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Are exercise DVDs worth the sweat?

Are exercise DVDs worth the sweat?

The television screen is often presented as one of the main reasons for the obesity epidemic. Ever since the ‘idiot’s lantern’ entered our living rooms, it has been blamed for gluing us to our sofas. This is a little unfair because the TV can also help us get fit, with the aid of exercise DVDs to cheer us on. We take a look at what is involved in square-eyed fitness.

The invention of the affordable home video recorder in the 1980s had many unexpected effects. It and its successor the DVD have allowed us to watch programmes repeatedly when we want, pick apart the mistakes that we were not supposed to see and enjoy all sorts of eclectic special features. The inventors of the technology may have anticipated some of this, but they probably never thought that their idea would result in a whole new way of keeping fit.

For the fitness industry, home video (and its successor DVD) proved to be a real game-changer. Jane Fonda’s workout video was only the first of hundreds of offerings allowing people to get fit in the comfort and privacy of their own homes. Today there is still a thriving market for home exercise routines, covering everything from aerobics to tai-chi. Workouts come in all grades, from those which will barely get you sweating to those that will leave you in an exhausted heap.

Fitness DVDs also offer varying lengths of workout. An eighty-minute routine may seem like a great route to fitness, but will you really have time to do it regularly? Those with young children in the house will probably not be able to get that much free time. Indeed, most people will find that is a lot to ask not to be interrupted or to be guilt-tripped into cutting the workout short for the housework. So don’t be over-ambitious about the length of the workout.

As well as time, space is important for home fitness. Before you go shopping for the DVD, take a realistic look at the living room. Is there going to be enough space for your planned workout? You need enough room to lie down, stretch out and swing arms and maybe legs. If the room doesn’t have a carpet, you will need a mat. Some workouts need equipment – this may be as simple as a can of baked beans to substitute for a weight.

You might know that many games consoles now provide exercise options – these often come with strong warnings about not letting go of control modules. Remember this when using weights, make sure that you clear fragile objects from the vicinity and be mindful of windows and the television screen!

If you live in a flat, consider the neighbours. Jumping about is anti-social when things should be quiet, so either choose a workout that doesn’t involve this or wait until the people downstairs are out.

With all these things sorted out, the next step is to choose your workout. Too many DVDs end up gathering dust, or even never emerging from the shrink-wrap. What should you look for in a workout DVD to make sure that you actually use it?

Perhaps the most important thing is to remember that you will be playing the same footage repeatedly. The presenter should be someone with whom you can empathise and definitely not someone that irritates you. The music also needs to be something that you enjoy and that gets you dancing.

It pays to read between the lines on the DVD cover. Not all celebrity presenters are qualified or able to show all the moves – so be sure that the person that will be leading the workout is the person that you expect. A DVD with a title ‘Famous-celebrity’s workout WITH Unknown-fitness-instructor’ is a clue that you may not be seeing too much of the headline name. Some time reading the online reviews will pay dividends.

It is very tempting to pick up a second-hand bargain on an auction site or at a charity shop. Do treat old DVDs with caution – workout styles change regularly and some older workouts are now deemed unsafe. If you still own a video recorder, you can probably get videos for free or for just the cost of postage. Production of new videos stopped in 2005 so be aware that a workout on tape will definitely not be new.

With the disk chosen, the vicinity cleared and the curtains drawn to avoid an unwelcome audience, you should be ready to push the play button. DVD functions allow you to skip sections, but don’t skip the warm up and cool down parts of the routine. It may seem a bit boring but warming up is extremely important to avoid injury. Also don’t be afraid to replay any sections that you find difficult to follow.

With no class fees, no travelling and an endlessly patient instructor, fitness DVDs do seem like a simple and economical way to get some exercise.  Beware the flagging motivation levels though. There is no substitute for working out in a gym with other people - their very presence helps you to keep going and inspires you to do a decent workout. After all, all you have to do is get yourself into the changing room and then there's no turning back. If you're home alone, who's to stop you from sitting on the sofa with a cuppa?