VIDEO / Jerk that body: The exercise gurus release their New Year body-beautiful programmes. Introduced by your personal trainer Serena Mackesy

There are few experiences more damaging to one's wellbeing than watching a dozen exercise videos in a row. Beautiful People beseeching you to look as they do while performing a string of sit-ups without breaking out under the arms is enough to send anyone screaming for the sweetshop.

As you watch, it's hard to ignore the creeping conviction that exercise drives you mad. Angela Lansbury has been exercising for years and, judging by Positive Moves, she headed for the stratosphere while watching her mother capering about with the League of Health and Beauty. 'I guess those words have remained in my mind ever since; Health (pause) and Beauty.'

Although the doughty Angela says things like 'to me, this stretch is sooo sad-isfying', she can't hold a candle to La Toya Jackson, whose intro to Step Up Work Out is worthy of her brother. La Toya sexes up exercise in that unique Jackson fashion, jerking her shoulders and keeping her head still, something personal trainer Gay Gasper, 'one of the best steppers in the country', refers to as 'real funky'.

One thing the exercise gurus are keen to convey is the benefits of exercise to the brain: not only will you have a flat tummy, you will enjoy Proust. Whatever else exercise has done for her, it hasn't improved the diction of the Duchess of York, who provides the foreword for Josh Salzmann's Bodyfit. Josh, a hairy sort of bloke, wears shell-suits and maintains constant eye contact; exhausting in itself. His wife, a Midwich Cuckoo in adulthood, informs you that she had a baby six months ago. No one cracks a smile, not even the po-faced Fergie. You can bet that mealtimes are fun round at the Salzmanns. 'Pass the salt, dear.' 'I think you should consider fluid retention before you step up your sodium intake, honey.'

Of all the muscle punishers releasing themselves on cassette this season, the only ones you would really want at your dinner table are Carole Caplin, the good-humoured progenitrix of Holistix, who avoids the customary high moral tone, and Jaclyn Smith, who always had a certain cool that Charlie's other Angels lacked. Both address their audience almost intelligently and neither insults you with the 'Whoo] Let me hear it at home]' skirling that seems to be the norm.

The programme that offers the most hope is Judith Wills and Gill Bidwell's Size 12 in 21 Days. Gill and Judith have either hypnotised or blackmailed a pair of cheerful size 16s into donning leotards and taking up some deeply unflattering poses; and the 21-day difference is marked. Also included is a diet booklet; presumably it's assumed that you're already living on carrots.

Other freebies available include a rubber band with handles called the XERTUBE, which comes with Judi Sheppard Missett's Jazzercise Circuit Training. This is a great help in working up sufficient tension to keep a fixed grin plastered to your face. Leslie 'Hi everybody' Sansome's Weight Loss Walk and Firm Off Weight have 28-page booklets that let you plan your 'great low-calorie recipes]' while marching around the living room. Nothing is free with Tony Little's Target Training but there are three volumes, so you can spend two hours a day with one of those musclebound, ponytailed jocks who cause maternal palpitations on prom nights all over America.

And then there are the ones your friends will want to borrow: The Marky Mark Workout and Shape Your Body with Cindy Crawford. Sulky Marky made a lot of pink dollars for Calvin Klein by lounging around in his keks, and there's obviously some exploitation in the lad yet. Cindy seems happy to let us look between her swinging thighs on the beach, in a warehouse and on a city rooftop. All very scenic, but if you think you can get to look like Cindy without genetic engineering you need your head examining, not your body.

The least depressing of these opuses is, in order, Holistix (because Carole Caplin seems likeable and the exercises weren't invented by the Gestapo), Size 12 in 21 Days (for much the same reasons) and Denise Austin's All New Super Stomachs because she's only after one bit of you. But it you want some enjoyable cardiovascular exercise, buy a copy of The Last of the Mohicans, in which Daniel Day Lewis takes his shirt off and runs uphill a lot. Now that'll get the blood pumping.

(Photograph omitted)

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