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Elevé your Way to a Leaner Body with the Leah Sarago “Ballet Body” DVD Series


Allow me to confess: I loathe going to the gym — not because I’ve mastered the art of slothing around (though an argument could be made for that), but because I detest the cold, impersonal, machine-filled ambiance and the passive aggressive way in which females compete with one another (no need to prance around in those midriff-bearing tops, ladies). In any case, my tendency to be an independent worker seems to also extend to the realm of fitness and so I avoid any group activities, class environments, or mass activities of any kind. Instead, I’ll do Pilates and yoga at home, often with the help of a DVD that I can scream at in frustration whenever the instructor’s perky mantras begin to grate on my nerves (without eyebrows being raised). But, as with any workout routine, once you learn the routine of a fitness DVD, it won’t take long before the boredom sets in. And, on a practical level, once a routine stops requiring you to push yourself, then it loses its effectiveness in terms of allowing you to further tone, trim, and define your body. Seeing as I’ve been keeping the same five fitness DVDs on a loop for almost seven years, I was excited to spice up my routine with an entirely new series of ballet-inspired workout DVDs: Ballet Body: Upper Body Workout; Ballet Body: Core Workout; and Ballet Body: Lower Body Workout. Each DVD in the Ballet Body trilogy targets a different muscle group and  runs between 45 minutes and 54 minutes, making each installment a full workout. That being said, each DVD is sold separately for $16.99 at AcaciaLifestyle.com and Amazon.com/Acacia.

Developed by Leah Sarago, the Ballet Body series differs immensely from other workout DVDs in a number of ways. First, there are no shots of a perky instructor uttering “go get ’em, girl!” motivational phrases while standing in front of a faux class of fitness buffs, all perfectly in sync and wearing skimpy outfits that reveal sculpted abs and chiseled biceps. Instead, you’ll find footage of Sarago herself performing a series of movements within an otherwise empty dance studio as a voice-over instructs you on how to follow along. The voice-over element can require a shift in perspective since it lends itself to  Masterpiece Theater comparisons, but it actually ends up being a refreshing escape from the babbling utterances of all the overly peppy instructors on other fitness DVDs.

Now, admittedly, I always thought of ballet as a wimpy activity — maybe because, back when I was six or seven, my mother forced me to take ballet classes and I just couldn’t stand the daintiness of it all. So, based on nothing but my short-lived ballet stint in grade school, I approached these ballet-inspired workouts with a cockiness worthy of Jersey Shore’s The Situation. And, of course, I was quickly humbled when, about 20 minutes into the Ballet Body: Upper Body Workout DVD, I was literally yelling at the TV screen for mercy. Tutus be damned! Having worked out to all three DVD series, I can honestly say I’ve discovered a new-found respect for ballerinas and now think they’re about as badass as The Terminator‘s Sarah Connor.

The Ballet Body: Upper Body Workout DVD combines Pilates, yoga, and ballet movements, so that many of the exercises focus on isolating specific muscle groups: biceps, triceps, deltoids, and so forth. Now, a lot of the exercises involve mat work and require you to place most of your body weight on your wrists — whether it’s to do push-ups, to perform lengthening side twists, or to do forward and back movements while in a downward-facing dog position. Even if the exercises themselves don’t seem too challenging, newbies will likely find their wrists becoming tired after a solid 20 minutes. If you stick with these DVDs, however, you’ll find that your wrist actually become stronger, allowing you to better execute these more challenging exercises.

The floor exercises constitute the majority of the workout, but are then accompanied with some weight lifting movements (you will need a pair of 3lb. or 5 lb. dumbbells for the latter portion of the workout) — all inspired by ballet and requiring balance, concentration, and steady slow movements. Because the weightlifting exercises emphasize posture, control, and balance, they make for a more thoughtful workout so that there’s less grunting and more slow and deliberate movements. Overall, this workout will prove challenging without being so intimidating as to keep you from coming back — and, in the long run, it does wonders in terms of toning your upper body without it resulting in excess bulk.

The Ballet Body: Core Workout DVD is perhaps the most accessible to beginners and those without any ballet background whatsoever. In fact, if you’re a Pilates fanatic, this workout will prove to be a nice change of pace without being too difficult to follow. The standing balance exercises are all relatively easy to mimic and, once you move on to the floorwork and start doing side planks and sit-ups, you’ll feel like you’re in familiar territory.

By far the most challenging DVD in the series, at least for me, is the Ballet Body: Lower Body one. Ironically, I expected to breeze right through this workout since I danced for a ton of years (not ballet, but hip-hop and modern dance) and have freakishly strong legs. That being said, my inner thighs do jiggle more than I’d like them to, so it’s definitely an area I want to tone. Now, for this particular DVD, you’ll be doing a lot of movements inspired by barre exercises, so you’ll want to have a steady chair handy that you can grip for support. The chair’s back should ideally reach up to your chest but, in a pinch, you can use one with a lower back and adapt the movements accordingly. Needless to say, many exercises require you grip the chair with one hand, while extending your lower body and reaching one leg back while the other is firmly planted on the floor or, similarly, swinging one leg from one side to the next using steady movements. Most of the workout, however, is comprised of lunges and squats in a variety of stances. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, here’s the catch: almost every exercise on this DVD is performed as you stand on the balls of your feet in a relevé position. To say it makes those lunges and squats more challenging would be the understatement of the century — by the end of the DVD, you’ll feel like writing fan letters to every member of your city’s ballet company.

Overall, each of the installments in the Ballet Body DVD series provides a thorough and satisfying workout, but they definitely are best for those with some understanding and familiarity with either ballet or yoga and Pilates. If you’ve never experimented with any of these, the routines will likely seem a bit daunting but those with some background in these disciplines can adapt fairly quickly. And trust: you will feel the burn!

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