Home fitness videos and DVDs first gained true popularity in the 1980s, but these days, it's a booming industry with many options -- whatever your fitness level. Plus, with most workout DVDs hovering in the $10 to $15 range (though some more in-depth multiple disc programs can cost up to $150), it's a cost-effective alternative or addition to a running, sport or gym-based fitness regimen.
New exercise DVDs and videos are being released every week, but come in two primary waves -- one during December and January and a second in April and May. This volume and diversity can leave consumers overwhelmed and confused. Experts stress the importance of updating your vintage video collection. Older tapes that should be shelved include those in which the instructor gives no alignment guidance, offers no easier alternatives for tough moves, repeats the same exercises over and over or presents spine-stressing or knee-straining moves.
In fact, there are so many videos and workout DVDs on the market that it can be difficult to determine which one is right for you. Most experts classify workout DVDs into one of the following categories: cardio, total-body workouts (which tend to focus on more strength training), time-saving programs, ab-centric routines, dance-inspired, workout series (featuring several DVDs or videos) and advanced programs. Which type of workout video or DVD would be most suited for you depends on your fitness goals and level. Cardio workouts effectively blast calories and are well suited for those looking to drop weight. Ab-centric workouts focus on strengthening the core, which refers to the muscles located in the torso (abs and obliques), back and pelvic floor.
In our research, we found that reviewers recommend videos that are produced by well-known and respected fitness publishers and gurus. More recently, the wave of fitness and health reality television shows ("The Biggest Loser," "Thintervention") has led to a few celebrity trainers. These hybrid celebrity trainers have found tremendous success in the fitness video market. Jillian Michaels of "The Biggest Loser" (whose 30-Day Shred video is the top-selling fitness video of all time) and Bob Harper both have workout video series. Jackie Warner has appeared on two Bravo shows -- "Work Out" and "Thintervention." Her video series is consistently touted as a top workout.
It is important to note: Whenever beginning a fitness regimen -- regardless of your base fitness level -- it is important to work at your own appropriate pace. Any signs of nausea, extreme shortness of breath, dizziness or fatigue should be taken seriously. Break as often as necessary, and drink plenty of water.
While the quality of reviews of individual workout videos and DVDs varies vastly, there are some solid go-to sources that can be helpful in deciding on a new routine. Publications such as Shape, Health and Self magazines sometimes recommend new videos and DVDs and typically feature "best-of" roundups both in print and online, but it's hard to tell the extent to which these videos were actually tested. The most reliable source of fitness DVDs and videos comes courtesy of Fitness magazine. The magazine is known for their thoroughly tested roundups of top fitness videos. More than 80 real women test new videos and provide the editors with their feedback.
More complete reviews -- particularly if you are interested in a specific video -- can be found online. FitBottomedGirls.com provides perhaps the most extensive database of DVD workout reviews -- literally hundreds of them dating back to 2008. Thatsfit.com and FitSugar.com also provide reviews and roundups, but sometimes it is difficult to know how well these products were evaluated.
For user reviews, we also found a wealth of comments at CollageVideo.com. The site also lets you preview each DVD before you buy. CollageVideo.com also rates videos on a sliding scale for level of difficulty and notes whether you need any special extra equipment to use the DVD. CollageVideo.com reports that its staff members viewed tens of thousands of exercise videos, and actually worked out to each of them before settling on the 978 titles sold in their online store. This frequency makes for an impressive number of exercise video and DVD reviews; however, they often lack quality or tend to be unbalanced. Amazon.com users also provide a plethora of comments and feedback, though the rating scale is less dynamic than that at CollageVideo.com. We checked to see if ConsumerReports.org has reviewed videos; although editors report on treadmills and other exercise equipment, we found nothing.
For our purposes, we considered four primary factors when looking for the best reviewed workout DVDs and videos. First, we looked at the adaptability, possible progression and turnaround time of the individual program. Next, we considered the caliber of the trainer -- particularly focusing on cuing style, proper instruction on form and clear direction. But, we also considered the trainer's demeanor, the innovativeness and effectiveness of the moves, and overarching camera presence. The final thing we took into consideration was the extra materials included with some of the workout videos and DVDs, such as extra progress-tracking calendars, supplemental workout guides and diet/nutrition plans.