What the best exercise videos have

  • An enjoyable and effective program: The best workout videos and DVDs include a progression in difficulty and have enough variety in both movements and routines that the consumer does not tire of the program after a couple of viewings.
  • A motivating, knowledgeable and engaging trainer: The best workout DVDs should feature trainers with strong professional backgrounds who provide excellent tips when it comes to general fitness, breathing patterns and form involved in individual moves.
  • Supplemental materials: Additional materials such as nutritional guides, diet plans, posters or calendars to help track progress, and bonus workouts -- when done well -- can seriously enhance the effectiveness of a workout DVD.

Know before you go

What type of video are you looking for? Cardio will burn the most calories, but you'll need to have plenty of space to move. Strength, Pilates and yoga videos emphasize toning and flexibility, and you won't need as much space in front of the TV.

What is your current fitness level? For those who have a high fitness level already, you'll want to consider intermediate to advanced-level videos to ensure you get an effective, challenging workout. Those who are just getting into the workout routine should opt for something less intense while building up their strength, stamina and general fitness level. You should also consider any existing injuries or weaknesses. Some exercise programs are tougher on the joints, so if you have a bad back or knee issues, you'll want to avoid those workout DVDs.

How much time do you have and how quickly do you lose interest? One of the major things to consider is how much time you plan to dedicate to individual workout sessions. If you are short on time, a 60-minute video may not be right for you. Moreover, several workout DVDs vary vastly in the number of routines and variety of movement featured. If you bore easily or are looking for strong variety, consider a program with several different featured routines.

How qualified is the instructor? To get the most out of your workout, you need to ensure that you're doing the exercise movements with the appropriate form and breath patterns. The expertise of fitness video instructors varies greatly; the instruction you'll receive from Kim Kardashian versus a well-known expert like Jari Love is very different. Look for workout DVDs with well-known, expert-approved instructors.

What equipment is necessary? Some videos require an equipment purchase. You'll need to buy at least one set of 10-pound dumbbells for Personal Training with Jackie: Power Circuit Training, for example. Other videos require the purchase of special rubber bands, balls or bars. A few include bands in the packaging.

Value expectations: The dollars and cents of it

Purchasing a workout DVD (or several) can be a cost-effective alternative to a traditional gym membership or aerobic classes. You should consider how many routines you're getting with each workout DVD or video to ensure that there is enough variety to keep the program interesting over time. Additionally, some DVDs feature extra materials like progress-tracking calendars, nutritional or diet programs or bonus routines, which add extra value to the video.

What's to come

Fitness programs have varied in popularity throughout the years. While cardio-based programs were previously popular, thanks to their calorie-blasting abilities, these days we've found more of an emphasis on overall strength training and conditioning. With the popularity of intense at-home programs like P90X and Insanity, expect to see a continued emphasis on tough, body-altering programs.

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