Home-video gym rats
By Donna Hoke Kahwaty; photo by kc kratt

There’s probably not a person with a television who hasn’t at least glimpsed The Firm, Tony Horton, or some other fitness guru hawking a video set that promises to deliver the body of one’s dreams. Whether you were tempted to order, actually did, or just wondered who on earth would, the truth is that those infomercials only scratch the surface of a subculture that includes thousands of home exercisers who own not just one exercise video, but up to hundreds—most not available by infomercial, or even in stores. (In fact, Orchard Park’s own Margaret Richard has more than sixteen Body Electric video releases, and there are people all over the country waiting for the next one.)

When Erin DeVantier, a sixth-grade teacher at Starpoint, was fifteen years old, she popped one of her mother’s workouts into the VCR on a whim. Eleven years later, she owns more than sixty exercise videos of her own, has gotten rid of many more, and unabashedly calls it an obsession. In addition to five workouts a week, DeVantier spends time reading on-line reviews, watching YouTube clips of potential purchases, searching for rotations consistent with her fitness goals, and even chatting with other enthusiasts on

One fellow VFer (as they’re called) is Jane Cameron, fifty-three, an environmental attorney who began using videos in earnest when she moved back to Buffalo, where she grew up. “I lived in New York City for many years, and got used to very good instruction,” says the Elmwood area resident. “I have found that videos often have better instruction and more fun factor than what is available in gyms.” Cameron credits videos with motivating her to work out consistently five to six days a week, keeping her current on fitness trends, and sparking an interest in yoga that has grown to the point where she now teaches at Gilda’s Club and is considering opening a home studio. “I love working out with nationally recognized instructors,” she says. “I love trying new things. I love diversity.”

And videos—which are available for both strength and endurance weightlifting, kickboxing, functional fitness, aerobic dancing, step, competitive biking, spinning, treadmill, yoga, Pilates, BOSU, sliding, and every combination of hybrid and circuit workout you can imagine—certainly offer that. Of course, it is necessary to buy at least some equipment to do diverse gym-quality workouts at home. But, unlike a gym, it’s a series of permanent purchases over time that cumulatively might equal the cost of one year at a local fitness center, or less. And the convenience and flexibility are unsurpassed.

“I did join a gym once and I liked the classes,” DeVantier says, “but I didn’t like the set schedule, and it had to be what they offered, and if it didn’t work for you, you were out of luck. At home, I pick the classes, I pick my rotation, and I can do what I like and what works for my body. I can do it anytime—I just put in a casserole and then go and do a video. I don’t know why anyone would go to a gym.”

Go ahead, you hard-core gymsters: Say it’s because you can’t possibly get a good workout at home. Though exercise videos feature the country’s fitness leaders and innovators, and range from easy to super advanced, that’s a common perception. “There is a lot of prejudice against home workouts,” Cameron contends. “People think it’s all about Richard Simmons, and while I respect Richard Simmons, he’s not representative of the home fitness instructors I work with. The home workout market is surprisingly sophisticated with many advanced workouts available. You just have to know where to look.” (Still doubtful? We dare you to take on Cathe Friedrich or Amy Bento.)

DeVantier is quick to agree: “People don’t realize how good a workout you can get, how sore you can be, how if you have enough to change things up, you don’t get bored. People’s perception that it’s easy surprises me. I haven’t gained a pound since high school, and I’ve just eaten well and worked out with videos.”

Donna Hoke Kahwaty began working out at home in 1985 with a Jane Fonda LP. She currently owns more than 200 exercise videos, and has sold/traded/donated hundreds more.


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