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Choosing and Using Fitness DVDs

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Fitness expert Diana Moran, aka The Green Goddess, who found fame on BBC One's Breakfast Time in the 1980s.

When getting and staying in shape, you can use fitness DVDs to guide your workouts. With hundreds of titles to choose from, finding the right workout programmes can be a daunting task. This Entry discusses how to select and use fitness DVDs.

Know Thyself

When embarking on your fitness journey, it is advisable to know where you are now and where you want to go. What is your current fitness level? What is your fitness goal?

Many fitness DVDs are rated beginner, intermediate or advanced. Choosing a workout programme outside of your current fitness level can lead to frustration or boredom. If you haven't been exercising lately, consider yourself a beginner. If you have been exercising regularly twice a week, you are probably at an intermediate level. More than that, and you're probably ready for the advanced fitness DVDs.

Do you wish to tone your muscles, increase your endurance, lose weight or relieve stress? Perhaps you want to cross-train for a sport or marathon. A reasonable, achievable goal can help you select fitness DVDs.

Consider the amount of space you have available. If your telly is in a small room, walking-style cardio may work better than a dance routine.

Finally, know your own tastes. If you hate country music or line dancing, don't bother with Country Line Dance Fitness.

Only Choose From Quality Fitness DVDs

There are hundreds of fitness DVDs on the market, and it seems that every good workout DVD sits among dozens of mediocre ones. Good quality fitness DVDs usually feature a certified fitness instructor and are divided into well-cued chapters. With a well-cued DVD, you can tailor your exercise programme easily by selecting particular segments from a menu rather than interrupting your workout to hold down a fast-forward button.

Before you sink your hard-earned cash into a fitness DVD, try it out first. Borrow the DVD from your local library or a friend. Rent the DVD to see if it suits you. Read online or print reviews. Preview clips of workouts can be found on online video-sharing sites such as YouTube. You may even be able to catch the exercise programme on television.

Select a Variety of Fitness DVDs

Even if you have only one fitness goal, for example, weight loss, your workouts should address four fitness areas: aerobic fitness, strength training, flexibility and balance. Most fitness DVDs only address one or two of these four areas. An easy way to get a complete workout is to get a variety of DVDs and use them on alternate days.

Aerobic fitness involves vigorous movements to get your heart pumping faster, improving your cardiovascular system. Examples of aerobic exercise include step aerobics, walking, dancing and kick-boxing.

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Strength training employs some form of resistance to build strong muscles and raise your metabolism. Your own body weight, dumbbells or stretchy bands can provide the resistance. An important part of strength training is core strength training, which addresses the muscles of the abdomen, lower back, and pelvis. An example of a core strength training regimen is Pilates, developed by Joseph Pilates.

Flexibility helps prevent injury by stretching muscles and ligaments, improving your range of motion and posture. Yoga and stretching improve flexibility.

Balance is an often-neglected area of fitness. You can achieve good cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength and flexibility and still be a klutz. Try standing on one foot for one minute to test your sense of balance. Yoga, tai chi and dancing help develop a good sense of balance which is so important in avoiding falls.

As your fitness improves, you'll need more challenging workouts, and your favourite DVDs may need replacement. Re-evaluate your fitness level every two months or so.

Warming Up and Cooling Down

Warming up before aerobic activity prevents injuries. A good warm-up increases your circulation and the temperature of your muscles. Unfortunately, even some otherwise excellent fitness DVDs skimp a bit on the warm-ups. You can always pause the DVD while you take the time for a thorough 5-10 minute warm-up.

A good cool-down after exertion should also last 5-10 minutes. Cooling down is just as important as warming up, and helps you avoid injury and muscle cramps by gradually reducing your activity level. If your workout DVD features a too-short cool-down, pause the DVD while you cool down and stretch, remembering to hold each stretch without bouncing for at least 30 seconds.

Specialty Fitness DVDs

Your current fitness level might be modified by an injury or other physical limitation. In recent years, fitness DVDs addressing specific health needs have made their way to the market. You can now find DVD workouts designed for arthritis and joint pain sufferers, pregnant women and the non-ambulatory1.

It's wise to consult your doctor before starting any fitness programme, but perhaps even more so if you have a particular health concern.

Buyer Beware

Some fitness DVDs have goals very different from yours, unless of course you wish to lighten your wallet. Examples of these faux-fitness DVDs are:

The Celebrity Fitness Programme. Jane Fonda was arguably responsible for the VCR home exercise craze in the early 1980s. These days, however, with a few exceptions, actors make poor fitness instructors. If you have to go down the celebrity route2, better to go for the fitness DVDs that pair famous faces with real trainers.

The Infomercial Fitness Programme. The goal of an infomercial fitness DVD is to sell fitness gadgets. While your workouts can be enhanced with a few inexpensive pieces of fitness equipment, many fine workout DVDs require no extra gear at all. It isn't necessary to sink a lot of money in fitness equipment.

The Repackaged Outdated Fitness Programme. Sometimes old fitness videos will be transferred to DVD, revamping the package with a new copyright, even giving the programme a new title. While some old-school fitness programs have a dedicated fan base, in general you should approach older workouts with caution. Some of the exercises are less effective than a more modern programme. Worse, some old-fashioned exercises are now known to cause injury.

The Too-Good-to-Be-True Fitness Programme. Avoid any fitness programme that makes outrageous claims. Beware any fitness program touted by someone who lost weight through liposuction or gastric surgery. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Conclusion

The benefits of exercise are well-known - stress reduction, weight control, disease prevention and increased energy levels. Equally well understood are the difficulties of getting enough exercise after working eight or more hours a day, commuting, providing child- or eldercare, and attending to all the other responsibilities of modern living. A selection of fitness DVDs can provide a way to squeeze some much-needed exercise into a busy life.

1Not able to walk.2 Of course, some fitness experts become celebrities, like Richard Simmons in the States and the UK's own Diana Moran, aka The Green Goddess, who became a household name in the 1980s through her appearances on BBC One's Breakfast Time.

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