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.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Prime Time

I just discovered that as an Amazon Prime member, I can stream a huge, steaming pile of sass for free or just a couple bucks. I am happier than Denise Austin after a heady grapevine combo.

Despite using Prime ($80 a year) all the time, for everything from buying paprika and booty shorts to watching all four seasons of the BBC's superbly saccharine Lark Rise to Candleford, it hadn't occurred to me to check for workout videos until the polar vortex kept me inside long enough to fully exhaust my existing library. Denise Austin was my first fling in Primetown, which I'll review sometime before another three months goes by, and I am ready for more. Look at all these goodies:

It's a new day; it's a new dawn; IT'S A NEW LI-YEEF FOR ME. Prime Time has begun!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

"Rhythmics" Mood Board

So, "Rhythmics" continues to be the best thing ever in all the world of sass. I feel cosmically bonded to it.

I still work out to it from time to time, even though some of the moves rely on such a crazy level of flexibility that I overshoot it and wind up with a knotty back or a janky leg. I don't care.

But "Rhythmics" is about so much more than the choreography. It is an experience for all senses—

sets filled with giant flowers, ribbon drapes, and luminescent bubbles . . . 

interesting staging . . . 

(seriously, look at these artful arrangements of bods; somebody loved this job) . . . 

mood ring lighting . . . 

 and harmonica-kissed krautrock to butt exercises like this.

I return to this enchanted, golden temple when I need inspiration and understanding.

These fancy side plankers know what I'm talking about. 

Gathering these pixelated jewels is like making a mood board . . .

or collecting cool beetles.

It gives me a sense of order in the world . . . 

and renewed faith in mankind.

"Rhythmics" is my lucky star.

 The end.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Richard Simmons, November Salve

November is 30 days long, but it is a long slog. November is the month when everyone realizes, "Crap! Time is passing! The year is almost dead! WE ARE ALMOST DEAD! Come, let us do all the things there are to do before our branches are bare."

At least that's how it goes down in my head. November gets the festive-o-meter ratcheting up, but as much as the Christmas commercials come out earlier and earlier, no one starts easing back on deadlines or workloads due to holiday parties and travel plans until that last Wednesday-Thursday (and, if you're lucky, -Friday) in November. Until then, you betta work, bitch.

So yeah, I'm busy. Nobody cares, which is as it should be, but still. Deadlines on deadlines on deadlines. Actually, that video does a pretty good job of describing the situation, except instead of wearing trashy couture I've got my boring office shoes and battalion of blazers.

Soooooo, this is all a roundabout crazy-lady way of saying thank god for Richard Simmons being around to keep things weird. He's second to RuPaul in living out the mantra to not take life too seriously, and he visited New Orleans recently, popping up in all sorts of places.

On stage with the Pinettes Brass Band, with orange hair!

On Bourbon Street, with purple hair!

He makes November better.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Dance Aerobics: "The Craft" Edition

I was going to start off saying that Halloween is the least fitness-related of holidays, but compared with Thanksgiving, Christmas . . . pretty much all of them — they're all excuses to eat a lot, have parties and be distracted from the interminable drudgery of life ticking away.

Cutting-edge clip art because I am great at blogging.

Yeah! So the real news is that I've been teaching dance aerobics recently, living the dream, and back in September I put together a bitchin playlist for Halloween week. I mean, haven't you yearned to go to a group fitness class where the teacher kills the lights, has everyone smear fake blood on themselves and leads choreographed exercises to gothy synthpop? 

Dance Aerobics: The Craft Edition was not meant to be IRL, as my studio suspended our normal schedule for the week, but the playlist came in handy for my dance team's Halloween parade gig. (In New Orleans, grown-ups can be on dance teams.) The parade being for neighborhood folks and families and all, I cut out the weirder / more abrasive stuff — yes to "Weird Science," no to Skinny Puppy.


(Sorry. They are pretty scary.)

You might not think sass and Nine Inch Nails are capable of agreeably cohabiting your senses, but they go together like pumpkin spice lattes and overworked moms.  

Happy Halloween! Enjoy the tunes.

Warm-up w/ my favorite princes of darkness

Getting warmer and weirder . . .

Spooky squats and lunges

Cardio time. She's a glamazon! Be afraid.

Kinda corny, but I couldn't resist.

Angsty aerobics. Why isn't this already a thing?

Werking a sexual-tormentor vibe as the cardio builds to its apex . . .

And then, I dunno, running around like insane people.

(You might think you hate this song, but that's actually scientifically impossible.)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Hemalayaa's Pooch Palace

VIDEO: "Hemalayaa: Beautiful Belly" (Acacia 2008)
STYLE: Dance-based cardio/toning
INTENSITY: Light to moderate
STRUCTURE: 5-minute warm-up + three 12-minute dance/toning segments
GIST: Great for a light cardio day; quality abs work via dance, Pilates and stretching

Good ol' Hemalayaa. She knows what girls like. What girls like: a colorful, beautifully appointed, lit-from-the-heavens temple-palace designated specifically for self-love -- which ostensibly involves prancing, shimmying, crunching, planking, sweating and stretching but clearly could also include journaling, daydreaming, singing to yourself in the style of Tori Amos and masturbating (all one in the same, really). Hemalayaa offers viewers the fantasy of supreme body confidence, a strong core and non-tacky throw pillows in a room of one's own. And when you're working on your midsection -- that evergreen villain, the subject of so many winces in the mirror and whinges to girlfriends -- you may as well indulge in some make-believe. 

"Beautiful Belly" is one of my favorite Hemalayaa titles. Even at full run time, it's short (42 minutes); but while it's relaxing and light in the cardio department, it seriously targets the abs. Here's a little tour:

The warm-up is hilarious and fun. The music, aforementioned set and Hemalayaa herself ply orientalist clich├ęs of exoticism and sensuality, but I find them harmless because Hemalayaa's personality and conviction come through so strongly. The warm-up involves lots of wide arm circles (see image above), gentle lunges with overhead arm circles and fast high-stepping (below). It's effective, gets you in the mood to work out. 

Then we get into the main segments, titled Workout 1 (and 2 and 3). Don't fall for the pandering labels. These are not workouts on their own. If you want an actual workout, you need to do all three. Two minimum, if you're a fitness beginner. 

Each segment is designed to be a circuit, with a cardio portion and a toning portion. The cardio includes funky knee raises (above) and variations, and the toning in Workout 1 features this totally fabulous move (below), wherein you get into a wide plank and then pump your pelvis up and down. Hawt.

Now we're in the second segment, which has you do this hair-flipping, booty-popping thing:

And then you werk some Pilates stuff. This is what'll have you smarting the next day.

I love this series of core work and chest/shoulder openers. They're all done seated halfway on a pillow, giving your pelvic floor some extra support so that you can focus on straightening your spine and doing the movements efficiently. 

Here's this bhangra kick. If you work on keeping your torso stable, it's harder than it looks. 

Oh man. This plank series is tough but rewarding. 

When I was really into this video, several years ago, I went on a business trip and was put up in a tiny room. I was set on doing this video at the end of a long day of sitting in meetings, bored-eating and watching myself bloat. So strong was the pull of Hemalayaa, I used an unoccupied corner of the motel lobby, garnering some strange looks from the couple staff members and patrons who spotted me. But I didn't care! I was in Hemalayaa's palace, where a pooch is precious.