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DVD Review: Exhale: Core Fusion Collection, Part One

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Disclaimer: the following is a piece of semi-fiction. While all aspects pertaining to the review of the DVD are accurate, I refuse to tell you what parts of the surrounding fluff are real or not.

Day 1: Excited about the big step I'm taking to lead an even healthier life, I place the DVD set prominently on top of my TV set. There are three DVDs in this particular set: "Body Sculpt", " Pilates Plus", and "Thighs & Glutes". Apparently, the exercises in this set are taken from the Core Fusion and Core Fusion Sports classes, which are popular with celebrities and part of the Exhale spa brand. I just hope it doesn't make me exhale permanently.

I'll be honest here: celebrity endorsements of exercise and diet products don't impress me. They have a life so radically different from us normal people that something that suits them isn't going to suit us. But I was sent this set, and so I was going to at least try it. The DVDs are composed of sets of workouts ranging from 5 to 15 minute each, and I figure that I can get up a little earlier each morning to fit at least one in. But not today — I have way too much to do (ever heard that one before, ladies?).

Day 2: I get up 15 minutes earlier (seriously, I did!) but, still sleepy and suffering from a significantly decreased level of mental sharpness (because of the weather, people), I forget the reason why. By the time I remember I was supposed to start testing these workouts, I'm ready to leave the house for work. Oh well, it's the intention that counts, no?

Day 3:
Apparently not, since this is the second day in a row I wake up a little earlier and still manage to forget about the workouts. That does it. I'm making use of my alarmingly large collection of Post-Its to make sure I don' t forget again tomorrow morning.

Day 4: I get up early and, thanks to the Post-Its, I remember why. Hurrah! I figure I might as well start with the easiest DVD and build my strength up. Since I walk a lot, the "Thighs & Glutes" shouldn't be too hard, no? Ha, how naïve I am. I start with the first of the five 10-minute lessons available on this DVD, "Turned Out Thighs". The first thing I notice is that the two instructors — I didn't even catch their names, this is how early in the morning it is — are way too perky for this time of the day. But that's okay, the solution is simple: tomorrow I will have some coffee before exercising. The exercises in this 10-minute segment are surprisingly simple and yet interestingly difficult.

There are, as always, a low impact and a high impact version of the same exercise. Be careful if you have knee issues, or if you don't have knee issues but never exercise — you are going to want to take it a little easier the first couple of times you go through this routine so as to build up the muscles and ligaments of your legs and take the strain away from your knees. You do not want to bust a kneecap, trust me.

I get through the set pretty easily, alternating between the low-impact and the high-impact levels depending on the movement. I figure that after doing this set a couple of times, I will be able to do it all in high-impact. I also like the little tidbits of information that are shared as we hold certain poses. For example, did you know that the way Core Fusion works is that by doing short exercises and following it up immediately with stretching, you prevent the muscles from bulking? Which is a great thing, since I do not want to look like Mr. Muscles. I didn't think I would, but I'm actually looking forward to tomorrow morning.

Day 5: So today I actually wake up five minutes before my alarm rings and roll out of bed straight to my TV set. Seems like I'm not going to need that coffee after all. Some would argue that I am perkier than the instructors themselves this morning. Who knows? I highly doubt that, this early into my new regimen, I'm feeling the positive effects of exercising regularly; however, I think that I'm already feeling the positive psychological effects of having found a set of exercises that just might be enough to tone me up without leaving me on the floor, curled up in a ball of painful muscle spasms.

Today's workout is the "Parallel Thigh". I feel a little edgy after I find out that today I will need a mat. Yesterday's routine was easy because it was all standing, except for the stretch at the end. I have a hard time with the floor routines. I tend to want to curl up and read a book instead. And while yesterday I only needed a chair, today I need not only a chair and a mat, but also a towel. Are they planning on making me sweat this much during the 10-minute workout? Egad. But even with the apparent (or imaginary) threat of profuse sweating, it turns out that I didn't end up curling up on the floor with a book. Today' s workout was definitely more intense than yesterday's, and more difficult on the knees; but, again, the low-impact version is great to help you tone up and eventually protect your knees.

We are treated to more information about this exercise program. Apparently if you stick with it, you get pretty fast results. I have to admit that the promise of fast results always leave me a little cautious, for usually it's long term work that yields the best results. I guess we will have to see about that. We are also told that working these muscles, which are the biggest ones in our body, helps to increase our metabolism. Now while that is good in regard to a correlated increase in calorie burning, I think it's all the more interesting that the temperature is free falling in the northern hemisphere and a higher metabolism usually means higher body temperature. And I can always use a higher body temperature when it's snowing outside.

Day 6: I got up at the sound of my alarm, curious but a little less excited as to what my morning workout would bring. By late last night, I could feel the tightness in my thighs. Not a painful tightness, mind you; just the kind that reminds you about a certain something you recently added to your regularly scheduled routine. So I popped the DVD in and turned on the third set, the "Standing Glueteal Toner". Seriously, it sounds scary but at least we only need a chair. This set was a little more difficult to understand in that the movements are a lot more intricate than the previous sets.

I believe the voice in my head went a little something like this: "The foot behind? What? Six o'clock? I know it's 6 o'clock, that' s why I'm so tired. What do you mean my leg has to be diagonal, 6 o'clock is behind you!" Egad! I am really not good at spatial recognition, am I? Guess I wouldn't make it into Starfleet Academy. Oh well. I had a bit more time this morning and so decided to do the set a second time. It got easier to follow the instructions the second time around, so much so that I'm fairly confident that next time I will have no or next to no problem following my oh-so-dynamic instructors (whose names I still haven't caught). Another great thing about this set is that it's all standing, so you can just pop it on your laptop instead of the TV if ever you don't want to wake anyone up (or be seen doing this in the living room).

Day 8:
No, no, that' s not a typo. There is no Day 7. Let's pass over the reasons why. Suffice to say that day has been eliminated from memory. It's hard to convince myself to get out of bed this morning, and even more difficult to convince myself to do my exercises. I really am not up to it. But I tell myself that a small 10-minute set will not only help me stick to my schedule but dramatically decrease my feelings of guilt. And no doubt it will make me feel better, since exercise is a known mood enhancer.

Fortunately enough, I was right. Ten minutes is just about the limit of my capacity on a bad day, yet enough to get me going. Even if it was called the "Kneeling Gluteal Toner", which at first glance really freaked me out. But it' s only the name that sounds painful, for this was yet another great workout. Actually, it was one of the best workouts of the bunch, and was the perfect type for a day like today (read: a low energy day).

It seems really easy at first, for you are kneeling the entire time and doing what seems like the most minimal of movements, but you very quickly feel the work your muscles are doing. After I finished the last stretches, I felt awesome. It was also the type of workout that it simple enough that you can let your attention wander a little from the instructions and focus on the movement and effort your muscles are undergoing. It's a pretty interesting feeling, for like I mentioned previously, the movements are extremely small in scope and yet their effect is deep. I guess in a world where subtlety seems to be dying, it's refreshing to experience something like this.

Side note: I personally didn' t find that the mat was enough of a support to kneel on. No, I'm not old — I'm just really out of shape. So I paused the DVD for a few moments and added a thin fleece blanket on top of my mat; that way I had extra padding but that was still firmer than, say, a pillow — which would probably not good because it would be unstable. I barely noticed the 10 minutes going by, probably because I was enjoying this set too much but also because it wasn't that hard, and also because I really felt like I had to focus a lot more as I didn' t want to ruin my body's alignment. And I was right. At the end of the set, I felt a lot better already.

Day 9:
Today I try the last set of exercises in this DVD. And at first glance, it seems like they saved the best (read: the hardest) for last. A little bit of advice if you are considering creating an exercise DVD: don't ever call a routine "The Pretzel". It gives one very painful images that are not encouraging at all – especially this early in the morning.

It also happens that this is the first and only set on this DVD that doesn't require a chair, and this scares me even me. Call me dramatic, but when you are exercising first thing in the morning, the chair becomes something of a security blanket. I hope I survive without it. As I start the routine, I quickly realise that while we are going to be contortioning, the first four sets I did have  prepared me adequately for this. That, or I was already in shape.

I am honestly surprised at the relative ease with which I settle into the rather odd position I am guided into adopting, and even more surprise that I find it comfortable. I could watch a movie in this position, it's that comfortable, And the stretch I can feel in my muscles is absolutely amazing. I would compare it to the stretch you feel in your back when you dive into the water, and, during the first, long glide underwater, you pull your hands as far as you can and feel that delicious pull in your entire back. Without the water, of course. I usually don't like floor routines, but I did like this one. It might have to do with the rather awesome sensation I just described, combined with the fact that we are not lying down, but only sitting.

There are two more DVDs in this set, but I think I'm going to stick to this one for another week or two. I'll let you know how the other two go as soon as I give them a try. Until then, happy holidays!

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