Evolution: Topless Blocks

Marcus Irwin
Year Released: 2003

Categories: Floor Aerobics/Hi-Lo/Dance , Step Aerobics

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WARNING: Gushing may ensue in this review, so if you have an aversion to these types of reviews, beware! (smile)

I started out as a cardio klutz who never wanted to try anything dancey. Then, I discovered Kari Anderson and her Danceworks and Body Tech workouts. These workouts transitioned me from athletic workouts to more dancey ones. Then, I discovered the Cardio Cross Trainers in the check-in area and they encouraged me to try Christi Taylor, Marcus Irwin, Andre Houle, etc. In each of these cases, I had to work hard at learning the choreography of these workouts. Stereotypically, I would do a regular workout and then tack on one of these workouts until I had learned enough to do that workout on its own. As time has gone one, it has become easier and easier for me to learn dancey choreography.

Recently, I discovered Marcus Irwin and did his Step XPress and Xtra Flow Hi/Lo workouts and had such a blast that Iím trying some of his other workouts on a loan from someone. When I decide which ones to purchase, Iíll probably buy them from newideafitness.com.

So, I received a loan of Topless Blocks and had such a total and complete blast doing it! In fact, I was able to do the entire workout the first time, although I probably missed a few details in the hi/lo section which I will get the next time or two. It is a workout with Marcus Irwin and two background exercisers in two sections Ė 45 minutes of step and 45 minutes of hi/lo. This workout does include a warm up and cool down. The reason it is called Topless Blocks is that he does a block of choreography and doesnít return to it except in a few cases where he does one block, the next block and then shows how to combine them.

He seemingly takes complex choreography and builds it in a manner that makes it completely doable and fun. He also has a great sense of humor and I find myself chuckling at what he says throughout the workout. I had no problem with space; you do need a few feet side to side and front to back, but I didnít think it was too much of a space hog.

The set is really dark. In one place he jokes that if they go too far back, they will disappear into the black abyss. I donít really care too much about details like that and I enjoyed the workout so much it didnít really matter, but I would have chosen another less dark, less industrial looking set. The music was good, but it sounded familiar, like it was the same as in another workout.

In case you canít tell, I really, really like this workout. I anticipate getting my own copy.

Instructor Comments:
He is a master at taking complex choreography and making it doable and FUN. He does so with such good humor and good cueing that it's hard to resist.

Laura S.


Iím reviewing this workout after doing it in parts about half a dozen times since getting this over a month ago. Since I donít teach aerobics, Iím reviewing this as a home exerciser.

General workout breakdown: This video has two segments, one of step aerobics, and one of hi/lo (i.e. floor aerobics), each just over 40 minutes. In theory this is meant to be an instructional tool to give instructors ideas for choreography, so thereís only a warm up on the step portion, none for the hi/lo, and no cool downs.
The idea of ďtopless blocksĒ is that you build a block of choreography but donít add the blocks all together to take them from the top (TIFT). Actually, Marcus does add three blocks together in the step portion, but there are 4-5 other separate blocks. In the hi/lo, there is one block alone, two blocks added together, and then three blocks added together. A small technicality, but thatís no reason not to enjoy this workout.
Marcus generally starts with one to two basic steps, gradually substituting in other steps and/or adding variations to those steps, then stirring more into the mix. Marcus does not teach the final combo as is from the get go; heíll switch directions on you (including some with your back to the TV) and/or slice and dice (i.e. do combo 1 on side A, combo 2 on side B, combo 3 on side A, and then reverse the process). Marcus doesnít use a huge number of steps, which are drawn from traditional hi/lo and step aerobics (grapevine, repeater knees, straddle), dance (mambo, cha-cha), and athletics (lunges, squats).

Level: Iíd recommend this to someone crossing over into intermediate through someone crossing over into advanced. Previous experience with at least moderately complex choreography is very helpful. I consider myself at least at the high intermediate stage with respect to floor aerobics. I have plenty of experience with complex hi/lo choreography, having conquered Christiís and several of Marcusí hi/lo workouts, for example. I found I picked the hi/lo portion up the first time through and polished it the next time around. Iím relatively new to step and consider myself a low intermediate. Itís taking me a little bit longer to pick up the step portion, particularly the longer combo. I feel this is a solid workout with one set of risers (so 6Ē), so this is probably a high beginner / low intermediate workout with no risers, a low to solid intermediate with one set, and a high intermediate to low advanced with two sets.

Class: Marcus with two women (both European instructors, introduced as the ďBack-up BabesĒ).

Music: vocal pop music during the step; music with less vocals and more of a beat during the hi/lo.

Set: Indoor set with black floor, walls, and ceiling. Different size TV monitors, with the red rotating ďEĒ thatís Marcusí production companyís logo, line the back wall.

Production: Decent picture. The sound is on the quiet side. The camerawork is steady and usually shows all of the exercisers or at least Marcus. My biggest gripe: during the step portion the screen cuts away to the rotating E, leaving you to trust if you keep going with the rest of the block youíll match up with Marcus & co. when they return.

Equipment: step (Marcus uses the smaller step) for the step portion (although I suppose you could do it without it) and sneakers for both.

Space Requirements: For the step you need to be able to walk comfortably around the front and sides of your board, with enough space to take a couple steps around the back of it. For the hi/lo you should be able to take at least two big steps to each side as well as forwards and backwards.

DVD Notes: Each block has its own chapter (which more or less lines up with the beginning of each block). The introduction is not chaptered separately from the warm-up, though.

Conclusion: Iím keeping this. Itís not my most difficult (either in intensity or in choreography) cardio video, but itís definitely not my easiest. The 40+ minute time fits in well with my workout time frames. And I donít feel wiped out physically or mentally afterwards, which again fits in with my fitness goals. Plus, itís so much fun to work out with Marcus!

Instructor Comments:
Marcusí two biggest assets are his cueing and his personality. I donít feel this is his best cued workout, as he doesnít break down the moves as well as on other videos (which means there is less down time here, although he still sticks in marches and step touches while building up combos) and has a couple of slip ups. Now, keep in mind that whatís not Marcusí ďbestĒ is as good as or better than a number of other instructors out there. Marcus does mirror cue, and he often demonstrates a variation or the next move while you perform the original step. As for Marcusí personality, he exudes such positive energy and fun that I canít help but want to work out with him. I especially love the way he giggles. His focus is on you getting the choreography (as opposed to burning fat, for example). He has an Australian accent which is easy to understand. He doesnít use any of the odd phrases American beer commercials think all Australians use, but he does have a few catch phrases (ďReady? Steady!Ē) that I find endearing rather than annoying.