Friday, May 25, 2012

Jillian is not here to make friends.

VIDEO: "Jillian Michaels: 30 Day Shred," (Lionsgate, 2008)
STYLE: Circuit training
INTENSITY: 3 workouts, 3 levels: mild, moderate and difficult
STRUCTURE: Each workout has a warm-up; three 7-minute circuits that alternate toning exercises with 2-minute bursts of cardio; and cool-down.
GIST: Good for folks who need a regimen to hitch their wagon to, but pretty weak as a stand-alone workout. Jillian is great technically, but she's no-nonsense almost to a fault. She doesn't sync the moves with the music at all, which is annoying.

Jillian Michaels has built an empire as the current face of at-home fitness. Richard Simmons may have put obese people in his videos, but Jillian, with her guru status on "The Biggest Loser" and no-nonsense gym teacher swagger, is Richard Simmons for the obesity age. They both have high media saturation and a distinct motivational style, but whereas Simmons was warm and cuddly, Jillian is...not. She believes in you and wants you to be healthy, but she does not want to hear about your bullshit and she certainly doesn't want to hug you. (I haven't watched "The Biggest Loser," so maybe she hugs people on that show but I'm pretty sure she doesn't enjoy it. Lady does not seem like a hugger.)

Simmons was all about just getting people moving. Like, "Sugar pie, so you're 400 lbs -- I was too! Let's just put on some old gold and get goin'. You can wear what you already have on." Well, it's been 20 years since Simmons' heyday and the obesity rate has only grown. A lot. In 1990, no state had an obesity rate over 20%. The most recent info from the CDC puts the current national rate at 35.7%.

Jillian's whole style -- straightforward, no-frills and challenging -- is all about saying, THIS IS SERIOUS. GET OFF YOUR DUFF AND WORK. OUT. Yet she's nice! She's approachable...just as long as you're not approaching her with an excuse. Jillian combines tough love with a game plan, which is what so many folks desperately need when starting a fitness regimen.

The idea behind the "30 Day Shred" is pretty enticing. The bait: Three levels of workouts that grow in intensity and are all less than 30 minutes. The hook: Jillian is going to work your ass off those 25 minutes, and you're going to let her do it every day for 30 days. Commit to the workout for 30 days, graduate through all three levels, and you'll see results. That kind of clear-cut plan, combined with her "not here to play games" attitude, has made "30 Day Shred" a top-selling video and spawned popular, more hardcore imitations (looking at you, P90X and Insanity).

The style is boring old circuit training, but Jillian pulls no punches. She alternates 2-minute bursts of cardio (jumping jacks, running in place, speed-skating-style lunes) with thorough toning exercises that use hand weights and typically work the arms and legs at the same time to double the impact. She's great at explaining each movement and basic technique, if a teensy bit wordy, and she's got the motivational stuff down to a science. She anticipates when you're likely to start wanting to poop out, and she encourages you to push through it, because that's when you know you're working. So brava, Jillian.

The first level was pretty easy for me, except for some of the more challenging arm exercises. The second level had me going KEE-YAW OMG. The third level remains to be tested.

It ain't that Jillian scared me off or anything. It's that her workouts aren't fun enough to make me want to do them every day. If I needed something to hitch my wagon to, to jump-start the first month of my new life of health and fitness, I'd be more into it. Jillian's perfect for that. But since I got other stuff I'm into and I can afford to be picky, "30 Day Shred" just doesn't get me going beyond the thrill of the challenge.

And I'm sorry, I need more. I need some decent music, and I want the moves to go in time with the beat of that music. "30 Day Shred" has some appallingly bad muzak. Punitively bad. It sends a message of, "You're so out of shape, you need to focus entirely on reversing that. Make THAT your soundtrack, you rusted can of Cheez Whiz." To me, there's no excuse for failing to employ the scientifically-proven benefits of synchronizing movement with rhythm. There's a beat to the music; Jillian just doesn't use it. Why, Jillian? Are you afraid the rhythm is...going to get you?

In all, I'm certain that anyone who commits to the regimen will see results. If you do 25 minutes of any exercise every day, and you don't increase your calorie intake, you'll see results -- or feel them, at least, which is what really matters. I'll try level 3 sometime soon, and I'm sure Jillian will kick my ass. I'm sure we'll both enjoy it. But we will not be hugging afterward.

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