Monday, March 23, 2015

Reaching Out for a Better Day with "Sit and Be Fit"

Hark! The online comments sing. Glory to the eternal flame of sass, the everlasting calves, the comfort and joy of the mobility impaired—the only woman about whom the internet has nothing and will never have anything bad to say.

Today we're spending time with Mary Ann Wilson, RN, of the long-running program "Sit and Be Fit." Like all titans of public television—Bob Ross, Julia Child, Kermit the Frog—this lady was niche-branding herself long before the first Angelfire fanfic site ever plastered ungainly type across an animated wallpaper. With kind twinkling eyes, rosy cheeks (blush game on fleek, always), and the legs of an MGM hoofer, Mary Ann Wilson embodies the indomitable spirit of the body electric. Be you wheelchair-bound, waylaid by injury, or merely very lazy, "Sit and Be Fit" is here to inspire your slowly calcifying form toward kinesis.

And decent kinesis it is! I've given Ms. Wilson her due before, here, but, like most of the able-bodied population, my only experience with "Sit and Be Fit" consisted of watching with a dopey grin for a few minutes while channel surfing, perhaps trying a few moves if feeling puckish, because WhaT a gAS! 

This time, I came to "Sit and Be Fit" hashtag-authentically, with two bum feet and three weeks in post-surgical boots, which are like little boats that buoy your standing weight up into your hips instead of through your feet. Or something. The first week, my walking pace was that of my grandma's at 91, and my condition generated lots of enjoyable sympathy and Vicodin and people fetching me things. Fresh off the painkikis, walking felt like moving around a slack bag of bones formed from petrified Olive Garden breadsticks. 

Now, I've got a nifty peg-leg swag walk and I go down stairs backwards because it's faster. I can take the boots off as long as I'm not standing, which puts me so patently in the show's target demographic that I'd be a lax ambassador of sass indeed if I didn't seize upon SABF's fresh relevance to my current life experiences.

If I wanted to be truly auth, I could catch the show on my local PBS station any weekday at 7 or 8:30 a.m. Ms. Lady has her shit together on the informational front: even the most tech-befuddled senior would be able to look up local showtimes on her website. Her press kit? A marvel of old-school PR–new media synergy, occupying 12 neatly laid-out, web-friendly pdf pages. Here are some fun facts about the program:

  • The show operates as a nonprofit and has been on the air for nearly 30 years, since 1987.
  • It tapes in Spokane, WA. 
  • Mississippi and Alabama do not air "Sit and Be Fit" at all. Of course.
  • Mary Ann's daughter, Gretchen, often joins her to demonstrate modifications. Kewt!
  • When she was a young RN, Mary Ann specialized in post-polio rehabilitation. 
  • Aerobics got her through her husband's death. MY HEART.

As I am incapable of rising early to catch the broadcast, I turned to the few episodes available in full on YouTube. My selection, "Engaging the Pelvic Floor," had my number: I love workin' on my taint!

Also known as pee-pee muscles, or what you're working when you do kegels, 
or, as illustrated by this NSFW pic, what makes your dick curve upward when erect

Mary Ann starts by introducing her helpers for the session, which is nice of her. 

Then we get into some knee lifts and leg extensions . . . 

. . . and finish the warm-up with a gentle foot massage, which was perfect for my tore-up frankenweenies. Somehow, Mary Ann knew it was time for me to start cajoling them back into fine action. 

We proceed to the pelvic floor in the best way possible, by feeling up our butts. "Locating the sits bones," she says, sure, but as we rock from cheek to cheek, riding along on the beautiful heiney sea, we are reminded of the miracle of human evolution, a multimillion-year process that yielded dumpling-shaped flesh cushions attached to our posteriors. What a wonderful world!

This booty action warms up the undercarriage and prepares us for the pelvic floor exercises, which Mary Ann explains in a top-drawer use of kinetic imagery: as you contract, visualize the sits bones getting closer together. That's what actually happens in there, on a very tiny scale, and it's something I hadn't really been able to understand, despite reading approximately 24 pages of a conditioning guide called Pelvic Power years ago. Mary Ann's explanation gave me a bit of a eureka moment, one made all the sweeter by occurring in communion with my bum.

After the ass play comes the first aerobic section, where we walk our feet out and in—a seated box step. After three weeks cut off from aerobics, I was there for it. I also wished my socks were as slouchy-cute as hers.

Let's take a moment to appreciate Ms. Wilson's face-giving skills: smiley but not plastic, sweet as a snickerdoodle and calmly perky. Her Clara Bow eyebrows, always expressing some gentle affection, are practically support staff. 

Then she does this cute knee raise, which is harder than it looks. Can she help it if it happens to make her shapely legs look even shapelier? No, she cannot.

During the finger-articulation exercises, I gave thanks for my non-arthritic hands, despite a long-running finger-popping compulsion. (Apparently, science says my mom is wrong—knuckle popping does not promote arthritis later in life—but I still don't 100% believe it.)

She also has you work your finger and hand muscles by pretending your rolled-up towel is a ball of dough that you are kneading, which is an analogy I can get excited about.

It continues like this, alternating between the lightest of aerobic movements—there's a salsa portion, of course—and targeted conditioning and flexibility exercises.

After some standing or seated stretches, Ms. Wilson makes time for a meditative moment, wherein we cross our elbows and sway our arms like we're hugging the whole world. It feels incredibly comforting.

Then, in the style of the great "Rhythmics," we're treated to some serene nature footage while Mary Ann takes us home: "While you're flying along, think about all the people in your life who bless your life, and send blessings to them. You're going to such beautiful places on this trip. Keep reaching out with us for a better day." 

I shall, Ms. Wilson. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

"Rhythmics" goes to Club Med


Alright, now that there's been some passably substantial posts around here, I can get back to what really matters: celebrating old Russian TV workouts! 

Yes, we are returning to "Rhythmics," light of my life and holy beacon of sass. 

Today, we're going to beach! 

The setting is a coastal Club Med-type spot, and we open in a discotheque with a DJ who is single-handedly keeping the international "Kung Fu Fighting" wave of the mid-'70s alive.

Watching him kick off the proceedings with great pomp up in his booth with his totally-ignored, probably-doing-all-the-work sidekick gets me every time.

Our presenter for this edition is saddled with an unfortunate hairdo and a scrolldown-fug romper, but what she lacks in sartorial grace she more than makes up for with attitude.

Watch her stop in the name of love with this hip-shaking warm-up move:

I hadn't done this one in a while -- I blame you, unflattering romper bottom -- but I pulled it up this morning, feeling very creaky from what turns out to have been a cold. By the time I got to this Marcia Brady move, though, I was all in:

After the disco warm-up it's time for some light jogging around the resort. The outfit situation improves immediately, and DJ Ninja gets to sing his big aerobic anthem. 

I love this part so. much. There are jump cuts to gnarly water sports, underwater chaise lounging, triumphant DJ fist pumping, and so much more.

They're playing chess (srsly).

Best possible non-emergency use of an exterior staircase

Even this total rando eating lunch gets a few seconds of screen time!

Then we settle in by the sea for some more dynamic stretching and beach-blanket ab work. It's good stuff! Just DON'T push yourself beyond your flexibility; these ladies are on another plane of mobility. If I'm shaky on a combination, I slow it down to a more reasonable pace.

 Yeah at this point I'm basically perving on these gals but I CAN'T STOP.

The floor exercises are very Malibu Barbie, like so . . . 

. . . but they're actually quality ab work! Plus, you get to revert to your nine-old-self pretending to be a mermaid splashing on a rock with waves crashing around you. 

Check out the girl on the sailboat, like la la laaaaa, kickin' it on this dude's boat...

 Once mermaid time is over, we get our lovely moments of zen, down by the seaside.

 Just some light synchro swimming

They really enjoy their back bends in this one. Prepare to feel very not-bendy.

And I'm out! "Rhythmics," you never disappoint.

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.