My annual fall from diet and exercise grace started several weeks ago when my friend married a celebrated French chef. The wedding was a three-day-long food fest, and I sampled every last piece of fromage . The weekend is a distant memory now, but I can't seem to forget the creme brulee that has settled not-so-nicely into my thighs.
With my defenses already down, Halloween proved to be a scary experience. I'm not a candy nut, but I am a pumpkin freak, so I feasted on pumpkin muffins, pumpkin scones, pumpkin ravioli. All that pump can make you plump. Once I get started on a holiday roll, I go unconscious when it comes to my usual health-consciousness. The trend continues through Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas.
By the time Dec. 31 arrives, I'm ready to scream "Stop the insanity" and beg Rosie to be my personal chef. My uniform is stretchable leggings, and it's not because I'm working out. Then it's resolution time. Phew .
This year, I decided to short-circuit my pattern and get a jump on my new routine. Why have heartache on New Year's Eve when I can be cardiovascular fit? But I wasn't ready to face my L.A. gym where everyone looks like the aerobics instructor. And the early mornings (when I like to workout) are too dark and chilly to be outside. Where to turn when you've ruled out thigh cream and liposuction? Turn on--and to--the TV.
There are more than a dozen workout shows on the tube, and they've come a long way since Jack LaLanne. So for a week I tried them all. I found that the hardest part of fitness TV was staying on my feet. Couch potatodom is an easy option when your instructor can't see you.
The shows are rated on the heart (*) scale, with **** being excellent.
BODIES IN MOTION
Monday-Friday, 6 a.m. ESPN
The Workout: "Welcome to Hawaii," says Gilad Janklowicz, host of this mid-to-high impact aerobics class. The setting--white sands and blue sea--is enough to scare me off the couch (the beach ... swimwear!). The former Israeli decathlete and head of the fitness programs for the Israeli army starts out with a warm-up and progresses quickly to an intense routine followed by a cool-down. He of the tight buns and booming voice yells out instructions throughout. "Exhale!" Hey, I can do that. Gilad's squats were not as easy.
In Shape (Pros): Gilad's no-nonsense, high-energy style may work. He's more drill sergeant than cheerleader, but his down-to-business attitude is motivating.
Out of Shape (Cons): Me. This is not aerobics for the fainthearted--I was drenched. I recommend this solid workout to those who are already somewhat in shape.
GETTING FIT WITH DENISE AUSTIN
Monday-Friday, 6:30 a.m. ESPN
The Workout: "Are you ready to burn fat? Get up on your feet!" chimes Denise Austin, the ultimate cheerleader-style host. This exercise maven, sister-in-law of Tracy Austin, takes a friendlier approach than Gilad. She chatters throughout the low-impact aerobics workout set in a different exotic locale each week. When I watched, it was just Denise on the balcony overlooking Acapulco and me in the living room. She emphasizes personal attention: "Just turn on the TV and say, 'Denise is here, my personal trainer.' " Yippee. Her favorite catch phrase is "Oh, it feels so good" (speak for yourself, honey).
In Shape: This fitness expert knows her stuff. She focuses on problem areas that women in particular deal with, such as the upper arms and thighs ("No more jigglies"). She also gives constant reminders about form. Denise deals with self-esteem issues: "You're worth it, you deserve a great body," she says during some grueling leg lifts. Her tips, such as how she lost 30 pounds after pregnancy, are informative.
Out of Shape: Her outfits. Denise, can you lose the hot-pink leotard, pink hairbow and pink socks ensemble? And some of those pep-talks drove me to grab the remote and ... bye-bye.
Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. ESPN
The Workout: After Gilad and Denise inspired me to make travel plans, the high-tech studio in Universal Studios near Orlando, Fla., where Gin Miller and the Step Reebok gang do their stepping, looks austere. But Gin, an inventor of the step movement, has a friendly style that lends warmth. Not to mention that after her thorough workout, I was downright overheated.
In Shape: This class, which has cool music, cool routines and cool class members (one even keeps his sunglasses on), provides the cutting edge in step aerobics. One of the steppers does the workout without a step for the viewers who don't have one. Gin also includes resistance training with weights.
Out of Shape: Some of the sequences are hard to follow. I had to stop when I just couldn't get in step.
Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m. ESPN