So the weather outside is frightful. Does that mean your fitness program goes on hiatus until the crocuses start blooming again?
Not a chance. With thousands of different fitness videos/DVDs available, you can choose a different activity for every day of the week -- and then some -- and never have to worry about braving the elements. Whether you're interested in aerobics, ballet, strength training, yoga, Pilates -- you name it; there's a workout video for you.
"There's so much variety when it comes to workout videos that you can certainly get a good workout ? if you can stay motivated," says Richard Cotton, an exercise physiologist in Carlsbad, Calif., and spokesman for the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
The main drawback with videos, says Cotton, is that they don't provide the energy of a live class, or the personal guidance of a fitness instructor. "It's always better to have a quality individual instructor, especially if you're going after high levels of fitness or sport," says Cotton.
But for those of us whose fitness goals are more modest, videos can indeed give a comprehensive workout. The key is to stick to the standard workout recommendations: do a routine three to four times a week, for at least 20 minutes a session, with five minutes each of warming up and cooling down.
Working Out at Home
Videos are good to use not only when you want to stay cozy inside, but also if you're too self-conscious to go to a gym, says Los Angeles yogi Marlon Braccia.
"It's OK if you don't want to work out in front of other people," says Braccia, creator of six yoga DVDs. "But working out at home still means having to get off the couch."
And for an exercise video to be effective, it needs to be at the level of the person watching it, says Braccia.
So, if you haven't budged from the sofa in the past 20 years, don't choose a video that offers an advanced workout. On the other hand, if you're a fitness fanatic who wants to supplement your regimen with some at-home workouts, don't slide by with something too easy. Not only will you not get the workout you need, you'll get bored.
To keep her viewers from losing interest once they've mastered the basics, Braccia divides her own DVD workouts into three to five sections, each more intense than the last. As you get comfortable with one section, you move on to the next. "In essence, you're becoming your own teacher," says Braccia.
Of course, yoga is just one of the workouts available on video. Most experts say you should include a variety of types in your routine.
"Cross-training is a good part of any exercise regimen, and it's no different with videos," says Michael A. Schwartz, MD, who specializes in orthopaedic surgery and sports medicine. "Different programs give you a chance to work multiple muscle groups.
He adds that a variety of workouts will also keep you from getting bored, increasing the chances you'll stick with the program.
"The key is to develop a balanced fitness program that is tailored to your own interests and needs," Schwartz says. "You can cross-train with several kinds of videos, or with a video one day, biking another, jogging a third."
Exercise videos are not only good for home use, but also for on the road. Some hotels are even making workout DVDs available in their guest rooms. Wyndham International, for example, recently introduced No Shoes? No Problem!, an in-room exercise DVD. Using desk chairs and other items found in hotel rooms, the DVD offers a 31-minute exercise routine designed to improve muscle tone.
Turn Off the Excuses
Whether you're at home or away, an exercise video can only work if you actually put it in the machine and turn the power on. Which means turning off the excuses, says Mare Petras, author of Fitness Simply.
Read these common excuses (some will no doubt sound familiar), then see what Petras has to say about them:
- "I'm too tired." Crawl to your TV and plug in your video! You'll feel energized soon enough.
- "I've got no money to invest in equipment." A videotape or DVD, along with the player needed, is a small, one-time investment compared with home exercise machines or a gym membership.
- "I'm just not in the mood." Put on the video for 5 minutes. You'll get in the mood.
- "I'm too embarrassed to go to the gym." No need; just press "play."
- "My family (life, dog, obligations) get in the way of my working out." Let them hang out while you take a few moments for your own health. Everyone will benefit in the end.
- "I hate to exercise." There's something out there for everyone. If you don't like aerobics, learn belly dancing or the hula. There are videos aimed at older people and pregnant women, videos you can do with your children -- even some that can be done sitting in a chair.
- "I need motivation." The longest distance is from your bed to your workout clothes. Once you make it, you're home free.
- "I don't have enough space in my home to work out." You don't need much space for most videos. Just push away the coffee table.
- "I can't find the time." Exercise at your own convenience, any time, even if you just have 10 minutes.
Choosing a Video
As beneficial as exercise videos can be, they should be selected with care, says Edward Jackowski, PhD, author of several exercise books and creator of the workout DVD Jump Into Fitness. That mostly means using common sense.
For starters, don't think you're going to wind up looking like the model on the box, Jackowski says. "Those people spend their whole life exercising, day in and day out."
And don't think that a video alone is going to do the trick, Jackowski adds. "In theory, yes, the videos work, but ask yourself if you're also doing everything else you need to be doing, including watching what you eat?"
Michael Spezzano, national health and fitness specialty consultant to the YMCA of the USA, suggests trying several videos before buying. Borrow one from a friend, preview a few online, check some out of the pubic library, or rent some at the video store.
"Go beyond the wording on the package," he says. "See as many as you can."
Cotton recommends asking yourself these questions before choosing an exercise video:
- Am I familiar with the instructor? Is the instructor certified? Look for a certifying organization such as the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), or the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).
- Do the creators make any outlandish claims? "Lose 20 pounds in 2 weeks," or "Firm up in only 5 minutes a day."
- Does the video suit my specific needs?
- Do I have enough room to do the workout safely?
- Do I need special equipment or props (steps, barbells, stretching strap, chair)?
- How do I begin? Make sure you watch the video all the way through at least once before you try the workout so you are well prepared.
Finally, says Cotton, try to build a collection that offers balance and overall conditioning, including aerobics, strength, and stretching. Many tapes combine all these components.