FIRM UP, STAY IN

January normally calls for a new exercise programme, but can it be done at home? Our panel puts keep-fit videos to the test

It's A familiar feeling: you hurry home from work to pick up your kit and head for the gym. You put the kettle on for a quick cup of tea and, before you know it, you're slumped in front of the TV. Exercise videos are made for these moments. In theory, they allow those of us who are sadly out of condition to shape up in privacy; to practise fancy steps which might leave us behind in a live class and to exercise at any hour of the day or night for a minimal outlay. In practice, they can rapidly grow dull and their on-screen health warnings are not merely for the frail and elderly - without the supervision of a teacher, there is a danger of damaging the body by repeating exercises in the wrong way.

We looked for videos covering a wide spectrum of exercises which would inspire viewers to participate and to re-play the video on at least half a dozen occasions. Our panel of testers ranged from Lycra-owning aerobics babes Charlotte Morey and Katy Brown (in their 20s) through well-intentioned Anna MacLellan, to a more mature section fighting a rearguard action against middle-aged decay - Anna Nicholas, Alan Stewart and myself. We asked personal trainer Mat Roberts of Mayfair to assess whether each exercise programme would eventually deliver results, as well as entertainment value, ability to inspire many re-plays and to motivate the viewer to do the exercises.

DIANE YOUDALE'S BODY AND SOUL 2 IN 1 AEROBICS WORKOUT

IMC, pounds 10.99

All the testers were outraged by this video, which features ex-Gladiator Diane Youdale in the first half ("Body") only to the extent that she excuses herself from exercise due to an injury. "Why not postpone production?" Anna MacLellan wanted to know, adding, "The only redeeming factor is that all the chaps who went out and bought it this Christmas hoping to see a semi-naked Jet jumping up and down will have been sorely disappointed." In the second half ("Soul") Youdale - a qualified counsellor - finds the strength to sit in an armchair and deliver a dreary, patronising talk on how to be happy. Of the first half, Mat Roberts said, "A terrible aerobics class that would take a room at least 20ft wide to perform - possibly the most boring video I have ever seen." Of the second half, Katy Brown reported "If it hadn't been for the exercise class it would now be in our compost heap."

**BEVERLEY CALLARD, RAPID RESULTS

VCI, pounds 10.99

"Why do soap actors do this?" was Mat Roberts' response to Coronation Street star Beverley Callard's (Liz McDonald) exercise debut. "This is naff basic aerobics." Other panellists were equally sceptical about "Rapid Results", but had to admit that, despite the "Northern, bland, bubbly" presentation, dated Eighties pop music and dull studio set, this is an energetic and easy to follow class. "It was a bit tacky but good fun," said Charlotte Morey. Other panellists approved of before and after footage of "real people" who had taken the class. Anna MacLellan did not: "Let's face it, we don't want to look normal after 10 months of intensive training, we want to look like supermodels."

**MR MOTIVATOR TEN MINUTE BLT

Polygram, pounds 10.99

For panellists under the misapprehension that BLT is a sandwich filling, this new video from the old pro seemed no better or worse than any mainstream aerobic exercise tape here. The open-air settings in Tobago (nice location work if you can get it) pleased Anna Nicholas, although she, like the rest of us, tutted over the multi-coloured Lycra worn by Mr M and "friends". Mat Roberts and the gym-goers wondered how much more mileage there could be in "the same old boring exercise routine that this guy has pedalled for years" and tried to decide whether the fact that the class is led not by Mr Motivator but by "some terrible, unprofessional others", was annoying or "a form of respite".

**3 MINUTES A DAY FACELIFT BY JILLY JOHNSON

Astrion, pounds 13.99

Deeply trendy and not without substance, according to Mat Roberts, facial exercises can help to tighten sagging jowls, baggy eyes and other signs of ageing. This hour long video of facial exercises, designed and narrated, although not demonstrated by the still beautiful, ex-Page Three model, aims to teach exercise routines for different areas of the face. Anna Nicholas suggested "How to look like a complete halfwit!" as the subtitle, while endless "goldfish impressions" produced by Johnson's hapless assistants caused Katy Brown to award points for entertainment. Other panellists were cynical, wondering if genetic influences might account for Ms Johnson's youthful appearance.

*****YOGA MIND AND BODY BY ALI MCGRAW

Warners, pounds 10.99

Stunning photography in the White Sands desert, a "clan of Adonises" and soothing, Eastern-influenced music all put this yoga video in a class of its own and helped to make it our winner. Its crowning glory is Ms McGraw, whose inspirational physique ("I want to look like her when I grow up" said Anna MacLellan) and modest acknowledgement of her strictly amateur status, whilst performing the yoga postures brilliantly, endeared her to the panel. More importantly, perhaps, the yoga ranges from the simplest exercises to very difficult, leaving testers "relaxed, stretched and calm", but keen to improve by watching again. Mat Roberts said that "yoga is notoriously difficult to teach on video, but this is well narrated and instructed [by a yoga master] as well as being enjoyable."

***BODY BY DESIGN BY ROSEMARY CONLEY

VCI, pounds 10.99

As well known for her Hip and Thigh Diet as her series of exercise videos, Rosemary Conley exudes a professionalism and intelligence which earned her respect among panellists. This latest programme, divided into separate mini-workouts for different parts of the body, was thought "mumsy, nice, cosy and safe" as well as "clear and comprehensive" (Alan Stewart). He also wondered "who chooses the settings for these videos? This one looked like the inside of a Roman villa gone wrong." Mat Roberts was sceptical about "its claimed aerobic effect, as the intensity is low" - an assessment thought by other testers when they assumed the video's market was "women of a certain age".

*T'AI CHI FITNESS FOR LIFE BY GERDA GEDDES

VMA International, pounds 12.99

With better credentials to promote harmony between the "spirit and a fit and healthy body" than most exercise programmes, this sincerely meant, if soporific video describes, in monologue, the life's work of septuagenarian Gerda Geddes, a revered teacher of contemporary dance in London and master of t'ai chi. Too bad that the testers (all keen to learn something of the martial art) were left feeling bewildered and, alas, bored by the lack of basic instruction. "The start is slow, the sound quality is poor and the exercises are never clearly explained," said Anna MacLellan, summarising many similar complaints. Mat Roberts thought the poor production and disjointed presentation a shame, "because t'ai chi is beneficial in many ways as an aid to both relaxation and circulation." "It seems more relevant to people looking for stress relief than no-nonsense exercise," said Alan Stewart, adding helpfully, "But it might be good if combined with the Kama Sutra."

SPENDING

Turn to the Independent on Sunday's brand new broadsheet section for further coverage of travel, property and personal finance

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there