Science Compares Exercise DVDs to Live Coaching

Exercise DVDs may be convenient, but a new study showed they were less effective than having a coach.

Following along to workouts via a video medium like DVD or on the Internet is an increasingly popular trend. It’s cheaper, more convenient than most in-person coaching opportunities, and allows more people access to talented coaches.

But a recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research examined whether this approach was as effective as in-person training.

Study Desgn

The participants of the study were twenty college-aged women. They were active, which means they did some form of exercise on more or less a daily basis, but they weren’t well-trained athletes. They represented a fairly average gym-goer looking to either lose weight or get into good shape.

Each participant engaged in two twenty-minute workouts in a random order. The two workouts were identical, consisting of six exercises performed in a circuit after a brief warm up. A coach led one of the workouts live, and the other was viewed on a DVD while the participants followed along. The coaching was the only difference between the two workouts.

Calories Burned and Heart Rate

Calorie expenditure and heart rate both improved when the women received live coaching. The calorie expenditure was greater and the average heart rate was higher. The subjects burned an average of a little over half a calorie a minute extra doing the same workout, just by being coached. That amounts to about a twelve-percent increase in calories lost, which is pretty good. And while the workout was only twenty minutes, it was at a pace that the subjects likely could have maintained for a standard hour-long workout.

The fact that heart rate was a full ten beats per minute higher when being coached was also telling. This means the cardiovascular stimulus was more substantial, which would lead to greater cardiovascular health and perhaps more rapid results.

Rate of Perceived Exertion

Rate of perceived exertion, the scale by which we subjectively measure how intense a workout is, was also higher when being coached than when watching the DVD. It’s possible to consider this a negative result. When perceived exertion goes beyond a certain point, exercise would be considered unpleasant and thus a participant would be less likely to partake over time. In that case, although a workout with higher exertion might burn more calories in one session, it wouldn’t be as effective in the long term.

However, that did not occur in this study. Although the participants found the exertion levels to be higher when being coached, they also found the coaching workout to be preferable. In fact, 89% of the participants liked the coaching workout better, despite being more difficult.

Ultimately, while DVDs may be less costly and more convenient than in-person training, there is a big tradeoff. Consider the time savings of a superior workout that allows you to achieve the results you want over a shorter term. Cheaper and more convenient may be meaningless in the face of being less effective.


1. Lauren Killen, et. al., “Live versus DVD Exercise in College Age Females,Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000560

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