Not long ago, when the subject of exercise was being discussed (if we all spent as much time exercising as we do talking about it, we'd be in great shape), a friend observed: "You know, the problem with exercise classes is that you have to adapt to their schedule; they don't adapt to yours ."
What if, for example, you feel like an aerobic workout at 11 at night or 4 in the morning? The locations are definitely limited, and unless you can afford the ultimate in fitness-seeking luxury--an instructor who comes to your house--you must drive someplace, which precludes a quick 20-minute workout while the baby is napping or while you're waiting for a business call. Going to a health club can be intimidating too.
Enter the exercise video. If you own a VHS or Beta machine, you can hold classes when and where you feel like it, dressed in your shabbiest sweat suit, your spiffiest workout duds or nothing at all. You can make mistakes without embarrassment. Jane won't bark at you; Raquel won't stop the class to point out that you can't touch your toes. If you're having trouble with a particular movement, simply replay it until you're comfortable with it; no one will complain. Video stores stock exercise tapes geared to every level of expertise, as well as those that concentrate on total fitness and nutrition. A sampling follows.
Debbie Reynolds' "Do It Debbie's Way" : In the introduction to her workout, Reynolds says that she made this tape because she looked at other fitness videos--"which were all excellent"--and couldn't keep up with them. Not to knock Reynolds' efforts, but if you can't keep up with this one, you should be declared legally dead. Well, maybe that's a little harsh, but the pace is slow and never seems to change throughout the warm-up, exercise and cool-down sessions. The swing music is a nice change from the assaulting rock that's favored in health-club classes, but the set--a backdrop of pink drapes lit up with the letters D-E-B-B-I-E and a crystal chandelier above--is tacky.
On the plus side, it's definitely not intimidating for first-timers; Reynolds, amiably chitchatting away, surrounds herself with a variety of bodies, not all of them in perfect shape. Actress Shelley Winters, huffing and puffing in a black sweat suit emblazoned with "I'm Only Doing It for Debbie," provides comic relief but makes it difficult to take the program seriously.
Frank Shorter's "Run" : This video provides a good overview for those interested in making running a part of their fitness regimen. Olympian Frank Shorter is a qualified, personable guide. As the video begins, we are treated to a look at his graceful running style while a voice-over tells us his philosophy of the sport. Designed to help a person get "100% from running," the video covers everything a would-be runner needs to know. There are sections on proper clothing and shoes and on how to prevent common injuries such as blisters and pulled hamstrings. A thorough before-the-fact package, this video probably won't see much use once you actually start running, but it's a must to rent before getting started.
"Jane Fonda's Workout Challenge" : A few years older than when she made her "Workout" tape but definitely not letting up, Fonda has made her latest workout (following her "Jane Fonda's Prime Time Workout") even more arduous. Designed specifically for dancers, athletes and people with extensive exercise experience, this video leaves no doubt that, when Fonda says "Make it burn," you're going to see smoke. The first 15 minutes or so are devoted to stretching and isolated-body-part exercises; then Fonda is joined by Peter Dudley and Greg Gonslaves for a fast-and-furious, take-your-breath-away aerobics routine choreographed by Dudley. Congratulations if you make it through the tape.
"The Bruce Jenner Winning Workout" : Like Jenner himself, this exercise video gets high marks in the Best-All-Around category. Although it follows the basic format of warm-up, aerobics and cool-down, Jenner's program is challenging to all levels of exercisers. The tape is divided into two sections: a 29-minute beginning workout and a 45-minute intermediate workout. Looking slimmer and more fit than he has in years, Jenner leads his seven-member male-and-female group (which includes his wife, Linda) through a series of exercises that focus on different body parts. He concentrates on counting the repetitions (which are easily heard above the music) rather than nagging, coaxing or making you feel like an uncoordinated clod if you don't keep up. The camera work is good, and the set is bright and comfortable without being pretentious. You'll feel great at the end.