Lean & Toned is the latest DVD in the Core Fusion series led by Fred DeVito and Elisabeth Halfpapp, a husband and wife team who are also founding members of exhale, a national mind/body spa. In their Introduction, Fred and Liz explain that they designed Lean & Toned to be a "focused mind-body class" similar to what is offered in one of their studios. The DVD consists of five approximately 10-minute segments plus a cool-down stretch. The sections are designed to be used together, although they can also be used individually. Fred and Liz take turns leading, providing live instruction and mirrored cuing; one of the three background exercisers, Barbara (who was the lead instructor for one of the Lotte Berk exercise videos a few years back, Muscle Eats Fat) shows modifications for some of the exercises. The workout is filmed in a loft-type studio, and the equipment used includes dumbbells, a mat, a chair, and a wall (a strap and blocks are optional).
The Main Menu for the DVD offers the following options: Introduction -- Workout Options -- Bonus Features -- Also From Acacia -- Credits. If you select Workout Options, you are taken to a submenu which lists the following:
Play All Without Introductions
PICK A SEGMENT
Upper Body Tone & Stretch (9.5 minutes)
Thighs Tone & Stretch (9 minutes)
Flat/Round Back Tone & Stretch (9 minutes)
Gluteal Tone & Stretch (9 minutes)
Pretzel Core Toner (10.5 minutes)
Bonus: Stretch (7 minutes)
The first segment, Upper Body, is led by Fred, and it begins with a warm-up: this is the traditional knees up/arms up often found in barre-type workouts. Following this, Fred immediately (the pace is fairly quick throughout) moves down to the floor for push-ups. This is a challenging sequence which includes push-ups on one leg and with a close hand setup; there are also leg lifts from an elbow plank position and seated tricep dips. Returning to standing, Fred cues more traditional upper body exercises using light dumbbells--e.g., lateral raises, overhead presses, bicep curls, and tricep kickbacks. All of the segments conclude with stretching; this one includes some nice yoga-inspired moves such as cow face and eagle arms (using an optional strap).
The Thighs section uses a chair (or barre) and is led by Liz. Liz starts facing the chair for several variations on plié squats. Next is leg lifts to both sides, and then Liz turns sideways (using the chair for balance only) for a set of rear lunges. She concludes with static holds before coming down to the mat for a thorough, 3-minute stretch. The following section, Flat/Round Back, focuses on the abs. Here Fred (leading), Liz, and Barbara have their mats set up in an L-shape against the wall. The first series of movements involves holding the back flat against the wall while moving the feet in and out, ideally hovering the feet slightly above the ground. For the second half, Fred and crew lean with their upper backs against the wall, sort of in a V-sit position, while performing movements that have a slight Pilates-like feel to them. This entire section is a challenge to strength, balance, and basic coordination!
Liz begins the Gluteal section at the wall, although there are many position changes here: she starts arms length away from the wall for leg lifts behind, but she moves through arms higher, one hand on the wall, and both hands on the floor in a standing splits stance. This segment also includes a long stretch of about 3 ½ minutes, which is performed seated against the wall. For the Pretzel Core segment, Liz is again leading, and she starts on the mat in the traditional "pretzel" position--i.e., one leg bent in front and the other stretched out straight behind. Between sides, Liz sets up the "curl" or C-curve for more abs work consisting mainly of tiny pulses up and to each side. A 1 ½ minute stretch concludes this section. The final cool-down stretch is led by Fred. He begins on the mat for a hamstring stretch, then moves to the wall for a nice series which includes legs-up-the-wall, diamond, and wall straddle.
Several Bonus Features are included on this DVD. The bonus menu reads as follows:
· From Exhale: Thighs & Glutes
· From Shiva Rea: Creative Core Abs
· About Core Fusion
· About Exhale
· Main Menu
The Thighs & Glutes segment, about 10 ½ minutes long, is led by both Fred and Liz together via voiceover. It uses a chair for moves such as pliés, pelvic tucks, leg lifts, and inner thigh presses. In Creative Core Abs, yoga instructor Shiva Rea offers unique variations on traditional abs work, performing moves such as pelvic tilts and crunches in a very fluid, dynamic manner.
In the end, I had mixed feelings about this workout. I thought that both Fred and Liz instructed well, and I liked that they moved along at a good clip throughout. Similarly, I thought that the breakdown into 10-minute segments made the overall time seem to go by quickly, and I liked that each section included some stretching. On the other hand, the lengthier stretching also meant that the actual toning work was proportionally shorter, sometimes as little as 6 minutes. But a more significant problem was that I found some of the exercises very difficult to execute. Because I have a bit of an outer curve to my lower back, getting into the right position for the Flat/Round Back exercises was near impossible for me. Similarly, I also found the setup for the pretzel exercise awkward (although I have performed pretzel variations successfully with other videos). Given these challenges, I do not agree with Fred's assertion in the Introduction that the workout is appropriate for all levels, from basic to advanced; even with the modifications (which actually vary from too easy to not enough), I would recommend the routine for more experienced exercisers, particularly those who are familiar with barre workouts.
© 2010 Beth Cholette
Beth Cholette, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy to college students.