Strength Basics

Getting stronger, fitter, and healthier by sticking to the basics. It's not rocket science, it's doing the simple stuff the right way. Strength-Basics updates every Monday, plus extra posts during the week.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Review: Egoscue: Pain Free Workout Series (DVDs)

Egoscue: Pain Free Workout Series Vol. 1 and 2

2 DVD Set (Beginner, Advanced)

This two-DVD set is billed as a workout you can do to end chronic pain and/or get fit. The first DVD is the beginner's workout, the second is the advanced workout.

Each DVD stars with an assessment/functional test. Basically, a test of where you distribute your weight between your (bare) feet while standing, and a flexibility test - can you fold over at the waist and touch your palms to the floor with straight legs. The recommendation is to do this before and after the workout. It does give you a good idea of how the workouts affect your posture - weight distribution can significantly even out and your flexibility will be better post-workout. Continued checking will tell you if you improve overall - will your weight distribution start to be better at the beginning than where it was when you started? This is how you check.

The workouts are basically a mix of mobility drills, a few bodyweight exercises (crunch variations, pushups) and static poses (both flexibility - like downward dog - and strength, like a free standing squat hold). In a lot of ways it resembles yoga more than a bodyweight strength training routine. If you are familiar with the Pain Free book series, much of these exercises will look familiar.

The DVDs emphasize that health is cumulative, so you're just supposed to let the cumulative work of doing the exercises total up and improve your mobility and health. The workouts follow a method that seems aimed at first dis-associating your joints from each other and then re-integrating them. So first you get your shoulders and hips to work properly separately, then you put them back together.

The basic workout takes about 45 minutes, including explanations. There is an option to watch it workout-only, but instead of explanations and timing the movements for you, it's just music. So it saves no time, and loses valuable explanation. A track with quick cues, rep counts, and timing - just like in the advanced workout - would have been very useful.

The advanced workout takes about 45 minutes, as well, although there are significantly more exercises that you go through. This is good and bad - it's not any longer, but sometimes it's not clear what exactly you are doing and why. Since new exercises are swapped in for old ones, you lose out on some understanding of how to properly execute them. What isn't clear is why some exercises from the basic workout aren't in the advanced workout. Do you no longer need "frog" or the ankle circles any longer? If not, why not - what exercise has taken its place?

Like most exercise DVDs and books, there isn't much theory there to let you know "if X hurts, do Y" or "A has been replaced by B, that's why you don't need to do A any more." This may not be the aim, but again, it limits its utility to either "this works for me" or "this doesn't work for me" with no in between. It is also not clear if certain exercises should be dropped - if I do X and my lower back hurts, am I incorrectly executing it or should I skip it until I've dealt with that pain through other methods?

Content: 4 out of 5. The exercises are good and it feels complete. However, direct guidelines on "how often?" and when to progress to the next level would greatly improve its utility.
Presentation: 4 out of 5. If any DVD ever needed multiple angles, it's this one, and it doesn't have it. A separate exercise-only track would have helped, too.

Overall: As a workout, this isn't a bad start. It's especially useful for folks with injuries or chronic pain or chronic weakness, since it starts out slowly and emphasizes movement quality over movement volume or speed. However, it is hampered by its lack of guidance on progression and frequency. As a mobility drill/off-day workout/flexibility routine, it is also good. Whether it will cure chronic pain or not is unclear. For its price, and with those caveats in mind, it's a good DVD set.

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