Nest at home over the holidays if you must, but why not get a jump-start on that New Year's weight-loss resolution before the eggnog and candy canes take up permanent residence on your hips and cankles?
If it's too cold to walk outside and you're lacking motivation to make it to the gym, try one of the many workout DVDs inspired by and led by stars of reality-TV shows. Here's a quick look at six new ones. (Check availability at your local Target or Academy stores; all can be ordered from Amazon.com.)
Dancing With the Stars Ballroom Buns & Abs
Star instructors: Three professional ballroom dancers from the show: Chelsie Hightower, Edyta Sliwinska and Kym Johnson.
Format: Each instructor leads a 15-minute dance-inspired workout meant to target buns and abs: "Rock 'n Abs," with a lot of jive-inspired swivel-and-turn moves that help to whittle the waist; paso doble, which incorporates lunges and other moves that sculpt thighs and glutes; and Argentine tango, in which a chair is used as a partner and which helps tone abs, buns and thighs.
What we thought: Like all the DWTS workout DVDs, this one will be best enjoyed by those with dance training, who can keep up with the choreography. (The "extras" in each segment clearly are dancers, too, with dancers' lean bodies.) However, each 15-minute segment is fun and effective at getting your heart rate up. It was our first time working out to the paso doble, and we had a great time.
What you'll need: A chair for the Argentine tango workout. Jazz shoes, rather than tennis shoes might help on that one, too.
Watch out: If you're not too limber, you might have trouble with some of the sexy kicking moves in the Argentine tango section. Also, our big nag is that there are lots of pivots and turns that people wearing tennis shoes on carpet aren't going to be able to do so well -- and shouldn't if they have knee problems.
The Biggest Loser Cardio Max Weight-Loss
Star instructors: The show's trainer Bob Harper, plus former contestants Sione Fa and Tara Costa. Extras are more recent past contestants, including just-crowned Season 10 winner Patrick House (obviously before he got to his final weight on the show).
Format: It's a traditional boot-camp-style workout. After a 5-minute warm-up, three cardio levels are offered: "weight loss" Level 1 (25 minutes), high-intensity cardio Level 2 (10 minutes) and high-intensity cardio Level 3 (10 minutes). Follow the mix-and-match plan each day for a few weeks, and results are promised.
What we thought: The title "Cardio Max" is a little deceiving; you might think you'll do lots of cardio exercises like jumping jacks and jogging in place. In fact, most of the workouts involve weight-bearing moves, such as arm presses and pushups. But it moves quickly, and your heart rate stays up. Beginner modifications are offered throughout, but for more advanced exercisers, that Level 3 is a killer.
What you'll need: Light hand weights.
Watch out: Harper is an excellent trainer. We wish he would have led the whole thing; instead, Costa and Fa -- who banter throughout -- take turns leading the workouts, too. They don't cue nearly as well as Harper, and when these former contestants (who are not professional trainers) say things like, "I'm so proud of you," it feels patronizing.
Personal Training with Jackie: Crunch-Free Xtreme Abs
Anchor Bay, $14.98
Star instructor: Jackie Warner, the hard-core trainer on Bravo's Thintervention and Work Out.
Format: Two 15-minute abdominal workouts, designed to be done separately or, if you can stand it, consecutively. The first is a standing ab routine, and the second is done on the floor. No crunches are involved whatsoever.
What we thought: Wow. No wonder people pay up to $400 an hour to work out with Warner. This is a tough, no-frills workout that moves quickly without much time to rest in between. Warner -- who trains more than she works out on this DVD -- constantly challenges her exercise partners to make the moves harder, and she's living proof that her methods work. Her six-pack is amazing. We appreciated that modifications were offered, and we used them a lot.
What you'll need: A mat, light hand weights.
Watch out: We fell over (and took a rest) every time a move involving a side-plank position was involved. And even though we were only able to handle about a workout-and-a-half, our abs were screaming the next day.
Jillian Michaels 6 Week Six-Pack
Star instructor: Jillian Michaels, the tough-talking trainer on The Biggest Loser and Losing It With Jillian.
Format: Two 30-minute workouts at Levels 1 and 2, plus warm-ups and cool-downs. Moves are done on the floor and standing, using a hand weight.
What we thought: Michaels does noticeably less "barking" of orders in the DVDs that do not involve her former contestants, and that's much easier on the at-home exerciser. Thirty minutes is a long time to work out abs, so a full-body stretch is welcome at the end of both segments. The DVD promises "six weeks to a ripped midsection," but we have trouble believing anyone can truly achieve a Jillian-esque six-pack in that amount of time -- without some serious dieting, too -- unless they're already in pretty ab-tastic shape.
What you'll need: A mat, light hand weights.
Watch out: You'll hurt the next day.
Dancing With the Stars Fat-Burning Cardio Dance
Star instructors: Show pros Chelsie Hightower, Edyta Sliwinska and Kym Johnson lead this one, too.
Format: Three 15-minute segments -- "mambo mix," "Hollywood jazz" and "hustle & pop" -- are dance-inspired workouts and precede a 5-minute cool-down.
What we thought: This one was our least favorite of the bunch. The first segment, a Latin-inspired one, involved some pretty tricky, fast-paced choreography (and some off-cues by Sliwinska) that nondancers will find frustrating. The third workout, "hustle & pop," with some disco and hip-hop moves, was the most fun, and Hightower's instruction was pretty spot-on. Overall, we didn't feel like we'd gotten a very thorough workout from this DVD, which seemed more intent on teaching choreography (and showing off the instructors' smooth dance moves) than offering a great workout.
What you'll need: No extra equipment, but if you have them, jazz shoes.
Watch out: Just like in the other DWTS one, the creators seem to forget that most at-home exercisers will be wearing tennis shoes on the carpet, making pivots and turns hard to impossible to do, especially to some of the faster-paced music.
The Biggest Loser Power Walk
Star instructors: Trainer Bob Harper, again, with assists from former contestants Sione Fa and Tara Costa.
Format: Four different 16-minute walking workouts cover a mile each. Steps include not just walking, but lots of step-touch type combinations, arm moves with light weights and even some short sprints and jumping jacks.
What we thought: We will admit we were pretty bored with the first walk, the least intense. But walks two, three and four got tougher. Walk three, especially, in which Harper adds jacks and speed-skating moves, gets the heart rate up. This whole disc is fantastic for those new to exercise, or those training for a walking-race (such as the Komen Race for the Cure in the spring). During each workout, you're told when you get to the quarter-, half- and three-quarters-mile marks, so it's great for those who like to keep track of their progress.
What you'll need: Light weights, a medicine ball and good athletic shoes.
Watch out: Exercisers at a more advanced level could find this DVD excruciatingly boring. And again, the chatty banter between Fa and Costa is distracting.