Imagine a team of fitness experts waiting to help you exercise - 24 hours a day, seven days a week in the comfort of your living room. No gym shower, no drive home. All you have to do is turn on the TV.
"People want to exercise on their own terms," said Phil Ryan, assistant director for fitness and wellness at the University at Buffalo. "They are moving toward the individual fitness route. Why shouldn't you exercise from home? I'm not saying you could not have 50 people in an aerobics class, but people want to do it their own way, and television seems to be a logical progression."
TV exercise is hardly a new concept, and fitness DVDs have been popular for years. But the expansion into 24-hour service and "on-demand" programming now makes it more convenient than ever to exercise, and it eliminates almost any reason not to work out.
"People work out when they want to work out," said Jake (Body by Jake) Steinfeld, who launched the cable channel Fit-TV in 1993 and ExerciseTV in 2006. "And people love variety. With ExerciseTV, we're not held hostage to a linear format. Here we have a menu of more than 100 workouts. You can stop, rewind, pause if the phone rings or the baby is crying. You can try different things."
Fit-TV is now part of the Discovery package of networks, offering formatted fitness programming between 6 and 2 a.m. You can find Fit-TV on Time/Warner at Channel 123 with most cable packages, and on DirecTV at Channel 368. ExerciseTV is an "on demand" network, offering fitness programming on Time/Warner at Channel 942 at no extra charge (it's included in the price of your digital cable package). "On demand" means just that. You go to Channel 942, push a few buttons and the show you order comes on immediately.
"You're the strongest you can be in your own environment," said Steinfeld during a telephone interview from his Los Angeles office. "You don't have to worry about getting next to someone you think is in really good shape and feel intimidated. You can roll out of bed, turn on the TV and not worry about what to wear."
One catch: Caution should be used by those with pre-existing medical conditions or physical limitations. Without an instructor present, those who exercise may fall into poor form and hurt themselves.
So before you buy into fitness television, put it to the test. Familiarize yourself with some of the trainers. Try some of the less challenging routines and see how you fare. Buy a stability ball, but watch out. You might get hooked.
ExerciseTV is to fitness what CNN is to news, boasted Steinfeld, the fitness instructor who trained Harrison Ford, Bette Midler, Priscilla Presley and Steven Spielberg. Last year, Steinfeld launched the on-demand network dedicated to fitness, sports instruction and motivational programming is a favorite among women.
"My audience is predominantly female ages 25 to 65," Steinfeld explained. "Working women, moms, singles - most are watching early in the morning or late at night. There is a big category of midday viewers. You'd be surprised how many people are at home during the day."
Workout categories include cardio, pilates, yoga, tai chi, sculpting and toning, dancing, walking, cardio, pre- and post-natal workouts and "Jake Motivates."
"Most of the workouts are 15 or 20 minutes, which is good," said local Pilates instructor Dawn Norwood. "People could pick a couple each day, or even do one in the morning and one in the evening. Pilates on the ball looked good (hard for a beginners, though), and the "Girls Next Door' was complete fluff."
"Girls Next Door," ExerciseTV's newest fitness category, features a team of Playboy models who were trained by Kendall Hogan, Aerobics & Fitness Association of America certified instructor. It has rocketed to the top of the ExerciseTV charts.
"It was a request from Hugh Hefner," Steinfeld said. "His girls wanted to do a fitness video. My initial reaction was."No way. We want to be a legitimate place for you to get your fitness programming, your nutrition information. I have to say, in their own way, they did a commendable job. They are enthusiastic, they believe in what they are doing. I am blown away by the response."
Audience feedback is critical, said Steinfeld, who in the future plans additional ab workouts and extended yoga routines. To keep the programming fresh, workouts are changed every 30 to 60 days. For additional fitness resources, including tips for planning workout schedules and program samples, visit the network's companion Web site, www.exercisetv.tv.
Soon, the network will introduce sports training videos featuring the best strength and conditioning coaches from the New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox and Denver Broncos to demonstrate the best way to attain and keep a competitive edge.
"ExerciseTV is about choices: when, what, how long," Steinfeld said. The programming needs to be entertaining, but it also needs to be sound."
Staying fit is a lifestyle. You must make exercise part of your life, just like brushing your teeth every night before you go to bed or walking the dog in the morning.
"You can't be dependent on a club, a facility or a trainer to stay fit," said Sheila Samson-Powers, certified personal trainer and health fitness instructor in Clarence. "When you have a financial commitment to someone or someplace - with clubs and trainers - it will motivate you for a while, maybe two weeks or a month. But then you have to rely on your inner fortitude to get you there again."
Or an exercise commando called Gilad, whose 30-minute morning seaside workouts on Fit-TV could fry anyone's thighs. Gilad is just one of the personalities on Fit-TV. There's Petra Kolber, Cathe Friedrich and perky Sharon Mann, four-time Canadian aerobics champion. Then there's Blaine, the 290-pound "regular guy" who works to lose weight while demonstrating how to bake low-carb chocolate rum layer cake or roast a 50-pound pig.
Therein lies the appeal of Fit-TV. It not only provides focused fitness education - workouts, diet doctors, a boot camp for brides, Namaste yoga - it's big on personal transformation. Think "Biggest Loser" preparing to attend a West Coast high school reunion.
Witness "The Gym," a Fit-TV reality show that squeezes exercise drills between the turmoils of its quirky trainers including Matt, the repo man with 21-inch biceps and former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader Amber. While not high on fitness education, "The Craze," hosted by Melissa Rivers, dispenses consumer advice on trendy fitness gadgets, like the Gliding Disc Exercise Program still gathering dust in my closet.
The bottom-line? Study the daily program schedule, available on Fit-TV's Web site dule. The program listings are accompanied by workout descriptions and trainer bios. Determine which trainer speaks to you, and don't worry if you miss him. The show will be repeated.