If I'm being perfectly honest, I'm still not entirely sure why I, of all people, volunteered to try out a handful of at-home streaming fitness channels. My shaky-to-begin-with workout motivation is usually spurred most by a high-energy class environment; in most cases, I need an instructor and a room full of people to keep me on track and bring out my competitive nature. But any of this resolve swiftly disappears when I'm in the same vicinity as my bed. (Literally, though—I live in a studio apartment, and it's really hard to make it through a series of crunches without somehow ending up sprawled out on my plush quilt.)
And yet my curiosity about workout videos stems from a young age. I remember, at 4 years old, watching my mother in our living room as she worked her way through Cindy Crawford's aerobic routines. My dad used to pop a yoga tape in the VCR after a long run. I was in middle school when P90X infomercials began to dominate the late-night TV airwaves; I publicly rolled my eyes when a couple of my friends began to follow the program incessantly, though really I was just jealous of their drive.
So now that workout videos are enjoying a bit of a renaissance in the way of streaming channels—thanks to the age of Netflix, natch—I suppose I thought it might be time to challenge this lack of motivation yet again. And given that these programs tend to cost far less than a monthly gym membership—and are way more convenient—I knew I had to give it my best shot.
And thus, a challenge was born: I'd work out for one month using only four of the most popular streaming fitness channels. See how they stacked up below.
The concept: Grokker offers a wide-reaching variety of yoga, fitness, and cooking videos, making it a one-stop shop for all things wellness. It's easy to narrow down the thousands of videos available according to your needs, thanks to easy search functions that categorize by category, level, and how much time you have on hand. You can also plan ahead by building a calendar of videos, which also monitors how many minutes and workouts you've logged that month. It's also one of the most competitively-priced options on the market: You can either purchase a year at once for $119 (which comes to a little less than $10 a month) or pay a monthly rate of $15.
My experience: I was immediately very impressed by Grokker's user-friendly format and customization options—right off the bat, the site presents you with a few different videos for you to rate your interest in, so that it can immediately build a custom workout schedule based on those preferences. On that note, I also loved the fact that I could build a workout calendar at all—not only did it allow me to plan ahead for a balanced regimen, but actually having them on a schedule kept me (gasp!) motivated.
As for the workouts themselves, every single one was well-curated and easy to follow. It was nice to know that on days when I was time-strapped or feeling less than inclined to work out, I could just search for a 10-minute HIIT or Pilates video and blitz right through it. All of this ultimately made Grokker my favorite of the streaming channels I tried—I signed up for an account after my trial was complete.
The concept: Like Grokker, Daily Burn offers a variety of workouts to choose from—more than 150 videos of yoga, cardio, and toning routines. But its most unique aspect is that every morning at 9 a.m. Eastern, the channel streams a live 30-minute workout you can follow along with thousands of other Daily Burn users or rewatch later. One of the biggest selling points of Daily Burn is its large and devoted community of users, who converse and offer tips and solidarity via online forums. A 30-day free trial gives you access to those daily live workouts—after that (and to try any other videos), you'll pay $14.95 a month.
You can also pay an additional $50 per month for one-on-one coaching.
My experience: Because I thrive off of the community feel of a fitness class, I immediately assumed I would love Daily Burn. How cool that I could basically work out with tons of people across the country without stepping out my front door! There was just one snafu: I'm not particularly an early morning workout person, and because the daily live workout was at 9 a.m. Eastern, I would have to rise before 6 a.m. in California to participate—something both I and my neighbors would surely not appreciate.
Of course I could go back and do the workout later, but by doing so, I was missing out on some of that team spirit: There's a live chat room that opens as soon as the workout starts but closes right when it ends.
That being said, I still enjoyed browsing the user-generated forums on the site, which offer personal insight into a ton of topics from motivation secrets to tips for beginners. While I think Daily Burn's workout video library is a little lackluster compared to Grokker, there are also a lot of recipe ideas, and I really like the site's nutrition section, which offers a foolproof guide to macronutrients and tons of healthy recipes.
The concept: What if you could bring dozens of the world's best yoga teachers into your living room? It's possible with YogaGlo, which offers tons of classes to choose from based on your preferred practice style, time available, level, and body part to focus on. You might do a 45-minute vinyasa flow one day, a 10-minute meditation the next, and an ab-burner after that—it's completely up to you. The kicker is that the instructors leading each video are some of the most renowned across the globe—giving you a rare (and exceedingly thrifty) opportunity to learn from the best.
And it's all for $18 a month, which is basically the drop-in cost of one boutique yoga class.
My experience: Once upon a time, I used to have a pretty solid home yoga practice in place—there was a point a few years ago where I'd flow for 45 minutes every morning before my college classes began. It's always been my favorite way to unwind and work out, yet I've neglected it over the past few years. Now that I'm just starting to get back into doing yoga consistently again, I could definitely use a little bit of guidance where my home practice is concerned. So really, signing up for YogaGlo couldn't be more timely.
As with Grokker, I love that all the videos on YogaGlo are organized by mood, body part, practice type, time—whatever you're feeling. It made it so easy to find what I was looking for, not to mention discover new-to-me routines and poses that could aid with whatever was going on in my life. (Yoga to wake up? Yoga for skiiers? They have a practice for virtually anyone.) All in all, I was so impressed that I signed up for a membership once my trial was over.
The concept: Ballet Beautiful's extensive library of workouts is perfect for barre junkies—no matter how much time you have on hand or which body part you're interested in working, there's something here for you. All videos are easy-to-follow and led by Ballet Beautiful founder Mary Helen Bowers, whose long, lithe limbs provide plenty of fitness inspiration. $40 a month gives you unlimited access to the videos on the channel, or you can purchase them individually—they usually start at $10 a video.
My experience: While I'm not a person who goes to barre on the regular, I always appreciate the muscle-quaking workout each session gives me. On that note, while some of the quickie videos on the other fitness channels I tried didn't exactly feel substantial, I found that Bowers's sessions always made me sweat, even if I was just blitzing through a 10-minute leg-burner. I'll also take any opportunity to honor my adolescent dream of being a ballerina—so ultimately I had to give this channel the nod of approval.
While I probably won't commit to the monthly fee, I definitely plan on purchasing a few of the standalone videos to use when I'm running low on time or traveling.
See more tips on how to work out on a budget here, and tell us—do you have a favorite streaming workout channel?