As I’ve mentioned previously, my first aerobics experience was way back in the 90s when my mom and I would tape Gilad and Denise Austin’s workout shows on ESPN. At 52, Denise is still as much of a fitness icon as ever, cranking out workout DVDs (she’s got more than 80 of them!), being a part of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, and speaking out for Idaho potatoes. I admit, I was a little star struck getting Denise on the phone, but as could be expected, she made me feel comfortable immediately and won me over with her enthusiasm. She was also truly genuine: She showed great interest in the FBG website and even credited Cindy Crawford and Jane Fonda with bringing visibility to the aerobics movement. Read more for an inside look at a fitness guru.
FBG:You have 84 workout DVDs. Are there any that stand out as being your favorites?
Denise Austin: They’re all so different, and that’s the idea: To give everybody a versatility, a chance to be different, getting a range of different exercises and different types. So one’s yoga, one’s Pilates, one’s kickboxing, one’s boot camp—so I have a lot of varied workouts. But probably one of my favorites is my Hit the Spot - Pilates, and a new one coming out that I just love is Denise’s Daily Dozen. It’s 12 exercises to do every day. And every day of the week on this DVD I have a different 12-minute workout to do, working 12 different areas, and it’s a really fun workout because by the end of the week, you’ve hit head to toe, stretched, toned, and did some cardio-interval training. You kind of hit on all of the head-to-toe fitness. It’s nice and well-rounded—and only 12 minutes. And I tell people, “You’ve got 12 minutes to get fit.” And it could be a complement to someone who’s already in fantastic shape, of course.
I like my yoga, too, my Yoga Body Burn. It’s a really good yoga tape. It’s one of the ways I stay in shape a couple times a week, and it just makes you feel good when you’re done, and that’s a really fun workout, too.
FBG:I’ve never done one of your yoga DVDs. You’re always so bubbly and energetic.How do you stay more still for yoga?
DA:[Switches into a more relaxed tone of voice] I kind of relax the voice and say, “You can do it, just stretch, hold, breathe.” So I keep my energy in my voice but not as much high [energy], really fun—more learning and why this is good. I kind of feed you the benefits so you understand why you’re doing this. And we all want to have a purpose, so I get into more of a “calm mode” when I’m filming that DVD. And it worked—it’s one of the top videos right now for yoga.
FBG:How do youkeep coming up with new ideas for videos after you’ve done so many?
DA: I go with the feeling of what people want and what people are looking for. Because I travel so much and I have so many different people who I talk to all over the country, I get a feeling of what is coming and what should be the next DVD. And then I also have my website, deniseaustin.com. I reach out to the people. I have 1.5 million people, mainly women, who go on my website and they’re like my friends and I say, “Ok, what do you like? Did you like my yoga? What can we do next, and do you want to do more toning? Do you want cardio?” So I kinda reach out to them and listen to them, honestly. They’re the people who really want to stay in shape and want my next one.
And I know the pulse of what’s going on, especially in New York and LA because I go there so often. I really have a lot of friends in the industry; I’m on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, so I ask a lot of the top doctors who are on the council, so I keep up to date on all of this because I love it. And really it’s how I’m going, too, and what direction I like.
FBG:I read you have a dog named Madonna. Are you a Madonna fan?
DA: When she was born—she’s a Portuguese water dog—our friends and their children named them all when they were born. We got her at 12 weeks, so she was already named Madonna. The whole litter was named after famous people. And she’s a party mix because she has black and white spots all over, and in the breed, it’s called a party mix, so she’s the party girl, so they named her Madonna. But I love Madonna’s music, of course, and she’s my age, and I’ve exercised to her music since her early days when I started, too.
FBG:What does your typical workout week look like?
DA: My typical workout week varies all the time because if I’m traveling I do something different. If I’m home for the whole week—just being a mom, and I’m writing another book and making phone calls and things like that—I actually do a morning workout for 30 minutes most every single day. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I do more cardio, to burn fat, and I change the cardio a lot. This morning, I ran on the treadmill because it’s cold out. Last week, I was in California, so I got to go outside. I was with my sisters, so we went for walks. So I change the cardio up a lot.
Some days my girlfriends here come over, and we do interval training: I do kick boxing, a little dance, a little high-energy aerobics with some weights. So we change it up. And then Tuesdays and Thursdays I do all toning. And in the toning, in the 30 minutes, I warm up sometimes on the bike for five minutes and then jump off and do some weights, and then I do some Pilates and then I do some yoga. And then on Saturdays and Sundays, my husband and I and the girls we kind of work out together. We play tennis, and we just do different things. Sometimes I take my friend’s yoga class. Sometimes I have girlfriends over here, and we do yoga. … So I really do mix it up.
FBG:We’re all about sneaking in activity on our website—10 minutes here or a sprint to the dog park for me. What are some fun ways you sneak in activity beyond your daily workouts?
DA: Besides my real workout, I stay in shape by doing things throughout the day because I always want to be here for my kids for dinner and make sure they have a home-cooked meal, and I’m really into a sit-down dinner with our family. So in the afternoon when I’m getting them from sports and bringing them home, I do isometrics a lot. If I’m waiting in a carpool line, I tighten up my tummy, I pull in my abs, retrain them to go in; I squeeze my butt. When I’m on the phone a lot, I’m walking and getting some housework done and bringing in groceries while I’m doing some business. I’m a big multi-tasker. To get it all done and to have everybody pretty organized, I try to be fit through little things. When I’m sitting at a computer, I always do some stretches or waist twists turns to one side of the chair and to the other side. And I drink lots of water.
FBG:I saw you’re also a spokesperson for Idaho potatoes. What do you say to people who see potatoes as a deadly carb?
DA: I tell everybody, first of all, everything in moderation. And second of all, it’s a vegetable that’s good for you. It’s got 110 calories, and it’s packed with vitamins and minerals and nutrition. So to me, it is a no-brainer. It’s not a packaged food with all kinds of ingredients that we’ve never heard of. It’s truly from the earth, and I believe that all vegetables and fruits are good for you. You’re receiving nutrition that our body needs. It has more potassium than a banana. I feed my family Idaho potatoes at least three days a week. Either I have it in a soup, or I make baked potatoes, or I make a potato salad, or I slice them up and bake them in the oven like baked fries. My kids, oh my God, it’s their favorite thing. Whenever my daughters—and they’re both athletes—need a lunch or something on a Saturday or Sunday and they’re ready to go out and play lacrosse, I make them a baked potato, and we put cheese on it and a little salsa, and that’s what they eat. I just tell people it’s a good carb.
FBG:I know you say to use no-guilt treats, like pedicures, to treat yourself. But what’s your favorite edible treat? What do you splurge on?
DA: Oh my gosh. Honestly, I love Friday nights, and if we go with a bunch of people, I love cheese pizza and a beer. I just think it’s so fun; I feel young. And another thing I love is coffee ice cream. I love chips and guacamole because I’m a California girl. So those are pretty much my favorites.
FBG:Do you ever go back and look at old videos and discover new science or moves that are unsafe?
DA: Well, because I’m on ESPN Classics now, which are some of the shows from 1990, the funny thing to see yourself years ago is the hair and the outfits I wore, but honestly, I’ve been saying exactly the same thing about eating right, exercising, toning up since day one. So when I look at my shows I feel like, you know what, I’m true to myself and I’ve kept with what I believe in for all these years. But all exercise in my opinion is good, just make sure you’re doing it with the best form possible. I love every form of fitness, from sports to yoga to tai chi to all of them. They all have their merits. Thanks again to Denise for speaking with us. It truly was a pleasure. We'll be reviewing Denise's latest workout DVDs tomorrow, so be sure to check back in for more information on those. Also, keep your eyes peeled for a new TV show in the fall, and don't forget those ESPN Classics at 7 a.m. EST!—Erin