Firm Arms & Abs

Karen Voight
Year Released: 1991

Categories: Abs/Core , Total Body Workouts, Upper Body Strength

Video Fitness reviews may not be copied, quoted, or posted elsewhere without the permission of the reviewer

Show oldest reviews first

This is a very good toning video which specifically targets the arms and abs. It begins with what the box calls a "preworkout drill," which is basically a few minutes of instruction on how to keep your lower back grounded on the floor while performing the abs exercises; once you know how to do this, you can skip over this section.
The main part of the workout starts with a 5-minute warmup. Oddly enough, the exercises seemed more targeted to warming up the lower body (eg, squats and lunges), but some basic upper body stretches are included as well. Next comes 18 total minutes of arms work. Karen begins by using the bench in either a standing or seated position, moves on to lying on the bench, and then finishes with additional seated exercises. She works the arms from all angles and includes many twists on traditional arm moves. I thought that the usually neglected triceps were worked particularly well, but there was little shoulder work.

Karen then sets her bench on an incline for 14 minutes of abs work. Abdominals seem to be Karen's forte, as she works them completely, hitting each muscle group and putting unique spins on classic crunches. Following the abs work, Karen ends with 3 minutes of back work lying flat on the floor. The entire workout (minus the opening instruction) clocks in at about 40 minutes.

I don't have a bench, but I was able to easily substitute a chair and the floor, although this limited my range of motion slightly. The feel of the video is a bit dated, especially with the Muzak-type music played during the warmup and the occasionally voice-over instruction offered by an unknown person (ie, not Karen). Overall, however, this is still a very good video that will thoroughly work your arms and abs in a short amount of time.

Instructor Comments:
As always, Karen is a master instructor who performs the moves flawlessly and cues well, although I felt that the latter was not quite up to par with her more recent workouts (this video was released in 1991).

Beth C (aka toaster)


I've owned this tape for a long time and it's never been in heavy rotation, although I found that I used it occasionally when I was 5-6 months into working out regularly. There are 2 parts to this video, an upper body segment which lasts about 20 minutes and an abdominal and lower back workout which is 15 minutes in length. I pulled it out the other day looking for something easy, an 'out' from a normal weight training day, and the idea of revisiting this was refreshing so I popped it in. (I do the ab section frequently, though. More on that later.)

Warm up is good, typical Karen. Set is her old 80's style set, as well as outfits. Music-the same jazzy music if you are familiar with Karen's other workouts. 2 men and 2 women background exercisers.

You do work every muscle group in this workout, but it only gives you one set of each exercise, and weights are light (Karen uses 5 lbs and holds both for concentration curls and lat rows). While I appreciate her unique style and approach of teaching, as far as the actual workout goes, I find this upper body section to be just too easy, for any type of day for me (except maybe as a warm-up to other upper-body work - which is what I ended up doing after this workout). The weights are light, which would be fine for an endurance day, and in particular I think some of her shoulder exercises are interesting, but there just aren't enough sets and reps for this to qualify as an endurance workout in any way. I do think it might be good for a beginner or high beginner/low intermediate who is getting to know weight training.

As for the ab section, it is fantastic. It's probably the ab section I have used the most frequently throughout every level of fitness and still continue to be challenged by it. I am now an advanced exerciser and it still is a good thorough workout for the abs. I love it!!!

To sum up: Consider this an ab workout, and it's four stars all the way. If you are deconditioned, give it a try, it might be perfect. If you are a newbie, try it but be aware that Karen's personality is not bubbly and coo-coo encouraging a la Denise Austin. She is a serious, no-nonsense type of instructor, but she does smile once in a while ;)!

Instructor Comments:
Karen has REALLY grown on me. She can come off as stiff (especially in her earlier workouts such as this one) but she is so meticulous with her instruction and form, and her exercises - especially abdominal and other pilates-type exercises, are so innovative and fun to do, I now consider myself a fan. I also think that eventually, the what comes off at first as stiffness in her personality wears off, and you realize it's just the way she is.

Kathy Weller


This is a solid upper body work out with an emphasis on form and control. Karen is so complete when she instructs the form on these moves that a beginner could do them. There's also a pre-work out drill to teach ab control. This video does move quickly though from exercise to exercise. The individual reps are slow but you move from one to another very quickly so its hard to customize the weights. You might be able to use a heavier weight for one exercise, but will miss alot of the next exercise when you switch to lower weights. Each exercise has only one set and not many reps. I've never counted but I'd guess less than twenty. Some of the moves require good ab control to hold the position. I like the ab work since it feels really effective. She knows how to instruct so you get into positions that facilitate these ab exercises. Back work is included. LOTS of triceps. This is a good intermediate workout. Beginners can use very low weights and benefit from excellent instruction and form and advanced can use it as a form reminder. An execellent work out.

Instructor Comments:
Karen is the most thorough and meticulous instructor on video.



I'm recovering from a shoulder injury, so I have been looking for videos that use light weights but are still effective. I was fortunate to have this offered to me on the exchange (thanks, Teresa), and I really enjoyed doing this one. This video uses the light weight/relatively high rep concept (although some of the sets do not have a lot of reps--I counted 12). It is a thorough workout for the upper body. I'm always intrigued by Karen's sculpting exercises, because they are done so differently than on other tapes. She really seems to isolate the muscles in ways that get at every angle. Karen includes exercises to target the rotator cuff muscles, which is helpful in avoiding shoulder injuries. On the box it suggests that you use 2-5 lb. dumbbells. I used 5 lbs. but I could have gone heavier on some of the exercises since many of them are done slowly. For example, Karen uses two 5 lb. weights for single-arm lat rows. She also does bicep concentration curls (love those!) with 10 lbs. The tricep work is killer! Your triceps will be burning! This is a good, thorough upper body workout for the beginner to high intermediate, or for the advanced looking for a light workout. You may have to do more weight pyramiding than Karen does, however.

Instructor Comments:
Karen's form and cueing are excellent, as they always are. Excellent instruction.

Kristin Aziz


The title of this tape may make it more appealing to men than women and indeed two of the three video participants apart from Karen are men. But with increasing interest in weights work this is a tape I would heartily recommend to everyone.

It is a clever tape making great use of the incline step, and requiring you to move around very little to accomplish working out a great variety of muscle groups. What I particularly like about the work out is its balance - despite the title it covers not only arms and abs but shoulders and back - a complete upper body work out which is unusual. I feel "nicely" worked out at the end of this tape rather than tired or sore, so I don't do it on a "heavy" day. However it is thorough so it is not a light workout.

I don't really have any criticisms of the tape although the two guys can look a bit dorky, and if you really want to go heavy on the weights then the movements are probably a little too fast.

Instructor Comments:
Karen is in excellent form here with cueing being spot on.

David de Vall


This is a good solid upper body workout for intermediate exercisers. Karen's cuing and explanations of proper form are top-notch, as usual. Includes a back-strengthening section to complement the ab exercises. A long step that can be set to an incline is suggested for best results, but you can do the ab routine on the floor. You do need a pair of small dumbells. The music is a mellow, jazzy soundtrack (also used for Karen's Lean Legs & Buns).

Because this tape operates on the high rep, (relatively) low weight philosophy, it's fast enough that I have difficulty executing the moves with dumbells much larger than 5-8 pounds, even though I use much heavier dumbells for FIRM tapes. Still, it works the muscles from many different directions with variations of rep speed. It would be a good choice for women who still think that working out with heavy dumbells will make them "bulk up." I just have a hard time believing that Karen achieved her fantastic physique by lifting little 5 pound dumbells.



I agree with Wendy's critique - some of the moves move kind of quicky, so you really can't use heavy weights with this video. Therefore, I feel this one also emphazises muscular endurance rather than strength. A good upper body video; however, like Wendy said, Karen Voight didn't get muscles like that lifting light weights. Karen's form and moves are good, though.

Kathy Lapinski


Instructor Comments:

One thing about Karen Voight is you know her instruction is always going to be outstanding. In this video, I like the way she does the exercises slowly -- I think you get better results that way. She's careful to explain the correct way to do each move, as usual.

As the name implies, this is an upper body/abs workout. You use the bench for both sections (but you could do either section without it if you don't have one).

In the upper body section, which is about 23 minutes, you do standard exercises such as biceps, shoulder presses, bent-over rows, etc. The reps are done slowly, so you can use heavy weights and get the most out of it. However, she doesn't do very many repetitions. This could be good or bad depending on how heavy your weight is.

The triceps section is a killer. Karen does two triceps routines. I used 8 pounds on the first one, and then there was a break working back muscles. When she came back to the second triceps routine, I had to go down to 5 pounds, and I still didn't know if I was going to make it! VERY good workout for triceps!

The abs section seems a little easier than in some of her other videos. It's 12 minutes, and you do it on an incline bench. There's nothing tricky, and, again, you do it slowly to maximize the movements.

I like this video as an alternative to the faster FIRM upper body work. The FIRM is great, we probably all agree, but I think sometimes it's good to slow down and use heavier weights -- at least for me, because I'm trying to develop some definition in my upper body. (Oh, if I were only 10 years younger . . . .)

Annie S.