It's almost the start of a new year, a time when people are over the holidays and ready to start getting in shape. For some this means buying a gym membership and for others it means stocking up on home workout equipment. Back in the day I was a total gym rat. I found as my life got busier it was more effective for me to work out at home.
I don't know about you, but I feel like exercise DVDs are fairly hit and miss. Some of them I absolutely love, and others just don't quite cut it. Either I don't get enough of a workout or it's awkward or otherwise not what I'm expecting. I started borrowing DVDs from the library before purchasing, but their selection is fairly limited.
I've decided to review some of my favorite videos with you - telling you the pros and cons of each. Most of them are Jillian Michaels because, frankly, who's going to kick your booty like America's Toughest Trainer? Now, I'll be real with you, her workouts aren't nearly as challenging as something you're going to get in a Cross Fit or Boot Camp class. But if you're looking for some rigorous butt-kicking at home in a short amount of time and you're capable of pushing yourself, these are some great options.
I've also included reviews of some of the other workout things I do at home. Some require special equipment and others do not.
Jillian Michaels - Yoga Meltdown
This was the first Jillian Michaels DVD I purchased. I was totally in to yoga at the time and it seemed interesting.
The program: She breaks this down in to Level 1 and Level 2. Frankly, there's not much difference in the intensity of the two workouts, so I prefer to look at it as Workout 1 and Workout 2. The running time is roughly 35 minutes including warm up and cool down. There is no special equipment required.
What I love: It's yoga! Jillian adds dynamic movements to classic yoga poses like Warrior 2 and Crescent pose. Following each set of "reps," you'll hold the pose, so your muscles start screaming just a little.
What's lacking: Because you're just using your body weight as resistance, it's not the most intense workout. There isn't much cardio, so you aren't going to burn a ton of calories. There isn't much focus on ab work, either. While she does a fair job explaining the positions, having some familiarity with yoga is almost required to avoid injury.
My overall impression: this is a good workout for days when you're just not "feeling it," but want to do something. I often use this in between some of the more intense workouts.
Jillian Michaels - Yoga Inferno
After trying Yoga Meltdown, I knew this was one I had to get. I loved the concept she had going, and Inferno sounded more intense than Meltdown - this DVD didn't disappoint.
The program: There are two workouts, approximately 35 minutes each including warm up and cool down. Workout 1 requires no special equipment, and Workout 2 requires a set of light hand weights. She recommends 3lb weights unless you're "out of your mind insane," in which case you could use a set of 5lb weights.
What I love: These workouts do a really good job of incorporating strength and cardio. Both workouts provide a really intense session, particularly if you follow the "make it harder" modifications. It's less yoga-like and more Jillian-circuit-like, but it still has a fun yoga component to it. The warm-up section in these workouts is better than some of her other videos.
What's lacking: In Workout 2, the use of hand weights feels unbalanced. For some of the exercises they really add a nice component, but in others (such as the bicep curl), it's simply not enough weight and it seems pointless. I tried swapping them out for heavier weights, but then they become too heavy. The cool-down segment of the workouts, particularly Workout 2, leaves a lot to be desired.
My overall impression: This is my favorite Jillian Michaels video. I love the intensity, but you really have to be willing to push yourself. I add a little of my own cool-down work to compensate for what's missing.
Jillian Michaels - 30 Day Shred
I was super excited to try this video because I'd heard so much about it. I found it at a second-hand store still sealed in the package for $2 - so of course picking it up was a no-brainer.
The program: There are three levels of this workout program. Each are 20 minutes in length (coming in around 23 minutes total running time with warm up and cool down). A set of hand weights are required. Jillian recommends 5lb or 8lb. There are three circuits which include 3 minutes of strength, 2 minutes of cardio and 1 minute of abs.
What I love: Jillian's 3-2-1 circuit is a great concept. You can really push yourself in each portion of the circuit knowing that you're going to be doing something completely different in just a couple of minutes. I also like that each level gets progressively harder, so once you've adapted to one level, you can move on to the next for a better workout. This workout is perfect on mornings when I don't have a lot of time.
What's lacking: I really question how much impact a 20 minute workout can have on overall health. You really have to push during these 20 minutes - no slacking allowed. I have to stop often to swap out my weights to make sure I'm getting the most out of my workout. 5lb weights just aren't going to cut it for me with bent over rows, but 10lbs is just too much for reverse flies and overhead press moves. I feel like the warm-up segment isn't long enough, and I really wish the ab segments were a little longer. The "recommendation" is to do this workout daily. My concern about this is that you're going to be working the exact same muscles every day with no rest in between - and your muscles need time to recover - that's Fitness 101.
Overall impression: If you're intimidated by this workout - don't be. It's challenging, but it's not nearly as tough as people think it is. For me, this is a great choice when my options are a) 20 minute workout or b) don't work out. I alternate between other workouts to avoid working the same muscles every day.
Scientific 7-Minute Workout
This is not a DVD, but a full-body workout that requires only a chair and a wall. I found out about this workout from my former Boot Camp instructor, and was stoked to learn "there's an app for that." The app is free, but you can pay for an upgrade to get the audio cues (which I believe is worth the one-time cost).
The program: This is a High Intensity Circuit Training (HICT) program. An article featured in the New York Times asserts that 7 minutes of HICT provides the same benefits as 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise. Not sure I'm completely bought in to that, but it's a pretty intense workout. You go through a series of 12 exercises for 30 seconds each, with minimal rest in between (you can select a 5, 10 or 15 second rest between exercises if using the app).
What I love: This is a full-body, high intensity workout that you can do almost anywhere. It can be as hard or as easy as you make it. I set my rest time at 10 seconds because that's about how long it takes to transition from one position to the next. I'll do three or four rounds in a row, depending on how much time I have. One round isn't even worth getting dressed out for. If you have the app, it will track the days you've exercised and how many rounds you've completed. If you're so inclined, you could add some hand weights to some of the exercises (like lunges and squats) to add some intensity.
What it's lacking: Unlike DVD workouts, there is no one walking you through a warm up or cool down - you're on your own for that. Also, there's no one explaining proper form to you, so you need to be familiar with these basic exercises to avoid injury.
Jillian Michaels - Winning By Losing (Book)
I'm kind of a book nerd, and I've read several of Jillian's books. Some of them resonate with me while others don't, but this one I found particularly helpful. I pretty much skipped over the nutrition stuff (since my views on healthy nutrition are different than hers) but I really enjoyed the section on exercise.
The program: This book comes with a circuit program on a 12-week schedule. The exercises are based on the Peripheral Heart Action (PHA) system that is designed to keep heart rate elevated by working bigger and smaller muscles in sequence, alternating between upper and lower body. The circuits involve some cardio and ab work as well. Each week comes with four days of strength training circuits with specific instructions for each (reps, sets, etc.), and Jillian encourages cardio workouts two other days per week, with one rest day. Examples of each exercise are included in an index. A day's circuit takes about 45 minutes from warm-up to cool down.
What I love: The circuits are broken down into muscle groups. For example, Day 1 you will work chest, shoulders, triceps, quads and abs, and Day 2 you will work back, biceps, hamstrings, glutes and obliques. This means you can strength train on back-to-back days without over training any particular muscle group. Because you're alternating between upper and lower body, you can work the circuit with little to no rest between exercises. It's also simple to add more weight if what you're doing isn't quite enough. While it doesn't include a ton of cardio or ab work, you could easily add to each circuit.
What it's lacking: you are 100% on your own. There's no DVD to keep up with, and no smart phone app timing you or keeping you motivated. This is all you! Sometimes it's tempting to say, "I'll just skip this last circuit," so you have to be 100% dedicated. There is a lot of equipment required. I've successfully adapted the exercises to fit what I have at home (a TRX, hand weights, stability ball and a treadmill), but if you follow the program exactly as prescribed you're going to have to do it in a gym. Of course this presents its own challenges (space, waiting for a machine, etc). One final drawback is that there isn't a lot of cardio moves incorporated. You can either add jumping jacks, jump rope or other cardio moves to each circuit or do some cardio after your circuits are done, but this isn't your typical Jillian Michaels workout.
Overall impression: This is the perfect workout series for someone who already has workout equipment in their home and is familiar enough with strength training to modify exercises based on the available equipment. If you're a beginner and aren't familiar with basic exercise technique this might present a challenge, as performing an exercise improperly can result in injury.