Bellyfit ElementsAlice Bracegirdle
Year Released: 2013
Categories: Abs/Core , Bellydance , Floor Aerobics/Hi-Lo/Dance , Pilates/Core Strength , Yoga
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Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this workout.
I kept hearing about Bellyfit and how much people loved the original Bellyfit Earth workout. I finally bought that original DVD, just to see what it was, and really didn't like it. The camera angles drove me nuts and I found the instruction in voice over to not be helpful to my concentration and there was a lot of talk of energy centers and chakras and stuff that I am just not into, enough that it made things confusing for me. Yet, there was something about the workout that appealed to me when the camera angles were good and I "got" the moves they were doing. So, when this set came out, I decided to try it, especially when I read that they had fixed some of the problems with that original workout.
This set comes with 5 workouts, all on their own disk. And, each workout is set up exactly the same. So, if you understand one, you will understand them all. So, in this review, I will use the singular, talk as if there is one workout, but whatever I say will apply to all five workouts.
If you do the entire workout, it is an hour - 40 minutes of cardio and 20 minutes of Pilates/yoga/stretching. Personally, the Pilates/yoga/stretching part is not something I'm really interested in, so I've just done the cardio sections. (But, I did watch a couple so that I could describe this section some for those that are curious.)
The workouts begin with a guided meditation or relaxation. It is done in voice over. When they start with meditation, it becomes entwined with instruction on how to stand and align the body. And, this section cannot be skipped. There are no chapter points that take you to the beginning of the cardio section. When the cardio section begins, then the instruction switches from voice over to live (which I like much more). Each cardio section begins with cardio preparation - aka, a warm-up - then there is the actual cardio section followed by the cardio recovery - aka, a cool down. The cardio preparation begins slow and easy and ends with your heartrate ready for cardio. The cardio recovery section takes those exact moves and just reverses them, so it starts with the more intense moves and ends slow and easy. The cardio section is comprised of two blocks of cardio. They build the first cardio block and then repeat it twice. Then, they build the second cardio block and repeat it. Then, they put the two cardio blocks together and you do them three times. If you do not like TIFTing, these may not be the workouts for you.
After the cardio section, they move into a flow that includes moves from Pilates, yoga, and feel-good stretching. The aim of this section is both to strengthen muscles and to relax them - and they do both depending on the move they are doing.
There are three exercisers involved in these workouts. Alice Bracegirdle, the instructor, does the middle version of the moves. If the only choices are "harder" or "easier", she does the harder version. There is one background exerciser that does harder versions of moves. For example, there are some places where she leaps instead of stepping though certain moves. There is also a modifier who does easier moves. I'm pretty picky about my modifiers and thought both them did a pretty good job. I mostly followed the easier modifier when I wasn't following Alice. I thought she gave good versions of moves that cut down on the torqueing of joints - mainly the knees - or that cut down on impact. The modifiers continue into the Pilates/yoga/stretch section giving options. However, the easier modifier doesn't give options that are very different - for example, for the moves where weight is supported on the hands, she doesn't give an option to that. Throughout the workout, Alice encourages exercisers to do the moves that work for them *today* with the acknowledgement that one's energy and capabilities can change on a regular basis.
The music was really well matched to the workouts and the moves within them. It is mainly instrumental, although there are a few vocals. But, the main thing is that it was obviously chosen to match and complement the workouts.
The moves themselves are pretty simple: grapevines, step touches, kick backs, knee raises, etc. Generally, she introduces the basic move, then she adds the upper-body accompiament. If it hasn't been added yet, she then sometimes adds a dancier element or a higher-impact option. The pace of learning the moves is not rushed at all. Some people will find this good. Some people may find it repetetive and/or boring. She gives each of the moves a name - and it's not necessarily descriptive of the move itself. Sometimes, it is more ethereal or mystical or ______ (some word I'm not coming up with right now) than that. Many of the moves are similar from workout to workout, but the names are sometimes more linked to the theme of the workout (Air, Fire, Spirit, etc.). Keep in mind that I have not done belly dancing workouts in the past and some of the names of moves may come from that background.
Each Bellyfit DVD is named after an earth element and the workout is designed around the theme of that element. For example, in the Fire workout, some of the names of some of the moves follow the theme of fire or heat. Plus, in what she says, she talks about the heat of the body and she talks about fire and harnessing its power. Each of the workouts seems to slightly stress some parts of the body more than others. For me though, they all seemed like cardio workouts that work the full body (with slightly different emphases).
Personally, I don't see needing 5 workouts that are all so similar. But, for those that really like this type of workout, you might enjoy having that many. Personally, I didn't like Water all that much. Earth I had problems liking from the beginning because of my so disliking the original Bellyfit Earth. It was ME, not the workout. :) I really liked Fire and thought it would be my favorite until I tried Air. I loved Air. Spirit was okay, but the TIFTing got to me at the end.
My career is in training - corporate training, not physical fitness. Because some of the jobs I have had have been in instructional design - creating classes - I tend to notice the design of workouts (or the lack of intentional design in some cases). To me, these workouts seem to be some of the best designed workouts I have seen in a really long time. She tells you what she is going to do and then she delivers it in a very structured, yet fun, way.
On the other hand, some of her design elements work against her some. For the workouts that I didn't enjoy totally, the TIFTing got tedious. Also, she gives moves cutesy names that don't necessarily remind me of what I am supposed to be doing and at multiple points in every workout I would stop and look at the screen to see what they were doing. Yes, even with the TIFTing...
Her talk in these workouts is smooth, on point, and empowering. In places, she just seems to be having a blast doing the workout. She is passionate about these workouts and encourages you to enjoy them as well.
Like I said above, I don't think 5 workouts that are so incredibly similar are needed; I think that they should have been sold separately to let people choose what they wanted. It's not like you need all five workouts to have a well-rounded program. If you like these workouts, then you might enjoy having all five.
Personally, I think that they worked hard to create a high-quality set of DVDs with good workouts on them. For people who are not dance people, she makes the moves in the workouts accessible. They are at an intermediate level, but enough options are given that these workouts can be done in a range of intensities and impact.
She is relaxed and instructive in these workouts. She passionate about them.
NOTE: I received a free copy of this DVD set to review for the web site Metapsychology.net.
The Bellyfit system is a holistic fitness approach designed for women (their tagline is “moving women”). The Elements DVD set features instructor and choreographer Alice Bracegirdle. Each DVD in this set—Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Spirit—offers a combination of cardio dance (drawing on many different traditions, from bellydance to Bollywood), core work, and yoga-based stretching. Bracegirdle incorporates many Eastern elements into the routines, including meditations and mudras (hand gestures). As noted on the Bellyfit web site, the workouts are designed to be accessible to all levels and abilities: Bracegirdle has one of her two background exercisers performing modifications, and she encourages viewers to go at their own pace. However, in her “Safety Tips” (found on each disc), Bracegirdle states that these workouts are not intended for anyone with “serious” neck, back, hip, or knee problems. (She also suggests that the workouts not be done on carpet, but I had little issues with the Berber carpet in my own workout room.)
Each of the five DVDs follows the same basic format. Bracegirdle starts with about four minutes of centering, meditation, belly breathing, and lotus lifts (a.k.a. Kegels) and then moves into an extended warm-up (8 minutes). Following this, she teaches two separate cardio sequences of approximately six minutes each. Bracegirdle instructs the moves in an add-on style, starting with simple, familiar leg movements such as heel digs, grapevines, chasse, high knee lifts, and hamstring curls; she then adds some complexity with arm movements and mudras. In each cardio segment, the exercises are practiced in sequence, and after practicing the first and second cardio routines separately, Bracegirdle combines them together, running through the entire routine several times (“take it from the top”). This is followed by a “cardio recovery,” which is the warm-up exercises performed in reverse order—what a great idea to use moves that the viewer has already learned! The standing work concludes with a brief isolation segment and an “earth shower” meditation.
For the last 20 minutes or so of each workout, Bracegirdle tells viewers to remove their shoes: she and her crew come to their mats (the only prop used) for core work and final stretch. With the exception of the Earth DVD (which was re-released with this set), Bracegirdle instructs all of these routines live, using voiceover for the opening meditations only. She does mirror cue, but she has her own names for the moves (e.g., “Honor the Sun,” “Shoot the Buzzard,” etc.), which I found a little confusing to follow at times. Finally, these DVDs are not chaptered on the Main Menu, although they do have rough chapter breaks at each section (i.e., the start of the cardio, the start of the core work, and the start of the stretch).
I have provided some more specific information on each of the individual DVDs below.
EARTH (62 minutes)
This routine starts with a focus on earth energy. The warm-up includes step-touch, torso twists, heel digs, and shimmies, while the cardio segments incorporate grapevine, hip pumps, bhangra bounce, plié hops, jungle walk (high knees), v-circles, squats with lotus mudra, hip shimmy, and step back. The isolation segment focuses on the root chakra and includes pelvic tilts, evolving into hip circles. The core work on the floor begins with cat/cow and features some Pilates-like movements such as half-rollbacks, a variation on the Pilates hundreds, and single leg stretches. The extended final stretch includes yoga postures such as reclined twist, bridge, double pigeon, seated twist, seated forward bend, and butterfly. Bracegirdle concludes this session with a final meditation and mudra.
WATER (64.5 minutes)
The opening meditation here focuses on the color orange. After gathering chi, the warm-up incorporates exercises such as hips moving in a Figure 8, chest circles, and heels to the front. For the cardio, Bracegirdle performs pliés with shakti rising, water carrier, hip circles, hamstring curls, reverse lunge with twist, snake arms, squat with balance, chasse with twist, oblique crunch, and shimmy with shoulder roll. The isolation segment centers on the rib cage and concludes with an earth shower meditation. The core work begins with several plank moves and again incorporates some Pilates-type work (e.g., can-can, hip lifts, scissors). The stretch begins seated for butterfly, hamstring and quad stretches, mermaid, gentle seated twist, and cow seat, all performed on one side before being repeated on the other. Bracegirdle concludes with a short (2.5 minute) relaxation and a shakti mantra with final mudra.
FIRE (61.5 minutes)
Fire starts with a visualization of the color yellow and a focus on the solar plexus. The warm-up and the segments which follow are the most cardio-intensive of all the Elements. The opening contains hips with elbow thrusts, side lunge, chest thrust, and side-to-side step with push. For the cardio, Bracegirdle begins with “own your fire” lunges and moves into high knees, chasse, hip sways, walk the fire, triple step with knee, plié with archer, step forward, bob and weave with push and punch, and jenga with block and twisting prayer. Following the cardio recovery, the isolations center on the chest. For the core work, Bracegirdle starts with cat/cow and elbow plank work. Additional core moves include a partial roll back, chest rotations performed on the knees, and a variation on the Pilates hundred. The stretch also incorporates yoga postures: Bracegirdle starts with some easy backbends on the floor (sphinx, updog, and bow), moves through downward dog to warrior two, and concludes with a supine twist and reclined butterfly. Bracegirdle finishes with relaxation (about 2 minutes) and final neck stretches and mudras in a seated position.
AIR (63 minutes)
For this opening sequence, Bracegirdle suggests a meditation on the color green and a focus on the heart chakra. The warm-up moves start with a triple hip followed by a hip sit, side lunge with alternating shoulder raise, plié with snake arms, and step tap with arm swings. The cardio segments include push the sky, high knees, heel touch with Figure 8 arms, fast/slow hip shimmy, heart to sky, bhangra, clear the air (grapevine), pull up roots plié, celebrate plié, and kickbacks (hamstring curls). For the isolations, Bracegirdle focuses on the shoulders, performing shoulder shimmies and shoulder rolls. The core section was more yoga-focused: Bracegirdle starts with triceps “dips” (actually push-ups) and then performs several yoga postures (downward dog, standing forward bend, dancers pose, standing side stretch) before doing just a few core moves (c-sit with shoulder shimmies/shoulder roll and balance in butterfly). The yoga stretch continues with seated forward bend, eagle arms, reclined Figure 4 stretch, reclined twist, reclined butterfly, and a short (1.5 minute) relaxation. To finish, Bracegirdle comes to seated and performs two different mudras, one for negative emotions and one for love.
SPIRIT (60 minutes)
The opening meditation centers on the colors blue, violet, and pure white as well as the upper chakras, including the throat, third eye, and crown. The warm-up sequence includes hip sways, hip circles, single-single-double side step with chest pop, temple dancer, and undulations. The first cardio series begins with a squat and then moves into a step tap with a reach to the sky. Additional moves include goddess pliés, plié twists (releasing anger), Shiva inner thigh lifts, temple dancer chasse, and hip shimmy. The second cardio series features knee raise honoring earth and sky plus a heel dig with a push from the heart, dancing goddess, bhangra heel drop, three hips and a bow, seven hips and a turn, and Kundalini rising. The isolation segment is a practice of heart undulations. The core section starts with several standing balance moves, including warrior 3 pose, Shiva, and standing glute stretch; this is followed by temple dancer stretch for the IT band. Floor postures include full prostration, seated sage twist, side lying quad stretch, and a brief (1.5 minute) relaxation. Bracegirdle concludes with three different mudras, one for higher consciousness, one for trust, and the Bellyfit mudra for embodiment.
Overall, Bellyfit Elements provides a fun cardio experience that is likely to be accessible to most women who are already relatively healthy. The meditations and mudras add a calming, soothing aspect to the practice, providing additional stress-relieving benefits.
Alice is warm, down-to-earth, and very likeable. She has an engaging manner that is definitely very strong and empowering towards women. For the cardio portions, she starts off providing good cuing, but once you learn the moves, her cuing drops off quite a bit--you are more expected to already know the moves and to follow along at that point.