Step & Core Pilates

Jules Benson
Year Released: 2007

Categories: Pilates/Core Strength , Step Aerobics

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Iím reviewing this workout after doing the entire thing twice.

General workout breakdown: This 56-min. DVD contains a 33.5-min. step workout followed by a 22-min. Pilates workout.

Jules teaches four combos, with TIFT (taking it from the top). For the first and last combo, Jules focuses on them alone, building up bit by bit and running through the whole combo over and over. For the second and third, sheíll introduce about half of the combo, then do a full TIFT, before returning to focus on that combo. After finishing with each combo she usually only does one full TIFT, however, although at the end she does a few before running through just the last combo one more time. This was just within my realm of tolerance for repetition and TIFTing, but my threshold is pretty high, although it didnít take me long to get tired of the opening basic Ė lunge bit, especially since that serves as the warm-up move before being folded into the first combo. The first combo in general isnít as inspired as the others, which made the TIFTs a bit more tedious for me than they otherwise might have been. Like Christi, Jules never weaves combos together; you do each combo back to back on each side, never #1 on the first side, #2 on the second, #3 on the first, #4 on the second, and then the opposite.

The first 2.5 to 3 minutes serve as a warm-up, with a few dynamic stretches after a few basic steps, and the last minute serves as a cool-down. I needed a little bit more time for my heartrate to lower so I could come down to the floor comfortably. I had to pause the DVD anyway to put away my step and shoes, then get out my mat. This proved to be a good time for me to do a few stretches before the Pilates segment, especially the front of the legs and hips, which get tight with stepping and are needed in Pilates. All in all, this 56-min. workout took me more like 60 full minutes to do, which is fine when I donít have a rushed schedule but would be problematic if I were trying to squeeze this in on a busy day.

Julesí style of choreography is more athletic than dancey, although she includes mambos, ball changes, pivots, and the like. She likes to play with rhythm changes, and thereís several high impact moves (although theyíre not bone-jarring ones, as she never really gets much air) and some pivots and quick twists. Her routine feels more athletic than Christi and the Evolution crew, if only because she doesnít have as much musicality and dance background; she falls more on the Cathe side of choreography, but with less jumping. There were a few moves that didnít feel as smooth to me, and some of the arm movements seemed to be thrown in kind of randomly (like the semaphore arms for the opening basic), but overall the routine felt interesting and doable.

Iíve read some complaints that Jules is tricky to follow. I didnít find that to be the case for me once I figured out her approach, but I think I see what could be tripping some folks up. For starters, Jules doesnít include a lot of directional cues, either verbal or visual. Similarly she doesnít break down a lot of footfalls, so youíll have to watch her feet to figure out what goes where and to determine what all of the steps in a move involve. Her cues are often abbreviated, too; sheíll say ďlungeĒ for a double lunge, for example. Itís worth noting that Jules doesnít build up combos exactly as she plans to do them in the final version: sheíll teach you some steps, layer a little, then suddenly sheíll take out a component and add one or two (or even three) others on the end of the combo that will also get changed.

Jules uses the ďwatch meĒ method. I like that she usually gives you a heads up that a change is coming and then describes what the change is as sheís doing it. I suspect some people might find it confusing to watch Jules doing something else and cuing different moves as youíre stuck with the previous moves, but I personally like this better than having things thrown at me as Iím doing them (*cough* like in Catheís Shock Cardio step workouts *cough*), and I especially appreciate verbal breakdowns as Iím watching upcoming changes because I feel like they give me even more of a fighting chance of nailing the whole shebang, which is key here because I feel like Jules spends more time on the more basic moves and less on the full versions. Often you only get to do the new twist once, maybe twice, before another layer is added or you go for a run through of the combo or even a full TIFT, whereas the earlier layers are more often done three or even four times through.

Jules presents her signature blend of Pilates with other athletic-style core training. Although I tend to prefer straight up Pilates over fusion-ified versions, I enjoy Julesí approach because there seems to be real thought behind it and her goals often line up nicely with my expectations when I reach for a Pilates workout.

You begin seated with side bends, saw, V twist w/ pulse Ė saw, and spinal rolls, then switch directions for half rollback into half rollback w/ twist, V-sit Ė rollup, sit-up w/ arm pump & twist, criss cross Ė dip toes, footwork w/ heels and legs together, circular sit-ups, straight leg single leg stetch, V-sit Ė rollover, seated forward bend, reverse plank w/ knee in & up, seated forward bend, twisting rollback into twisting roll-up w/ arm movements, side plank into side plank w/ leg lift, quadruped opposite arm & leg w/ curl in (aka bird dog w/ hamstring curl & biceps curl), elbow plank into elbow plank w/ knee dips, childís pose, corkscrew, half teaser into full teaser, knees side to side (aka windshield wiper and so on), and V-sit. The workout ends with seated forward bend, spinal rolls, neck stretch, scapula contraction, and forward bend in butterfly (aka cobblerís / bound angle).

Quality is emphasized over quantity, with most exercises getting around 4-6 reps, with no more than 8 or so per side. The pace is controlled, so you donít feel like youíre racing through things. Jules focuses on fluid movements as well as transitions, so thereís little down time, and because she doesnít stop for instruction thereís no hang time, either. I like how Jules concentrates on cuing breath and movement here, with some reminders to keep the shoulders down, etc.

This workout focuses primarily on the abdominals, with a good amount of oblique work. Jules does some nice work with both rotation and stabilization. I was surprised, however, that with so many flexion-based exercises there wasnít any work in extension, so both times Iíve done this Iíve followed it with yoga practices focusing on backbends to balance things out. Similarly, the ending stretch focused on the back of the legs, with nothing for the front; my hip flexors especially needed some attention after stepping and all of that forward bending.

Level: Iíd recommend this to at least intermediate exercisers comfortable with moderately complex step choreography and with a decent amount of Pilates experience. Jules assumes prior familiarity with both, as thereís little instruction and few form tips or reminders in either segment.
I consider myself an intermediate / advanced in step and Pilates, and I found both of these doable with just enough challenge (I donít care for too much challenge ;-)). The step portion found me in a moderately high heart rate zone, about where I am with an average Christi Taylor workout. The different twists on the same olí bumped the challenge of the Pilates up a notch for me, which worked out well, although Iím glad my hamstring flexibility has improved so I could tackle the workout as shown.

Class: 2 women join Jules, who instructs live. Although Jules mentions some modifications in both the step and especially Pilates portions, no one really shows them.

Music: pleasant, upbeat, mostly instrumental music. I canít say I really recognized any of it, which isnít a bad thing because it meant I hadnít heard these soundtracks to death.

Set: simple interior set with gauzy curtains along the back wall and pastel colored lights.

Production: clear picture and sound, camera angles more helpful than not.

Equipment: Youíll need a step (Jules and company use the Reebok step; I used my regular club-sized step with one set of risers) and sneakers for the step portion; youíll need a mat and bare feet for the Pilates portion.

Space Requirements: For the step portion youíll need a decent amount of horizontal space, with enough room to take a big step or two behind and to the sides of your platform plus space to shuffle around the front. For the Pilates portion you should be able to lie down with arms and legs extended plus have a little extra room along the sides.

DVD Notes: After the usual warnings and clips from the workout and Christi Taylorís production company (which Iíve been able to skip and/or fast forward through), the main menu options are Intro, Step, Pilates, and Credits. It looks like the step routine is chaptered by combos (so 4 chapters), and the Pilates routine seems to have two chapters, although thereís no natural stopping point, really.

The Pilates segment of Step & Core Pilates vs. Total Core Pilates: The obvious difference is that S&C has both a short step and a short Pilates segment while TCP is one long Pilates workout. The two are very similar in style, with many of the same or similar exercises. With TCPís longer time, however, Jules adds in that missing extension work plus some killer side-lying leg series, which are almost worth the price of TCP alone. If I had to choose between the two, Iíd right away pick TCP. S&C is perfectly nice and well done, but TCP is more well rounded plus adds more variety within my collection, which has a lot of abs-based Pilates workouts in the 20-30 min. range plus comparable step workouts of similar length.

Instructor Comments:
Jules has a pleasant, positive personality and overall cues well, with mirror cuing. She has a lot of poise and polish for someone making her first video; she comes off as a true professional.
See my comments in the general workout breakdown for more information on Julesí instruction style for each portion.