Do Exercise DVDs Work?

Ever since I was a child I have felt innately mistrustful of exercise videos and their endlessly smiling workout leaders who wear brightly colored sports bras and never seem to break a sweat even while doing exercises that leave anyone else gasping. And it seems my distrust is backed by science: Researchers say that exercise DVDs can actually be harmful. Apparently, they often include negative imagery and language that can demotivate you. Plus, I'm not entirely convinced that anyone who can work out while grinning isn't secretly an alien looking to take over your brain, but so far that hypothesis is just me.

In the study, researchers from Oregon State University analyzed 10 popular commercial exercise DVDs, looking at both the imagery and the statements made during the workouts, and found that they aren't as healthy as you'd think. On the contrary, they tend to promote unrealistic, hyper-sexualized body image, and their supposedly motivational statements could instead reduce your motivation.

"Most instructors and models were female, Caucasian, slim, and dressed in revealing attire," the researchers note in the paper. Moreover, based on their analysis, one in seven "motivational" statements made on the DVDs to be negative. Statements such as "Say hello to your sexy six-pack" or "You better be sweating" might be meant to encourage, but in truth they, "focus on outcomes, encourage social comparison, and don’t take into account individual differences in health or fitness," lead researcher Brad Cardinal explained. In other words, they don't ultimately encourage you to stay active, or to have a healthy relationship to exercise.

Although workout DVDs are popular, this isn't the first study to suggest that they aren't all they're cracked up to be. Another study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research suggested that doing DVD workouts isn't as effective as receiving live coaching at an exercise class or with a personal trainer. Whether in-person training would also be more positive in terms of body image and the quality of motivational statements isn't clear, but it seems that at the very least, you shouldn't resign your gym membership for a DVD collection just yet.

Of course, that isn't to say workout DVDs can't be great for certain people. But the fact that they are often marketed to beginners is concerning. And Cardinal told OSU that he and his team, "don’t think the videos are very psychologically safe." Which is a big statement, and should give people pause.

You’re inviting into your home these images and messages that could make you feel bad about yourself, and ultimately hinder your efforts to improve your health,” Cardinal continued. "Buyers should beware when making these purchases. Remember that we all have different body shapes and styles, and our bodies may respond differently to the exercises being shown. Don’t expect to get the same results as what you see on the screen or compare yourself to others.”

Also: Don't trust anyone who can maintain a 40-watt smile while doing aerobics. Just don't do it.

Image: Commons