Ok, I wrote in a recent article about my use of exercise videos to energize and destress. I thought it might be fun to do a quick recap of the main exercise gurus I turn to, in case you want to check out the classics, or try something new.

First up is my all-time favorite: Jane Fonda. This wonderful woman put aerobics videos on the map in her 1982 classic. Now, my personal feeling about her early videos is that you should avoid bouncing during the stretches (since to my knowledge science now says that's bad for you). Her New Workout is probably my favorite tape from this era. I love her gray and pink leotard, Leslie's singing "Living for you", and the killer toning. My questions about it have always been why we are put through our toning paces at top speed (a big contrast to Denise Austin's quality over quantity) and why the aerobic portions are so darn short (as in 10-15 minutes).

For toning with weights, I still love her Toning and Shaping video. Dan, the trainer who co-teaches this class, has a great Alex P. Keaton haircut and super-cute dimples. I find Jane's leopard print and hot-pink one-piece outfits a scream! Still, even though many years have passed since this came out, I think the moves they have you perform are done at a safe, effective pace and in still-recommended positions. You get two great toning workouts in one video (no aerobics here though). Her other, late 90s Toning and Sculpting video was very beginner-level, I thought. 

The Low Impact and Stress Reduction programs were late 80s and have the most hilarious flashback outfits - legwarmers, wristbands, big hair, etc. It's hard to feel intimidated about how silly you might look doing aerobics because you know there's no way you look as crazy as the dancers in these videos. However, I love the music in these tapes, and they're perfect for days when I'm feeling tired and just want to have fun rather than be challenged. My only complaint is that the Stress Reduction video's workout portion is barely 20 minutes - you just get warmed up and then it's time to cool down. So I usually do that one as a warm-up to a weight routine or some such.

My absolute favorite Fonda video is the Complete Workout - you get arm toning first, then aerobics (including really fun numbers like the Scottish jig and a Sixties routine complete with the pony and the swim), then lower body and ab work. Fonda's co-teachers, Laurel and Jeanie, thankfully are not annoying. I always find myself envying Laurel's good looks, and Jeanie comes across as sweet and understanding.

These ladies also accompany Jane in her Lean Routine video. This video has the most complex choreography of any of her tapes, and it's super fun once you get the hang of it. It's also the only video she has with an entire hour of aerobics. The only bummer is that no toning is included.

The Lower Body Solution workout and her Step Aerobic and Abdominal tapes both let you use the Step, which is great for a low-impact but still high-intensity workout. It's also a great way to change up your routine. In these videos, Jeannie and Laurel lead, along with a Greek-god-worthy guy, Mark. Believe me, you'll be drooling your way through these videos. I was disappointed that Jane herself doesn't appear in the aerobics parts. However, she does lead the toning segments at the ends of each video. The leg lifts in the Lower Body Solution are killer - I can't believe she can do so many reps without a break and still suggest ankle weights!!

In the late 90s, Jane put out some other workout videos (such as the Personal Trainer Series Abs, Buns and Thighs) featuring co-leaders Michele and Kim. These ladies were nice to be sure, but personally I found myself annoyed with Michele's perkiness and super flexibility (which I could never compete with) and Kim's short hair (nothing personal, I'm just more of a long-hair lover). Jane does appear in these videos (and a pregnant Laurel is in one too!). I found the level of them a bit too easy, but the music is fun.

Jane did one foray into the New Age in the 90s, her Yoga video. Thankfully, she doesn't have you doing any wild contortions, mostly sun salutations. I like it for relaxation, but a real workout it isn't.

In the last couple years, Jane has come out with new videos (and her in her 70s!). I think her commitment to fitness is truly inspiring. Even though I'm in my 30s and hardly geriatric, I have exercised with these videos to stay up on her latest efforts. I thought her plug for her boyfriend's band in one was sweet but a bit lame (she used some of his jazz in one of her dances). I couldn't help thinking that if they ever broke up, that comment would really date the video fast. However, I loved her honesty about the difficulty of working up to certain moves and stretches are her knee-replacement surgery, etc. Yes, even Jane Fonda has had to overcome exercise hurdles!

I think the crown jewel of all Jane's tapes is Jane herself -she always keeps the feel of her videos fun, so that exercise is a joy, not a chore. So often exercise gurus make me feel like a wimp they have to whip into shape and I feel intimidated by their hard bodies. Not so with Jane. While she does push you (I can imagine her as a drill sargeant in some of the ab portions), she's very fun-loving too (in two different videos, she has you strike a pose or do your own thing during portions of some of the aerobic songs) and there's lots of witty banter between her and Laurel and Jeannie.

The only videos in her library that I haven't tried are the ones she came out with in, I think the mid-200s, when they were led what seemed from the packaging to be entirely by other instructors (I didn't get the impression that she'd appear in them). If you've tried these and have comments, I'd love to hear from you.

I did have the privilege of meeting my exercise inspiration one time, at a book talk at the Milwaukee Public Library when her My Life So Far autobiography came out. During the talk, she called on me and I asked her opinion on how we could fight the obesity epidemic. Her response was that people should walk everywhere when possible (take the stairs instead of the elevator, park way out in the parking lot). During the book signing, I said something about my struggle to be consistent - she wrote "Forget perfection" in my book. Good advice that I keep needing to be reminded of.

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