Welcome Pilates, Billy Blanks into your living room

Getting a chiseled body this year could be as easy as pushing a button -- well, almost -- as the newest fitness videos put a spin on a popular trend.

Think of it as Pilates fusion.


Jammed for time but want to maintain those rock-hard abs? Try a tape that mixes the strength-building Pilates program with weight-training.

Kids got the sniffles? Burn fat at home with a video that fuses aerobics with Pilates intervals.


Intimidated by gyms but wondering what the Pilates hype is all about? Several new videos and DVDs will walk you through all the Pilates basics.

"That is the biggest surprise -- that Pilates is still big as it is," says Renee Dols, director of operations for Collage Video, one of the country's largest fitness video distributors.

More than half of the company's 24 new releases feature Pilates or Pilates-hybrid exercise tapes. "Everyone is expanding on it now," Dols says.

Joseph Pilates' program, developed in the 1920s, blends Eastern and Western movement and philosophy. It strengthens the abdomen, back and pelvic area, and is supposed to promote general well-being.

According to Jill Ross, co-owner of Collage Video, Pilates' popularity arises from "wellness and vanity."

"Ten years ago everyone fell on the side of wanting to look good," Ross explains. "Now, people are more interested in feeling good as well as looking good."

The newest crop of videos also offer something for those who haven't jumped on the Pilates bandwagon. More programs feature interval training as well as the fitness toy of the moment, the stability ball.

Tae Bo creator Billy Blanks returns after a two-year absence with an improved program. And Leisa Hart, best known from the Buns of Steel videos, has released videos for pregnant women that have topped amazon .com's best-sellers' list.


Shall we dance?

The Pilates craze also may have spawned a retro trend -- a continued return to dance aerobics that were popular a decade ago.

"Salsa, hip-hop, it's all coming back," Ross says. "Pilates is serious exercise. Now people want some fun."

This year, celebrity fitness guru Mari Winsor capitalized on her soaring success with several new videos. The Back Workout promises what physical therapists have long been recommending Pilates for: a strong, flexible lower back.

Winsor's cuing sometimes sounds stilted during the 20-minute workout, but she leads with easy authority and uses clear imagery ("Make small circles about the size of a small pizza.")

Anchor Bay Entertainment has released some of the best Pilates videos for all fitness levels. The 30-minute Prevention Flatten Your Belly With Pilates, produced with Prevention magazine, offers a split-screen technique that makes it easy for exercisers to follow options. Instructor Michelle Dozois gives careful, clear directions. The workout's slow pace and low repetitions makes it ideal for beginners.


Crunch: Fat Burning Pilates transforms typically stationary Pilates moves into a 40-minute aerobic and toning workout. Instructor Ellen Barrett leads the challenging session developed by the trendy New York-based Crunch gyms with a chatty girlfriend style.

Next month, Anchor Bay plans to release Breakthru Pilates Sculpt with Tracy York and Dozois. Even without weights, Breakthru is tough training. It blends 55 minutes of cardio and Pilates moves with hand weights, which leaves muscles begging for respite. Long-time fitness professionals York and Dozois offer excellent instruction in a living-room-like setting.

Tae Bo is back

Master motivator Billy Blanks is back on the scene after a stint training troops in Eastern Europe. Blanks says he "went back to the drawing board" and emerged with a revamped Tae Bo program, the 2004 Capture the Power series.

Three videos offer cardio, strength and flexibility programs; one teaches Tae Bo basics. The results are powerful, fun and easy-to-follow workouts -- a big improvement on Blanks' early Tae Bo series.

"Even your grandmother could do these," he says. The video series includes two half-pound resistance training balls and a seven-day vitamin supply.


Dallas-based Leisa Hart says she developed her Fit Mama Prenatal Workout to show new mothers they "could still be sexy."

The instructor and mother of two shot her video two weeks before she delivered her second baby, yet she glides easily through the salsa, yoga and abdominal-training segments with flawless cuing. The 60-minute video demonstrates modifications for all three trimesters and follows American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists guidelines.

If you're looking to spice up staid old aerobics routines, try Crunch: Cardio Salsa. Gisele Roque de Escobar's hips swivel effortlessly, but don't be intimidated. Her stellar instruction will have even those with two left feet cha-chaing their way to a better body in 40 minutes.

Exercise with video, but check it out first

Exercise videos can be a great way to keep in shape when weather, time or finances force you indoors, the American Council on Exercise says.

"You don't have to go to the gym," Tae Bo creator Billy Blanks says. "Build that inner confidence first."


But exercise tapes are like running shoes -- one size doesn't fit all, cautions ACE chief exercise physiologist Cedric Bryant. Fitness professionals offer these tips to help you find the right video workout:

* See a doctor before you begin, especially if you are pregnant. If you are pregnant, make sure the video follows safety guidelines, says instructor Leisa Hart.

* Be realistic about your fitness level, Collage Video's Jill Ross says, but aim for a challenging program so you won't get bored.

* Be realistic about how much time you have. Don't buy a 60-minute tape if you can squeeze in only 30 minutes.

* Try it before you buy it, Bryant advises. Borrow videos from friends or rent them from a video store before you make your purchase.

* Be wary of outlandish weight-loss claims and avoid those that feature a celebrity as a main selling point. Look for instructors certified by national fitness groups.


* Choose a video that fits your needs. Don't, for example, buy an aerobics tape if you want to build muscle.

* Make sure the video instructor is a good communicator. He or she should offer different options for certain exercises, and clear instruction.

Where to buy them

Except for Leisa Hart's prenatal workout, all the videos mentioned can be purchased at Collage Video, www., or by calling 800-433-6769.

The video workouts also can be found at these locations:

* Prevention Flatten Your Belly With Pilates (Anchor Bay Entertainment), $11.03 at Wal-Mart.


* Crunch: Fat Burning Pilates (Anchor Bay Entertainment), $14.99 at Target.

* Tae Bo 2004 Capture the Power (Good Times Entertainment), $39.95 at

* Fit Mama Prenatal Workout (Naturaljourneys), $14.99 at Target, or visit

* Crunch: Cardio Salsa, (Anchor Bay Entertainment), $14.99 at Target.