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Cheap Workout DVD Buying Guide

The workout DVD industry is split between solo instructors and programs put out by major fitness magazines like Self. Billy Blanks of Tae Bo fame enjoys a big following, as do Denise Austin, Leslie Sansone, and Jillian Michaels.

Each lays claim to numerous fitness DVDs, but their focus generally remains the same on all their discs. Blanks specializes in versions of a martial arts-meets-cardio program. Austin's fitness DVDs concentrate on cardio and toning, and Sansone hits it big with her walking programs. Michaels is the newbie, having shot to fame with her tough-love approach to weight loss on the "The Biggest Loser" TV show. Her workouts tend to focus on toning, sculpting, and cardio in the form of circuit or interval training. Each instructor also creates fitness routines that spotlight various areas of the body, such as butt, thighs, shoulders, and abs. Austin's workout DVDs often include floor work, which is sometimes combined with standing exercises.

When it comes to the cheap exercise DVDs produced by fitness magazines, you're generally led through a similar variety of routines designed for similar goals by an instructor who lacks a marquee name. Self, for example, sells yoga, ab-flattening, and butt-slimming workout DVDs at about the same low price (less than $10) and same length of time (usually about 45 minutes) as the recognized personalities.

Most cheap workout videos we researched follow a standard format. They include warm-ups and cool-downs and exercise sessions split into five- to ten-minute segments, each of which incorporates about a dozen or more moves. Strength-training DVDs often require light weights, such as dumbbells or a resistance band. Music as background noise or motivation (take your pick) is common on cheap fitness DVDs, and the beat depends on the function; cardio, for example, goes with upbeat tunes and cool-downs are matched with calmer melodies. Expect the instructor on a workout DVD to talk at you, often while standing in front of a group vigorously exercising in the background. Video time usually runs about 50 minutes, although videos that include more than one disc will keep you going far longer. (Anyone up for that?) With most cheap exercise DVDs, a mat is optional.

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Say you're willing to spend more than $10 to get yourself in shape or lose those unnecessary pounds -- what's the gain? Not much, really. Billy Blanks' Tae Bo Amped DVD (starting at $23) comes with five discs in addition to an amplified sculpting bar to help you perfect the series of Tae Kwon Do, aerobics, and kickboxing moves appearing on the DVDs. Most cheap fitness DVDs don't come with equipment -- the most you'll find is a resistance band, like the one included in Leslie Sansone : Walk Away the Pounds Ultimate Collection (starting at $10), one of our picks for best cheap workout DVD.

To round out our list, we added Jillian Michaels: No More Trouble Zones (starting at $9) as another best cheap workout video and Denise Austin: Burn Fat Fast - Cardio Blast (starting at $9) as a good cheap workout video. We aren't ramped up by the five-disc set 10 Best Fitness (starting at $18), which users say offers outdated routines that don't seem designed for any particular goal.

None of these cheap workout videos specifically targets a certain fitness level, which is why some users label them "hard" while others say they're right on with their fitness level. Here's a cheat for you: each video is broken up into exercise segments, so novices can skip the more challenging parts and add them in as their endurance and fitness improve. Remember to check with your physician before starting any new exercise program.

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A final note: Big-time fitness leaders continually come out with new DVDs featuring different exercises and perhaps a different emphasis. Some, like Austin, issue as many as three new cheap fitness DVDs in a year. If you like the instructor but want a new challenge or new routine, check the recent releases or wait for the next go-round.

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