Ellen Barrett's 7-Day Workout Challenge

So you're a fan of yoga-Pilates 'fusion' fitness, and you have a few questions about Ellen Barrett's latest. I'll try to answer them and offer a few other thoughts, besides.

Cover of the new release, with promotional description

Cover of the new release, with promotional description

Is it worth the $39.95 for the 'limited edition' DVD? Yes, very much so. There will be other ways to view it, but if you like DVDs (and I do), this will complete your Ellen Barrett collection, since it will be the last in this format.

Is it a strong entry in the Barrett oeuvre? Yes, and it's a highly representative program, a kind of summary of Ellen's best work to date. 

Is she right to ask that you follow each session consecutively, each day of the week? Probably. I'm sure that, as a movement professional (Barrett claims that 'movement' is preferred to 'fitness' these days, at least by some people), she has thought about the order very carefully. That said, I did Days 1 and 2 back-to-back on Monday; then I doubled up today again, and so my final session will be Friday (tomorrow) instead of Sunday. The nice thing about these sessions is that once you've done them all, you can mix and match them as you like -- according to your time budget for the day and the way that you wish to train. 

The new program, as viewed on my old-fashioned TV in my studio.

The new program, as viewed on my old-fashioned TV in my studio.

So much for the AQ (anticipated questions). The next question -- that you didn't ask but I will -- is why I'm commenting on the new release here in my Design blog. The answer is that all programs are designed, and that all design must take into account the audience, customer, or user. Ms Barrett is a veteran of the fitness video, and over the years she has produced a number in similar settings with certain familiar faces as the 'back-up singers' to her 'act'. These have been popular and successful. But clearly, Barrett wanted to offer a different experience in the creation of this project. We see completely fresh faces; a different studio; a new director. And the workout-per-day is also a new approach.

The environment we're looking at is all-important: it must be attractive, but allow us to focus on the athletes rather than the décor; it should be soothing rather than dull; it should be suitable for the type of activity the athletes are engaged in. And like a painting, there should be 'escape routes' for the eye so that we don't feel shut in or imprisoned while looking at it. An exercise video is essentially a still life seen from a very few, slightly different angles: it's not a motion picture in the usual sense of the word. 

The studio or exercise space has a lot of wood, which is not only excellent as a surface for yoga and calisthenics (especially on a yoga mat), but is also easy on the eye. There are two doorways: one shut, but white, bright, and having a similar effect to a window; and one that is an opening to another room, which looks as though it might be a minimalist reception room, with a large white window looming beyond. So even though the exercise space is limited, we don't feel 'shut in'. Just behind the exercisers is a large shiny gong, suggestive of a temple and the associated contemplation. That visually offsets the matte effect of all the wood, as well. And it relieves the monotony of squares and rectangles.

White and black, matte and shine, yin and yang....

White and black, matte and shine, yin and yang....

On the other hand, in a sea of black (mats; girls' outfits), white (windows, door frames, and Barrett's costume), and wood, there is no other colour except for the orange of what might be thick exercise mats. They don't relate to what's going on, and in my view they don't look right there. I'd like to suggest that in the place of the mats or steps should be a natural green plant -- perhaps a maidenhair fern: airy and delicate and not so tall or bushy as to distract attention from the girl nearby. There is also an off-white pot atop a slender wood-coloured pillar -- presumably a cabinet -- which might also be a suitable place for a trailing plant such as an ivy. Or, to 'balance' the first plant I suggested and to 'frame' the black-clad girls, another plant could have been put on the desktop around the corner in the room we glimpse beyond. This would have the effect of adding one extra subtle note of colour and (soothing) vitality, while softening the architecture. Interesting -- and not coincidental -- that the cover of the DVD package has green lettering, a way of supplying the green aspect that the actual studio is missing. But then, most spaces look better with a plant or two.

Alternatively, a floor vase (such as the one with bleached willow branches in my own studio) would have looked good just to the right of the wall ladder (seen at left) or to replace the orange and black slabs. In any case, I can see why in some sessions, the athletes all use green dumbbells (whether they are 2 lbs or 3). The room already had sufficient 'warmth', especially with the lovely performers in it. What it wanted, I think, is a dose of 'verdant' and 'fresh'.

Edit: I had watched the final 'Zen stretch' session once when I wrote this. Doing it again -- for only the second time; it is the others that I dip back to -- on my balcony overlooking the Smoky Mountains, I noticed that the mats had been changed to be more colourful, more rainbow-like. And in the middle is a vivid green! Somebody on set missed that green when the dumbbells weren't there -- and supplied it! I also noticed the man hovering as a silhouette in the lit distant window. One of the girls' father, perhaps?