SmartBells Fusion

Lisa Wheeler
Year Released: 2005

Categories: Total Body Workouts

I’m reviewing this workout after previewing it once and doing it twice since getting it a couple of weeks ago.

General workout breakdown: This fusion of yoga, Pilates, and some traditional strength given a dance-inspired flow has two sections: standing work and floor work. The entire workout takes about 40-45 minutes.
The standing portion, which lasts about 30 min., begins with a little bit of a warm up. You raise the SB up and down (“the Russian”), then do a SB half-circle while shifting from side to side, plie squats with the Russian and some rotation added in, lunges with rotation with the SB in one hand (and then the other), and drawing the SB up and sliding it down to one side. Lisa then demonstrates an overhead reach and a sort of deadlift that become “sun breaths” (adapted half sun salutations). The yoga-inspired section continues with warrior 1 and 2. You then do a plie squat, offering the SB out and drawing it back, with rotation added at the end, finishing with your legs apart and torso moving down between your legs, using the SB to help you reach farther back. Staying down, you sway side to side with the SB, then use it to help you pull your head towards one leg at a time. Standing up, you balance on one leg while doing a small bicycle move with your leg and arms, finishing with more balance practice. Next comes the adapted Pilates standing arm sequence, with the zip up (including some with releve), chest press, shave the head (including some with plie), a modified bug, and boxing. You finish this segment with a balance challenge: standing on the SB, you move your other leg around in a controlled manner.
The floor portion, which lasts about 12 min., starts with child’s pose with arms extended. You then use the SB to help you rotate your torso in that position. The Pilates-inspired abs moves include rolling like a ball, teaser preps (V-sit or boat pose, for you non-Pilates folks), roll ups, single leg stretch, double leg stretch, criss cross, and bridge. You finish this segment with corpse pose, first lying with the SB under your lower/mid back, then with it between your shoulders. (I wish Lisa would let us stay there longer!) Finally, you sit cross legged, with the SB in your lap, to close.
Overall I’d say the pace is decent: not fast, but not achingly slow. There are some brief pauses between exercises, which Lisa uses to introduce the next move or have you roll your shoulders back. There aren’t a lot of reps: most exercises seem to have 3-6. Both sides are worked evenly.

Level: The cover recommends this for all fitness levels. If you’ve never used weights or practiced yoga or Pilates (or similar disciplines) before, this isn’t the best place to start because Lisa doesn’t offer any form instruction, either in basic weights, yoga, or Pilates techniques or in using the SmartBells. That said, someone who considers themselves a beginner could pick up and put down the 3 lb. SB as needed; intermediates will have no problem using the 3 lb. for the entire workout, and advanced exercisers shouldn’t worry if they only have the 6 lb.
I consider myself an intermediate in weights. I’ve lifted on and off over the years but have returned to heavy (at least, heavier) lifting over the past year or so. I lift 1/2 to 2/3 of what Cathe lifts, depending upon the muscle, move, number of reps, etc. I have about 2 years of Pilates experience and about 3 years of yoga experiences; I consider myself a low intermediate in both disciplines. However, I’m new to functional fitness. I found using the 3 lb. SB with this workout wasn’t overly challenging and left me feeling decently worked out but not overly tired or sore afterwards. I’m not sure I would have gotten quite as much out of this if I had no Pilates or yoga experience, though, and the abs section isn’t the most challenging I own by any means.

Class: Kimberly Spreen and Violet Zaki, who demonstrates modifications, join Lisa.

Music / Set / Other Production Notes: The instrumental music is soft and pleasant but forgettable. The set is the same one used in the most recent CIAs; it consists of a large, brightly lit room with a wooden floor. The walls are light brown, with some plants and chairs placed around and glass objects on the wall and shelves off to the side. This is a Greg Twombly production, so it has very good picture and sound quality overall.

Equipment: SmartBell (your choice of weight, although Lisa, Kimberly, and Violet use the 3 lb. one). Yes, you do need a SmartBell for this exercise. Due to the nature of most of the exercises, they wouldn’t work as well—or even at all—with regular dumbbells or weight plates. There are movements that require you to move the weight around your body in a way that a dumbbell or a plate that isn’t curved would be uncomfortable, even unsafe in one or two cases. And some moves just wouldn’t work at all: balancing on it, placing it under your shoulders to open your chest, etc. The class does this workout barefoot. And you’ll want a mat (or equivalent) for the floor section.

Comments: As with any gadget, or so it seems, there’s talk about how great it feels, how you couldn’t use anything else to do a particular exercise, etc. (I already bought the silly thing, so don’t try to sell it to me again!).

DVD Notes: There’s a promo/intro that I’ve been able to skip by hitting “menu” on my DVD player’s remote. There is an introduction to the series that just talks about what makes the SB special. (FYI, this is the same introduction on all three workout videos currently available.) You select standing work or floor work. The standing work is divided into 4-5 chapters, so you could, more or less, select or skip the yoga section, for example. The floor work is divided into 2 chapters.

Conclusion: This workout doesn’t flow quite as well as promised, which I only noticed because flow is important to me in yoga and Pilates workouts. At times this feels more like a demonstration of what you can do with the SmartBell, although at other times it does genuinely feel like a workout. I would like to see a totally Pilates-based SB workout, because I think those segments are the strongest (no pun intended). I must admit, though, that lying on the SB in corpse pose is probably my favorite single move, though.
Do I like this workout? I’d have to say it’s not bad. I enjoy working out with the instructors. I feel like I’ve done something, yet at the end I feel more energized than drained, so I can move on with my day after finishing. Playing with this toy is fun, although don’t expect it to be the most fun you’ve ever had in your life. I won’t switch to the SB workouts as my primary strength training, and this one in particular won’t replace my Pilates and yoga workouts, but it’ll provide some variety.
Time will tell whether I use these often enough to justify even paying the package price, although I have snuck the SB into other workouts for a move or two. As for this workout, I’m currently using it once a week after the SmartBells Basics workout. I’m not sure how much I’ll pull it out when I’m not consciously trying to include it in a rotation, because I prefer straight Pilates and/or straight yoga. But it’s on my shelf for days when I need or just want a lighter workout.

Instructor Comments:
Lisa is a professional dancer and choreographer who’s worked with Jennifer Kries and more recently Denise Austin. I have to admit right off the bat that I like her a lot, but not everyone shares my opinion. She’s appropriately mellow and laidback in this workout. She does offer good and adequate form pointers (but not instruction). As with the other SB workouts, she mirror cues the standing portion (i.e. when she says “right” she means your right) and uses “front” and “back” for the floorwork, assuming that you’re perpendicular to the camera, as she is. Regarding her cueing, I think I know what bothers so many people about it. She tends to introduce the exercise and then leave you to perform it, either visually following what she does or doing it at your own pace and rhythm. In other words, if you need someone to cue every rep, she’s not the instructor for you. If you need each rep counted out, she’s not the instructor for you. She does sigh contentedly (“Ah . . .”) a lot, which bothered me a teensy bit the first time but not the second, although I have to admit I had my a/c up a little higher the second time. And she does have a different manner of expressing herself; it’s not quite the typical three monosyllable sentences that instructors occasionally resort to (No “Burn that fat!” or “You look great!” stuff here). But, as I said, I like both her personality and her choreography. I don’t have any problem following her, although a couple of the moves are a little tricky at first.