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Best Cheap Workout DVDs

Price Range

$8 Cheapism $20
Mid-Range $35
High End ...+

It may seem that cheap workout DVDs had fallen by the wayside with the rise of free iTunes downloads and on-demand fitness programs. But it may just be that if you shell out money for something, you're more likely to use it. Never mind that our research into the best cheap workout DVDs suggests that users form attachments to the fitness personalities themselves, so if you like the workouts they offer, it's easy to stay committed. In other words, find the cheap fitness DVD that works for you and bask in the results.

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.

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.

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.

Exercise DVD Instructors and Format

Instructors.

Someone staring out at you from a TV screen or computer monitor with a poker face and no oomph is hardly going to rev you up into workout mode. You want an exercise DVD with an instructor who smiles, encourages you to keep on moving, and praises your efforts -- without knowing what you're actually doing, of course -- in a tone that's both believable and motivating. That said, what motivates someone is entirely subjective, and the characterizations that follow reflect the consensus opinion of the exercise DVD reviews that we read.

Jillian Michaels is a certified fitness trainer who works with contestants on "The Biggest Loser." She also used to be overweight, so she's easy to identify with (hey, guys, you can lose weight just like me). As any viewer of the TV show can attest, Michaels is tough, with a soft side. This enthusiastic, kick-butt approach is apparent in Jillian Michaels DVDs like Jillian Michaels: No More Trouble Zones (starting at $9). Leslie Sansone's approach, seen in her Walk Away the Pounds Ultimate Collection (starting at $10), aims to get you motivated without being over-the-top. Denise Austin workouts feature Austin, who is perky and professional, like inDenise Austin: Burn Fat Fast - Cardio Blast (starting at $9). Billy Blanks is another tough-as-nails trainer who is perceived as motivational in his series of Tae Bo videos (the five-disc Tae Bo Amped starts at $23). The cheap workout video that didn't get many exercisers going is 10 Best Fitness (starting at $18), which strikes users as cheesy and just too much.

Credentials.

Chalk it up to human nature, but a well-known fitness guru is likely to inspire more commitment than an unknown instructor. Brand recognition, like in Denise Austin workouts and Jillian Michaels DVDs, attracts new followers because, well, the trainers have already won over other fans through years on the exercise-video circuit or appearances on popular TV shows. But star power alone doesn't cut it in the market for exercise DVDs. You want to invest your money and your time in a cheap exercise DVD that features an instructor with credentials. Credentials maximize the chances that the exercises will help you shape up and minimize the chances that they'll do you harm.

The cheap fitness videos on our list all feature trained instructors. Michaels is a certified personal trainer and Sansone is certified by six fitness organizations, including the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). Austin, another certified trainer, has been a fitness industry powerhouse for years; her early-morning workout TV shows were aired in the 1980s and 1990s. By contrast, 10 Best Fitness presents an array of instructors, including some celebrities (like Jerry Hall) with no known fitness background.

Format.

Apart from the variety of workout routines and fitness goals, cheap exercise DVDs tend to follow a similar format. The best exercise DVDs include warm-up and cool down elements. For example, Jillian Michaels's No More Trouble Zones warms you up for five minutes and then moves to seven six-minute strength-training circuits that each focus on an area of the body, like legs, butt, and shoulders and arms, and then closes with a several-minute cool down. Sansone's Walk Away the Pounds includes a warm-up and stretch of similar duration.

The idea behind all of these segments is to offer the user a chance to mix up workouts and/or work up to higher intensity levels. For Sansone's video, for instance, the beginner would use her 1-Mile exercise first until ready to move on to Mile 2.

Fat-Burning Workouts, DVDs for Other Fitness Goals

Goals and Fitness Level.

Obviously, you should choose a cheap workout DVD that's geared toward your fitness level and goals. If the routines are too hard, you'll never do them; too easy, and you won't get in shape.

Given the variety of cheap fitness DVDs out there, the best strategy is to settle on your goals and then pick an instructor whose style and exercises appeal to you. A focus on cardio gets your heart rate going and burns calories. Fat-burning workouts aim at measurable weight-loss. Toning and sculpting involves repetitive motions, often with resistance from your own body or a resistance band or light weights. A total-body workout focuses on cardio and strength training for nearly every area of the body. If gentle is your preferred style, you can opt for cheap yoga DVDs and cheap Pilates DVDs, which aim to improve flexibility while toning and strengthening core (mid-body) muscles.

All the cheap workout DVDs on our list include cardio and strengthening components. Cardio workouts alone are sufficient for weight loss, but the combination of cardio and strength training prolongs the calorie-burning process. In Jillian Michaels: No More Trouble Zones, for example, the first circuit concentrates on the shoulders and legs with squats, shoulder presses, and lunges for upper- and lower-body sculpting. The goal of Leslie Sansone: Walk Away the Pounds is to ramp up your metabolism, stimulate fat-burning, and condition and stretch your muscles. Like the others, Denise Austin: Burn Fat Fast - Cardio Blast is designed to help you burn calories, lose weight, and strengthen your heart. The 10 Best Fitness collection takes an all-inclusive approach, with yoga-based exercises for toning, Tae Bo for cardio-building, and fat burning workouts.

Theoretically, any of these cheap fitness videos are suitable for just about any level of fitness. Although some, like Michaels' No More Trouble Zones, have a rep for being tough, beginners can follow those portions of the video that match their abilities and add in additional routines as their conditioning improves. Sansone's Walk Away the Pounds features four segments described as "progressively more challenging," so again, you can build up gradually. Austin's Burn Fat Fast - Cardio Blast includes four 10-minute segments, so you can pick and choose; the kickboxing and cardio dance are generally considered by users to be the most difficult. 10 Best Fitness is more of an amalgamation of workouts, including yoga, dance steps, and stretching, with no particular increase in difficulty.

Equipment.

If you want a cardio workout, make sure you have sufficient space in your home to freely move your arms and legs. Some cheap workout DVDs require equipment like dumb bells, which cost about $2 per weight, or workout bands, which start at around $5. Michaels's No More Trouble Zones calls for one set of three-pound dumbbells and a mat, which together add about $20 to your cost. Sansone's Walk Away the Pounds comes with a stretchy band, but you'll need to add light balls or weights. No equipment is necessary for Austin's Burn Fat Fast - Cardio Blast or for 10 Best Fitness. Pilates and yoga exercises generally don't require as much space, but you will need a mat and perhaps some other light equipment. For example, Kathy Smith Timesaver: Lift Weights to Lose Weight Vol. 2 (starting at $7) requires dumbbells.

Run Time.

Run time varies on cheap workout videos. No More Trouble Zones is 50 minutes long, as is Burn Fat Fast - Cardio Blast. Walk Away the Pounds comes with two discs for a total of 159 minutes, and the five-disc set of 10 Best Fitness offers a whopping 12 hours of exercise. Obviously you're not going to huff and puff for two hours at a stretch. The segment format of these videos (described above) lets you do as much as you can at any given time.

Free Workout Videos

Free Workout Videos.

As inexpensive as the cheap fitness DVDs on our list may be, free workout videos should not be overlooked. There are free iTunes fitness podcasts and free ExerciseTV, available through On Demand and the web.

The range of free iTunes fitness activities is wide -- think Pilates, yoga, salsa, pole dancing, etc. For the guys, there's also a decent selection of free testosterone-pumping workout videos, like weightlifting. Each podcast comes with a music accompaniment designed to suit the workout, or you can choose to just listen to the instructor. YogaDownload.com, for example, gives you access to 20-minute online yoga sessions, and workout video reviews posted on iTunes say the exercises are easy to follow and the instructor speaks in a calm voice. There's even a Jillian Michaels podcast -- new episodes come out as often as once a week, so you can keep your free workout video routines fresh. If you're interested in learning more about good health in general, iTunes offers free fitness podcasts devoted to fitness talk, like nutrition and staying motivated. On Two Gomers Run a Half Marathon, for example, two men discuss all things running as they gear up for the challenge of doing something they've never before done. All the options are available in the "podcasts" area of iTunes; choose "video podcasts" and then click the "health" section for the list.

The major downside of the free iTunes exercise podcasts is the lack of credentials for many of the instructors. Some podcasts affiliated with web sites such as Livestrong.com showcase legitimate instructors, and others feature everyday Joes and Janes working to get fit. While this may be useful from a rapport-building standpoint, you may have some doubts about following the advice of an inexperienced someone who could be feeding you fitness fiction as well as fact. Another potential negative of the free iTunes exercise podcasts is the absence of video -- you listen to the instruction instead of watching it. One user who posted an exercise podcasts review on the iTunes site of YogaDownload.com prefers this set-up because she says it's a bother to look up at a TV while trying to do the poses. But note: these free exercise videos aren't very useful if you don't have an iPod.

You don't need an iPod, however, to turn on to ExerciseTV. This website offers a smorgasbord of free fitness video clips, ranging from two to 12 minutes or so, that demonstrate ab, agility, cardio, shoulder sculpting, arm workouts, and the like. Pay close attention to the instruction, though, because the clips fly by fast and then you're left to your own devices; on the other hand, the short clip format lets you workout during a commercial break, or during half time of the weekly football game, or whenever you've got a free moment. Some of the routines require a bit of equipment, like a mat, ball, resistance band, or dumbbells.

The virtue of this free workout videos site is the ability to browse for a particular type of workout, like strength training or kickboxing or Pilates, and then delve deeper into that category to select an even more specific workout focus, such as cardio body sculpting or leg makeover. The site lets you browse by level of difficulty, as well, and some of the instructors are well-known personalities in the fitness world, like Leslie Sansone and Jillian Michaels. For real money, you can download longer videos and buy DVDs; there's also a $10/month membership program that gives you access to dozens of videos, a fitness plan, and nutrition information. If you are plugged into On Demand TV, you can check ExerciseTV's fitness video schedule ahead of time.

Users seem to like the instructors and the results. One fitness video review on Elle magazine says the sharp orders from Jay Johnson, the instructor on Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders Boot Camp, and the background images of toned cheerleaders help keep your eye on the fitness prize. HuffandBuff.com says in its workout videos review that the ExerciseTV trainers stand apart from the rest, and the opportunity to post questions on the site is a big plus. Fitness video reviews on Viewpoints report impressive results, with one user noting her abs are on fire at the end of a workout.

Workout DVD Reviews

Workout DVDs reviews primarily deal with users' tolerance for the instructor and the motivational impact, along with the level of difficulty and, of course, the results of their hard work. According to the workout DVDs reviews we read, all these factors affect users' willingness to stick to the workout routine long term. The one area where users' workout DVDs reviews diverge is over the instructor's personality -- some people really like amped instructors while others prefer a more subdued approach.

Instruction.

Whether you're a newbie or a veteran, you want to do the exercises correctly. Otherwise, what's the point? If you're in a class, you can always raise your hand and ask a question. But if you're home alone staring at a TV screen, you can't stop the action and request clarification. So you need good instructions. Moreover, there's no one next to you to serve as competitive foil or friendly prod. So here, too, you need the on-screen personality to fill the void. Workout DVDs reviews indicate that some instructors meet these needs better than others.

Jillian Michaels: No More Trouble Zones wins a ringing endorsement from scores of satisfied exercisers, according to workout DVD reviews on Amazon. Users report Michaels provides clear instructions (oftentimes as she demonstrates) on matters like alignment, controlling movement, and use of weights. The routines proceed at a steady pace, reviewers say, and are easy to follow. Many users posting fitness DVD reviews on Buzzillions credit Michaels with keeping them motivated even as they groan about how hard she makes them work. Beginners and older folks really take to Leslie Sansone and her Walk Away the Pounds. Exercise DVD reviews on Viewpoints, for example, describe the in-place walking steps and arm movements as easy to follow and her upbeat personal style as highly motivating. Unlike some other fitness trainers, they add, she refrains from barking orders and relies on positive words of encouragement. And, users note, she provides information about the physiology of her routines, such as which muscle groups are being worked and the benefits of aerobic exercise.

Opinion is divided about how effectively Denise Austin: Burn Fat Fast - Cardio Blast instructs and motivates. Some fitness DVD reviews on Overstock say the routines are fun, varied, and easy enough but others find Austin's directions fly by too fast and say prior aerobics experience is a big help. A few workout video reviews also assert that she provides the motivation to eat right and get in shape. Users generally like the supercharged energy of Billy Blanks' Tae Bo Amped, perhaps helped along by what some describe in reviews on Amazon as his "in your face" demeanor, but Blanks loses points for not always leading the same number of repetitions for each side. The harshest criticism is reserved for 10 Best Fitness; workout DVD reviews on Amazon say the instructors are corny and not believable.

Level of Difficulty.

Knowing what you're ready for is a big part of choosing the right fitness video. The cheap exercise DVDs on our list can be used by beginner on up. Fitness video reviews on Amazon say Michaels's No More Trouble Zones routines can be tough, especially for novices, but others appreciate the rigor and note that you can make the exercises less challenging by forgoing the dumbbells or by doing the first few routines until you're ready for the entire set. Sansone's collection of workout DVDs build on themselves, so everyone -- from newbie to advanced exercisers -- can find something. Workout video reviews suggest that her Walk Away the Pounds is just right for mature bodies and newcomers to the whole exercise thing. Postings on Walmart note that the moves change and become more demanding with each walk-in-place mile, but you can proceed at your own pace and not worry about stressing your joints. Austin's Burn Fat Fast - Cardio Blast scores with viewers for its versatility -- 10-minute segments of kickboxing, cardio dance, athletic intervals, and aerobics that alleviate boredom and let you focus on one form of exercise, if you so choose. DVDtalk.com rates the routines on this fitness DVD at an introductory level and says you can bump it up a notch by incorporating some modifications. And while a few consumers posting workout DVD reviews of 10 Best Fitness on Amazon say the aerobics and Tae Bo kickboxing pass muster, they say other parts of the set should be ignored.

Results.

For the cheap workout DVDs on our list, the overall consensus among fitness video reviews is "Yes! My body looks great. My muscles are sculpted and I lost weight." Users commenting on Amazon about No More Trouble Zones claim rapid results, and one reviewer posting on Barnes & Noble happily reports on the compliments she's received about her toned physique. In workout DVD reviews on Viewpoints, Sansone's fans say her walking routines have made a noticeable difference in the way their clothes fit. We read similar comments about noticeable results on a variety of review sites about Austin's Burn Fat Fast - Cardio Blast, many of which suggest that losing weight can be fun.

Maralyn Edid

Maralyn is a veteran reporter, writer, researcher, and editor. From her early years at Crain's Chicago Business and the Detroit bureau of Business Week, then on to a long-term stint at Cornell University's ILR School and now at Cheapism.com, Maralyn has been -- and remains -- committed to getting the story straight. That means a devotion to balance, to thorough investigation, and to making sense of diverse ideas and facts. Maralyn earned a Master's in Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell, a Master's in Journalism at University of California-Berkeley, and a B.A. at Tufts. Maralyn resides in New York City.

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