Strength and Grace

Minna Lessig
Year Released: 2000

Categories: Total Body Workouts

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Please note that I wrote this review about 5 years ago. I'm cutting and pasting the review as I originally wrote it.
This was on Balanced Blend, one of the first fitness DVDs I ever purchased, and I used it regularly for that first year or two of at home exercising. I wrote this review after a period when I hadn't pulled it out as much.
Although I like Minna as an instructor and held onto this DVD because I had a strong attachment to it as one of my first fitness DVDs, I passed it on a few years ago, as I wasn't using it because I'm at a different level and in a different place in my fitness journey these days.

General workout breakdown: 7 minute warm-up, about 30 minutes of strength training, and 10 minute cool-down / stretch for a total of about 47 minutes. Strength & Grace combines squats and lunges with yoga- and Pilates-inspired moves to help you increase strength and balance. The workout starts standing, towards the end moving to the hands and knees, then to sitting. The moves focus on lower body with some abs and minimal upper body work.

Level: Iíd recommend this to experienced beginners to mid-intermediate exercisers. One class member demonstrates slightly easier modifications requiring a little less balance / strength. You donít need to have yoga experience, but it is helpful if youíve seen the moves before.

Class: 4 young women of fairly diverse backgrounds and body types. These are the same women featured in Fat Eliminator.

Music / Set / Other Production Notes: The instrumental synthesizer music is very beat-driven, although not exactly ďthe spicy Latin musicĒ promised by the cover. The interior set is very bright, with hardwood floors and back wall lit with various bright hues (pink, blue, etc.) The picture and sound quality are very good; the production company is the same one that does the Quick Fix videos, and in fact you can tell itís the same studio.

Equipment: optional mat. Minna and crew have sneakers on throughout; it feels a little strange to have shoes on during yoga moves, so I always have my sneakers off by the time we move to the floor. I have done this barefoot a couple of times. Iím not sure if thatís ideal, but nothing bad happened to me because of it.

Comments: Pay attention to your technique, particularly with the squats, lunges, and plies. Your knee should never go past your toes in any version of either exercise.
You do not need a lot of space for this workout. You should be able to lie down lengthwise with your arms and legs extended, and you should be able to take one big step front and back.
DVD Notes: The DVD, titled ďBalanced Blend,Ē also contains Fat Eliminator. You can select a section to do or skip; each self-contained segment constitutes one chapter.

Conclusion: Iím keeping this one, not just out of nostalgia since this was one of the first exercise videos I ever bought. This helped me start improving my balance. Itís a challenging workout to fit into a rotation, though, since it isnít quite a strength video, but not quite a stretching video.
A more advanced workout thatís along these lines is Kari Andersonís Angles, Lines & Curves (I or II).

Instructor Comments:
Minna Lessig, a former Ms. Fitness, is a trainer and correspondent for fitness magazines and TV programs. Her cueing is good, and she explains the moves well. Sheís professional, encouraging without being hyper or chatty, and she appears to know her stuff, both in terms of the routine and fitness in general. I personally like this ďgirl next door.Ē She works both sides evenly and expects you to mirror her moves. I donít know how she keeps her long gold locks down and looking great the entire time; once or twice Iíve been tempted to distract myself by pondering that question.



Minna leads a group of exercisers and one of the background exercisers shows modifications. Minna is also encouraging that you do the move you can at your level. Throughout the workout, she gives very precise instructions on how to place parts of your body and in how things should feel. I donít do yoga, but felt confident that I was doing the moves correctly because she gave such good instructions. This workout is made up of three sections: lunges and squats, downward dogs and plants, and core/abs work. After the workout, I felt well worked out.

I am not going to keep the workout for two reasons. First, the whole way through, I wondered how well it would fit with my normal routine and whether I would do it on a regular basis. Then, we hit the second section and I realized how many moves required propping your weight on your hands. If you have hand/wrist issues, this probably isnít the workout for you. Other reviewers had mentioned this section, but I had just missed the implications for me, someone who canít prop myself on my hands for an extended period of time.

Overall, I think it is a well-done workout that a lot of people will enjoy. Itís just not for me.

Instructor Comments:
Minna explains the moves really well. She also gives a range of options and truly does make it okay to do what is okay for your level, fitness and confidence.

Laura S.


This is a 45-minute blend of light yoga, Pilates, and traditional strength training for the legs (lunges, squats). The first half of the workout concentrates on legs, and the second half is core. I did not like the warmup at all (it was very boring), but I did like the rest of it. You get a little bit of everything in a short amount of time, presented in an interesting way. Iíll add this one to my collection, but I will skip the warmup.

Annie S.


This workout blends classic non-weights toning moves (mostly for the lower body) with yoga poses and Pilates-type abs section. Yes, the participants wear shoes throughout the workout, which is certainly not traditional to either yoga or Pilates, but as the instructor Minna states at the beginning, the workout is supposed to be "a blend of east and west." I found the workout to be fun and different. Although I also have more traditional yoga tapes which I enjoy as well, this was a nice change of pace.

The tape begins with a lengthy (about 6 minutes) warm-up which includes some simple toning moves (eg, squats) combined with yoga stretches (eg, tree pose). The workout itself continues this pattern of doing classic toning moves with yoga stretches inbetween. For example, the first segment consists of squats and lunges followed by proud warrior; following this is a series of pli?s combined with tree pose. The toughest segment comes next: it consists of holding plank pose for an extended period, moving into downward dog, and doing a few yoga-style pushups (the only really upper body work in the entire workout). The Pilates-based section is fairly intense, and because Minna doesn't provide much instruction, I would advise those with no prior knowledge of Pilates to skip this part. Finally, Minna ends with a series of classic yoga stretches and twists.

Overall, I think this is a fun, different toning workout with a lower body emphasis that's appropriate for advanced beginners/intermediates, and as long as you are not expecting more traditional yoga and Pilates, you won't be disappointed by this tape.

Instructor Comments:
Minna is a pleasant instructor; she's motivating without being pushy. She and her three fellow exercisers really seem to enjoy the workout.



I did this workout for the first time today and I really like it! It reminds me a lot of Angles, Lines & Curves (by Kari Anderson). This workout is a combination of yoga, dance and strength training (but no weights are used...just the body's own resistance). I would say the difference between this workout and Angles, Lines & Curves is that this one is more yoga & toning based, whereas ALC has an equal balance of dance, pilates and yoga. Strength & Grace does have some dance built into it, which makes it more enjoyable and the music, although fairly non-distinct, is pleasant (African/Middle Eastern elements so it has a World Music feel). The set is very colorful and pleasant to look at and the production is nice as well.

What I like about this workout is that it is a solid (and sometimes challenging) workout but no weights are used, so it is perfect for in-between-weight-training-days.

Overall, I really like this video and highly recommend it.

Instructor Comments:
I really like Minna. She's pleasant and natural in front of the camera, she has great form and she is inspiring as well.



I just did Strength and Grace the other night. I had
previewed it, but never actually done it before. Really, the main
reason I got it is because it was cheap and on DVD (good enough
reason in my book to buy almost anything). It's part of the Optimizer Balanced Blend DVD, along with Fat Eliminator, but it also comes as a stand alone workout on VHS.

For a reference point I am an advanced exerciser who has been doing yoga for many years. I usually prefer more traditional strength workouts (a la Cathe or Firm), but have been delving into functional fitness type strength tapes recently. Being something of a yoga purist, I have not liked many of the tapes that incorporate a little bit of yoga but I must say that I really
liked this one.

The workout starts with a short dancy style warmup with large arm and leg movements. Then she does several yoga/toning combos where she combines a strength move with a yoga posture, for example a curtsey lunge and tree pose, and moves through the sequence for several repititions. Most of the combos include balance work of some sort. She does have one exerciser clearly demonstrating an easier variation of all the moves. After the standing work there is floor work with planks, pushups, ab work, seated forward bends and twists.

It was a little strange for me doing yoga type moves in shoes, but
it is very well done. She instructs the yoga postures very well and
gives excellent form pointers. I like the way she combines the
strength moves with the yoga postures. It flowed well , clocked in at
about 45 minutes and, yes, it was fun.

Next time I do it I am going to
take my shoes off when she moves to the floor. It has the dreaded
curtsey lunges, but she does them slowly and without weights so it is
easier to avoid knee tweakage. The ab work was Pilates flavored and
it also included some of the psoas strength moves that my yoga
teacher has been having us do all quarter. I am going to try to do
this one more often. I consider it one of the better fusion tapes out
there and a pleasant surprise.

Instructor Comments:
Minna Lessig is an excellent instructor and comes across as very sweet and down to earth on tape. She also seems to be having a lot of fun and has a good rapport with her background exercisers. She gives excellent form instruction and has a pleasant, calm voice.

Loretta S


When this video first came out my first thought was "Why would anyone want a video like that?" I guess I only liked traditional strength videos such as MIS (or perhaps tolerated is a better word, as I am not a big strength afficionado.)
Last year I acquired the Crunch Yoga dvd and was surprised to find what a good lower body workout I could get with Yoga. I became curious about this video. I thought it must be pretty tough if it combines Yoga and traditional strength. Well, it really isn't any tougher than my Crunch dvd as far as the lower body is concerned, but that does not mean it is not without value.
This video starts with a nice warm up, about 7 minutes long-- something you don't find with a Yoga video. It has some fairly goofy moves.
The goofiness continues in the next section when Minna has you do "swirly" arms with squats. This is not the video for you if you have a low tolerance for dorkiness. I don't, in fact my dorkiness threshold is quite high.
As with any video, some of the moves are more difficult than others. A chair pose with a twist is particularly challenging for me. The curtsey lunges with a tree pose are fairly challenging too. Minna has you do a warrior pose pushing up into a sort of triangle pose (without the arms if that makes sense.) She says "I know you're feeling it, I'm feeling it too." Well, as a matter of a fact, I am not "feeling it" during this exercise.
Minna has you do downward dog into a plank several times. You never hold the position long enough to really feel it. I am challenged by the planks with one leg lifting, though. This is always a difficult move for me. I think the abs section of Happy Hour Hi/Lo and Crunch Bootcamp contain this move.
I really like the abs section. (Of course, nothing is "abs" any more. It's all "core conditioning" or "stabilizing', etc., etc.) The abs contained mostly Pilates style moves. It was about 7-8 minutes long, but felt shorter. As for the difficulty, I would rate this workout low intermediate. The abs section I would say is high intermediate. The workout did elevate my heart rate somewhat, so it feels mildly aerobic. This is the case for most lower body workouts for me. (And some,such as Leaner Legs really, really elevate my heart rate.)
One note, I do this workout in my bare feet and use my sticky mat for some exercises. I feel kind of strange doing downward dog with my shoes on. I have no problems doing the workout this way. It is completely low impact.
The music is recognizable from Yoga Zone's Power Yoga for Strength and Endurance and Crunch Joy of Yoga.



I had mixed feelings about this tape. Overall I think it is a good toning tape for a beginner to intermediate or good for a light day for someone more advanced. I think my original dissapointment came from my looking at it more from a yoga and pilates perspective and it really isn't a yoga tape. It is a strength tape that incorporates yoga posed into it. I find a like the tape a lot when I look at it as an alternative on a day I don't feel like lifting weights but not as an alternative to a yoga day. Hope that makes sense.

Minna is a good instructor who cues well and is encouraging. I like that the participants all have different body types. I don't mind if the music is recycled from Crunch Joy of Yoga because I don't have that tape. In fact, I really liked the music.

About me, I'm 29 and and at an intermediate to advanced fitness level. I have been doing videos for close to a year now to get in shape after having a baby. I previously taught aerobics and toning at a Woman's Workout World and I was very involved in ballet and modern dance as a kid through college.

Diane Miller


I've never written a review for a video yet, but I was so impressed with this video after doing it for the first time today, that I wanted to get on here and share my excitement for it.

The warm-up was a lot of fun, mixing a little spice into the moves as we loosened up our arms and torso while moving our legs. Then we went into the standing work. I agree with the last review that this section truly mixed together yoga and a bit of strength work in a flowing, interesting way. I wasn't sure how I was going to accomplish any strengthening without a step, tall box, or weights, but Minna managed to do it. She had us balance poses until our gluts and quads were grateful to stop, yet she used these poses as the end of a series of moves so you didn't just go from one pose to another. She also used the proper yoga terms for the poses so we could either learn as we went or recognize what to do from other yoga experience.

The floor work wasn't as eastern as the standing work, but it was also somewhat flowing and pleasant to do (while being challenging). The time just flew throughout the workout. And the stretch at the end was calm, thorough, and most welcome.

I think this workout will be great for an evening or weekend relaxer, yet with a bit of a challenge too.

Instructor Comments:
Minna was friendly, personable, felt at ease (talked at the beginning about just being yourself in your moves -- no right or wrong way), and helped me to feel at ease. She was a pleasure to work out with.

Renee Allen


A keeper!

I'm a diehard FIRM believer, but I've decided I need to incorporate more flexibility tapes in my workouts. This was only my second venture into yoga/Pilates workouts, and it was an excellent choice for me. (I first bought Bryan Kest Volume 1, and that's just not an easy introduction to yoga.)

This workout is about 45 minutes long, including warm-up and cool-down. Although one reviewer mentioned that the music is recycled from Joy of Yoga, it didn't bother me (because I don't have that tape). I thought the music was fun and a nice change of pace.

The background exercisers had very different body types: one is very lean with a boyish build (she shows the easier modifications), another is an extremely muscular Asian girl, one is a slightly "squishy" looking (don't get mad at me) new-agey girl, and the fourth is a heavier set girl who looks perfectly content with her body and fitness level. That alone is very encouraging.

I felt a little silly doing the arm circles during the warm-up, and I think one of the cast exercisers did, too! But the warm-up served its purpose and the rest of the workout was pleasant. Some lunges, warrior pose, downward dog, and a great hamstring stretch that I really needed. I especially like the T pose, because I've never done any balance moves before, and it was challenging the first couple of times. It takes lots of little muscles to balance like that!

I'd agree that the ab work in this tape is much harder than the rest, but it's something to grow into.

I've since bought All The Right Moves, which is much harder than Strength & Grace and loosens me up more, too. But I'll enjoy this tape on my off days, low-energy days, or when I'm crunched for time. I think it's a great intro to yoga- and Pilates-type moves and it's not intimidating in the least. This one's a keeper!

Marci Braddock


I've done Strength & Grace only once and that will probably be enough for me except as a change of pace. Before I move onto my disappointment with the video I would like to point out that it would probably be just fine for people completely new to both yoga and pilates. Unfortunately that's just not me. Minna Lessig is pleasant and the cast energetic. And taste and personality no doubt have a lot to do with my lack of luster for this vid.

Now for the (mostly) down side. I guess I was hoping it would be more like All the Right Moves -- I felt the yoga worked just fine in that video but I don't think it does in Strength and Grace. The union of yoga and strength moves seemed a bit strained and reminded me a little of Reebok/Petra Kolber's Long & Lean. The yoga moves are more flirted with than actually executed, The cast even wears sneakers. I liked the strength moves better and there was even a fun sequence involving tree pose (but it also left me wanting to do a real tree).

I must say the sneaks are kind of necessary in the first 30 min. of this workout which combines moves like squats and lunges with warrior poses and downward facing dog. However the strength part didn't seem quite intense enough for me, and the yoga was too sketchy and not enough stretchy . I removed the sneaks for the final modified (very) pilates section and stretch.

Maybe one of the reasons I couldn't get into the tape was the recycling of the music from Joy of Yoga. I've done that video a lot and feel it's so much better -- rehearing the music certainly pointed that out to me. Also, is this a new manifestation of the Crunch set using frosted plexi multi-colored panels in front of lights? It's kind of an improvement but I don't think it's quite there yet (or am I over-reaching my Crunch associations).

Sharon Frost


I love this tape! It has an interesting concept: the box (which is a really space-agey clear plastic with a type of silk-screened thing on it) claims it mixes yoga and pilates in with traditional strength work. This is only partially true. The first section, which is floor work and last about 30 minutes, does this very well. A move like squats with bicep curls segues into a tree pose. Or lunges into warrior pose. This is very good for someone like me who hates stretching and will skip it if I can. Some of the moves she uses are misleadingly NOT traditional strength work, but they are quite challenging balance poses and modified yoga poses with movement (i.e. a yoga-type balance pose that you hld for a minute, then start flexing at the knee). I felt these the next day. Parts of this first section reminded me of Christi Taylor's SBF tape.

The last 15 minutes is floor work followed by stretches. This is where she stops mixing stuff up: it's pretty much plank work and pilates. I didn't like this section as much. I am a pretty solid intermediate with very poor flexibility, and I found the first section challenging, but in a good sort of way. I found the last section, the floor work, MUCH harder than the standing work, and I think that could bother some people. She does about 8 minutes of continuous plank work, and it was too much for me to handle. Also, I don't think this section was cued as well: I found it hard to focus on the breathing because I had to look up at the TV so much.

Minna seems like a very nice person, and she knows what she is doing. The reminders she offers (feel free to modify, remember your breathing) always come at opportune times, and she has an easy rapport with us and with her background exercisers (one of whom does modified versions of all the moves). My only real issue is the fact that the floor work is so much more difficult than the rest of it. Otherwise, I heartily recommend this tape.