Pushing the Needle Too Far: The Indigo Girls Exercise Video

Vital Stats:

IGworkout, by

Copyright Date: 2002
Workout Type:  aerobic/strength training/stretching
Workout Time:  70 minutes (10 warmup, 30 cardio, 20 strength training, 10 cooldown)
Instructors:   The Indigo Girls (Amy Ray and Emily Saliers)
Instructor Style:      enthusiastic, chatty, informative (Amy); stern, uncompromising, almost frighteningly harsh (Emily)
Class Size:    2 to 6 womyn
Aerobic Intensity:     varies from moderate to very intense
Aerobic Impact Level:  low impact with a few high-impact jumps
Aerobic Choreography:  simple steps, short combos
Equipment:     optional guitar, optional hand weights

Full Review:

Yes, that's right, folks! It may surprise you to learn that Amy and Emily's return to their acoustic roots may have been only temporary. Their newest project, Pushing the Needle Too Far, is not only an exercise video but an intrepid musical tour-de-force containing techno, thrash, and trip-hop reworkings of several of their previous songs.

What? You were just looking for a high-intensity, low-impact workout? Well, look no further.

Hoping to raise money to save Yucca Mountain from becoming Uncle Sam's newest nuke-yuh-ler chamberpot, the Indigo Girls turned their sights to a heretofore-untapped frontier—the exercise video. Both musicians were already in excellent shape from battling the Man and outrunning their crazed fans; therefore, all that was needed was a seasoned video fitness expert to advise on and choreograph their masterpiece. Inside Edition's fitness expert Gay Gasper (Fat Burning Workout For Dummies, Basic Training Camp Cardio) generously volunteered her time and energy. The Butchies also appear—in shiny pink leotards, legwarmers, and heavy eyeliner—as part of the class.

As in their albums, the Indigo Girls take turns holding the leadership role. Emily begins the warmup to the tune of "Shame On You," followed by Amy leading "Get Out the Map." As they continue to alternate leadership of the class, Amy's goofy, encouraging style contrasts with Emily's stern exhorations, resulting in a sort of "good cop/bad cop" feel.

The cardio phase (featuring the songs "Go," "Fugitive," "Hammer and a Nail," "Three Hits," and "Touch Me Fall") consists of moves used in the esoteric musical martial art Strum Soo Do. The latest celebrity fitness craze, Strum Soo Do began as a secret form of communication among left-wing musicians and their "fans" during the repressive McCarthy era. As musicians traveled widely and appeared before large audiences, they were in an excellent position to transmit revolutionary messages to the proletariat. However, their song lyrics were closely scrutinized by the authorities, and the "backwards message" technique (upon which so many hopes had been placed) was too difficult to carry off in live performances. Obviously, a more visual code was needed.

Ace linguist Suzette Haden Elgin created the vocabulary and grammar for Strum Soo Do, using martial arts moves as morphemes. The language was passed along at concerts, consciousness-raising groups, and "teach-ins." Eventually, it became corrupted by other musicians who imitated what they saw as the cool moves of their colleagues, and was abandoned by most of the revolutionaries who had created it. However, a small, dedicated core group quietly moved Strum Soo Do to the martial arts arena, where it evolved from a kinetic language to a full-fledged martial art. In the late 90s, Strum Soo Do "achieved" mainstream popularity as a way to burn fat, improve coordination, and tone flabby arms and buns.

Strum Soo Do is a martial art with a twist—in fact, quite a lot of twisting is involved. The main objective is to score kicks, punches, and chops on your opponent—while wearing a guitar. Think that's hard enough? Think again. There's another twist—you may never touch your opponent's guitar.The first and second touches result in a loss of points; touch a third time and you lose the match.

Don't worry, though—as this video includes only isolated moves, there are no opponents, and the guitar is optional.

Emily opens the strength training section with "You and Me of the 10,000 Reps," concentrating equally on the muscles of the upper and lower body. Picking up the pace with "The Girl With the Weight of the World in Her Hands," Emily and Amy work with increasingly heavy weights, while grainy black-and-white footage of Olympic weightlifter Cheryl Haworth flickers on screens in the background. The pace becomes even more frantic with "Pushing the Needle Too Far." At the end of the song, both Girls collapse to the floor in exhaustion, Emily twitching in a futile attempt to get back up.

At this point, Gay Gasper, who has been lifting quietly in the background (at half speed and with considerably lighter weights) comes to the front and begins the cooldown with "Make It Easier." Amy revives, and is able to rejoin the class by the beginning of "Walk Away." Emily dazedly mouths the words of the songs, but remains almost motionless until the middle of "Cold Beer and Remote Control," when she finally begins to participate in the stretches. The tape ends on a playful note as the participants pour buckets of water on each others' heads in slow motion.

Out of the 115 exercise videos I own, Pushing the Needle Too Far is consistently the best. It is absolutely the most interesting, best workout tape I have ever done, and I go back to it over and over without getting tired of it. Although the pace is rigorous and the instructors are clearly pushing themselves to their limits, it is so adaptable that everyone—from beginner level to advanced level—will get something out of it. Amy and Emily are great instructors, and their form pointers make it difficult for you to cheat during the workout—sorry!

The only drawback is the length of the video. It is 70 minutes long, and the intensity may make it difficult to complete all at once. Because it is very fast-paced, you really need to make sure you're using your muscles and not momentum to lift the weights. However, if you can get past all that, you like doing high-intensity weight-training moves, and you can find this tape on sale (I paid $5.99 for it at Target), then this workout will definitely be one of your favorites.

Here are a few comments from other people who have tried this video:

The Indigo Girls are lean, athletic instructors and one of the best video instructors out there. I don't like some of the butt-floss outfits they wear, though. Thier outfits DO tend to be a bit cheesy.

Trish M.
Savannah, Georgia

My first impression was that it was kind of corny (something about the video seems too "scripted", the members of the class are TOO perfect looking and I think the beginning of the video, in which the instructors are posing with Leonard Peltier, is hilarious!) but I'm still amazed at how well this video worked for me! I had been doing aerobics alone for years, and though my cardiovascular fitness had improved immensely, I really hadn't lost very much fat. Once I started doing Pushing the Needle Too Far, I became stronger, my endurance noticeably increased, my husband started talking about my "Buns of Steel", and oh yeah, I dropped 30 lbs. I assume I lost more than 30 lbs of fat, because I know I've gained quite a bit of muscle. Also I would like to add that I use heavy weights and I am not "bulking up". If anything my arms look skinnier.

Gina T.
Green Lake, Wisconsin

Amy Ray is a Christie Brinkley clone with a warm and caring personality. In Pushing the Needle Too Far, she is always smiling and friendly as she teaches you a toning excercise. Her shining smile in and of itself will keep you motivated as well as her incredibly toned body! She wears a thong leotard with nude leggings so you can really see what muscle is contracting during the lunges, squats, dips and bun squeezes. Constantly making sure your form is right, Amy is very knowledgeable about each muscle and throughout the video is always reminding you to keep good form.

Anna C.
St. Paul, Minnesota

I rather like Emily's instruction. Her form is very good, and her cueing and tips on form are quite helpful. She has (in the part with the tribal band, anyway) this really intense kind of no-nonsense look about her, and I like that as a change from the usual smiley happy thing, which of course is nice too. I have heard complaints about her voice in older videos (high pitched, strained, and somewhat off-key), but I find her to be just fine.

Melissa R.
Topeka, Kansas

I like Amy as an instructor. She does pretty well with cuing, although not as good as Cathe and there is no whooping in this video.

Sue J.
Walla Walla, Washington

RedFeather, by

Although Ksiusia was widely denounced as paranoid, shortsighted, and dorky on her first trip back to the planet of her birth, she takes great pleasure in pointing out the shortcomings of the planet where she grew up. Because of this, not many people notice her equally profound appreciation for its many natural resources, not the least of which are the fiery patchwork of the Berkshire hills in autumn, feminist utopian novels, Tuvan punk music, and big round asses.

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