Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Bach: perfect cardio music

I'm back from a long weekend in Brittany, where we enjoyed seafood, crepes, medieval towns, beaches, and tide pools. As usual for a vacation, we ate too much and didn't do enough exercise. I'm starting a new exercise regime as of today, perfect for a lazy, classical music lover. I was planning on going outside to jog in order to get some sort of cardio activity in my day. But, I couldn't think of getting dressed and going out. Instead, I jogged in place for 35 minutes to all the allegro (fast) movements of Bach's first three Brandenburg Concertos. Baroque music is great for cardio -- the tempo is pretty even and if you stick to the faster pieces and maintain the quick tempo, you are guaranteed to sweat in the first fifteen minutes. When I wanted to work myself harder, I tried to kick my knees up towards my chest for about twenty counts. Then, when my calves started hurting (I was not smart and was running in my bare feet) I put my hands down on the armrest of our sofa, propping myself while I kicked back with straight legs, all the while maintaining the same, fast tempo. Sometimes I did a side-to-side, swinging movement, also with straight legs. I got what I wanted -- my heart pumping, my brow sweating, but I don't think I'll be able to walk tomorrow. Next time, running shoes!

Last night, I also started up my ab workout again, which has had some surprising results! In just a week and a half of continued ab concentration (using mainly the short ab section from the New York City Ballet Workout video) before our long weekend away, I lost at least an inch to my waist and a friend who I hadn't seen for a few weeks thought I looked slimmer!

If you want to do what I did, get the New York City Ballet Workout 2 DVD (available on, and focus on just 3-4 of the individual floor exercises every morning (and some evenings). I start out with Stretches, go to Abdominals and Leg Darts, then Floor Barre 1 (and sometimes Floor Barre 2), go back to Abdominals and Leg Darts, and end with Stretches. I think it only takes about 20-25 minutes. If I have extra time and energy, I do Abdominals and Leg Darts again! The cinematography is beautiful (unlike most exercise videos) and the classical music is equally enjoyable. For these sections, it's not necessary to have any previous ballet experience. For most of the rest of the video (where you're standing), I would recommend some ballet classes beforehand so you know how to position yourself properly and place your weight correctly. This way, you'll maximize the effectiveness of each movement. Unfortunately, on this video they did make a few confusing editing errors (which they should have corrected from the first video -- same workout, but minus the ability to select individual exercises from the workout). In the Stretches section, there's the part where you pull your knee to your chest and then flex your leg up. If you follow the demonstration as closely as possible, you end up spending too little time on your right leg and too much on your left. When the woman prematurely goes to her left leg, continue working on the right side until the man demonstrates the left side.

When doing these floor exercises, it is very important to keep your lower back flat against the ground. Don't think of sucking in your belly to do this. Instead, think of pulling your navel down towards your spine. If you don't do this, you could hurt your back. I constantly have to check in with my back. The other good thing about this is that this means your ab is contantly engaged.

I more recently added the MTV Pilates DVD with Kristin McGee. It's fun and adds some variety to my workout. The background music is a little annoying, especially since it doesn't match her rhythms, so feel free to turn off the music in the audio options menu. It's better to have some Pilates experience beforehand so you don't hurt yourself. Some moves are rather advanced. I was lucky to have my new sister-in-law give me demonstrations of many of the basic Pilates exercises and tell me a few tricks on how to modify moves to make them easier or more difficult. I have a great Pilates book by Brooke Silver called, The Pilates Body. It gives you some background on Pilates, the man and the method, the philosophy behind the method, and lots of instructions and illustrations on how to perform each movement effectively and safely. When I get bored of the video, I intend to choreograph my own workouts with the help of the book.

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