Fight Age With StrengthMargaret Richard
Year Released: 2009
Categories: Balance/Medicine/Mini/Stability Ball, Seniors/Seated , Strength Training (Total Body)
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This DVD presents four 25-minute (or so) total body strength programs. The only equipment needed is a mat, a chair or something similar for balance, and a small inflated ball. As of the date of this review, the DVD is, I believe, only sold in a kit with a ball and pump. No weights are used at all in Fight Age With Strength, which is a departure from Margaret’s signature routines emphasizing a low-weight high-rep approach – and Margaret has been appearing in workout videos for over 20 years.
Margaret previously used such an unweighted ball in her Body Electric TV series (released on DVD as “Body Electric Unplugged”) and in 2006’s Good N Strong. (Interestingly, in those videos she tells you to just buy a cheap ball at the dollar store.) In those workouts she uses the ball in a number of ways – as a convenient prop, squeezed between the knees, one foot resting on the ball, or just as a visual focus. She does all that as well in Fight Age With Strength, but what’s new is that, instead of using hand-held weights like dumbbells, Margaret works the upper body isometrically by squeezing the ball, with the arms in various positions and actively engaging a specific muscle group. Margaret says using the ball this way is a good option for beginners, or a nice change of pace for those already used to working with weights. On the other hand, the abs and lower body work are very similar to what has been presented by Margaret before in her other workouts.
The setting is Margaret’s back yard, under big trees and next to a creek (the same as the Unpluggeds). I find it very pretty and peaceful. There is no music, but I didn’t miss it. Margaret leads Workouts 1 and 2 solo, and is joined by Heidi (a familiar face from the Unpluggeds) for Workouts 3 and 4. For some of the exercises Heidi will demonstrate an alternative position to what Margaret is showing.
Like all of Margaret’s DVDs, Fight Age With Strength is very well chaptered. Besides the Introduction and an opening Tutorial, there are four Workouts, broken down as follows:
Pectorals – Isometric ball work, arms in various positions, squeezing chest muscles. Margaret demonstrates all of the upper body isometric work standing, but notes you can also do it sitting.
Deltoids – Isometric ball work, some similar arm positions but emphasizing pressing shoulders down.
Gluteus – Standing, ball between knees, bending at waist holding arms length onto a support, back flat, then bending/straightening knees to raise/lower tailbone.
Abdominals – Crunch variations with ball underneath shoulder blades (optional).
Hamstrings – Bridges done supine, knees bent, one foot on ball.
Core – Plank (I think this is the first time Margaret has ever done planks in a workout video).
Quadriceps – Supine, propped on elbows with ball under upper back, one knee bent, lifting/lowering other leg.
Biceps – Isometric ball work, resting ball on one fist and pressing opposite hand onto ball, squeezing biceps.
Triceps – Triceps pushups lying on side with ball under rib cage.
Outer Thighs – Floor work begins with pushing top leg isometrically into the ball underneath, then remove ball for leg lifts and circles.
Inner Thighs – Seated on floor, put ball between knees and squeeze, then move to supine position for more knee squeezes.
Calves – Standing calf raises with ball between knees (Margaret includes some interesting variations).
Pectorals – Isometric ball work, squeezing chest muscles (different arm positions than Workout 1).
Deltoids – Isometric ball work, similar to Workout 1 but some different arm positions.
Abdomen – Crunch variations with ball between the knees.
Hamstrings – Hamstring curls (standing or table) with ball squeezed into back of the knee (optional).
Gluteus – Tiny pelvic tucks while supine, knees bent with ball between knees.
Quadriceps – Slow squats over chair seat (“Don’t park it!” Margaret jokes).
Calves – Standing calf raises with ball between knees.
Obliques – Standing, holding ball, first reaching side to side then twisting.
Triceps – Triceps dips (different versions are demonstrated), alternated with unweighted triceps kickbacks.
Outer Thighs – Floor work (different from Workout 2), ball under rib cage.
Inner Thighs – Floor work, top knee bent and resting on ball, lifting lower leg.
Back – Isometric ball work, concentrating on squeezing back muscles.
Each workout has its own warm-up (Margaret’s usual flowing moves) and cool-down. There is also a Tutorial for those new to strength training.
The Fight Age With Strength kit was introduced on QVC in June 2009, and is currently available at Collage (where you can also see a clip of the workout). Margaret’s own website lists the DVD but I’m not sure it comes with the ball and pump.
The ball that came with my DVD was decent quality. I can’t say the same for the pump, which had a broken needle, but being the vidiot I am I of course had another pump I could use to inflate the ball. Really, any small inexpensive ball will do – and in fact probably all of the exercises could be done without it. A weighted ball might be an intensity option for some moves (although this isn’t mentioned by Margaret and I haven’t actually tried it myself). During the lower body work Margaret occasionally suggests that ankle weights can be added (although she does not wear them here).
Bottom line: Since Margaret has long advocated using challenging weights in her workouts, it is a little disconcerting being instructed to squeeze a ball instead. I confess if I had encountered this video 10 or 20 years ago I would have found that idea pretty lame. But I’m now in my mid-50’s, and my joints can’t handle the heavy weight lifting I used to love. In particular I have chronic tendinitis in my right elbow that aches if I overdo it (either in workouts or at my job). As a result I’ve been actively investigating unweighted upper body exercises that don’t stress the joints. When I apply proper concentration, effort and focus to the upper body isometric exercises in Fight Age With Strength, I do feel the moves working. No, it is not the same as using dumbbells – the effect is more subtle (or “indirect” as Heidi puts it). That’s okay for me, as I’ve worked out for decades and understand, say, the difference in squeezing the pectorals versus the shoulders. However, Margaret has clearly aimed Fight Age With Strength at older beginner exercisers, and I’m not sure many of these people would be able to understand the more nuanced sensation of isometrics versus weights. I honestly think most beginners would do better with the Unplugged series and just use light weights.
Those interested in learning more about isometric exercise for the entire body might want to track down a copy of J.B. Berns’ Dynametrics Method. For another take on unweighted upper body exercises, check out Classical Stretch, Tracy Anderson, or T-Tapp.
In her Introduction, Margaret notes she is 61 years old. She has a calm, pleasant, professional but non-intimidating demeanor. I think she is a wonderful role model for the benefits of lifelong exercise. Her website is www.bodyelectrictv.com.