When time is tight, especially around the holidays, there's none to waste on separate cardiovascular and strength workouts. You're better off pushing play on an exercise routine that combines bursts of aerobic activity with weight-bearing exercises to maximize your caloric burn while maintaining your muscle.
We combed through the year's fitness releases to come up with a list of four outstanding workouts for all levels and interests. In addition to being great gifts for the exercise aficionados on your list, these DVDs would make a worthy addition to your own fitness library.
Best circuit workout
Kristi Yamaguchi Power Workout
I have to admit that the choice of Olympic gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi for this traditional cardio and strength circuit workout left me scratching my head. She's thin and graceful from her figure skating years but surprisingly lacking in strength, hoisting the smallest 3-pound dumbbells.
But that's part of the formula: Pair an experienced fitness trainer, such as co-host Erin O'Brien, with a high-profile, likable newcomer such as Yamaguchi to draw in more viewers — in this case, the army of fans that rooted for the skater during her stint on "Dancing With the Stars."
O'Brien puts Yamaguchi through the paces with a 53-minute total body workout that combines classic cardio moves (such as grapevines, jogging and knee-ups) with weight-assisted strength training. She gives plenty of attention to proper technique and offers some low-impact modifications to moves such as jump squats. It's challenging for beginners without being intimidating, and intermediate exercisers will appreciate it too.
Yamaguchi is a pleasant student who demonstrates good form and endurance throughout the workout, which also includes floor work for abdominals, chest exercises and stretches. This workout covers all the fitness bases in less than an hour.
Price: $16.99. Available at Acacialifestyle.com and other online retailers.
Best light-day workout for women
Ellen Barrett Live: Power Fusion
There are days when it's hard to find the motivation to get out of bed, let alone exercise.
This is the DVD for those days. Like most of veteran fitness instructor Ellen Barrett's DVD workouts, this 45-minute session builds gradually — and, in her words, "peacefully" — allowing the mind to catch up with the body and get in the mood for exertion.
This flowing fusion of yoga, dance and calisthenics starts with deep breathing, gentle movement and stretching before moving into a fat-burning zone with squats, traveling squats, goddess squats.... Did we mention there are a lot of squats in this workout?
They are Barrett's go-to movement, along with leg lifts, standing crunches, wood-chop plies, relevés and a series of lunges from different angles. These weight-free strength moves, coupled with arm movements such as tricep push-backs and V-ups, boost your heart rate while stretching and strengthening the lower body and the core.
With moves like "the goddess" and little emphasis on building strength in the arms, we don't expect this to be a big draw for men. But for women, it's a feel-good workout for low-energy, low-motivation days.
Price: $14.99. Available at Collagevideo.com and Amazon.com.
Best DVD set for fitness junkies
Supreme 90-Day System
At first glance, this 10-DVD set looks a lot like another popular 90-day workout plan, P90X. But there's one major difference: At around $20, this set is about $120 cheaper. Yet it still delivers a raft of solid workouts with an experienced personal trainer, Tom Holland, who cues the moves effectively and gives at least some attention to good form.
Both Supreme 90-Day and its more expensive rival deliver grueling, high-intensity interval workouts and a schedule of when to do them, alternating between cardio days and strength training targeted to the chest and back, the core, or the legs, arms and shoulders. However, at 30 to 40 minutes long, these workouts are shorter than their P90X counterparts — and therefore more doable for most intermediate to advanced exercisers.
Make no mistake: This system, which mixes up the workouts on different days to create "muscle confusion," is heart-pumping and intense — the Tabata Inferno cardio routine of intense 20-second drills in particular. Even the cardio workouts use weights to boost the burn.
There are not a lot of modifications to make the workout easier, outside of bent-knee push-ups or Holland's insistence that you do only as many repetitions as you can. The warm-up and the cool-down are the same for all 10 workouts, and many of the exercises are repeated from disc to disc.
Still, for those fitness junkies always chasing the "burn," this workout system should satisfy. And with a price tag of around $20, it won't matter that much if only a couple of these DVDs make it into your regular rotation.
Price: $19.99. Available at Amazon.com and other online retailers.
Best cardio/strength workout to unwind with after a long day