You see people wearing the little earbuds on the bus, at the mall, on the treadmill at the gym … MP3 players are just about everywhere these days. There’s more to your MP3 player than tunes and movies. The latest buzz in fitness is downloadable MP3 workouts, experts say.
"They're popping up everywhere," says Mike Monroe, head trainer and program director for Push.TV, a home workout system based in New York.
All kinds of workouts are available -- from cardio programs, to strength training, to yoga, and Pilates classes, says Gregory Florez, chief executive officer of Fit Advisor Health Coaching Services in Salt Lake City, Utah, and a spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
Pod workouts are popular for several reasons.
They can be used anytime, anywhere, and at a relatively low cost (some are even available free).
They're good for people who like the structure of being told what to do, but can't afford to hire a fitness trainer, says Monroe.
And they can enhance your own workouts on a bike, treadmill, or elliptical machine, says California fitness trainer Tracey Mallett, who has developed her own "pod" workouts.
Vivian Jung, a Pilates instructor in Selden, N.Y., who produces a video podcast called "Hottieworkouts," thinks downloadable workouts can be especially inspiring to people intimidated by working out in a gym.
"Shy clients who are afraid to try dance-based classes can practice our 'Hottieworkouts' at home and then feel more confident to come in to the studio," says Jung. "And I hope that those people who live in areas that do not have good studios will benefit from experiencing quality programs via their computers/iPods."
Not for Everyone
While the portability (not to mention the "cool" factor) makes MP3 workouts popular, they're not without drawbacks.
For starters, says Lyndsi Johnson, a researcher in the Graduate Studies Department of Exercise and Wellness at Arizona State University, MP3 workouts -- especially those that are audio-only –are aimed mostly at people who are already active and know something about fitness.
"This style of workout may be more challenging for someone making the transition to a regular physical activity routine due to the fact that audio instruction may be difficult to interpret, especially without existing fitness knowledge and previous exercise experience," says Johnson.
If you're using an audio-only workout, you have to visualize what the trainer means and hope you're doing it the right way, adds Push.TV's Mike Monroe.
Even the pod workouts that include video present their challenges. The tiny screen may be difficult to see, and some workouts show only a starting and finishing position -- leaving you to wonder just what the correct form is during the actual exercise.
"You're not going to get the same correction you would from a trainer in a gym," says Monroe.
Another drawback, says ACE spokesperson Gregory Florez, is that "anyone can throw one of these programs up on the Web."
Unless you research the presenter's credentials, you could wind up with a workout developed by someone with no real training or experience. In those cases, "at best, you'll get an ineffective workout," says Florez. "At worst, you can wind up being injured."
The Future of Fitness?
When all is said and done, is MP3 fitness the wave of the future?
"It's affordable; you do it on your schedule; it's varied; and it's built around your needs," says fitness trainer Jennifer Gianni, whose Fusion Pilates DVD series is available as customizable pod workouts at podfitness.com. "I don't think it gets any better."
Mike Monroe, on the other hand, thinks this is just one more tool to take advantage of.
"There will always be different workout personalities … those who want to work out at home with a DVD, those who want to go to the gym and work with a trainer, those who simply want to do their own thing, and those who enjoy the latest technology," says Monroe.
"Downloadable workouts appeal to a particular segment of the workout population, but I don't see this as taking over," he says.
But as far as recorded exercise programs go, Jung believes podcasting is the future. It's easy to search for the type of program you want and download it, she says. She also likes the idea that students can respond to instructors directly through email, and can rate the programs on podcast search sites.
"And as an instructor, I love the fact that I can deliver fresh new material quickly," she says.
Pod Fitness Tips
Ready to try this new type of workout? Here are some tips from our experts:
- If you are new to a certain type of exercise, advises Mallett, it's best to take some classes before doing a download so you're familiar with the moves.
- Before downloading a workout, do your homework, Florez advises. Check out sites such as iAmplifi.com and podfitness.com, both of which offer downloadable fitness programs. Look for programs run by credentialed trainers, and choose a workout that corresponds to your fitness level. Know your needs," says Florez. "Don't get dazzled by all the hype."
- Choose a workout program that offers a progressive series; otherwise you will get bored and your fitness level will eventually plateau.
- Look for workouts that have self-monitoring tips, such as how to check your heart rate, exertion level, and amount of weights, sets, and repetitions.
- Pick a workout that can be adjusted for different equipment and settings in case you want to use it under different circumstances – such as at home or on the road, instead of just in a gym.