Friday, January 30, 2015

Break Free, Bipasha!

VIDEO: "Break Free 30 Minute Dance Workout," free in full on YouTube
STYLE: Dance aerobics
INTENSITY: Light to moderate
STRUCTURE: Warm-up (10 mins.), dance aerobics (10 mins.), 1-minute water break, "Bollywood routine" (6 mins.), cooldown (3 mins.)
GIST: Good for beginners; repetitive but pretty fun; passable EDM-inspired muzak; minimal dialogue; over-the-top PDA between Bollywood-star presenter and camera; worth a try -- it's free!

Gaze, my friends, into the eyes of a STAHHH. This is Bollywood celeb Bipasha Basu, and she is too beautiful for her own good. Not, like, in life -- being really really ridiculously good-looking is generally an advantage in the whole "become a super-famous actress" game -- but, specifically, in this video.

Oh, here I am, just a negative Nancy with no thigh gap, starting things off on a complain-y note instead of expressing gratitude for the existence of a full-length, professionally made, perfectly fine dance-aerobics video available free and easy on the internet.

Do you hear me, world? I give thanks for your blessings of free sass!

Yes, there is some sass here, but it is buried under the most perfectly shellacked, frighteningly well-comported visage I have ever seen slumming it up in a workout video. I mean, this lady is many things -- international model, movie star, perfect human specimen, a "real pro" -- but a fitness presenter she ain't (quite).

Why? Because she is a freaking goddess, that's why. Goddesses don't smile too big or sweat hard or say dorky things or care a lot, in the grand tradition of fitness presenters. This is what goddesses do:

"Look. At. This. Shit."
  • gaze deeply with imperturbable serenity
  • show off manicures while assuming goddess pose
  • have hair blown flatteringly by industrial fans summoning the zephyrs of Aura
  • read minds via gazing deeply with imperturbable serenity
  • engage in ocular coitus with camera lenses, never breaking their connection to the boundless horizon of their own beauty
  • suck in cheeks and purse lips at regular intervals to form lit fuse of sultry explosion

Bipasha belongs on movie screens and in Bulgari ads, and she doesn't recalibrate that persona for a gig like this. For some viewers, she doesn't need to -- it's like working out with one of those "Stars -- They're Just Like Us!" features, or with a cross between Beyonce and Galadriel, which, now that I'm typing it out, sounds pretty fucking awesome. 

Speaking in a style typically employed to trumpet big tech rollouts -- that steady, vaguely condescending tone of "NBD, but I'm about to blow your benighted little mind, so you might want to pay attention" -- she does a tidy little intro and tells the viewer, "Get ready to experience what it's like to Break Free."

So we get into it, the breaking free. And yeah! Sure! The music is pretty solid, a more-generic version of generic global EDM. In the warm-up, I enjoyed these single shoulder rolls:

and this Bollywood-style arm/shoulder serve n' pump:

I also like the text preview of what's coming next, so that if you want to use your own music, you still get cuing. Well done, producers!

Good isolation work in the hips . . . 

. . . and in the chest, especially with this fun lunging move.

Now we're in the main cardio/dance section, and there is a LOT of shoulder shimmying . . . 

. . . and body rolling . . . 

Look at that hair perfection. Bow down to it.

. . . and last but not least, pumping. So much pumping! Like pump up the volume push it real good pump it up p-u-m-p-i-n-g. 

Pumpin' it

Reading minds again, between pumps

Oh snap, DOUBLE-ARM CHEST PUMPS. Y'all ready for this?

Then there is a charming 1-minute water break where they count down the time, stress the importance of hydration (truth!), and make a big show of everyone (except Bipasha) dabbing sweat.

The video closes out with a short but fast-paced "Bollywood routine," which incorporates moves from the rest of the video with even more pumping and shimmying. It's crazy and fun. I also love that it starts with a dramatic ramping-up crescendo while Bipasha and her girls stand in place and do chest circles, as though they're witches stirring an atmospheric brew with their boobs and preparing to unleash untold wonders across the universe.

The cooldown is short and sweet, then the Beeps reminds us to "break free on a regular basis," which is sound advice.

On a side note, I wish sincerely that she would break free of her white short-shorts. They are tragic. They are wholly beneath her, and the prefab fringe on them makes me want to cry.

Bipasha, thank you for gracing us with your drop-dead gorgeous, possibly telepathic presence. You are a queen among peasants. Next time, though, I would love to see more of your inner sass. The kind that doesn't give a fuck about contouring or eyebrows that inspire poems or a Mona Lisa smile. Maybe it breaks the movie-star rules, but in the workout-video game, you have to descend occasionally from the firmament and shimmy across some terra firma. 

Or not! Your eyes have entranced me once again, so keep on doing "you," girl. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

4-3-2-1 Go

Viva Fit 'n Fun: Aerobic! This one's an oddity from across time and space, and it recently washed up on the shores of Amazon Instant Video. I haven't totally figured it out, but it's definitely of German origin and late '80s / early '90s vintage. The distributor is, a purveyor of -- you guessed it -- travel videos, and my best guess is that they acquired this content with some European production company's back catalog and, realizing that irony is a thing these days, decided to revive it on multiple platforms. Because who wouldn't be tempted to see what this is all about?

What it's all about is a half hour of some of the easiest, most throwbacky aerobics I have ever experienced while still enjoying myself. There is sass here, ladies and gentlemen. And it all rides on the attitude and abilities of two people:

Our presenter, whose healthy build, game attitude, and hair that seems between rolls in the sheets all amount to a formidable but welcoming presence . . . 

She is a down chick. 

. . . and this guy. 

I took this from his website.

Meet Alexander Bestereimer, the man responsible for tipping this video from dated-and-for-good-reason to dated-but-kinda-magical.

As Mr. Bestereimer himself quoths (himself) on his homepage: "For me, it's important that by means of my music, I am able to send out positive energy so that people get lucky moments."

That is just darling, and it's pretty much how I felt doing this video. 

The whole thing is instrumental only -- no verbal instruction -- which is refreshing, but unfortunately they swapped the budget line item for copy writer with "graphic designer on drugs." And so before each segment, which ranges from 2.5-4 minutes, we get these proto-GIFs that do very little to help us understand the next move. 

"Descend into hell."

This one's for a box step, I think.

These things go on forever, so prepare to jump in place or check your Instagram or start cooking dinner between segments.

So many arrows!

I like this, because it makes clapping during exercise seem exalted.

Each segment is ridiculously simple: two to three moves max, repeated, and maybe with a variation thrown in. Before each one, the music counts off, "4-3-2-1 go," in an android voice, and I appreciate the automaton approach. Rather than your American-style cheerleader stuff, this feels more like strapping yourself into a mediocre theme-park ride, one indifferent to your ruminations on your belly fat. 4-3-2-1 go. Just go.

We're going! There is a ton of marching in place in this video, and these ladies will shame you with their aptitude in this department. Knees up, hair bouncing, scrunched socks in the air -- [insert dated "militaristic Germans" joke here]. Just go with it.

 They love it!

So we get into some boxy box steps . . . 

. . . some crossing step touches . . . 

. . . pretty much the most basic aerobics moves you could ask for. For beginners, this is great, and for junkies like me, what elevates the proceedings is the music of Herr Bestereimer, which is corny but fabulous, much in the way of the tinselly synthpop of "Rhythmics." If you want a preview, the whole soundtrack is available here. But maybe don't listen to it out of context. Actually, definitely don't listen to it out of context, because it only makes sense when you're doing this:

At the end, you'll be decently sweaty, and the android will say, "Feel good now." You will obey.

There are a bunch of these Viva Fit 'n Fun videos, all free streaming with Amazon Prime, with titles such as "Body Walk" and "Jazz Gym." Try 'em out when you're having a weird day. 


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Hippity hee-haw hoppin'

Yeah, so this was going to end up on here sometime. About a dozen different friends posted this on my Facebook page when it made the rounds of short attention spans everywhere a couple months ago. How gladdening it is to know that when my friends see White People Embarrassing Themselves in a Dated Workout Video, they think of me. #blessed

I didn't slap this up here earlier because a) I gravitate against posting things that have already gone viral -- I'm a hipster/contrarian like that, as detailed in my intrapersonal exploration of Prancercize; and b) it's just too easy. 

The bowl cut . . . 

The bicycle shorts . . . 

The moves . . . 

Although, to be fair, she was probably just trying (and failing) to capture the smoking-hot intensity of Janet Jackson in the "If" video, and haven't we all been there? 

Don't be cavalier about Janet. You will get burned.

Devoting serious blog snark to Country Hip-Hop Dancing would be like screaming at a grocery store manager about Grāpples. It was a bad idea and nobody buys them anyway, so let's just have a quick laugh and politely pretend it never happened, k? Blah blah cultural appropriation blahdeeblah -- we don't even need to go there. It's written all over the video.

However, this guy. 

I think we can all agree that he's chill and would probably drive you to the airport if you asked him.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Jillian Michaels and the Art of Tough Love

VIDEO: Jillian Michaels 6 Week Six-Pack

STYLE: Abs-focused interval training

INTENSITY: Moderate to intense

STRUCTURE: Two 30-minute workouts with pairs of cardio and resistance intervals

GIST: Quality ab work, motivation, and pseudo-sexual harrassment in equal measure

For anyone trying to lose weight in America, the system is against you. This is a system that yields entire menus of fast food cheaper than your average head of broccoli, where yogurt and granola get tarted up like Act III–Grease Sandy, rebranded and pumped full of industrial-grade sweeteners, exchanging any real virtue for black spandex and a trip in a flying convertible. We're told we deserve microwavable cake and cinnamon buns the size of a small child's head for merely getting through the day. Food giants want us to want them, ad infinitum, and they'll literally walk out of the room when faced with the results of their efforts. 

Against the backdrop of this trans-fatty monolith stands Jillian Michaels. American-made in the obesity age, she is to exercise what Mark Bittman is to food: an approachable, back-to-basics authority who doesn't want to hear your bullshit. 

I wasn't crazy about Jillian the first go-round, but her mixture of no-nonsense efficacy and genuine encouragement won me over. In 6 Week Six-Pack, she offers two workouts built around abs-heavy cardio and strength intervals, and they're the most efficient use of 30 minutes you're likely to find in an fitness video. Jillian makes it clear from the beginning that when it comes to exercise, interval training is a Faustian deal: you can have your shorter time frame, but you'll have hell to pay.

So you've got burpees, planks, jackknives—and that's all in the first 10 minutes. I like the way she incorporates upper, middle and lower body into a move, such as this lateral lunge with a side crunch made harder by hand weights. 

Or these leg lift–crunches: 

Or this god-awful side plank that actually once made me cry:

There's a bit of the sadist about our Jillian, and you know? I'm into it. At times she makes her backup girls work extra hard, and she likes to watch them burn. She'll taunt them—"I love watching the Barbies suffer"—and coo at them while they do her bidding. 

It's all kind of twisted and pervy, which is at least interesting. So often, it's like fitness presenters are made to take an oath of blandness before inking their contracts. And Jillian's clearly having fun, performing a role here. She takes all the old fitness cliches—no pain, no gain; feel the burn—and adds a little dose of camp. She acts like she's getting off on their pain because she wants you to get off on your pain—to feel charged and empowered by making your suffering your bitch. 

So that's the psychosexual stuff going on. The basic instruction is solid: she explains things clearly and quickly, and she knows just the right moments to drop the theater and push you to keep going. There were definitely a couple times I was on the verge of calling it quits when she intervened, right on cue. 

Bookending all this "Master and Servant" Masterpiece Theater is the gentle Jillian, the one who strokes your gross sweaty hair and tells you it's gonna be ok, because you're one step closer to that 21st-century holistic grail: total wellness, total control of your life. 

This is what the people want, in addition to Doritos Locos tacos and mocha-caramel popcorn sundaes, which can make a person both crazy and corpulent. Jillian succeeds because she cuts through the crap and reminds you that 30 minutes of tending to your one and only body is painful, possible and absolutely necessary.