12 Best Exercise Videos for Beginners

Get a great DVD workout without leaving home.

By Barbara Russi Sarnataro
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

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 legwarmers, you'll be pleasantly surprised. The fitness video industry has come a long way. These days you can find anything from walking 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.

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