Quickie Review of Yogalates with Ines Vogel

If you had told me a year or two ago that my son would one day sleep till 7:30 am, I would have called you a liar. If you had told me that I would get up at 5:45 am so that I could exercise before the kiddo woke up, I would’ve called you a maniac. But that’s exactly what I did today.

The previous day I had picked up Ines Vogel‘s Yogalates DVD at my local Rossmann drugstore. (Word to the wise: Germany has the best drug stores.) And I was determined to try it.

Yogalates exercises with Ines Vogel

Yogalates sounds like something that shouldn’t exist. On the other hand, it’s also sort of great. Vogel notes at the beginning that yoga and pilates have different forms of breathing, and she instructs you to do the pilates-style breathing, into the chest. Otherwise, the hour-long workout is a neat flow of yoga and pilates moves. And in fact, they work great together. She cues almost every breath, and combines flowing movements, static stretches, and strength work from both disciplines. Vogel also gives lots of tips on correct form, but frankly, I know enough to know that more are necessary. (There were lots of situations where a live instructor would have told me to square my hips, for example.) The DVD itself is shot in a bright studio. Ines Vogel demonstrates the moves along with an assistant, and one or the other will do an easier variation of a move — but the variations are not guided in words.

Yogalates exercises with Ines Vogel

What I love about this is that I have to divide my precious exercise time among too many things: bellydance, ballet, yoga, pilates, and even a bit of cardio. If I can feel like I touched two bases with one practice, then I’m a bit happier. And the workout was good, letting me sweat a little, but also giving me ample time to stretch various body parts. Lower back pain that was there yesterday is no longer there today, for example. Upper back pain is still there, but way better. But although there are no crazy difficult moves, you do need to be beyond beginner to know how to do them right, or at least be working towards correct form.

The DVD is in German. But for those of you who understand German, or are happy to follow along with the screen, it’s a great (and quite cheap) buy!

Yogalates exercises with Ines Vogel

Review of Zayna Gold’s Healing Through Movement

Zayna Gold’s workout, Healing Through Movement, was designed to help patients with IBD or other digestive disorders such as Chron’s and Colitis, and Celiac. I don’t have any digestive disorders, so I can’t judge the workout from the perspective of its target audience. However, I am very interested in workouts and programs aimed towards people who are not in perfect health. I think you can keep moving even when you are a bit sick, and sometimes it’s one of the best things to do. But it requires a bit of guidance.

Zayna Gold demonstrates arm exercises with weights

Healing Through Movement is essentially a strength-training workout consisting of four parts. Cycle One: Upper Body is a standing series of basic arm exercises using light hand weights. Cycle Two: Lower Body gives you classic lower body moves such as squats, wide plies, and lunges. Cycle Three: Full Body Workout combines moves from both of the first two sections, so you might do arm lifts while squatting, for example. Finally, the Core Workout is a pilates-based mat series, with exercises on your back and from plank position.

Zayna Gold shows how to make plank harder

For people who have done any exercise at all, most of the exercises will not seem particularly new — though there were a number in the Core Workout section that were indeed new to me. What’s really outstanding about this program is the quality of Zayna’s guidance. For every single exercise, be it ever so simple, she gives you detailed cues  to move your body in a safe way, to use your breath to guide the movement, to work from the core. Even though I was working on my own, with only the DVD and a mirror to guide me, I felt very much in control of my body during the exercises, because they were never rushed, and always thoroughly explained. Zayna has a pleasant, matter-of-fact manner, so it was never grating to hear her talk me through an exercise — rather, it felt like I had a teacher right in the room.

Zayna Gold shows full-body workout

Throughout, Zayna offers modifications and options for people who find a particular position (say, lying on the back) uncomfortable. The cycles are designed so you can repeat them if you want a tougher workout in a particular part of the body. I can imagine, for example, doing Cycle 3 and the Core Workout twice as a mini circuit.

I really liked that this program was just so doable. In forty-five minutes, you have done strength training — enough to sweat — for most of your body. You don’t need fancy equipment, because even the mat and weights are things you can do without. And you don’t need a lot of space, because everything is utterly stationary. It’s the perfect travel workout, in other words. The next day, I felt a light, pleasant muscular pain in my entire body, and if I’m not mistaken, I was standing a little taller too.

Zayna Gold shows pilates core moves

What I think could have been improved: First, Zayna’s counting was often very different from what she actually did, which was occasionally confusing. Second, I think there really should have been a stretch at the end. I wound up doing my own series of yoga moves to stretch everything out, which felt wonderful, but I think with that kind of weight training a guided stretch should be included. That said, it’s a workout I can see myself returning to. I like how efficient it is, how careful the instruction is, and the core workout is simply great.

I received a review copy of Healing Through Movement. You can get a copy directly from Boston Body Pilates. It’s also currently available on Amazon, but at three times the price.

Review of Ruby Beh’s Pilates for Bellydancers

I’ve been traveling lately, and it hasn’t left much time for dance, or for any kind of working out. It’s pretty terrible, going from pretty regular movement to nothing. So tonight, after I put the kiddo to bed, I decided to try out Ruby Beh‘s newish instructional on RAQStv, Pilates for Belly Dancers. I wanted to dance, but even more, I wanted to give my abs a little attention.

Ruby Beh showing pilates hundred

What I found is an answer to a lot of my dance problems of the past year. One of my challenges lately has been moving from the idea that bellydance is totally “loose” (I’m not really sure where I got this, except by some dumb opposition to ballet), and building up abdominal strength, learning how to keep my core engaged, and hardest of all, learning how to breathe with all of this. I don’t think there’s a single dance class I attend where the teacher is not constantly on me to keep my core “zipped up.”

Well, that’s what Pilates for Belly Dancers is all about. Ruby starts out slowly, really slowly, with posture and practice breathing both standing up and lying down. I loved the meticulous tiny movements that at least started giving me a sense of how the breathing and muscular contractions should feel. She then guides you through some classic pilates movements (the hundred, roll-ups, etc.) but interweaves exercises that help you gain control of the specific muscles useful for bellydance.

After a workout that is challenging if done attentively, Ruby has you practice some basic bellydance moves with special attention to the core. Finally, she teaches a short combination. In both of these segments, she explains what effects can be achieved with a strong, controlled pilates foundation — the fast spin that can stop on a dime, the quick-changing footwork that doesn’t make you bob up and down.

The video is 1 hour and ten minutes long. There was a brief but satisfying stretch to cool down with in the bonus content material, which also included the pilates section from Ruby’s Flawless Floorwork: The Lost Art of Belly Dance Floorwork DVD. The filming is clear throughout, though there is one blooper that was not edited out and a few camera cuts are confusing. Think filmed class, not pro DVD. Still, I had no problems following along.

In short, I was thrilled with the program. Ruby’s generous with pointers on form, and she will sometimes give modifications. She has the experienced instructor’s ability to know, magically, through the screen, just what I’m doing wrong and to correct it. She also has a knack for coming up with lots of illustrative similes to help conceptualize a movement.

All in all, it was so good for me to spend an hour really paying attention to what my core was doing at all times, how all other movements, whether exercise or dance, related to it and drew on its strength. Like Ranya Renee, Ruby talks about engaging the kegels too, though I haven’t heard this talked about in my classes. I haven’t been as delightfully concentrated during a pilates program in a long time. I wish I could buy this on DVD, but at least it’s being offered as a two-month rental on RAQStv.

Review of Sarah Zahab’s Postnatal Strength Workout

Before I get into the review, I just have to share: today is my son’s first birthday. This has been the most exhausting year of my life, but also an incredible one in many ways. About a week ago, he learned to walk unassisted, and so I’ve not only managed to keep a baby alive for a whole year, but he’s now a proper toddler!

It’s hard being a new mom. You know you ought to work out, but it’s tough. There’s the constant fatigue, there’s a needy baby who demands all of your attention just to stay alive, and it’s hard to decide what to do even when you have a few minutes.

Sarah Zahab’s Postnatal Strength Workout aims to solve a lot of those problems by incorporating the baby into the workout. But you know what?

It’s also hard being a blogger, trying to decide on just the right screenshot, when there are so many adorable moments.

So, alright, I’ll settle on this one, a baby who has gone rogue, in a Canadian t-shirt (go, Canada), gleefully taking over the show. The Postnatal Strength Workout DVD (of which I received a review copy) is a totally professional, well conceived workout that is both doable for postpartum women and scalable for a greater challenge. But Sarah and the other people involved in the making of the video clearly also have a sense of fun. I think it’s a great idea to bring babies into the workout, but mine never, ever stays still. It made me incredibly happy that the babies in the video didn’t either, and it just made the whole program seem more approachable. “This is being a parent,” it seemed to suggest, “but you can still carry on with the pushups.”

So let’s get into the meat. After an introduction in which Sarah describes how and when to do the workout, you get seven sections:

Warmup (about 3 min): Sarah introduces her co-exercisers, who show easier modifications of the moves. There is posture instruction, stretches with breathing, and squats, and guided kegels.

Baby Workout 1 (about 3.5 min): This section is intended for babies of all ages. Most of what they have to do is hang out on the floor while the moms exercise, but the positions allow the moms to interact with the babies. Here there is a focus on gently but carefully working the abdominals, push ups, and planks.

Baby Workout 2 (about 5.5 min): For babies who have head control. This section has more creative use of the babies, since they actually serve as weights! Sarah gives tips on how to hold the babies (and how to react to them if they don’t go along with the program!), as well as giving frequent technique pointers. I really enjoyed the exercises here, including squats, press-ups, some really intense ab twists, and bridge. One of my favourites was a double crunch with the baby belly down on the knees. I love the fact that these moves could also be done in the middle of a day, when spending time with one’s kid. And, since my baby already weighed over 20 lbs when I did this section, it was some serious strength training!

Body Weight Workout (about 9 min): This section just uses your own body weight. However, I still had the baby around — he stayed for the whole workout — and that worked fine even if I occasionally had to run after him. It includes some well-guided low squats (these can really hurt my knees if I’m not careful about form), push-ups, shoulder squeezes, a variety of hip lifts and crunches, leg taps, and… more kegels!

Ball Workout (about 9 min): This was a super fun ball workout, and I have to say, even though I am no longer newly postpartum, it was enough of a challenge for me to feel a burn on this one. Again, this is also all about the abs, which is exactly what a new mother needs to work on rebuilding, but there are also exercises for the backs of the legs, arms, and of course, the kegels.

Stretch (about 6 min): Pretty classic set of stretches, including some really nice moves for the lower back. And, oh yeah, more kegels! I’m guessing Sarah thought kegels were boring and needed to be split up over the workout — a good idea of putting necessary pauses to good use.

Bonus (about 5 min): After a check for diastasis recti, or abdominal separation, Sarah guides a few exercises for building abdominal strength that are safe to do in the first six to eight weeks after giving birth. After this section, the video moves directly into a few outtakes and bloopers.

All in all, Sarah Zahab’s Postnatal Strength Workout is a useful program you can do in bits (this is why I included rough times) or all together for a longer, but still manageable workout. Zahab suggests that if you want a greater challenge, you can repeat sections, which I probably will when I do the video again. I like that she’s constantly keeping you on form, and that she’s aware of women who have had vaginal deliveries or c-sections. She also has a really warm on-camera presence, friendly and motivating without being annoyingly perky. (Well, and the occasional twinges of a Canadian accent remind me of home.) The one thing that worked less well for me was the camera angle, which sometimes made it difficult to see what the modified exercises were. This video would have been just the right amount of challenge for me about eight weeks after birth; a year later, the ball workout and the exercises using baby as weight still made me work.

You can get Postnatal Strength Workout at Amazon, or directly from Sarah Zahab at http://www.sarahzahab.ca/.

Stream(lin)ing my practice with Datura Online

Today I hooked up my computer to my projector and tried something new: doing an entire practice using streaming online programs. I’m used to live class, I’m used to just popping a video in and working with it, but I didn’t quite know what to expect. I’m working on a comprehensive review of Datura Online (and have review access for a month for that), but I wanted to work with the offerings out there to customize my very own practice session, just the way I want it. So here’s what I did:

I scrolled to the “topics” section of Datura Online, selected the “Warmup” option and picked a basic little warmup with some ab exercises for toning; in a second tab, went to “Movement” and then “Shimmies” because I’d seen a basic tutorial on layering 3/4 shimmies onto traveling steps; opened up another tab, pulled up RAQStv and loaded Maria Sokolova’s mini-class from Project Belly Dance so I could get a bit of dancing in; and in a final window, got a quick cool-down with yoga focused on the lower back from Datura. I had everything opened in its own tab, and I organized the tabs in order, so that I wouldn’t have to pause too long between segments.

I’m going to talk about Maria’s lesson in a different post, so I can focus on the Datura offerings here.

Warmup: Ab Warm Up + Conditioning: #1 with Colette Todorov (12:22 min)

To warm you up, Colette has you do slow, deliberate high steps, adding a few arm moves and twists to add a bit of challenge. It’s the kind of thing that looks very easy, but if you’re holding your stomach in as she instructs, becomes more challenging — especially at the end of a long day.

The real goodness is in the ab exercises. I loooved this bit. It’s short and sweet, but involves doing four different kinds of pilates ab exercises. However, instead of repeating each one for a long time and then switching, Colette has you do combination sets — first four slow, controlled reps of each move, then two. There was burn. It targeted the obliques and the lower abs too. Not the kind of thing that will give you washboard abs, but fun to do, and easy to work into a bellydance practice.

Drills: Basic Traveling with 3/4 Shimmies with Ashley Lopez (20:16 min)

This is a standalone section of a longer workshop on the 3/4 shimmy. I was drawn to it because the preview showed Ashley doing a simple, unaccented 3/4 shimmy. This is what I’m learning in one of my live classes, but is pretty different than what I have on most of my videos, and, indeed, from what I’ve learned in other classes.

Surprisingly, Ashley begins by getting you to do a regular shimmy, then try walking with it, then try smoothing it out. At my level, this is a bit easier said than done, and I had trouble figuring out how I was supposed to do that. Then she goes back to basics — phew! — talks about driving the shimmy from the obliques, and does it very slowly. Once the slow shimmy is going, you start walking forwards and backwards with it. And eventually, Ashley has you walk in a large square doing the shimmy at full speed, then try the shimmy on releve. Finally, she does the 3/4 shimmy on the down, and goes through the drills again.

What I liked: Ashley explains and demonstrates why this shimmy is useful. I find it a less exciting shimmy to watch and do than the “hip up hip out” kind of 3/4 shimmy, but her point is that once you get it down, you can accent whatever you like. She has helpful tricks, like clapping on the “1” before you even start lifting your foot. And, she gives pointers on form, as well as occasional tips on what to focus on if you’re just starting.

What I still wanted: I think it would be helpful to have an exercise to isolate the obliques in the movement, and the rev up to full speed was too fast for me. (Mind you, since I didn’t watch the entire workshop, I don’t know if she does a slower breakdown elsewhere — but I’m reviewing the videos as I find them.) I think this video would be a great drill for someone who already has a 3/4 shimmy going, but wants to polish her form and work on layering it onto traveling moves.

After I was done with the video, I wound up going to a full-length mirror and just working with the shimmy. I found that moving away from the screen was actually useful, maybe even necessary. Once I took Ashley’s tips but just watched myself, trying to get the form right, I started to see and feel improvement. Eventually, I got faster, and I was even able to walk a few steps with it. So I will most likely return to the video, but after I’ve drilled the shimmy for a bit on my own.

Cool Down: Basic Short Yoga Sequence with Rachel Brice (9:07 min)

This is a quick way to stretch out and relax your back after a practice. The exercises Rachel chose here are for both the upper and lower back. They resemble some of the moves in my Viniyoga back videos, but with an extra twist or two. Basically, the cool down is composed of slow motion stretches and movements, timed with inhalation and exhalation, and the result is a delicious feeling of relaxation. Simple, sweet, a winner.

So, it was a good time this evening. It was amazing what could fit into each short segment. The beginning and closing videos were very handy as-is, while the 3/4 shimmy drills needs some, well, preliminary drilling on my part to be do-able. (I will most likely work with the entire workshop for that, so I can get a sense of how Ashley builds up to full speed.)

Review of The Bar Method Accelerated Workout

On a business trip, with a hotel room all to myself, I’m looking to do a little bit of exercise to make up for the dance classes I’m missing, and I pull out the The Bar Method Accelerated Workout. The desk chair does for a barre, and I pull out two way-too-cold beer bottles from the mini fridge to use as light weights. You do what you can.

Like The Bar Method: Change Your Body (previously reviewed), the Accelerated Workoutcarefully covers all the major areas of your body. Burr Leonard begins with arm work, using both light weights and the body for resistance. The triceps exercises are particularly effective, but it’s hard to judge since those bottles really were a little too light for me.
She then moves on to some challenging thigh work, the kind of plié and relevé series that I so love from my ballet class. I feel these, oh do I ever feel these. The glute work is not as hard for me. However, to be fair, I think maintaining proper form here is really key, and I have a hard time doing so. These seem like the kinds of tiny moves that are super-effective when done right, and completely pointless when performed incorrectly.
The abdominal exercises are nice, pilates-type moves. They are challenging, but not insane – that is, despite the fact that I still can’t do a proper roll-up, I can keep up with most of these. However, the next section, involving “back dancing” – that is, small movements performed with the back rolled up from the ground, kind of like bellydancing while lying down – is wildly intense. I have experienced few techniques as good for hitting the inner thighs. These are challenging, fun, and painful in a good way.
The workout closes with some good stretches, though they could be held longer.
Back dancing may look like lying down — it is not.

My take on the video? I love, love, love how careful Burr Leonard is about form. She gives pointers constantly, repeatedly reminds you to tuck your pelvis, engage your abs, and so on. This is precisely the kind of thing you need when you are working out without a live instructor. Her demeanor is matter-of-fact and friendly, which is also what I prefer in a video teacher. (Overly peppy is not my thing.) And there is another instructor you can follow throughout for modifications, which is also key to staying safe.

While I didn’t quite feel all the exercises as much as I might have liked to, and in fact, right after the workout I didn’t have any sore muscles, doing the video did energize me right away and made me feel taller and looser. (I actually followed it up with a quick swim in the hotel pool – might as well take advantage!) And as has happened before with the BarMethod, I certainly did feel the effects on the second and third day after doing the workout. This is especially true for all sorts of little muscles in my back and arms that I usually don’t exercise.

At one hour, the video is easy to fit into a busy schedule, and is definitely high on my list to do again. It’s the perfect workout for those days when you have a set amount of time, need to be energized rather than crushed, and want to cover all the major muscle groups of your body.

Full disclosure: I have received a review copy of a different Bar Method DVD (stay tuned!), but I bought this one myself.

Review of Jennifer Gianni’s Fusion Pilates Birth Ball for Post Pregnancy

As I was working with Jennifer Gianni’s Fusion Pilates Birth Ball for Post Pregnancy, I had two thoughts:

1. While prenatal workouts are mostly light workouts that other, non-pregnant people could enjoy, especially if they have an injury or are suffering pain, postnatal workouts are pretty specific. Man, I thought kegel exercises were detailed — it turns out that the kind of exercises you do once the baby’s out are way more internal and precise.

2. This video has some really fun Swiss ball exercises, the kind that make having that silly rubber bubble worthwhile.

I previously reviewed Jennifer Gianni’s Fusion Pilates Birth Ball for Pregnancy, and while I thought it would be good for someone advanced in their pregnancy and needing very gentle exercises, I also found it quite a bit lighter than what I could do, and sometimes a bit fussy in the set-up required. Fusion Pilates Birth Ball for Post Pregnancy, on the other hand, is a much better fit for what I was looking for. (Both are review copies, by the way.) It’s still not about sweating, but getting the exercises set up is much easier, and the moves themselves are a bit more challenging.

Fusion Pilates Birth Ball for Post Pregnancy also includes the “Fusion Essentials” intro to proper form. And then it’s straight into the workout!

The workout itself begins with pelvic floor exercises. These are very well taught, even though it’s always kind of a challenge to translate these kinds of descriptions of very internal muscular contractions into real practice. The idea is to build up the pelvic floor to offer stability and resistance before doing abdominal work that presses down on it. The exercises are taught slowly, gradually, and with different kinds of breaths. There are enough reps to really get a feeling for things.

You may not be able to tell, but this woman is working her pelvic floor.

The rest of the workout consists of gentle but targeted and, for a new mother, intense pilates-style moves on the ball. For many of them, Gianni will start with a variation for very new postpartum moms, and then build on it for women in the advanced postpartum period. I thought this was a great way to both teach moves and make the video useful to women at different points beyond pregnancy.

Just about every part of the body has an exercise — the upper back, the abs of course, the legs and glutes. There are even some exercises that build on the pelvic floor work done at the start of the workout. And there is one truly delicious upper back/shoulder stretch. When I started doing it, I thought “oh, this is so good for anyone breastfeeding,” and sure enough, Gianni’s voice piped in and said the exercise is ideal for nursing moms! And although a number of the moves require a wall, I was able to use a couch and a chair successfully, as I did not have a free wall available.

Best of all, a number of these were really fun. I’m not a master of Swiss ball workouts by any means, but I have done a few of them so far, and I find that the ball is often a bit unnecessary. It could be replaced by a chair or weights depending on the move. Gianni has you do some rolling and balancing exercises that really only do work with the ball. They were so much fun, that I think I will put the baby on his playmat tomorrow and bounce around next to it on the ball!

Fusion Pilates Birth Ball for Pregnancy is also available from http://www.fusionpilates.com/.

Review of Chantal Donnelly’s Pain Free at Work

Although I’ve dedicated this blog to activities that make me feel physically wonderful, like dance, and yoga, and pilates, the truth is that I spend enormous amounts of time in front of the computer like everyone else. It’s not just work, though it is also work. But many things I love to do, like writing creatively (and like, well, my work) require the computer.

This means that I can reliably count on one thing: pain.

I was recently sent a review copy of Chantal Donnelly’s Pain Free at Work. The funny thing is, I’ve often wanted something just like what this video includes, namely a short stretching program that can be done in my office chair. But first things first.

Let me just pull up a seat…

Pain Free at Work is a mixed-genre DVD, made up of both informative lecture segments and sets of practical exercises. It’s about forty minutes long, and divided into multiple sections:

Pain Free Sitting
Training for Marathon Sitting – Phase 1
Training for Marathon Sitting – Phase 2
Ergonomics in the Work Place
Exercising at Your Desk
After Work Workout
Handling Pain: Elbow, Wrist and Hand Pain
Express Stress Relief

The lectures:

In Pain Free Sitting, Chantal demonstrates how to sit correctly so as to minimize the curvature of the back, and reduce pain. She uses a live model and anatomical charts. As much as I am easily bored during this kind of lecture, the truth is that I realised how much I am doing wrong when I sit at a desk. (Just right now I was sitting back with my legs crossed on the chair!) I’ve always known I was sitting poorly, but having it spelled out somehow helps me to check my own posture. (Now I am sitting up straight, abdominals in. Aren’t you proud of me?)

This is the secret to good laptop mojo!

 I found Ergonomics in the Work Place very useful. Again, this is the kind of thing I’ve read dozens of articles on, but I’ve rarely been able to control my work space to the extent needed to have an optimal setup. What I liked about this section is that Chantal and ergonomics expert Brad Hutchins deal with laptops, which I never have seen before. The assumption tends to be that you have a huge desk computer. The other thing I liked was Brad’s point that even making one improvement is better than nothing. I don’t have to have the perfect setup at work, but changing one thing is still good.

Express Stress Relief was really express. It is a short conversation between Chantal and Dr. Jeff Gero, and includes a few strategies on dealing with stress. Mainly deep breathing, meditation, and positive thinking. Honestly, I think each of these take enough training to do them right that having a short segment on them is not particularly helpful.

The lectures with some exercises:

Training for Marathon Sitting – Phase 1 is basically an introduction to connecting with your transverse abdominal muscle. Chantal provides some strategies for strengthening it while doing everyday tasks. Again, simple, but good to have the reminder. I do think that people who have not had training in accessing this muscle might benefit from even more detailed instruction. (I found Helen Byrne’s postnatal conditioning workout to be particularly focused in this respect.)

Handling Pain: Elbow, Wrist and Hand Pain is another brief segment, including two self-massage techniques for dealing with elbow and hand pain that were completely new to me. Short, but very worth while.

The exercise programs:

The real gem of Pain Free at Work for me is Exercising at Your Desk. This is a compact set of exercises you can do at your desk that will gently stretch everything from the feet to the head. The thing I particularly like about this is that the exercises do not look weird — that is, you don’t have to get into any funny or embarrassing positions to do them. You could do them around your coworkers and no one would bat an eye.

This is just a delicious inner-thigh stretch

 Training for Marathon Sitting – Phase 2 is a gentle yoga and pilates-type workout for stretching the back and building strength in both abdominal and back muscles. Chantal suggests you watch it through before doing it. This is a good idea, as the cuing is minimal. (I would have liked for everything to be cued.) That said, she does give good prompts on form and using the abdominal muscles for support. And she has one of the demonstrators show modifications, sometimes using a Swiss ball.

Finally, there is an After Work Workout that uses a thick foam roller for stretching and relaxation. I didn’t have the prop, so I didn’t do it! I can say that the other two workouts are simple but definitely relaxing.

In short, I think Pain Free at Work can be very useful to anyone spending a lot of time at a computer. Watching the lecture segments is not as much fun as doing the exercises, but I did get some good tips out of them. I think the best way to use it is to keep it in your office and do the stretches and self-massages on a regular basis, once or twice a day, as a preventative measure!

First workout with Helene Byrne’s Bounce Back Fast! Post Natal Core Conditioning

My mother’s day gift to myself? Starting to exercise again.

Even though there are many people who exercise before hitting the six-week mark, it’s my nature to have a sense of fearful respect towards any process that involves cutting my body open and rearranging my organs. So I was really careful to toe the line before I got my doctor’s ok: I didn’t lift heavy things, I didn’t exert myself too much — at least not two days in a row — and I did absolutely no exercise. Not even the lightest movements. None.

But man, was I ever dying to. So to ease into it again, I decided to start with my review copy of Helene Byrne’s Bounce Back Fast! Post Natal Core Conditioning. There are two workouts. “Gentle First Moves” can be done early in the postpartum period, and is all I’ve worked with so far. Then there is “Bounce Back Fast!”, with an “Abdominal Separation Program.”

Bounce Back Fast! begins with a series of informational segments on beginning postpartum exercise, using kegels to recondition the pelvic floor, dealing with Diastasis Recti (I didn’t have this so I skipped watching this segment), and ways to work the abdominals so as to pull in the stomach. I think it’s really worth watching through these at least once for two reasons. First, Helene introduces the postures she later calls on in the workout. And second, the tips on keeping the abs engaged during movement have made me much more aware of how I hold myself when walking, holding the baby, breastfeeding, and so on.

Now, let’s be frank here. This is not an exciting video. It’s filmed in a very plain studio, though the shots are very clear and professional. Helene enunciates everything slowly, explains in detail what the postpartum body needs, and doesn’t use cutesy words for body parts the way exercise video instructors sometimes do. There’s no “tushy” here. When Helene means “anus,” she says “anus.”

Nor is the workout exciting. If you were simply to watch it, you would probably think nothing is happening. And this, my dear readers, is why I always insist on doing the videos I review. Because this plain 30-minute workout, with no music and no flashing lights, is ridiculously effective.

I’ve done it three times so far, and each time I was suffering from upper and lower back pain before I began it. The first time I worked with the program, I felt pain relief the following day. The second and third times, I had no more back pain immediately after finishing the program. I am serious. One moment I was in lots of pain, and exactly half an hour later, I felt good.

How did this happen? The exercises themselves are fundamentally basic stretches, the kind I know from physiotherapy and from pilates/yoga type workouts. They remind me quite a bit of the Viniyoga back therapy videos I love so much. However, Helene cues them with precise attention to which muscles should be tensed and which relaxed. And each of the exercises has something just a little bit different about them. One focused on pulling in the abdominal muscles uses breath work and hand spotting to get those loose muscles working again. (Incidentally, this particular exercise would be great for belly dancers looking to isolate lower from upper abs!) A hamstring stretch uses the included elastic band to do a gentle but powerful variation. These are just a few examples.

The other thing I want to note is that while these exercises seem like nothing from the outside, doing them correctly is very difficult, especially postpartum. While my strength and flexibility have improved with each repetition of the workout, I’ve also come to see more and more how much concentration they need to be done according to Helene’s instructions.

I’m looking forward to working with the second part of the workout. But I’m also looking forward to returning to dance and yoga instructionals, to say nothing of other postpartum exercise programs, with the increased awareness of my abdominal muscles taught in Bounce Back Fast!

Bounce Back Fast! is also available on www.befitmom.com.

Review of Tracey Mallett’s 3 in 1 Pregnancy System

There are a couple of things that are confusing about Tracey Mallett’s pregnancy videos. The first is that she’s done two, 3 in 1 Pregnancy System and Fit For Pregnancy. I have both, and if you read their covers they seem pretty similar. Both make a big deal about being 3-in-1 in multiple ways — three stages of pregnancy, three disciplines (yoga, pilates, and sculpting), and three body sections. This makes it seem as though you’re going to get some kind of complicated modular system with an elaborate DVD menu. This is not the case.

Look! Normal sofa cushions! I have those too.

At least as far as 3 in 1 Pregnancy System, which I did this morning, is concerned, what you get is a simple, hour-long workout that does indeed balance all the body parts and draw from different movement practices, and that has modifications for the third trimester. And you know what? That’s just fine. The video really hit the spot for me, and if anything, I’m rather relieved that I could just do it without making too many decisions.

The workout is divided into four sections (four? four? what happened to three?!):

Warm Up & Core Conditioning
Lower Body
Upper Body
Partnered Flexibility

Tracey has you mainly warm up using yoga moves, but most of the video seems pilates-based. I’m near my due date and not feeling that strong right now, despite maintaining a movement program, and I was able to do all but one position in the entire video — the plank. There is a modified hundred, which I haven’t seen on other prenatal videos, more abdominal work that is challenging but just barely doable for me right now, and some nice leg strengthening exercises. The toning moves are mixed in with some very satisfying stretches, which I really like. And the upper body section uses light weights to give you a little bit of muscular work.

So far so good. Sounds pretty basic, right? It is pretty basic. But I liked it. Tracey herself is adorable — she has an English accent, is pregnant in the video, and often jokes about not being able to perform certain movements anymore. She somehow makes the video really cheery and lighthearted. The attention to making moves comfortable for pregnant women is constant — I never felt rushed when moving from one position to another, always had time to get a sip of water, and even difficult moves felt controlled and well cued.

That’s it. I’m never going back to cushion-less pilates.

There is minimal prop use, but it’s also thoughtful. For example, Tracey has you use a folded towel under your palms to reduce the strain on the wrists in push ups (and it does!). She also has you use three cushions under your body while doing pilates leg exercises, and it makes the whole thing sooo much more comfortable! And guess what — these are not specialized yoga pillows or anything, but just regular sofa cushions. For once I didn’t have to adjust for the fact that I don’t have a yoga bolster in some kind of very specific shape.

What ruins the numerology of the program is the “partnered flexibility” section — but while it spoils the numbers, it really makes the video. Tracey has her husband come in and help with some gentle stretches, most of them focused on the upper back and neck. Now, I did not get help with these, but Tracey’s husband often provides tips on how to do them alone. And still, they were so, so good. It’s easy to forget that pregnancy will take a toll on the upper back and neck too, and I suffer from tightness in that region anyway. (Who doesn’t?) The super-precise instructions given for these stretches gave me much deeper, more satisfying stretches than I usually get, and I expect to turn to them again and again just to deal with computer-related stiffness.

Husbands make great props, it turns out

So there you have it. Tracey Mallett’s 3 in 1 Pregnancy System is not nearly as complex as the cover would make it seem, but it challenged and stretched me in just the right ways for the third trimester. I can imagine doing it as a postnatal exercise too, as a way of gently building up strength again.