As the cold weather approaches and darkness falls by 5 p.m., thoughts of getting to the gym may give way to thoughts of hibernating. But winter doesn't have to mean giving up exercise. You can start, maintain, or improve a fitness program from the warmth of your own home using exercise videos.
If the phrase "exercise videos" calls to mind Buns of Steel, purple spandex, and leg warmers, you'll be pleasantly surprised. The fitness video industry has come a long way. These days you can find anything from and dance programs to Pilates and yoga on DVD. In fact, there are so many out there that finding the best exercise videos can be a daunting proposition.
Here's how to read between the lines, ignore the hype, and choose the top beginner fitness DVDs, followed by a list of 12 favorites from experts interviewed by WebMD.
Choosing a Great Beginner Exercise Video
Their first piece of advice for choosing the best exercise videos: Skip the big-box stores, where videos are not grouped by level, the selection is random at best, and you can't look beyond the cover.
"I would never recommend the jacket as a place for a person to look for an exercise video," says Wendy Glenna, a fitness instructor and physical education teacher in Minneapolis. "Ninety percent of the time, those words are incorrect."
Go online for more information, recommends certified personal trainer Paula Zurowski. Web sites like collagevideo.com or Zurowski's exercisevideosreviews.com offer detailed descriptions and ratings of fitness videos. Collage even offers a one-minute clip of most videos, so you can get a feel for the level of the workout and whether you're going to like the instructor.
The bottom line is that first and foremost, it's the instructor that makes a great exercise video, say Liz Neporent, video creator and president of Wellness 360, a corporate wellness consulting firm in New York. So be sure the instructor has solid fitness credentials, says.
"The temptation is to buy a fitness video with a celebrity doing the teaching or something that says 'based on the TV show,'" Neporent says. But those DVD workouts may not be done by fitness professionals, and so may be ineffective or even possibly injurious.
At least, look for a video that specifies it is for beginners or appropriate for all fitness levels. After previewing it, you may still find it's not basic enough, but that's a good place to start, says Zurowski.
"Look for something with a lot of short segments," says Neporent. "This way, you can do a 10-minute set and you're not committed to a longer routine." When you're ready, you can add the segments together and the workout will still flow. DVD technology has made it easier for video exercisers to do short segments or put several together, depending on their ability
Another feature to look for in a beginner video is a tutorial or instructional segment -- particularly if you've never done that type of exercise before, she says.
It's also important to know what motivates you.
"Do you like a drill sergeant? A cheerleader? A mother?" asks Neporent. "What style gets you in front of the TV every day?"
"This person is going to be in your home every day," says Glenna. "You need to feel like the instructor cares about you."
Getting Started With Exercise Videos
When you're ready to try a video, first clear your environment so you can move without knocking things over, says Neporent.
Be in a room with no distractions, advises Glenna. If you set up in the kitchen, you'll end up doing the dishes. If you set up in the laundry room, you'll throw a load in the dryer.
Set up your space with the tools you'll need, like exercise bands, weights, a stability ball, or a step, says Zurowski. Have water on hand. Wear good exercise shoes, and if you're a woman, a good sports bra, says Neporent. Putting a mirror in the space will help you check your form and can help motivate you, adds Glenna.
Be sure to preview the video before you try to do it for the first time, says Zurowski.
"Fast-forward through the DVD to see if there are any things you can't do, and while previewing, see if there are multiple people on stage and find the 'modifier,'" the person doing an easier version of the workout, she says. "And certainly for the first few times, don't worry about keeping up."
Gauge your intensity level the whole way through so you don't overexert yourself, says Neporent. Be familiar with how to take your heart rate. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being full exertion, you want to stay between 5 and 8 throughout the workout, she says.
Be consistent with the time you exercise, says Glenna. This will help you keep your commitment.
"Go into the workout with results in mind," says Glenna. "You're not just putting time in, but you're wanting to get something out of it."
12 Best Exercise Videos for Beginners
Here are 12 DVD workouts Glenna and Zurowski recommend for beginners:
1. Gin Miller's Build Up Your Muscles. It shows you how to use weights, tubing, an exercise ball, and ankle weights with four different 45-minute workouts. You learn the same exercises with different resistance. It's slow and clear and focuses on good form, says Zurowski.
2. The "For Dummies" series. Any of the "Dummies" series videos (like Shaping up with Weights for Dummies, Pilates for Weight Loss for Dummies and Basic Yoga for Dummies) are usually excellent, says Zurowski. These videos go slowly, explain the workout clearly, and show the exercise from multiple angles. The instructor is always alone, so there are no distractions. Another good feature of this series is that it also shows mistakes to avoid, says Glenna.
3. The Firm's Super Body Sculpt. This earns a spot on the top 12 list because it has three 15-minute workouts -- for the upper body, the lower body, and abs. The exercises are basic, and you can choose to do one segment or all three.
4. "10-Minute Solution" series. You can choose from toning, cardio, or yoga. Each video in this DVD series is divided into six, 10-minute sections. "It allows customers success to make it through 10 minutes and as they progress, they can mix and match any way they want to," says Glenna.
5. Minna Lessig's One-Minute Workouts. "The beauty of this DVD is you can program the body part you want to work, your level, and how long you want to work, and it randomly selects the exercises for you from 127 one-minute exercises," says Zurowski. Every workout is different. This offering makes great use of the DVD technology, she says.
6. Crunch Fitness Pick Your Spot Pilates with Ellen Barrett. This is concise, well-taught, and easy for beginners to follow, says Zurowski. With great imagery and plenty of modifications, this video is also divided into three, 10-minute segments.
7. Crunch Candlelight Yoga. Taught by Sara Ivanhoe, this beginner DVD is slow-paced and thorough, and all the poses are very simple, says Zurowski.
8. Videos by Leslie Sansone. You can choose from several walking and toning videos that are great for beginners because the moves are easy to follow and Sansone is very motivational, says Zurowski.
9. Debbie Rocker's Walking for Weight Loss. Rocker uses basic moves anyone can do and is very motivating, says Glenna. And because it's filmed in Hawaii, the scenery is breathtaking.
10. Crunch's Cardio Salsa. Great for the younger person, says Glenna. It's contemporary with a colorful set and offers no-impact, basic moves that you can also take out to the dance floor.
11. Gin Miller's Everybody Steps. Since people are often intimidated by step aerobics, this video rates high. It starts you out on the floor, learning the moves, before you get on the step, says Zurowski.
12. Kari Anderson's GO: Step for Beginners. This is a bit more complicated, but clearly executed if you want to try a step video. Anderson previews the moves and breaks down the steps well, says Glenna.