Appellate Judge Amanda DeWees discovers a whole new way to slim down—without liposuction!
Extreme results are within your reach.
The reality show Extreme Makeover exerts a troubling fascination for me. Troubling, because it worries me to see people grabbing up surgery procedures by the fistful: If a nose job is good, some seem to reason, it must be even better to supplement it with a chin implant, brow lift, and dental veneers. But the fascination is real; like most women I know, I could reel off my top three most-wanted cosmetic surgery procedures at a moment's notice. My ambivalent feelings about the show caused me to approach this tie-in fitness DVD with some wariness, but I was surprised and impressed to find that my skepticism was unwarranted. Extreme Makeover Fitness: Weight Loss Workout for Beginners is a solid, well-produced workout program that deserves to find an audience beyond that of its parent program.
Led by fitness trainer Robert Reames, who has worked on both Extreme Makeover and Dr. Phil's Ultimate Weight Loss Challenge, and executive produced by respected workout video veteran Madeleine Lewis (whose choreography has appeared in programs by Kathy Smith and Candace Copeland, among other fitness experts), this workout program uses uncomplicated moves to get results. Reames is joined by three alumnae of Extreme Makeover who succeeded in losing weight through diet and exercise (not just surgery): Paula, Belen, and La Paula. Having these real women doing the workouts, rather than the usual perfect fitness-video specimens, is encouraging and motivating; although Paula may be slightly intimidating to some viewers due to her exquisite form and fitness level (I recall from her episode that she is a step aerobics instructor), Belen and La Paula are more like average women; neither is intimidatingly thin nor impossibly fit.
Incorporating all three areas of fitness—cardio (aerobics), strength training, and stretching—the program offers many options to the home exerciser to maximize choice and flexibility. More than any other DVD workout program I've seen, this one takes advantage of the format and options offered by the medium to give the viewer total control in constructing a workout to suit individual fitness level, goals, schedule, and preferences. At first it looks complicated: The cover copy seems to imply that the DVD includes a dizzying array of workouts. The real story is actually quite simple: The workouts are modular. There are nine basic blocks—three each of cardio, strength training, and cooldown (including stretching)—that come pre-assembled in different combinations to create workouts of different lengths. Each block focuses on a particular body area: upper body, core and abs, or lower body. The areas are divided up among the exercisers, so that Paula demonstrates all the upper-body segments, Belen the lower-body ones, and La Paula the abdominal and core moves. Each is accompanied by Reames, who sometimes joins in the workout and sometimes stands aside to offer tips on technique and good form.
If you want to focus intensively on one area—and also have a slightly shorter workout, from 25 to 28 minutes—you can choose a workout from the "Time Crunch Workout" menu. In these workouts, you'll get one cardio segment, one toning segment, and a cooldown, all focused on a single body area. For longer workouts, which produce faster results, go to the "Weekly Workout" menu and you'll find a different workout for every day of the week. These run longer—about 35 to 40 minutes—and add an extra cardio and/or toning segment to bulk up the time. If none of these combinations really suits you, or if you want to choose one particular segment, you can go to the "Customizable Workout" menu and build your own routine from the nine basic blocks. The DVD format also offers further perks: Additional instructional segments with more in-depth information on form and technique are available for many moves and are signaled by a fitness instructor icon that pops up during the workout when this feature is enabled. If you select the icon, Reames will take you through a brief but helpful instructional segment, then return you to the workout right where you left it. In addition, you can select the "pop-up fun facts" option if you're starting to get comfortable with the routines and can focus on something besides counting reps. This option proffers fitness tips that appear in a semi-transparent band along the bottom of the screen from time to time during the workout.
The choreography is nonintimidating and straightforward, with lots of classic moves (jumping jacks, lunges, knee lifts) and sports-based moves, like football runs, boxing punches, and baseball swings. Reames offers a good mixture of low-impact and higher-impact moves, and he often describes modifications to decrease (or increase) intensity or impact. There's nothing dancy or elaborate about these routines, which makes them ideal for beginners. The strength-training moves rely a lot on classic, proven moves, such as squats, bicep curls, ab crunches, and the like, as well as some more innovative (but straightforward) moves that offer some variety, like the Pilates "plank" position. The fact that this is a beginner-level program doesn't mean that the moves aren't challenging; many beginners will no doubt find that they will have to work up to doing all the repetitions of some moves in these routines. Out-of-shape viewers may also want to start with the shorter workouts before tackling the longer "weekly workouts"—or even do the segments individually with a few hours to rest in between. Reames points out that recent fitness studies have shown that numerous short workouts during the course of a day are just as effective as a single long one, so the ability to choose a single block when one has ten minutes to spare is particularly nice.
I was also favorably impressed by the attention to stretching. I've done many, many video workouts over the years, and most of them skimp on the post-workout stretch. This is a very important step for many reasons: It prevents muscle shortening, promotes flexibility, and reduces the risk of injury. Reames provides very thorough, relaxed stretches in his cooldown segments and doesn't just rush through them like so many instructors do.
Production values for this workout are also quite nice. The workout is filmed on outdoor locations at a Hawaiian resort, so the viewer gets to enjoy lush green vistas or crashing waves as a backdrop. The music is all instrumental and nonintrusive; it ranges from light rock to more New Agey and slightly exotic styles, with fairly light percussion. One of my few complaints about this DVD is that the music usually doesn't have a strong, steady beat to guide the exerciser, and Reames and his companion exercisers seem to be setting their own tempo, which can vary from moment to moment. It would also be helpful if he counted off reps more consistently during the muscle-toning segments, since some moves make it impossible to watch the screen. Nevertheless, Reames's cueing is good, so any exerciser who gets lost won't stay that way long. The surround audio mix is clear and gives precedence to the cueing rather than the music; the aural experience is thus more serviceable than dynamic, so the music certainly won't blow you away, but you won't have to strain to hear Reames's instructions either. The visual transfer has nice bold color and won't distract the exerciser with any dirt or other visual noise. A split-screen effect sometimes offers two or three different shots simultaneously, either to show a move from different angles or to show Reames himself demonstrating the move, and at first I found it distracting that the simultaneous images sometimes showed different takes. As the program continued, though, I decided I actually liked the options offered by this format.
The extras for this release are also an improvement over other home workout programs I've seen. Besides the pop-up feature and the optional instructional segments, the disc includes an eight-minute segment of fashion and style advice from Jeanne Yang. In this relatively short time Yang demonstrates (on another Extreme Makeover alumna) how to make the best use of fit, color, style, undergarments, and many other relatively simple elements to dress flatteringly and create an impression of slimness. This segment is definitely geared toward the female viewer, but in just about every other respect this is a DVD that men should find just as beneficial as women. There is also a small booklet with many practical tips for eating more healthily and incorporating other lifestyle changes to promote healthy living and weight loss. Some of these are no-brainers (don't keep fattening snacks in the house; chew sugarless gum to thwart cravings for sweets), but they are also sound advice.
Overall this is an excellent program for beginner and intermediate-level exercisers. The only accessories it requires are a chair, two sets of hand weights, and possibly a towel or mat for the floor exercises. Although my personal preference is for dancier choreography, this is definitely a well-designed workout program that is easy to learn and should produce results for those who follow it consistently. The handy structure makes it particularly convenient to fit exercise into busy days, and Reames's gung-ho enthusiasm is motivating. This DVD would be a solid investment for the home exerciser—whether or not you've ever even watched the parent reality show. The next time Extreme Makeover comes on, I may just get off the sofa and start up this DVD instead of daydreaming about liposuction.
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