'Tis peak season for "do I look fat in this?" worries -- and exercise can be an antidote. Maybe it's a delusion, but I always feel thinner after a good workout.
I need some extra inspiration now, though, since I injured my right arm trying a too-fast routine from a tough new video.
So I turn to the two major mags in the women's fitness category, the older Shape (whose Editorial Advisory Board "was established in 1981--before any competitive title," according to its Web site), and Fitness. Which will prove a better read, and perhaps guide me gently back to the gym?
Exercise routines: Shape, B; Fitness, B+. Each mag does an OK job of instructing through words and pictures (harder than by video), though in this case, one moving picture would definitely be worth about 100 confusing words (Put right leg behind head, left leg on shoulder, hop three times... Sure!)
Shape, in its favor, has more photos that carefully show each stage of an exercise. Workouts are mostly for the advanced -- like one story that focuses on making a butt-lifting routine more effective.
I'm not that keen on working individual body parts, so I am far more motivated by Fitness' "Drop A Jeans Size Workout," with its weights/cardio combos -- and quotes from women who've actually tried the workout ("I learned that any move... is manageable in 90-second doses").
Also, Fitness' thoroughly written and reported piece on back injuries reminds me of physical therapy and yoga moves that helped cure my previous arm aches.
Dieting mojo: Fitness, B+; Shape, A. Shape gets major points for starting "Weight-Loss Diary" a while ago -- where one dieter recounts her monthly trials for about a year. It's motivating and informative to hear about the actual process -- like the latest subject's triumphant ode to having arms sleek enough to wear sleeveless clothes.
Shape also has the best-sounding recipe -- slimmed-down macaroni salad -- and a column of healthful ideas from noted food writer Mollie Katzen.
Fitness, meanwhile, brings a fresh angle to the dreaded d-word with its "Dessert A Day Diet," and a piece in which a nutritionist actually admits she's made some mistakes.
Look of the Book: Fitness, A-; Shape, B.Shape has more photos and a generally glossier look. Yet Fitness' layouts, with their interesting use of smaller pictures and other page elements, are more appealing overall.
Features: Fitness, B; Shape, C. A lost opportunity in Shape's personal essay on "Conquering My Fear Of Water": I really want to know how the writer managed that task, but devoting only a page to the story means the process is briefly summarized rather than spelled-out.
Fitness' "Locker-Room Confidential" provides hardly surprising, yet gracefully penned, first-person insights about women's body-image issues.
Playing the Olympics:Fitness, B+; Shape, B. For their August issues, both mags looked to U.S. team athletes for inspirational quotes. The results were about what you'd expect -- stuff about positive thinking, narrowing your focus, etc. -- but still way classier than, say, typical rants from reality show contestants (no trash-talking competition, no unjustified confidence).
Fitness gets points for providing info on these women's training and eating routines, along with this supportive quote from not-model-thin swimmer Natalie Coughlin: "I have issues finding things that flatter my figure. But there's no way I want to be thinner - I'd be so weak in the water, flailing around."
Shape, meanwhile, scores with a bonus travel feature about cities where previous Olympics were held -- and where one can actually work out in past competition venues.
Bottom line: Both mags credibly move beyond the "do 30 jumping jacks" clichés of the fitness genre. But Fitness, with snappier writing and graphics, and more well-developed story angles, wins by a slight margin.
No more reading for me, though. It's back to the gym....
Published by: Meredith Publishing Group
Published by: American Media, Inc.