Friday, April 6, 2012

It all works out

Denise Austin still going strong after three decade in fitness business
By Larissa Lytwyn
Published 04:19 p.m., Friday, March 30, 2012

Denise Austin ()
Denise Austin workout ()
Denise Austin workout ()

What keeps fitness guru Denise Austin going after 30 years in the business? "I've never been afraid to jump right in!" the petite powerhouse laughs.

With the same honey-blonde hair and smooth skin she sported a decade ago, it might come as a surprise that Austin is turning 55 this year. The explanation may be a seemingly endless supply of positive energy and an even stronger sense of self. Austin was never someone other than who she was — a naturally athletic, effervescent California girl who caught the fitness bug in the late 1970s and never looked back.

What Austin advocates — a combination of dance, yoga, mixed martial arts and old-school aerobics — reflects virtually every cross-training trend out there. Yet, underneath it all, not much has changed.

"It's about getting off the couch and doing basic, cardio-blasting moves," Austin says. Whether kettlebell-inspired or ballet-driven, the principles of the workouts — incorporating jumping jacks, squats and lunges — are basically the same as the Jane Fonda moves of the early '80s.

Austin's biggest inspiration was mentor and friend Jack LaLanne, the industry's first mass media fitness pioneer, who started his popular TV fitness show in the 1950s.

Austin met LaLanne while he was out for dinner at the same restaurant. She introduced herself and said she and her mother were big fans of LaLanne. "You should never be afraid to jump in.," she says.

Austin went on to co-host LaLanne's show in 1981 and stayed in close touch with the fitness legend until his death in January 2011, at age 96.

Austin went on to carve out a fitness career that surely made her mentor proud. In 2003, she was inducted into the Video Hall of Fame for creating — at that point — 85 workout videos or DVDs. In the nearly 10 years since, Austin has released about a dozen more, including, most recently, "Sculpt & Burn Body Blitz" and "Denise Austin: Shape Up & Shed Pounds," which came out in December.

The focus of "Sculpt & Burn" is high-intensity cross-training. "It's a very powerful workout involving mixed martial arts, athletic conditioning and kettlebell inspired moves," Austin says. The DVD provides a choice of 10-minute mini-workouts, including mixed martial arts, athletic conditioning (classic sports drills and interval training), kettlebell-inspired and cardio sculpt (dance-based moves), eventually building up to a longer routine. The DVD also includes a specialized 30-day workout program, in which people can see results in weeks thanks to specific combinations of mini-workout routines.

"Shape Up & Shed Pounds," in contrast, is aimed mostly toward beginners or people coming off an injury. The workout is made up of a 30-minute low-impact cardio routine that incorporates power walking, kicks and even the mambo, all leading to a fitter physique. The 20-minute portion that follows focuses on plank variations and core exercises. A thorough warm-up and cool-down precedes and completes both.

Through the years, Austin has seen fitness trends come and go. But if you think she's someone who exercises for hours on end to keep her slender build in check, think again.

"I mix it up during my 30-minute workouts, never try to do anything twice," Austin says. "Some days I'll do a little yoga. Or maybe it'll be some cardio from 'Sculpt & Burn.' Or it will be a yoga/pilates combination. But it's just to get that heart rate up, get that metabolism burning." She also says she has never had a stitch of plastic surgery.

"You know, I had a foundation when I was young and was a gymnast as a little girl, and it just grew from there," Austin says. "You learn a lot over the years, and you learn how to incorporate the new, but the foundation has gotta be there. Eat moderately, exercise moderately, and you will have success."

And her top secret for staying so youthful-looking? "Dance and stretch and move as if you were 25 again," Austin laughs, "and you will be."

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