As a certified fitness professional for 15 years, I have crossed paths with many women who like the idea of an instructor-led workout, but are too intimidated to go to a fitness class. These women often feel uncoordinated, or worry about keeping up with the die-hard members of the group. That’s why exercise DVDs can be just the thing to inspire reluctant athletes to exercise and stay in shape. Ingrid Knight-Cohee, a YWCA associate director and host of the fitness show Strength Training on City TV in Vancouver, agrees. “Trying new things builds confidence with exercise and increases your fitness level,” she says. Plus, people may be more likely to try a heavier weight or a tricky dance step at home than in a group situation. The result? They shape up faster. To help you find one that’s right for you, I tried about 60 of the latest DVDs, and chose my 10 favourites. All are available at bookstores or online.
Best exercise DVD for reluctant exercisers
Dance Workout for Dummies with Michelle LeMay
(Anchor Bay Entertainment)
44 minutes; available at Amazon.ca
What you get: Two 20-minute dance routines, plus tutorial.
Highlights: The dance moves—designed to burn calories and boost your cardio fitness—are so funky you’ll forget it’s exercise (well, almost). I like the split-screen pop-ups for fitness tips, reminders and intensity variations (the only drawback is you can’t turn off these graphics, even after you have become familiar with the program). I recommend doing the dance tutorial first, so you can practice the moves before it’s time to give it your all during the workout.
You’ll need: No equipment, just the confidence to unleash your inner dance diva.
Best exercise DVD for those who want to fight flab
21 Day Total Body Circuit Workout with Jeanette Jenkins
(TRU Company Inc.)
60 minutes; available at Amazon.ca
What you get: Two 30-minute, muscle-firming circuits combining bouts of strength training with simple cardio drills.
Highlights: This no-fluff cardio, strength and toning program is just packed with tried-and-true exercises that get fast results for all major muscle groups, no matter what your experience level. Even though the instructor trains Hollywood celebrities, she has a genuine demeanour, and the diversity of backup exercisers (including a grandmother and an expecting mom) eases all intimidation.
Bonus: You get the option to do more or fewer reps per exercise depending on your fitness level—just follow the backup exerciser who corresponds to your preference. I suggest this DVD for anyone who wants stronger, more toned muscles and/or who needs to brush up on strength training basics.
You’ll need: One- to three-kilogram (two- to seven-pound) dumbbells, a mat and ankle weights (optional).
Best exercise DVD for people with tense, weary muscles (and fat to burn)
Fat Burning Fusion with Ellen Barrett
46 minutes; available at Amazon.com
What you get: A graceful combination of ballet and Pilates-inspired moves. This is one of my favourite DVDs.
Highlights: Everything is done in a standing position, which gives this routine a fresh spin on traditional mind-body exercise. I liked how the elegant arm and leg movements made me feel more lithe right away, and the rhythmic combos raised my heart rate for an energizing cardiovascular workout. Try this workout if you are a beginner looking for a non-strenuous way to burn calories, or are looking for a new approach to mind-body exercise.
You’ll need: A yoga mat.
Best exercise DVD for those who want stronger abs
10 Minute Solution: Blast off Belly Fat with Suzanne Bowen
(Anchor Bay Entertainment)
54 minutes; available at Amazon.ca
What you get: Five 10-minute ab-strengthening routines targeting your entire torso, including internal and external obliques, transverse abdominus and rectus abdominus. Each program offers a different spin on whittling your middle, including a Pilates-inspired segment and exercises to help flatten your belly.
Highlights: I give this DVD kudos for providing short yet efficient ab workouts (that sometimes work the arms and legs, too). The fact that there are five different segments makes for versatility (which means faster results). It’s a good pick for anyone who wants the option of harder routines as their strength improves.
Bonus: The Belly Fat Blaster routine combines standing ab exercises with calorie-burning cardio for an overall sleeker midsection.
You’ll need: An exercise mat and a towel.
Best exercise DVD for the stressed out
Liquidasana: The Fluid Dance of Vinyasa Flow Yoga with Micheline Berry
(Well Go USA, Inc.)
75 minutes; available at Amazon.ca
What you get: Vinyasa (yoga that synchronizes breathing with movement) integrated with flowing dance motions, such as torso circles, to limber up your spine.
Highlights: This whole-body workout delivers a perfect combination of yoga poses to tone and stretch all major muscles, sensual dance-inspired motions to make you feel more limber, and soothing instruction to help you unwind. I found that the hypnotic music and shots of rolling ocean waves helped set the mood for inward focus.
You’ll need: A yoga or Pilates mat.
Best exercise DVD for the time-crunched
6-Minute Quick Blast Method: Total Body Fat Burner with Tracey Mallett
(Razor Digital Entertainment)
66 minutes; available at Chapters.ca
What you get: Six-minute snippets of either cardio that targets the lower body, or strength training on a ball.
Highlights: Anyone can carve out six minutes to complete one of these snappy little workouts (though I advise spending a few extra moments working in the DVD’s quick warm-up and stretch, too). Each segment focuses on either increasing cardio fitness and lower-body strength, or using a stability ball for abs and/or upper-body toning. I also like the fact that the instructor and most of the backup exercisers are moms with young kids, providing motivation for shedding pounds and toning muscles amid real-world challenges.
You’ll need: Stability ball and one- to two-kilogram (three- to five-pound) weights.
Best exercise DVD for people who are easily bored
Go! Vitality Training Series with Sharon Mann, Krista Popowych and Geoff Bagshaw
(208 Entertainment, Inc.)
Five hours (three DVDs); available at Amazon.ca
What you get: Mini workouts (in a three-disk set) for everything from yoga to stability-ball training to boot camp. With 500 routines to choose from, you can do a quickie workout (segments range from five to 15 minutes) or create a longer, customized program.
Highlights: I find this the best DVD for cross-training, a time-tested way to quickly achieve a more toned, slim physique. It features a varied mix of programs for building cardio fitness, improving flexibility and strengthening major muscles in the lower body, upper body and abs—so staying super-motivated is easy. Many of the exercises on this DVD—taught by three Canadian instructors—call for equipment, however, so I recommend it for people with basic knowledge of how to use the following fitness tools.
You’ll need: No equipment, or one or more of the following: One- to three-kilogram (two- to seven-pound) dumbbells, resistance tubing, stability ball or step.
Best exercise DVD for those with two left feet
Walk at Home: Walk Away Your Waistline with Leslie Sansone
(Anchor Bay Entertainment)
48 minutes; available at Amazon.ca
What you get: A low-impact routine free of mind-boggling footwork.
Highlights: This straightforward program is based on the simplest exercise you can do for cardio fitness—walking—with a bonus benefit of upper-body toning using “The Walk Belt” (see below). The DVD is best for walking enthusiasts who want an indoor option, or anyone looking to get moving for better cardio fitness. The instructor has a bubbly personality, but the most motivating feature for me was the onscreen, graphic meter showing how far I’d “walked.” (Doing this entire workout equals alking five kilometres at about eight kilometres per hour.)
You’ll need: Good walking shoes and “The Walk Belt”: a device with two resistance tubes that’s attached to your waist; it comes with the DVD. (You can work out without the belt, too.)
Best exercise DVD for those who want to shed pounds
Rockin’ Body Cardio Jam with Michelle Dozois
(Razor Digital Entertainment)
51 minutes; available at Amazon.ca
What you get: Close to an hour of choreography based on dance, athletics and kick-boxing; and a bonus 30-minute express routine.
Highlights: If you’re an aerobics fan with coordination, I encourage you to give this one a shot. The action-packed program delivers non-stop choreography, so you have to be quick on your feet to ensure you keep up with the various moves. The routines are designed to burn lots of calories, improve cardio stamina and help you slim down fast.
You’ll need: Sturdy workout shoes and room to move (some of the patterns require you to step or kick front and back or side to side).
Best exercise DVD for mind-body fitness lovers
I Love My Pilates (Volume 2) with Amy Brown
45 minutes; available (with Volume 1) at Amazon.ca
What you get: Three Pilates routines—10 minutes, 20 minutes or 30 minutes long—to help you strengthen your core, tone muscles in the arms and legs and lengthen muscles for better overall flexibility.
Highlights: I appreciated the trainer’s easy cues on how to perform the exercises, such as imagining you’re zipping up a snug pair of jeans to contract your core. Since each program offers lots of technique reminders, breathing practice for Pilates, and movement repetition and options, this DVD is especially suited for Pilates newbies or those who could use a refresher on good form.
You’ll need: A Pilates or yoga mat.