Fitness is a multibillion-dollar industry that is always churning out new books, equipment, trendy devices, and especially videos. From the infomercials making insane promises (admit it, you’ve gotten sucked into watching one at least once) to YouTube how-to’s there’s no shortage of material for someone who wants to bring the workout home instead of, or because of lack of access to, a gym or studio. Workout DVDs and online videos can have a place in your fitness plan, either as the main course or a supplement to what you already do.
Instruction vs. Guidance
There are two basic flavors of fitness video: those that teach you a new kind of workout or activity, with plenty of attention to form and technique, and those that simply lead you through a sequence of exercises or postures, using demonstration without much instruction.
Which kind appeals to you? If you’ve already been taking aerobics or dance classes and are comfortable and familiar with that format, you might find a satisfying challenge with guided workout videos. If you’re a beginner at whatever it is you’re trying, seek out beginner-level instructional material specifically, or be prepared to modify a guided routine so you can go at your own level.
Watch Before You Try It
It’s always a good idea to watch a video or DVD all the way through without doing the exercises the first time. (I find it’s often nice to sit on my yoga ball or on the floor and gently stretch while I let the video roll the first time.) Know what you’re in for. You may be able to identify some of the exercises or postures you already know you’re good at, and those that will be more difficult for you. You can also get a feel for the instructor, voiceover, or music — these elements may or may not matter to you, but if you’re going to be using this video repeatedly, it helps if you like the look and sound of it.
You can often find trailers or clips online for DVDs issued by the major publishers. You might also try a website that has a subscription model, giving you access to a library of lessons and routines. GaiamTV.com, StudioVeena.com, and EkhartYoga.com all provide online lessons on a subscription basis, and you can also find lots of on-demand video content on Amazon.com. If you’re looking to buy, be sure to check the reviews, which can tell you a lot about the quality of the video, and look for used copies.
Go at Your Own Pace
I’ve gotten frustrated by exercise DVDs before because in my first few times trying it, I could NOT keep up with it — what do you mean, another set? You just said that was the last one! But then I began to think of it this way: the full routine with every last rep included was something to work towards, not what I was expected to already be able to do on day one. The overachiever in me just kicked in, and I had to kick it back out again.
Especially in the beginning, you don’t need to max out — because if you did, then what good would this video be to you in the long run? So if you do one set in the time it takes the person on the video to do three, if you can’t move things up to double-time when asked, if you need to keep your eyes on the person demonstrating the modifications to each segment: You’re fine. Use that remote control. Pause, rewind, rewatch the demo, skip ahead if you need to. That’s the beauty of working out at home!
Mix It Up
Because there are so many exercise videos out there, this is a great option for the person who gets bored or hits plateaus easily. If you’re always signing up for new classes and things you’ve never tried, you can do the same with videos you do at home. My own collection includes ballet-inspired dance, strength training, a few different kinds of yoga, and bellydancing. When I had a subscription service, I also got to try tai chi and meditation, and there were many more that I didn’t even get to. It reminded me of some of the classes I dropped into during my lunch breaks at college, whatever happened to be offered that day.
Try this: Ask around among your friends to see who has DVDs collecting dust on their shelves, and arrange a swap & share. Not only can you get personal recommendations or reviews and try out several different instructors and styles, you can act as each other’s accountability buddies, setting the expectation that a video that gets borrowed, gets used!
Do It Safely
When you’re working out at home with a video, it’s on you to watch your limits and be conscious of your safety, whether that means using the proper form, taking modifications when you need them, or using equipment like weights and yoga props correctly. What kind of space are you working with? What surface are you on? Are there any obstacles like furniture or pets to worry about? How familiar are you with the video you’re about to follow? How fit are you – what level of performance do you expect from yourself? What are you going to do if you feel pain? (Correct answer: STOP!)
Also, consider the source of the instruction. Videos range in quality from professionally produced by fitness pros to amateurs filming themselves in their own home gyms. Look into the credentials of the person whose advice you are about to apply to your own body. Watching someone perform an exercise or pose on YouTube is not as reliable a learning method as being walked through it with deliberate instruction (and, if necessary, even a spotter).