This blog details some of my experiences with Library materials. You can also check out my Staff Picks reviews or take a look at the books I've set out on the Staff Picks Shelf at the Library. Some of the items I review on this blog are also pinned on Pinterest. - Sara, Electronic Services Librarian
Fri, Mar 22, 2013
(The bold links go to the InfoSoup Library catalog.)
Kickboxing is probably my absolute favorite workout. I have tried several different instructors, and my favorite, far and away, is Ilaria Montagnani. She is very no-nonsense but not at all grumpy. Her Powerstrike series is a full-body kickboxing workout, whereas the Bodystrikes series utilizes kickboxing moves to focus entirely on legs and glutes.
If you want to try Powerstrike, I highly recommend that you go through the introduction where she describes the proper form and technique for different kicks, blocks, and punches. You want to be sure you are working from your core and not just moving your arms and legs. I own all the Powerstrike DVDs except #7 -- #6 is my favorite (preview #6). I don’t plan to purchase #7, her newest release (preview #7): the workout is good, but the music is way too overpowering & off-rhythm with the combinations, and the location changed from a pretty, airy workout room to a cheesy, brick-walled set. I won’t be purchasing the recently released BodyStrikes #3 for the same reason, though it’s a great workout. #1 and #2 are fantastic (preview #1; preview #2).
My other favorite kickboxing DVD is The Kung Fu Kickboxing Workout by Chinese martial arts champions -- and siblings -- Tiffany and Max Chen. This one is incredibly enjoyable; the workouts are only 20 minutes, versus 50 minutes. I would recommend getting accustomed to kickboxing through Ilaria Montagnani’s videos before attempting this one; it is not a beginner workout even if you start with The Basics. Incredibly effective, you can choose from three different workouts or do all of them in a row if you are feeling really strong and ambitious. Workout 1: The Basics consists of five, three-minute rounds of combat-oriented exercises. Workout 2: The Kicker is a series of 30-second standing and floor calisthenics. Workout 3: The Killer consists of multiple exercises in repeating cycles: an exercise in the cycle is done for 10 reps and then you proceed to the next exercise for 10 reps, etc., until all the exercises are done. You then repeat the whole cycle again, this time for 8 reps each, then the whole thing with 6 reps each, 4 reps each, 2 reps each, and finally 1 rep of each exercise in the cycle (this preview contains parts of The Killer at the 4 rep stage, whereas this preview contains combinations from all three of the workouts).
If you enjoy a tough workout without instructor-perkiness, kickboxing DVDs from the Library might be for you, too. If you are just getting started with kickboxing, a good starter video is Kickbox: Core Cross Train with Patricia Moreno (preview). This is a lightweight but good introduction to kickboxing with a lot of rest time built in to help you get through it. She talks a lot throughout the workout, but only to give good direction and keep you going.
Mon, Feb 4, 2013
After training Natalie Portman for her role in “Black Swan,” ballet dancer Mary Helen Bowers has re-released two ballet-inspired workout videos under new titles. I enjoyed them, but found the lack of modifications for people who do not have a ballet dancer’s turnout – practically everyone – was cause for concern. Even though, of course, ballet dancers are extremely strong, I also found it comically demoralizing that someone with such a non-muscular build could be that much stronger than I. Actually, seeing her stretch is demoralizing, too. Ha!
For both DVDs, you’ll want to custom-program the segments to do them straight through, otherwise you’ll return to the main menu at the end of each segment. If you do the workout enough to memorize the sequencing, you can also choose to play the segments with just the music and no instruction. Regardless of programming, however, each segment starts with a long intro credit and a lot of gabbing; I expected long intros to have been removed with the custom program option.
This is a surprisingly dichotomous workout. The music, instruction, and movement are very calm and quiet; however, the number of reps are killer and a bit too fast. My muscles got a tremendous workout, but I didn’t sweat or even get noticeably warm. The ‘stretching’ moments in between moves lasted about 1.5 seconds each: weird, and sort of pointless.
If you try this, don’t attempt to copy her foot and leg positions! Her femur turns out of her hip socket in a way that yours absolutely will not (and should not). Don’t force the position from your feet unless you want to seriously damage your knees and ankles. For example, during the Inner Thighs segment I had to ground my supporting leg behind my moving leg, rather than in front, since I didn’t have the necessary turnout from the hip. I also had to remind myself to pull my moving leg back so it brushed against my supporting foot in order to work the correct muscles.
The DVD consists of 6 segments of varying length:
Bridge – Very hard with a lot of burn! I was thankful for her reminders to relax my shoulders, though she gave no instruction to support and protect the lower back. There was no way I was going up on demi-pointe during some of the bridges; instead, I kept my feet flat on the floor.
Abs – This is a very short segment, but the first half is hard!
Inner Thighs – Good workout, but assumes a turnout that no one but a serious dancer has.
Outer Thighs – I could definitely tell which of my legs was stronger.
Arms – Deceptively hard; I thought the reps would never end, and I was doing practically nothing! Don’t try to sit like she does, which, again, is a factor of her turnout. Sit however is comfortable and allows a supported lower back and spine. I had to keep reminding myself to relax my shoulders as I worked.
Standing – The reps were extremely fast and the segment was very short.
Despite the critical notes, I actually think this is a great workout once you understand there’s no way you will possibly be able to put your appendages in the same positions as she. Yes, it’s true that Natalie Portman learned to do it; but she did nothing else, all day, every day, for something like a year under expert, personal direction. If you use this video, use it to get stronger and more flexible but accept that you won’t be able to move – or in some cases even sit -- like the instructor.
Again, she takes about 1.5 seconds to stretch after finishing sets. Though I didn’t sweat with this one either, I did warm up noticeably. However, that may have had more to do with the fact that after this video arrived in a recent Library purchase order, I quickly tested out the Swan Arms portion on my break while wearing two layers, including a sweater, jeans, and hiking boots (it snowed that casual Friday morning).
This DVD consists of four 15-minute segments:
Swan Arms -- I must admit, if you weren’t concerned about looking like a weirdo or a four-year old pretending to be a bird, this is something you could do at your desk at work. However, you may be deemed disruptive by your coworkers once you start groaning and mumbling insults at Mary Helen Bowers: it really starts to hurt after a while!
15-Minute Body Blast – Don’t expect to keep pace with the instructor in the very first part of this section that focuses on lower abdominals.
Butt Series, Part 1 – Once more, I was too tall to keep pace and my legs had to move at a ridiculously crazy speed if I wanted to keep up with her. You do a lot of work on one leg before transitioning over to the other.
Butt Series, Part 2 – See notes for Part 1; however, this focused more on inner leg, whereas the first worked more of the outer leg.
To end on a very inspirational note, here’s a photo of me doing the “Total Body Workout” at home.*
Oh. Wait. That’s not me: that’s Mary Helen Bowers. Oh well, I guess I can’t find the one of me…. maybe next time.
*Photo of Mary Helen Bowers, by Yelena Yemchuck, taken from www.balletbeautiful.com/about/gallery
Fri, Jan 11, 2013
The cover story for the January 2013 edition of Smithsonian magazine, “Born to Be Mild,” asks whether babies are born knowing right from wrong; it reports on various infant and toddler research that aims to discover from where (or when) morality and altruism comes.
I’ve been reading a lot on developmental neuroscience and cognition, and one name that keeps popping up is Alison Gopnik, a developmental psychologist at UC-Berkeley. In the Smithsonian, she notes that “the elements that underpin morality – altruism, sympathy for others, the understanding of other people’s goals – are in place much earlier than we thought, and clearly in place before children turn 2” (Smithsonian, 38). The article also notes that the last few years have produced a number of studies hinting that
…a child arrives in the world provisioned with rich, broadly pro-social tendencies and seems predisposed to care about other people. Children can tell, to an extent, what is good and bad, and often act in an altruistic fashion. …They are natural helpers, aiding distressed others at a cost to themselves, growing concerned if someone shreds another person’s artwork and divvying up earnings after a shared task, whether the spoils take the form of detested rye bread or precious Gummy Bears.
…These findings may seem counter-intuitive to anyone who has seen toddlers pull hair in a playground tunnel or pistol-whip one another with a plastic triceratops. …No seasoned parent can believe that nurture doesn’t make a difference, or that nature trumps all. The question is where the balance lies (Smithsonian, 37).
All of this reminded me of a chapter from the book Future Science. The author of the chapter (“Children’s Helping Hands”) was, in fact, another researcher featured in the Smithsonian article. Working at the Laboratory for Developmental Studies at Harvard University, Felix Warneken’s “Helping Hands’”findings suggest
…that children’s helping is intrinsically motivated rather than driven by the expectation of material reward [or praise]. Apparently, if such rewards are offered, they can change children’s original motivation, causing them to help only because they expect to receive something for it (Future Science, 22; emphasis mine).
This is interesting information to contemplate, especially if you interact frequently with babies or toddlers. Most people’s natural inclination is to praise excessively good and altruistic behavior in children in an attempt to reinforce it. However, it does make sense to me to, instead, act as though what they did was natural or expected. Perhaps just saying “thanks” and letting them see your pleasure in being able to finish your task due to their help (even mentioning that) may do more to reinforce their natural, helping inclinations than would effusive praise. Something to contemplate and perhaps give a try. You can always go back to effusive praise if that feels too weird to you!
If you are interested in developmental psychology or neuroscience – and especially if you have not yet tried out our new Zinio service – this would be a great article to access. Learn more about Zinio in the website’s eLibrary section (www.apl.org/e). You’ll want to be sure to give it a try before February’s issue of Smithsonian comes out in Zinio; if you haven’t already downloaded the January issue, you won’t be able to get to it once it’s been replaced with the new one.
Fri, Dec 21, 2012
Here’s another workout DVD review that could be added to the “videos that sort-of make me think I’m going to die, yet I love them” list.
Leah Sarago’s three-part Ballet Body series incorporates elements of ballet, Pilates, yoga, and athletic moves. As always, you need to think about proper pelvic and spinal alignment while doing the exercises, but she’s pretty good at cuing correct positioning. The videos, aside from tremendous strength-building, incorporate a lot of flexibility and balance work. I put these in when I want to work really hard but don’t want the extreme cardio of Brooklyn Bridge or one of my kickboxing DVDs. She does not include a warm-up at all, so you want to make sure to warm up your muscles before starting these. I often first put in one of Sara Ivanhoe’s 20 Minute Yoga Makeover DVDs because they work very well as a warm-up for any other workout (the Library has 4 of the 5 DVDs in the set). I also have a fluffy, folded towel ready in addition to my yoga mats for all the times you are working on your knees (mainly just the Upper Body and Core videos).
Upper Body: Ultra Sleek Definition (45 min) – Seriously, I don’t even try to do the first two minutes of this video: you are in sloped, plank positions, braced on your forearms; it hurts my elbow bones way too much. The rest of the video is a very difficult yet doable workout. Even though it is for the upper body, it incorporates full body movements (as do the rest in this series) and requires a lot of balance. (preview)
Core: Ultimate Tummy Tightener (45 min) – I highly recommend this one; it is very effective. You are also presented with a ton of new moves, rather than the same-old stuff you usually get for abdominal exercises. This DVD really is 45 minutes of pain. (preview)
Lower Body: Extreme Elongation (54 min) – I really do love this one, too. While I can do the whole thing without wimping out or stopping, there is still a lot of room for improvement: as your strength and flexibility increase, you will be able to lift your legs higher and dip deeper into lunges and pliés. The DVD calls for a ballet bar or strong high-backed chair. I use a chair and then sometimes even put a strangle-hold on one of the support beams in my basement for some of the exercises. (preview)
Thu, Nov 22, 2012
I can’t resist -- here’s another review of a workout DVD. This one could be the first in a new series: “videos that sort-of make me think I’m going to die, yet I love them.”
Brooklyn Bridge Boot Camp (52 min) – This workout is definitely results-driven rather than entertaining. When I went to InfoSoup to get the link to this DVD, I noticed the summary says “Your ultimate goal is to complete the entire workout without taking any breaks.” Yeah. That’s me. I feel pretty safe saying that you will not be able to do this video without resorting to wimpy versions of some of the exercises, or even stopping completely as you mutter abuse at your tv screen while trying to work up the will to continue. It’s HORRIBLE. Yet, I love being able to so easily mark my progression. Nearly a year ago I first tried it and didn’t often try again. This time, my goal was to not turn off the video and lay on the floor, exhausted, before it was actually done. By the third day I was doing much better, but that just means my breaks weren’t quite as embarrassingly long. If you can get to the fifth day, you will be amazed at your progress. I am still, however, doing a lot of modifications: she jumps up out of most of her squat variations while I just stand up; also, during the park section I typically collapse onto my yoga mat once we get to these painful ‘small circle’ leg lift moves, telling myself I’ll start again as soon as the circles are over.
In this workout you are basically doing jumping jacks, sumo squats, and high-knees for the majority of the time. On the left side of the screen the instructor and her class are running the Brooklyn Bridge while on the right she is demonstrating what you should be doing while they run. You are actually getting a more difficult workout because of the much higher intensity and impact you are going through than just jogging produces. This is split up by various strength moves each time you arrive at a support tower on the bridge: pushups, lunges, band work, etc. (you can probably use free weights if you don’t have bands, though just go without for the leg work). When you get to the other end of the bridge, you stop at a park to do some quick upper leg and abdominal work. Then you run – or jumping-jack – back to the other end of the bridge, stopping again at each support for more torture. For me, it feels like heaven when I finally alternate out of jumping jacks or sumo squats into the high-knees; I could do those forever in comparison to the rest.
You need to be aware of your body position and alignment with this DVD – particularly your pelvis and spine. If you try to imitate her exactly, some of her movements could result in injury (like how she moves her spine during her jumping side squats. Understanding how to move and position your body in safe, strong ways is very important. I learned this two summers ago when I took a Pilates Reformer class at the YMCA; one of my best friends teaches it and I learned much in those six weeks that have been of tremendous benefit to me since).
If you have another workout video that you think is really hard, do this one for a week instead and THEN do your other one the next week – it just might feel easy for the first time! I think, though, that once the day comes that I can actually do the whole thing -- full reps and without breaks -- the extreme repetition will start to be boring rather than challenging and it may have to sit back on the shelf for a while. (preview)
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