10 fitness products you don’t need
Exercise is hard. It’s painful and sweaty, and it takes forever to show any improvement. With one-third of the U.S. population considered clinically obese, the desire to look better or just get to a healthier weight is powerful. One estimate puts the number of people belonging to gyms at 52 million. Those who wish to work out at home spend more than $3 billion per year on equipment. Many are lured by claims of remarkable results with little effort. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of equipment out there people can simply do without.
-- By John Zebrowski for MSN Healthy Living
An idea that came out of the space program, vibration training involves lying, sitting or standing on a vibration platform for a set amount of time. Some manufacturers claim that just by doing that, you can lose weight, but there have been no comprehensive studies to prove this. Ashley Conrad, a Los Angeles-based celebrity trainer and writer for bodybuilding.com, said these claims are just overblown. “Bottom line, when it comes to losing weight it’s all about calories in and calories out,” she said. “Standing on a machine and doing nothing isn’t going to help your body burn calories.”
Electronic ab stimulators
Think of these as the grandchildren of the 1950s vibrating belt machines. Here, electrodes strapped to your abdomen send electrical pulses into the muscles, forcing them to contract and providing a workout without the work. Do it every day, and six-pack abs will effortlessly appear. At least that’s the claim, one the Federal Trade Commission has called false, resulting in $12 million in fines to four companies. Even if all those contractions do tone the muscles (a technique used to help people recover from injuries in physical therapy), they do nothing for the layer of fat covering them. The key, said Mike Clancy, a personal trainer in New York, is to lose the fat. “Abs are made in the kitchen,” he said. “Stimulating your stomach muscles is a sure waste of time and risk of health.”
Aimed at giving you six-pack abs, the sauna belt is essentially a fancy heating pad you strap around your waist. Crank up the heat and let the magic happen. The tagline for one version is “sweat away unwanted fat,” but there is no proof that it works. The FTC cited the Velform Sauna Belt for running misleading ads in 2005. “Sweating has no correlation to fat loss,” said Clancy, who noted that if it did, everyone would look like a model come summer. Plus, any weight you might lose through sweating would come back as soon as you drank some water. Celebrity trainer Conrad added that if you did want to sweat while exercising (many believe it helps flush toxins), you don’t need to go out and spend money on a sauna belt. “Everyone has a pair of sweat pants and a sweatshirt.”
Billed as a more comfortable way to strengthen your core, the Ab Lounge has been around for years. Put your feet in the stirrups and grab the handlebars and jackknife your way to your ideal core. Tagline: “The abs you always dreamed of.” But according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), machines such as the Ab Lounge aren’t very effective. Sam Iannetta, who owns Functional Fitness Wellness Centers in Boulder, Colo., calls the Ab Lounge “training wheels.” “It’s not as good as a simple sit-up or crunch,” he said.
Toning shoes are those weird sneakers with the funny soles you’ve probably noticed people wearing. With curved rubber undersides, they’re designed to be unstable, forcing you to use muscles you otherwise wouldn’t. The result is better-toned, shapelier legs.
If only they worked. Recent studies show that wearing them didn’t cause people to burn more calories or significantly work muscles harder. In 2012, Skechers agreed to refund $40 million to consumers over false claims stemming from its toning shoes. Ariele Foster, a physical therapist in Washington, D.C., notes that the awkwardness of the shoes can even be detrimental. “They can alter your gait in a way that increases stress on the underside of the knee caps, possibly leading to patellofemoral pain syndrome,” she said.
You want to work out, but you’re stuck in the office. What do you do? Try the Hawaii chair. The motorized chair swivels, much like the hips of a hula dancer, supposedly allowing you the ultimate passive workout. What could be better than not even having to get out of your chair? Unfortunately, the chair has proven to be both ineffective and a bit crazy. Ellen DeGeneres tried it on her show and found the rotation so violent she could barely stay put. Personal trainer Iannetta worries the gyrating could cause long-term health problems. “It scares the hell out of me,” he said. “I can see it causing some major disc problems.” If someone is looking for a way to get a little workout while sitting at their desk, they can try using an exercise ball instead.
This one sounds really great. You spin an aluminum disc along nylon ropes. The harder you pull, the greater the workout. It’s portable, easy to use and based on the theory of “gyrotronic resistance training.” Then there’s this claim: “Wave goodbye to flabby arms with just 5 minutes a day!” According to its website, Spin Gym will improve muscle, tone, coordination, definition, and increase stamina. But how effective is it? There aren’t any clinical studies of the product, so it’s hard to know. But Conrad is skeptical, saying you could get the same effect from a 1-pound dumbbell. “Is it something that’s going to transform your body? No. Will it help you lose weight? No. Is it going to do anything more than make your arms burn a little bit? No.”
Imagine trying to grab hold of an eagle as it soars into the sky. Or trying to grip a king salmon as it struggles upstream to spawn. Or just maneuvering an archer’s bow with a mind of its own. The concept behind BodyBlade is that the vibrating tension of the ski-like blade activates more muscles than resistance training and improves balance and posture. It’s received a good amount of positive press over the years. Some studies suggest it can be effective in improving strength, particularly in the arms and shoulders. But at a cost of as much as $150, is it worth it? Iannetta thinks you could get similar effects from shaking just about anything repeatedly during a workout, including a bottle of soda. Conrad sees it as a costly addition to a more comprehensive workout. “I wouldn’t use it as the basis for transforming your body,” she said.
Chi machines have been used in massage for a long time. You lie on your back and stick your feet on the briefcase-sized device and let it shake your legs for about 15 minutes. Benefits are supposed to include improved circulation and pain relief. But many manufacturers claim the machines can also give you a workout, equivalent to a 90-minute walk while flat on your back. “The Chi machine is great to get you to relax,” said Dr. Len Lopez, a Dallas-based fitness expert. “But you can’t get [that kind] of benefit if you don’t move your rear end.”