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So you're ready to ditch the hassle and expense of the gym and become your own personal trainer. Great! Just make sure you have a backup plan for those days when you lack the motivation to crack the whip on your own workout.
You might want to invest in a couple of total-body workout videos and let the experts coach you through the cardio, toning and stretching you'd typically get on the treadmill and weight machines. We picked four of the best and most recent DVD releases to review -- two of them are sets of multiple workouts -- so you can piece together your own at-home fitness program.
Not all of these workouts are appropriate for beginners, so proceed with caution if it's been some time since you've picked up a dumbbell or if you have health problems.
These workouts, from the renowned New York City studio, use the dance-inspired basics of the Lotte Berk method to sculpt long, lean muscles. The fast pace and high number of repetitions also elevate your heart rate enough to give you a cardiovascular workout.
Led by Tanya Becker, one of the founders of Physique 57 and a former Lotte Berk instructor, and Shelly Knight, one of its master instructors, these excruciatingly effective routines -- the 57-minute "Classic" workout, as well as a 30-minute "Express" -- incorporate a barrage of standing ballet barre work for the legs and glutes, as well as more standard exercise fare, such as push-ups, planks and Pilates mat work for the abdominals. The longer workout adds more upper-body exercises and additional abdominal work to the mix.
Make no mistake: These are tough, fast workouts -- maybe too tough and too fast for someone new to exercise. And Becker's relentless coaching and chanting "No fat cells!" will either repel you or motivate you. But you won't feel like you've wasted your time or money. (The Manhattan studio charges $35 a class.)
Price: $24.95 for each of three workouts or $49.95 for the set; www.Physique57.com.
'10-Minute Solution: Knockout Body'
Kickboxing is a fantastic calorie-burner. Add weights and you can turn it into a total-body sculpting routine as well. Or at least that's the premise of this video, part of the popular 10-Minute Solution series of workout videos that offer targeted workouts of 10 minutes each.
Included with the video is a pair of weighted gloves -- three-fourths of a pound each -- to add resistance to the series of jabs, uppercuts, hooks, kicks and jump squats in this workout, led by fitness expert Jessica Smith. The five workouts in this kit will work everything from upper body to abs to legs, while keeping your heart rate elevated to torch calories.
Just don't expect to get toned in only 10 minutes with weights as light as these. To fatigue your muscles, you'll need to do most of the workouts at one sitting, especially the Ultimate Upper Body, Kickbox Cross Train, and Fierce and Fabulous Abs that include more sculpting moves. Still, it's a nice way to add variety to your workouts, Smith is an enjoyable instructor, and the weighted gloves make it easier to focus on form.
Price: $24.97 (includes weighted gloves); available in retail outlets and online.
Aerobic step workouts may have faded in popularity since their introduction in the early 1990s, but a few exercise instructors still cater to those who haven't packed away their platform.
This workout, led by group exercise instructor and devout Christian Tonya Larson, combines a 30-minute aerobic workout on the step with 25 minutes of hand-weight-assisted toning and abdominal work on the mat.
The fast-moving choreography of kicks, peg-and-straddles and traveling moves should be familiar to most hard-core step aficionados, but they might take a few attempts for novices to master. By adding "layers" of more complex choreography, it gives options for everyone from beginners to veterans.
The toning work, which consists of old-school strength moves, such as squats, push-ups and upper body moves (often done in combination), squeezes in enough repetitions for effective toning.
There's no evangelizing in the workout itself, but also included on the disc are four "spiritual warm-ups" -- three-minute Bible readings and meditations that focus on different aspects of a healthy lifestyle. You can take or leave these, depending on your faith and interest.
Price: $14.95 (step not included); available at www.amazon.com, www.tonyalarson.net and other online outlets.
"Ditch the workout, join the party!" urges Alberto "Beto" Perez, celebrity fitness trainer and founder of this infectious Latin dance workout taught in gyms and dance studios around the country.
There's no question that this series of 20- to 60-minute workouts -- which include samba, salsa, cumbia and reggaeton -- will get you sweating and keep you from watching the clock. The modern Latin music gets you moving, the workout is fast-paced, and the dance steps are easy enough for most people to master and enhance with their own flavor.
What's less sure is how much of a sculpting workout most people will get from this system. Many of the workouts incorporate moves to tone your abs and legs, but only the sculpt-and-tone section provides an upper-body workout, using the included 1-pound toning sticks (that double as maracas).
"Do you feel your biceps and triceps?" asks Perez after the arm segment of this toning workout. And I had to say no. Of course, beginners may feel the burn more than I did.
Price: $59.95 for four workout discs (with six programs) and toning sticks; www.zumba.com.