Monday, September 19, 2011

Welcome to Clubland + Criteria for Successful Sass

Friends, I want to tell you about a magical place called Clubland.

I've been racking my brain trying to encapsulate as thrilling and fantastical a place as Clubland, because it can't be contained in a single video or review. Its goodness shines across the sassosphere. It lights up my life. It is my special funtime workout sweet spot happy place, the single best thing to happen in my fitness career thus far. Okay?

Clubland is the (my) collective term for two UK workout video series, both put out by house music labels catering to the raving, clurrbing, foam partying young people of Europe. They are: Ministry of Sound (the biggest and oldest) and the namesake Clubland. The fitness videos -- only available for sale in the UK, which is a damn shame -- are a perfect synthesis of rigorous dance-based aerobics, fly-girl/boy choreography and strength training. They are Cher/Di and you are Tai. They want to dress you up and be your slightly superior but ultimately got-your-back friends. They hit all my marks for a successful workout video. Here's why:

1. They're long enough (70-90 minutes) and challenging enough to count as real, fuck-yeah sweat-fests, which is where so many "20-Minute Hot Bodz!" workouts come up short. According to American College of Sports Medicine/American Heart Association guidelines, 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 times a week is only enough to maintain one's weight. To lose weight the right way, you're looking at 50-90 minutes of mostly-cardio exercise 5 days a week, plus regular strength training. Ouch. But take heart! Read on...

2. They're fun and varied enough to keep me interested for months. The workouts are basically structured, aerobicized sassy-dancing in a fantasyland of bright lights and hot bodies wearing impossible outfits. For me, that's entertainment. And if I'm going to do or work toward an hour of cardio, I need to be entertained along the way. What can I say -- I'm kinda spoiled. But finding something you look forward to doing, even if the fat kid in you really really really doesn't wanna do it, is so crucial. More on this later.

3. There's a decent number of challenging, long, entertaining workout videos out there, but Clubland videos use real music, the impact of which can't be overstated. These are actual pop-remix, dance and house tracks culled from the Ministry of Sound/Clubland catalogues. They already own the rights, which saves them I don't know how much money but it must be a lot because why the hell else wouldn't other videos invest in better music? There's some fine prefab exercise muzak out there, but I've seen too many otherwise decent videos cut down by painfully generic soundtracks that fall on the ears as a fart does the nose.

If the music's lame, you feel lame doing the workout. Tragic but true. Now, I know a good many people who wouldn't consider Clublandy tunes to be "good" by any stretch of the hamstring, but to them I say don't knock it 'til you've sweated to it. (Actually, I only say that in my head, because I'm not exactly busting these songs out at parties. What happens in Clubland stays in Clubland.)

4. These workouts are the rare videos that offer upward mobility for advanced beginners and sustained results for intermediate and advanced folks. They're not for beginners, and I say that as someone who felt only a couple jumping jacks away from cardiac arrest on her first try. Basically, if you can't yet run or jog or even barely-jog-mostly-wince a mile without stopping, you're going to be overwhelmed and disheartened with these workouts. Work on building your cardio endurance a bit, and then you're good to go. That's what I did, and by the time I'd been visiting Clubland regularly for several months, I took up jogging again and found I was able to go 2+ miles without wanting to die on the sidewalk -- with a smile on my face, even! -- for the first time in my life.

5. Dance-based workout videos are particularly vulnerable to the classic error of too much instruction: spending gobs of time explaining every move at the expense of a swift, fluid pace. Clubland videos are smartly designed for heavy rotation. The instructor cues each subsequent move without stopping the flow of the workout, which makes the segments feel rushed the first couple tries -- and if you look at reviews online, there are always a few people wailing about this -- but it's better in the long run. Once you learn the moves and are comfortable with the routines, the pace is more or less what it should be, every time.

So that's Clubland in summary + my general requirements for a successful workout video. I'll review individual videos in depth in the coming weeks. I didn't even get to Gareth and Deanne, the queen and queen of Clubland. Or the obligatory pelvic thrusting. I barely mentioned the outfits. There's so much yet to impart.

To close this out, though, I'll get sincere for minute.

For anyone who's had a hard time getting or staying in shape, it's essential that one a) want to be healthy, not just hot, and b) find a physical activity that really, undoubtedly snaps one's beans. For me, dancing clears both those hurdles. I live in New Orleans, where second lines, late-night dance parties and Carnival street parades showed me the true transcendence of moving your body around to a beat. But channeling dance into my regular fitness life took some exploring, as I'm not a classically trained dancer. Most classes aimed at beginners were, I found, great for toning but lacking in the kind of prolonged aerobic activity I needed to get to that next level in endurance. 

Enter Clubland. Stylized, sexed-up and pumping to songs with lyrics that aren't ever gonna be mistaken for Ira Gershwin's, this place is kinda ridiculous. (Skip down to the Part 6 link below for proof positive.) It's a gas. But so's life, as the never-wrong T. Rex said, and besides that the workouts are legit. If it works for you, go with it. Whether it's Clubland or some other spot in the sassosphere, find it and get a vacation home there.

Wanna one of these videos on for size? This one, "Pump It Up! The Ultimate Dance Workout" from Ministry of Sound, gets mega intense, but it's got the least complicated choreography. I used to call it the Porn Star Workout because of the shamelessly slutty outfits. It's good fun. As I mentioned, you can't buy it in the U.S., but fortunately it exists on YouTube. Now go and explore!

Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8

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