, which has stabilized my mood and taken a few pounds off and all kinds of good things. I have a pretty decent daily schedule set up, which I’ve been pretty good about sticking to, except when it’s disrupted by weird little things.

One of my staples is the new set of The Firm workouts, which no longer require that you have a big plastic step in your living room, which makes them much more apartment-friendly and also keeps me from having to throw things at the television when they keep making me step up to the high step.

This one includes “Hi-Def Sculpt” (with Annie!), “Cardio Overdrive” (with Alison!), “Hard-Core Fusion” (with Allie!), and “Cardio Party” (with all of them, plus Rebecca!). The one that Sarah and I have spent the most time talking about — even though she was flatly refusing to do it last time we talked — is “Cardio Party.”

IT IS NOT A PARTY, you morons. If I wanted to go to a party, I would know how to do that. It would not involve Allie Del Rio announcing that she is beginning the “fiesta,” and it certainly would not involve Rebecca at all, for any reason. I fully understand that everyone likes different instructors, and I’m not really mad at Rebecca, but…she drives me crazy, you guys.

For one thing, Rebecca has a hard time figuring out the timing to take you from one move to the next. She frequently says “do whatever” at a moment when it’s impossible to tell whether she means THIS time or NEXT time, and it isn’t consistent from one time to the next. Furthermore, there is this part where…man alive. There is this part where Rebecca keeps saying “step touch…both arms,” and she does it about a hundred times in a row, and she sounds precisely the same every single time: “Step touuuuch…both aaaaarms,” and it sounds like she’s a robot, seriously.

Annie has a different problem. Annie stops smiling, and then someone off-camera tells her to smile, and it’s way too obvious, because she goes, “DING!” all of a sudden. She’s working out perfectly normally, and then she suddely flashes this completely random toothy grin.

Among other things, these workouts make an interesting contrast with Jillian Michaels of The Biggest Loser fame, whom I have also grown to like even though I don’t watch that show. There’s something about the way she announces that taking the stairs is bad advice compared to doing jumping jacks that I just really like. “There is no modification for jumping jacks; I have 400-pound people who can do jumping jacks.” I like her, and I like the fact that she spends workout time making you want to die of sweat, instead of doing what some of the Firm videos fall into, which is making it too complicated so you spend half the time just trying not to step on your own feet. Alison’s “Cardio Overdrive” is like this; it keeps making you change feet needlessly, alternating sides by inserting one-beat pauses instead of just doing, like, eight on one foot and then eight on the other. Constantly changing the lead foot is actually sort of hard, and it distracts me.

There’s no getting distracted with Jillian. It’s like, “Hi, do this until you pass out.” I also really, really like her patter. It’s very encouraging, but it’s not demeaning or insulting. It sort of says, “The only way the body changes is by being placed under stress, so that’s why you’re doing this thing that feels really unpleasant.” It’s not like this is news, but the way she puts it really works on me. I have her “30-Day Shred,” and I can juuuust barely get through the first level (it’s not even a half-hour long, really) with a few little stops in the middle to catch my breath. It’s very, very challenging, but it’s also pleasantly mindless., because it only changes once every 30 seconds to a minute, and it changes between easy, obvious things.

I also took a tip from the Tomato Nation commenters and tried Inhale, the yoga show on Oxygen with Steve Ross. When Virginia Heffernan reviewed him at Slate, she made him sound kind of mean and negative, but I don’t find him that way at all. I think he’s almost always kidding, and I find the fact that he actually has a sense of humor to be refreshing. I mean, I can’t imagine a yoga class that wouldn’t be somewhat annoying at some level, because IT’S YOGA, and Steve can certainly get pretty goofy going on about your center and accessing magic by touching your belly button and so forth. But for the most part, I find him amusing.

But when Heffernan talks about the balancing poses that she finds are “difficult,” she’s singing my song. I can’t do that stuff at all, and I doubt I could with a year of practice. It’s hard to explain if you’ve never done it, but if you come equipped with some soft squishy spots on your body that Steve doesn’t have, some of his poses simply aren’t going to work for you, and the balancing stuff is among the hardest, I think.

Still, I do find it kind of interesting and invigorating, and I’m happy to have something else to fit into the routine. Right now, I’m not feeling an overwhelming need to join a gym, which is nice. I figure that if I can be as artificially happy as Annie and as mellow as Steve, but also as plain-spoken as Jillian, I will do fine.


17 Responses to “An Exercise In Artificial Excitement”

  1. SP Says:

    So how much space does Jillian expect you to have? I kind of gave up on videos when I moved into a place where the TV lives in a small bedroom — I would be constantly smacking into the walls and falling over, if I tried to do a traditional exercise video. But I got Jillian’s Making the Cut book, and the exercises I can do at home (…maybe 60 percent) fit into the room pretty well. Problem with the book (for me) is that it assumes you’re doing it at the gym, and I -hate- the gym.

  2. ames Says:

    As you know, I absolutely ADORE Jillian. What I love is that she acknowledges she’s pushing you past your perceived limit, which in turn will empower you and encourage you to do more, which in turn will increase your limits and self-esteem….it’s just awesome. Jillian rules!

    SP, I have the Jillian DVDs (sorry, I forgot what they’re called, but it’s the 6-pack from Amazon), and you don’t need much space. Basically enough for you to lie out for stomach crunches. Some of those, however, do use a step. But you can get by without one I think.

  3. Melanie Says:

    I’ll have to check out the Jillian videos – I kind of hate her on Biggest Loser, though. Does she sneer a lot in the videos? My new favorite is the Jackie Warner (she of Bravo Work Out fame) DVD.

  4. Linda Says:

    SP — the 30-Day Shred doesn’t require much space at all; I’d agree with Ames that the space to lie down and do a crunch is about it. Most of the exercises are stationary, in the sense of not moving across the floor. And that one doesn’t use a step, at least in Level 1 (the only one I’ve done).

    I don’t think I’d say she sneers a lot in the videos. She’s actually really positive. From my perspective, what she’s putting you through is not immediately fun, so I kind of prefer the “I know this isn’t fun; if you want to achieve [whatever], you need to do it anyway” approach to the overly smiley business.

  5. KiwiFee Says:

    I have a couple of workout videos which I know work. My problem is actually using them. Does anyone with small children have tips about how to fit them into a day without having to rise before the children (which in my case would be about 5.30am and I don’t do 5.30am – I try to pretend that’s not even a time)? I’ve tried during the day but end up trying to do situps with a three-year-old sitting on my stomach thinking it’s a great game! Help anyone?

  6. SP Says:

    Thanks! I will probably pick the video up, then, for the rainy season. I love walking for exercise in Portland’s lovely summer, but along about November, Jillian’s workout will actually be preferable to trudging through the rain and the cold and the dark. And I don’t have a step but will probably be mired at Level 1 for a while anyway, if the Making the Cut book is any guide!

  7. Bunting Says:

    “Annie has a different problem. Annie stops smiling, and then someone off-camera tells her to smile, and itโ€™s way too obvious, because she goes, โ€œDING!โ€ all of a sudden.”

    That’s EXACTLY what she does. That is actually my favorite of the DVDs because it has the least pointless “isn’t this FUN” chatter, but Annie screws up the directions a lot, too, and you have to do it a few times before you learn to anticipate the glitches.

    I threw out the Cardio Party one because I did it once and despised it. And because: Rebecca. I had hated her before I even tried CP because there’s something about her flirtatious little smile and non-sweaty “this is so cinchy” attitude that I hated on sight.

    But I just did Cardio Overdrive today, and my Lord with the complicated routines. I’m not a huge Alison fan, either; she doesn’t explain the set-ups very well. Allie is kind of too perky, but she gives you plenty of notice before she changes the steps.

    Complaining aside: The Firm works. I’ve been using it since you had to order it from Time-Life on videotape, and starting it is total hell — the first few days after, you really feel like you got hit by a truck — but that’s how you know it’s doing its job.

    The instructors used to be a lot more sympathetic, though. Janet Jones-Gretzky in particular was really awesome; she was super-sweaty and she obviously hated the hip-adductor stuff just as much as I did.

  8. Bunting Says:

    Also: has anyone else tried the “Work Out” stuff on On Demand, with Jackie from the Bravo show? I did the upper-body one (which was weird because Rebecca from TAR is doing these crazy lat flies and doesn’t even have her hair up, like, are you working out or going to a club?) and could barely reach into my kitchen cabinets for two days.

  9. Kesal Says:

    Hi, Linda. I’ve followed your writing from TWOP to Things What Things to here. As a workout video addict, I’m enjoying your commentary on the Firm and Shred as much as I enjoyed your Survivor recaps :).

    I love Shred, too. Levels 2 and 3 don’t require any more equipment or space than Level 1. I’d say that 2 is actually the hardest level of the three.

    If you’re interested in expanding your video collection, I’ve found a couple of invaluable websites:, and (a members only site, but membership is free). There’s a lot out there besides the Firm (which lost me as a fan with their last few batches of workouts). ๐Ÿ˜€

  10. Val Says:

    I have one word of advice for anyone trying Jillian’s Shred routine for the first time:

    If you have a bad/tricky/weak back, seriously do the routine without weights for a while. You need to get used to the movements before even attempting some of them, particulary the forward arm raise with weights while lunging to the side move.

    I have had a spinal injury and that move ended up hurting me a LOT, like I couldn’t do the routine for a while in order to heal. And the worst part is you never notice you’ve re-injured your back until a couple days into it. So every day doing the bad move? Not good.

    Once you’ve gotten used to the moves and you really work on clenching your stomach for support rather than relying on your spine, it’s all good. Well, the routine still kicks your butt but in a good way. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Sharon Says:

    I tried Jillian’s “Shred” video and loved it, but it didn’t love me – well, my right knee, to be more precise. I used it for about a week, and started to have knee issues. So, I stopped using it for a week or so, and gave it another try – and again, had a knee issue. The thing that is mystifying – I run/walk for over an hour on a treadmill 5 times a week and have no problems – I have no idea what it is that Jillian does on the video that is creating the problem for me, but for anyone who does have weak knees, this might not be the video for you.

  12. Katie Says:

    I actually taught aerobics for about a year, and my major problem with most of the aerobics videos on the market (especially Denise “Crazy Eyes” Austin) is what you all have mentioned. Too damn complicated. When I taught step, I tried not to waste everybody’s time doing these complicated whirls and spins and just concentrated on repetitions so people wouldn’t trip over the steps, etc. but still work up a sweat.

    The problem with Denise, and others, is that AS SOON AS you get the hang of a step, she whirls you onto another one, and, especially when you might ENJOY doing a certain move, it’s very irritating.

    So I am glad to hear about this Jillian.

  13. This post hits close to home for me, as today is my two-year diet-versary (actually, in my experience no diet works; if you’re not committed to making a change for the rest of your life, you might as well not do it now…but lifestyle-change-versary doesn’t have the same ring).

    The routine is very, very powerful, as are achievable goals. When we started (it was a big help to have my husband need to change, too) we took 2-3 days a week off from exercise; now it feels weird to take off more than one or two a month.

    I can’t speak to any workout videos; at first we had a gym in our apartment, then we moved and I joined the one at work, then I left that job and bought an elliptical machine for the house (best thousand bucks I ever spent, and it hasn’t even been six months). I would work out anyway, but being able to watch TV is a big help in lengthening the exercise from 30-40 minutes to 50, which helps over time. Actually, I take that back about workout videos–I often do my workout while watching The Biggest Loser, which is motivational (if THEY can do it I sure as hell can) and has the added Jillian benefit.

    This doesn’t work for everyone, but I’ve found it helpful to keep a weight spreadsheet, updated every single day. I know you’re only “supposed” to weigh once a week, but given the day-to-day fluctuations, I find weighing every day (and therefore “discounting” a single day’s figures) gives a better indication of trend. Plus it allows me to have cool information like a) today’s being my diet-versary and b) I weigh 38.6 pounds less than two years ago (granted 37 of those were the first year, but I’m still proud of keeping it off).

    FWIW, it’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done but also what I’m most proud of (eh, make that second to a successful marriage in both cases). Best of luck to everyone else.

  14. F. McGee Says:

    Hi! This isn’t about videos, exactly, but it is a recommendation – have you guys been to It’s one of my favorite health and fitness websites – and I am completely unaffiliated with it, I promise, so this isn’t shilling. I thought to recommend it here because the writer there reviewed an exercise DVD yesterday. It’s a hugely informative site, and I’ve learned a lot. It’s updated all day, too, which is nice.

    Have a nice weekend!

  15. BDanger Says:

    Oh man…I always thought I was pretty fit. I run 3 to 5 miles most days and ran high school and college track. But Jillian’s 30 Day Shred? Is crazy.

    I did level 2 yesterday and now I can’t sit down. Seriously. This just may be my new workout.

  16. JennyM Says:

    I’m going to give Jillian a try. I used to go to The Firm when I lived where it was, and the crazy-complicated step routines used to kick my ass in a good way, but it’s a lot harder to (a) pick them up when you’re not in a room full of people all screwing up together and (b) stick with them when you’re not in a room full of people you’re afraid will think you’re a wuss if you crap out. I will attest that The Firm’s process does work if you can stick with it, but I have just never been able to get into their videos once I moved away from Columbia and now I seem to have lost them in our last move. I’m taking that as a sign. But, yay, Jillian!

  17. Bunting Says:

    I did Jillian’s power sculpt (or whatever it’s called) over the weekend. It didn’t seem super-tough at the time — there was some burn, but it wasn’t like some Firm workouts where, by minute 40, I am praying out loud for death to come for me — but I felt it for a couple of days.

    I’m going to do it again, though, because I felt like I got a good workout but it wasn’t too aerobic-intensive (my ankles just can’t take an hour of bobbing around, even low-impact). The only downside is that you have to do a warm-up first, separately, because at least in the On-Demand verzh, she doesn’t do it.

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