Jump off the couch. A workout is only as far away as your computer screen, writes Susan Edmunds.
Exercising at home has come a long way from the days of jazzercise on VHS or aerobics on mid-morning TV. If you like group fitness classes but don't have the time or money to get to the gym regularly, online classes - streamed directly to your computer or downloaded - can be a good alternative. They are especially handy when you are away on holiday. Anywhere you can get an internet connection, you can have a trainer take you through a basic workout. And the best bit: You can do them in your pyjamas if you want to.
There are lots of options when it comes to websites offering free workout videos online, but the standout sites are slimtree.com, exercisetv.tv, workoutsondemand.com and women-workout-routines.com. All offer full-length, free exercise videos covering strength training, cardio workouts and stretching. If you want to download the videos, you generally have to pay a couple of dollars, but to stream them direct to your computer is free.
Slimtree.com offers cardio boxing, pilates, yoga and abdominal workouts. A free membership gives you access to one- and five-minute videos - not great for a full-body workout but excellent if you just want to blast a trouble spot first-thing in the morning. I did a five-minute abdominal workout and found it very easy to follow and effective. Because you have it streaming to your computer, you can stop at any point, go back and go over anything that is unclear. The different camera angles make it easy to see what is going on.
Exercisetv.tv is my favourite internet workout site. There are loads of options for free routines - a total of more than 100 free full-length workouts and and 700 mini ones. They are divided up into abs, body sculpting, boot camp, cardio, challenges, dance, interval training, kick boxing, meditation, pilates, quick workouts, sport training, strength training, stretching, tips, walking and yoga. With so many options, it's easy to avoid the done-this-all-before feeling that you often get working out with exercise DVDs at home. The videos on this site were the most professional of all the ones I've tried. They include warm-ups and cool-downs and are well explained, so you do not have to be a fitness expert to get into it. Some required a bit of equipment, such as a resistance band, but most could be done with things you'd find around the house.
Women-workout-routines.com, a website run by Rumiana Ilieva, feels more like working out with a friend who is taking you through some exercises in her kitchen. Although the videos are not as polished as some of the others online, the workouts are well thought out and hit all the spots they should. Being a personal trainer, she obviously knows what she is talking about and offers diet tips and advice on form as well as exercise routines. Most of the workouts are only bodyweight exercises but some require dumbbells. You can become a Facebook fan and interact with her through the site if you have questions or concerns about any of the workouts.
The absence of anyone else while you are working out with these websites is both a benefit and a drawback. You don't have to worry about what you look like, and you can keep going over the same bit until you get it right, but there is no one to check your form or keep you motivated to put the right amount of energy into your exercise.
If you don't have much experience, consider a couple of group fitness classes at the gym or a session or two with a trainer so that you know you have the basics right before you launch into any or all of these websites.