I’m reviewing this workout after doing each episode twice.
General workout breakdown: This strength training DVD contains six episodes of Margaret Richard’s Body Electric 1900 series. (These particular episodes first aired on PBS in 2006.) Each approximately 25-min. episode contains a brief dance-inspired warm-up that might have a static stretch or two as well, exercises for a select few body parts, a brief instructional segment about nutrition or other aspects of wellness (“Food for Thought”), and a brief cool-down with stretches, mostly static but some more fluid movements designed to lengthen out the muscles. Almost all of her warm-ups and cool-downs include some neck and shoulder stretches. Some are more directly related to the muscles included in the workouts than others.
Here’s a brief breakdown of what’s included in each episode:
- Episode 1909: triceps (press ups on all fours), inner thighs (squeeze), outer thighs (side-lying leg lifts), and quadriceps (leg lifts while leaning back in seated position).
- Episode 1910: shoulders & deltoids (lateral raises and similar moves), biceps (hammer and preacher curls), hamstrings (donkey kicks), and gluteus & hamstrings (low bridge).
- Episode 1911: calves (standing calf raises), inner thighs (side-lying leg lift), pectorals (push-ups), abdominals (crunches), and obliques (seated side crunches).
- Episode 1912: triceps (kickback, then press back), biceps (hammer curl, biceps curl, and preacher curl), quadriceps (plie squats), and outer thighs (side-lying leg lifts).
- Episode 1913: deltoids (shoulder press with arm across the body), back (upright row – you may want to know that Margaret’s recommendation to go that far up in this move is now considered more harmful than helpful), abdominals (hinging back and forward in seated, crunches), quadriceps (hinging back while kneeling), and calves (calf raise in low bridge position).
- Episode 1914: hamstrings (donkey kicks on elbows and knees), triceps (side-lying 1-armed push-up), hamstrings and quadriceps (a kind of modified lunge combined with an upper body press), and biceps (hammer curl, biceps curl, and preacher curl).
Even when Margaret uses the same or similar exercises between episodes, she changes up the order and tempo she’s not repeating herself exactly.
In general, Margaret is more about light to no weights / body weight and higher reps, focusing on endurance. She’ll do one long set for each body part without any rest in between, often alternating between different tempos, angles, or even exercises. She may not do the same amount of reps of every exercise, but she’ll spend about an equal amount of time on each side. (If these are your regular strength videos, you may want to alternate side each time you do them to balance things out. If you do them occasionally, it’s not really a big deal.)
Level: I’d recommend this to beginner / intermediate through intermediate / advanced exercisers with previous strength training experience. There’s not enough instruction for absolute beginners to exercise.
Class: Sometimes Margaret is by herself; sometimes another woman joins her. Margaret instructs live.
Music: none. (The cover says the music used in the series when it airs on PBS isn’t licensed for retail sales; if it were, no doubt Margaret’s already pricey DVDs would be even more expensive! Anyway, Margaret lists which songs are used for each exercise on her website at http://www.bodyelectrictv.com/Exercise&Music.htm.) I thought I’d miss music, but surprisingly I don’t. This gives me more flexibility to do things at my own pace, pop in my own soundtrack, etc. That said, it is a little odd when Margaret bops along to a beat only she can hear.
Set: outside in Margaret’s backyard in Buffalo, NY. She works out on concrete slabs in a wooded area near a small stream. (It’s obviously summer, but Margaret jokes that she’s letting us in on the best kept secret: “winter” in Buffalo.)
Production: clear picture and sound. The camerawork is fairly basic: camera angles usually show all of Margaret, and close-ups are never too close. The fade between shots can be a little slow at times.
Equipment: This varies from episode to episode, but you should have several pairs of dumbbells (your choice of weights – beginners may want an assortment ranging from 1-5 lbs., while more advanced would probably want to reach for 5s, 8s, and even 10s – but keep 3s or 4s handy), a small playground ball (a cheap 7-10” plastic ball from a discount store is perfect; an alternative is reaching for a pillow and/or fitness circle / Pilates ring), ankle weights, and an exercise mat (if needed). Margaret also recommends using a step and a body bar (or chair; it’s only used for balance) in one or two episodes.
Space Requirements: enough room to take a step to each side while standing and to move around limbs while lying down. This workout is definitely compact.
DVD Notes: The DVD cuts right to the main menu – no annoying intros! The main menu shows three episodes at a time. Each body part and segment (warm-up, food for thought, cool-down) has its own chapter. Episodes run in a continuous loop; in other words, the next episode starts right up after the cool-down rather than returning you to the main menu.
Comments: This is great for those who are restarting, looking to get out of a rut, crunched for time, etc. I’m normally an intermediate / advanced exerciser, but after what seems like a now yearly cycle of falling ill and returning to the beginner / intermediate state, I’m on the lookout for interesting strength training videos to help me get back on track. These definitely fit the bill, as there’s room to grow with them by adding more weight, etc.
Actually, I’m surprised at how much I enjoyed these workouts. Normally I don’t care for workouts heavy on floorwork, as I need to do some squats and lunges to help prevent a knee issue, but I kind of like the laidback pace and, yes, the fact that sometimes you get to come down to the floor. That doesn’t mean this is easy, however! With a sweet smile on her face, Margaret makes your muscles beg for mercy - if you concentrate on what you’re doing and use appropriate weights.
Margaret’s exercise selection can seem old school or classic in its focus (she remains relatively untouched by fusion, functional fitness, and other trends current in fitness videos), but she’s not above putting her own twist on floorwork or other standard exercises.
Yeah, Margaret’s DVDs are high in price, but you could argue that she runs a fairly small production and isn’t able to eat as many of the costs as some other folks. This isn’t that bad of a value, especially if you can snag it during one of her sales, because you get 6 25-min. episodes, for about 150 minutes total. (Of course, if you do one exercise and then let DVD sit on your shelf, it’s anything but!) Vol. 1 has 8 episodes, so if you’re looking for the most bang for your buck, you might want to spring for that one first.
Margaret has a pleasant, encouraging, and very low key demeanor. If you need your instructor to be peppy, energetic, enthusiastic, etc., Margaret isn’t for you. She’s not overly polished, sometimes stumbling over a cue, and some of her jokes are more successful than others (“What is haberdashery after all?”). Still, she’s not constantly jabbering. The whole thing comes off more like you’re in class with her rather than watching a slick production. Margaret cues decently, although she could be much more precise for floorwork and other moves where your head is away from the TV, and provides some nice form tips, although she doesn’t provide copious amount of form instruction. She mirror cues. She focuses on strength training as a means for great health, an approach which I appreciate. And I have to say the approximately 60-year-old Margaret is inspiring, showing off serious muscle.
April 5, 2008 (written March 2008)