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The best workout DVDs

It's time to push away the couch and sweat it out at home

By Lotte Jeffs  August 17th, 2015

Jillian’s my main girl. But there’s also Shaun. I had a brief fling with Tony but he didn’t treat me right, so I ditched him (but I do occasionally go back for more). As for Ashley, no one makes me feel quite as good as she does. We’ve been getting sweaty together in my living room almost every day for more than a year now. But this isn’t an exercise in polyamory; it’s just, well, exercise. Lots of it.

I’m talking, of course, about workout DVDs. Mine are hosted variously by Jillian Michaels of America’s The Biggest Loser, super-buff Shaun T, horrible Tony Horton and his P90X regimen, and lovely yoga lady Ashley Turner. I’d never got on with gyms. I hated the changing rooms full of wobbly naked women who’d inevitably decide to moisturise their inner thighs right by my locker. I rarely went, and the fortnightly $50 direct debit would leave me heavy with guilt. I could have gone running, for free, but I didn’t have the motivation. Aside from the occasional yoga class, my fitness program was non-existent. But with my 30th birthday approaching, I decided it was time to be the best I could be (my mother had kindly informed me that it was all downhill body-wise from there — thanks for that, Mum), so I vowed to get fit in time for the party I’d planned in three months’ time.

My newfound impetus to shape up coincided with my girlfriend Jen’s 30-day challenge (her goal for the month before she turned 30 was to do something new every day for 30 days). First up was Insanity, which is allegedly the hardest workout ever put on DVD. “Okay, I’m actually doing it!” Jen shouted from the living room, putting in the first disc as I slumped over my laptop googling local boot camps. “You go, girl,” I shouted back. “Are you sure you don’t want to do it with me?” she called. “Mmmhmm…” I replied. Cue thumping dance music and yells of: “Are you ready to get INSANE?”

I poked my head into the living room to see. She was star-jumping and spotted me staring at her from behind the door. “Either join me or go away. Do NOT just stand there watching.” Okay, I thought, how hard can it be? (Really, really hard, as it turns out.) And that, dear readers, is how I became a home-fitness fanatic and road-tested these workout DVDs…

The workout: Insanity by Shaun T, Rs 9,200 (approx)
The trainer: Shaun T is buff, but non-threatening. His biceps tend to shimmer with sweat. Sometimes he takes his top off.
The promise: A year’s worth of results in 60 days (results may vary). 
The reality: This is a set of 10 DVD workouts, each lasting between 20 and 80 minutes. Jen and I did a workout six days a week for two months. I still dabble in Insanity, but not as religiously. At first I would cry and occasionally be physically sick after a session. But when I took the Fit Test for the second time one month later (you perform a series of body-shattering exercises and keep score of how many you can do in a minute), I’d doubled my score. The idea is to work at maximum effort for short bursts. Each DVD has a different focus. I like Pure Cardio & Abs best as it’s over in 37 minutes. There’s a lot of sprinting on the spot, burpees and squat jumps. The most impressive move I learnt is a power jump, where you leap high with your legs bent and slap your thighs, over and over again. I became evangelical about Insanity, and often demonstrated these moves at dinner parties. The workouts are set in a school gym and there’s a gang of about 15 fitties sweating alongside Shaun. I hate Tania the most. She always stands at the front and does this stupid pouty thing when she’s out of breath. I think I may be jealous of how much attention she gets from Shaun.  

The workout: Jillian Michaels: 6 Weeks Six-Packs, Rs 260
The trainer: Jillian is strong as an ox, but lithe as a gazelle. She’s also irritating as a pack of screeching monkeys, but I kind of love her. 
The promise: Get ripped, flat abs in six weeks. 
The reality: I felt bad, cheating on  Shaun. But I was ready for a change and I wanted to keep up momentum. There are two levels to this DVD but since I was ‘insanely fit’, I went straight for the toughest. You do 15 minutes of abs with free weights —lunging, squatting, planking — plus sit-ups and Russian Twists, which are great for your obliques. Then you do the whole regimen again, only faster, and by the end your abs are burning so much you have to lie on the floor and beg your partner to make you a sandwich. Jillian has two sidekicks: Basheerah, who she flirts with outrageously, and Maddie, a babe who gets talked down to like she’s an idiot. The exercises are easy to follow and really worked for me. I’ve always been slim, but after three weeks I could see definition on my stomach that I’d never had before. I do all Jillian’s DVDs now. Sometimes I turn off the sound and put on Jay Z because Jillian says things like: “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable” and “How’d ya like me now!” which, when you’ve been doing plank twists for 60 seconds, is pretty much unbearable. Trust me.

The workout: P90X Extreme Home Fitness System, Rs 8,900 (approx),
The trainer: Fitness guru (and sadist) Tony Horton. 
The promise: A 90-day fitness plan, comprising 12 workouts, designed to get you in the best shape of your life. 
The reality: Some of Tony’s workouts are a whopping 90 minutes long, and involve fixing a pull-up bar onto a doorframe in advance. Not good for feng shui or those unskilled in DIY. The people who do the relentlessly long workouts with Tony look like they hate him, too. But if, say, you did Insanity and thought it now seemed easy, yet you needed to keep punishing yourself, then Tony’s workouts are perfect. Sometimes, when I’m in a really bad mood, I’ll put on the Ab Ripper X disc and scream abuse at the TV while doing moves such as “oblique V-ups”. 

The workout: Element: Yoga For Weight Loss, Rs 530 (approx),
The trainer: Lovely Ashley Turner, yoga instructor to the stars. 
The promise: Develop inner self-acceptance, focus and gratitude, and thereby reduce stress.
The reality: This is a really relaxing, easy-to-follow routine. Just looking at Ashley’s wholesome face makes me feel calm. Compared to Jillian, she’s the Dalai Lama. The hour-long workout is just as good as any yoga class I’ve ever taken. Plus, she taught me how to “smile with my eyes”. Watch out, Tyra Banks.

THE VERDICT: In the 18 months I’ve been doing my DVDs, my fitness has improved so much I’ve even taken up running,  and I enjoy it. I’m stronger than ever and my stomach was toned in time for my milestone birthday. I wore a Helmut Lang-esque black dress and felt great (then I got really drunk and kept making friends squeeze my biceps). These DVDs have become a part of my daily routine, and alternating them stops things getting dull. It may sound like a Jillian cliché, but they’ve changed my life, making me fitter and happier. My girlfriend and I have encouraged each other in our living-room boot camp, at the fraction of the cost of a gym membership. I’ve lost weight, but we also lost a flatmate. Poor Simon. He’d be trying to make his packed lunch in the morning with me and Jen doing squats and high-fiving. Then he’d come home at night and we’d have turned the living room into a yoga studio. He retreated to his room, then he moved out. We wasted no time in making his bedroom our new workout zone.    

Sweat it out with a celebrity…

Bipasha Basu
Love Yourself contains three workout routines with muscle-toning, cardio, dance and a healthy dose of platitudes on self-love by Basu. Rs 620, set of three 

Yasmin Karachiwala
Sonam Kapoor and Deepika Padukone’s trainer is known for sculpting bodies with Pilates. Yasmin’s Body Image on YouTube has fun short workouts.

Madhuri Dixit
One of Bollywood’s best dancers  has a series of instruction videos on YouTube branded Dance With Madhuri. Besides steps to her most popular film dances, she and her team teach jazz and bharatnatyam, and body-conditioning workouts. 

You may also want to read: How to: Set up a DIY gym at home