I think that workout DVDs can be valuable tools for many people who want to explore home fitness. A DVD can lead you through a structured workout on a day when you don’t have time to go to the gym or plan it yourself. A high-quality beginning DVD can also teach you some basic moves and vocabulary so that you can keep up with a new-to-you Group X class or explore a new exercise mode.

All workout DVDs have their limitations:

In my pursuit of fresh ideas for my personal training clients, I watch a lot of workout DVDs. Some of these are brilliant, some are cringe-worthy, and a few are downright dangerous. I intend to post more as time allows, and I hope that my reviews are helpful to anyone interested in home fitness.

PLEASE NOTE: My reviews are based on my personal opinions, taste, and experience, and my knowledge of exercise science. I cannot promise that your experiences will mirror mine, and I do not endorse any product as fool-proof.

ALSO NOTE: I am still developing my review format and standards, so all reviews, including scores, are subject to adjustment. The best reviews I’ve seen online are on Shira’s site.

I have watched and reviewed the following DVDs:



Short Workouts

High Intensity

Special Populations



The following videos concentrate on technique and are intended for the complete novice. They might also be useful for teachers who are looking for clear explanations to share with students, or for intermediate-level students who want to check their technique or review the basics.

Yoga for Dummies

I own both the beginning and intermediate levels. I bought both on VHS years ago, but I haven’t watched them since my VCR broke, so this review will be brief and general.

I was very impressed with the instruction. The poses were carefully chosen and explained, and I always felt the stretch where they described. I used the information to enrich the stretching section of the belly dance class I was teaching at the time. I was able to teach those poses with confidence, and over time my students and I all developed better posture and range of motion for those beautifully gooey side moves, without a single strain or injury.

I enjoyed the beginner level more than the intermediate, but I think both are invaluable to beginning yoga practitioners and also to instructors of any discipline. The information might be too basic for experienced yoga students, and any serious yoga practitioner will outgrow these videos. As reference material, it is valuable enough to me that I will probably pay to have my tapes transferred or just buy the DVD. I don’t repeat-purchase lightly. It’s really that good.

Pilates for Dummies

Dummies does it again with this two-workout Pilates instructional DVD. They introduce the Pilates method, the underlying principles, and outline the moves before instruction begins. I am not trained specifically in Pilates, but every part of their instruction jives with what I know, as a Personal Trainer, about safe exercise technique. It was extremely helpful for me to learn the names of the moves, and it made other Pilates DVDs much easier to understand and follow.

Dummies instructors are very good about following their own instructions. Unlike some other videos I’ve seen, I never noticed a significant difference between what they demonstrate and what they describe. The instructor’s technique was graceful and clear, and I felt like I knew exactly what the move was supposed to look like. I got this disc on Netflix and, as is my habit, I didn’t keep it long. However, I will probably purchase it in the future to because it’s worth owning.

Shaping Up with Weights for Dummies

Tracy York leads a well-balanced suite of twelve different resistance exercises and takes the time to emphasize that weight training for fitness and/or weight loss is most effective in conjunction with aerobic exercise and a healthy diet.

The general exercise information that Tracy provides in this video is spot-on correct. She starts with the large muscles, moves to the smaller muscles, and ends working the abdominals. She explains exactly why you need to warm up, and why it’s best to save stretching for later.

The exercises themselves are carefully explained and demonstrated, and as usual, Dummies provides plenty of variations so that you can make them easier or more challenging as needed. I noticed that Tracy over-arched her lower back while demonstrating the loaded squat variation, and I thought her pushup demonstration was more correct than her verbal cue.

My other (minor!) misgivings can be chalked up to time constraints and alternate professional opinions.

If you’ve never done any weight training before, I think this video is an excellent place to start.


The following videos are intended for beginners. They are easy to follow and can be done with no prior experience. While they are instructional, they are not as comprehensive as the How-to’s. Some may be more intense than others.

Jillian Michaels Beginning Backside

You might know Jillian from The Biggest Loser. I know her from a cardboard cutout at a bachelor pad, and because of that I looked her up on YouTube on a lark. Since then, I have seen several of her DVDs and look forward to more. She turned me on to DVDs as research, and I am a better trainer just for having heard of her.

Jillian’s attitude towards exercise is “work out to live” rather than “live to work out”. It is clear that she respects the fact that her clients (and audience) have lives, yet her commanding personality makes it hard to say no when she says “push!” The workouts in Beginning Backside are performed by alumni from The Biggest Loser, with Jillian coaching. You can see how much she supports them, and how hard they all work to rise to her expectations. She shares the spotlight with each of them, and I thought this was incredibly effective for making fitness human. It is so satisfying to find a DVD in which the instructor conveys everything that an every-man’s trainer ought to be.

The material on Beginning Backside makes it an outstanding choice for raw beginners. True to its title, the exercises target every rear-body muscle from upper trapezius to calves. All of the exercises are well-explained perfectly demonstrated. The program is broken own into six clear circuits (series of exercises designed to be repeated) which are easy to learn and build on whenever you’re ready. Jillian explains the science in simple terms and offers plenty of ideas for making the work more challenging. It’s way too much information to absorb in one pass, but if you like her style, you’ll enjoy repeated viewings.

Jillian Michaels Beginning Frontside

This video targets the muscles of the chest, shoulders, triceps, quads, and abs. It is designed to complement Beginning Backside and features the same models. Although Jillian brings the same enthusiasm and plenty of valuable information for beginners, I like her Backside better. Ahem.

There were a couple of form issues that I did not like. The video demonstrated tricep extensions with elbows higher than the shoulders. I would advise my clients to keep the upper arm level. Also, pushup and chest press form encouraged keeping the elbows in line with the shoulders, whereas I would advise my clients to lower their elbows to the nipple line in order to protect the shoulder joint.

A beginner would find the exercises effective and informative, but I felt they were a little more predictable than in the other video.

However, I should add that I learned a couple of things that were unique to this video, so it was definitely worth my time to watch. Jillian restates a lot of the valuable general fitness information she shares in Beginning Backside. She uses the same basic format: six simple circuits which are well-demonstrated, easy to learn, and therefore easy to reproduce on vacation or on those days when you only have a short block of time to work with.

Short Workouts

The following videos feature one or several short-duration workouts. Increasing physical activity to at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (such as brisk walking) significantly reduces the risk of many chronic diseases, including heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes, and most cancers. I think short workout videos could be a great help to people who wish to improve their health and reduce their health risks, but might struggle to begin or complete longer-duration workouts due to time constraints.

(Yes, I realize that I have a lot of reviews for Dummies videos compared to other publishers. That is only because their products have been so consistently good that I go out of my way to watch and share them.)

15-Minute Workouts for Dummies

Here are a few things you should know:

Don’t get me wrong; there is a lot to like about this video. I like the fact that Dummies takes the time to recommend adding some cardio and emphasizes that exercising is not a license to overeat. I love the fact that the video includes a bonus section for healthful cooking techniques and substitutions. All of the warmups are interesting, and the progression is easy to follow. I like the fact that each 15-minute workout has a unique warmup, and that each of these warmups involves the whole body with some emphasis on the parts the workout is intended to target. Muscles are stretched a bit before and after working, which is good in this case. I think that a lot of Group X instructors could learn a lot from her.

I think that Gay did a great job with the choreographies. I learned some new and interesting variations of familiar exercises, especially for glutes and abs. Overall, I think that Dummies delivered, and I strongly recommend this video.

High Intensity

Although 30 minutes (which need not be consecutive) of moderate-intensity exercise is sufficient for improving health, it is not enough to significantly impact cardiorespiratory fitness. People who wish to improve their fitness level, as well as their general health, should consider higher-intensity exercise (however I recommend that people who wish to participate in vigorous exercise first speak with their physicians).

I have not yet had a chance to write reviews for any high-intensity workout videos, but I will say that I enjoyed and might recommend Jillian Michaels 30-day Shred Levels 1 and 2, and also Crunch Bootcamp.

Special Populations

The following videos are designed for special populations (such as pregnant women, or people with health conditions or injuries that might make mainstream videos inappropriate for their needs). The workouts are often easier or less intense than those designed for the general population, so they might also be of interest to very deconditioned or very inflexible individuals.

Healing Yoga for Aches and Pains with Lisa and Charles Matkin

Healing Yoga for Aches and Pains has three short routines built from easy yoga poses. They are aware and respectful of issues surrounding pain and its likely sources (age, injury, etc).

Although it has a new-age-in-spandex polish that is not my personal cup of tea, I think the routines are well-designed and well-presented. This video also offers valuable modfications to the poses to help people ease into it. Healing Yoga is full of meditations and affirmations regarding pain, and it is one of the rare cases where I felt that was a critical part of the material. The Matkins understand that, in addition to the usual obstacles to exercise, their target audience might need help overcoming the often overwhelming instinct to avoid pain.

I am fortunate enough to not need this video, so I can’t personally test how well any of these routines might help with chronic pain.

I think this video is too easy for the general population, but it might be very valuable to a narrower audience. I strongly recommend that anyone with injuries or conditions that cause them enough pain to need this video consult with a professional. Healing Yoga might be an excellent supplement to your treatment, but depending on your condition, you might need additional tailoring.

Anna Getty’s Pre- and Post-natal Yoga

This one is a Trojan horse. Stay away from it unless you are already familiar with safe yoga techniques and can modify the moves for your condition. Pregnancy is a terrible time to get hurt.

I have made a point of watching pregnancy/post-natal workouts to prepare for clients on maternity leave, and I found this one disturbing. She actually says “grind your spine into the floor.” That cue sounds like an invitation to injury, and it makes me very suspicious of the workout.

I gave it two stars rather than one because I don’t think it is a total waste. Anna Getty makes a very pretty video with serene smiling mothers-to-be and a lot of affirmations. I can see how the ambiance would be uplifting even though Anna does not have the force of personality to win me over as a meditation leader.

I thought her Postnatal Yoga DVD was much better, and apparently many other Netflix users agreed. I am suspicious of some of her techniques, but I appreciate the way she chose dynamic movements rather than static poses. It made for a different experience than most other yoga DVDs I’ve seen.


The following videos are mostly non-traditional workouts.

Ballet Conditioning with Elise Gulan

Like most dance workouts, Ballet Conditioning offers skill development in addition to exercise. This can be fun and motivating on those days when exercise feels like a chore. Some progress in ballet (such as height of leg raises) is very obvious, which can be encouraging.

The workout starts with a dynamic stretch, which is appropriate. It is designed to stretch and tone the entire body, but it does not include a cardio component.

The production felt very generic to me. It was filmed outdoors at an estate with an ocean view, much like many other workout (particularly yoga) I’ve seen. I was bored, and it took some effort for me to get into it. This video would have been more engaging for me if they had used a ballet studio, or, better yet, a theater.

Elise is a professional ballerina, and it shows. Her movements are strong and fluid, and I enjoyed the challenge of following her. However, I can’t wholeheartedly recommend this video for fitness purposes because even correct ballet technique can be hard on the body, particularly the knees and feet. I am suspicious of the grand plies. I was also a bit put off by how strongly she implied that doing this would give you a dancer’s body. Results depend heavily on diet and nutrition. They also depend on genetics, and some people will never achieve a ballerina's physique. And that is O.K. There are other appealing physiques to aspire to that ballerina-types will never reach.