Do Infomercial Fitness Products Really Work?
When you’re on a late-night TV bender, sitting on your couch and eating potato chips, a product that promises to whip you into shape fast can seem like a godsend. But how do you know whether you’d be making a wise investment or throwing your money away by placing an order?
“Anything that inspires people to move their bodies is a good thing,” says Nicole Burley, M.Ed., a certified life coach and health coach. “That said, I suggest a healthy skepticism of many of these products. Beware of contraptions and things that do sound way too good to be true, and do your research.”
So we reviewed findings from The American Council on Exercise (ACE) on some of the most popular infomercial exercise products. Here’s how each stacks up against its lofty claims.
Starting at $119 plus S&H (BeachBody.com)
These high-intensity workouts incorporate a good variety of exercises and movements. Keep in mind, though, that the program requires equipment such as dumbbells and pull-up bars -- which means you’ll have to shell out extra money if you don’t already own the devices. Fitness rookies, be warned: Since the program requires working out for 20 to 50 minutes six or seven days a week, it might be difficult to maintain if you currently follow a minimal exercise routine (or no exercise routine at all).
Our verdict: Worth the price, if you are a serious exerciser and already own the necessary equipment.
The Shake Weight
Starting at $19.95 (ShakeWeight.com)
This infomercial star does activate muscles more than comparable dumbbell exercises do -- sometimes as much as 88 percent more. Still, that number is nowhere near the commercial’s claims “to increase your upper-body muscle activity by up to 300 percent compared to some traditional weights.” It’s also worth noting that the Shake Weight isn’t great at targeting particular muscles; using it almost always activates the triceps, even during movements designed to work the biceps. So while novice weight trainers will likely see some results from using the Shake Weight, you’re probably better off using different equipment if you have experience with resistance training.
Our verdict: Skip it!
Even the most rigorous activities on this game won’t give you a legitimate workout: A study conducted by research experts at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse Exercise and Health Program found that the routines aren’t strenuous enough to help you maintain or improve cardiovascular health. The Free Run and Island Run activities, which expended the most calories, still burned only 165 calories in a 30-minute workout -- and some games burned as little as 99 calories during 30 minutes of play. The Wii Sports game will actually get you moving more than Wii Fit will -- although neither is enough to constitute your entire exercise program.
Our verdict: Get it for fun, but be sure to do other exercise too.
The Perfect Pushup
Starting at $19.95 (PerfectFitness.com)
Elevated pushups help reduce stress on the wrist joint. ACE exercise physiologists say the Perfect Pushup achieves this -- but so would an ordinary set of dumbbells. What’s more, the device’s pivoting handles make it harder to maintain proper technique, which can lead to injury, particularly if you’re doing the accompanying two-minute Navy SEAL workout. The upside: The Perfect Pushup doesn’t take up much space, and compared to many of the other fitness-related infomercial products on the market, its price tag is a bargain. But since the device has limited uses, your money may be better spent elsewhere.
Our verdict: Skip it!
The Ab Roller
$29.99 at AbRoller.com
Research conducted by the Biomechanics Lab at San Diego State University shows that the Ab Roller is only marginally more effective at activating abdominal muscles than traditional crunches. A similar device, the AB Rocker, was actually 80 percent less effective than regular old crunches. That doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to a flabby midsection, though. Crunches performed on an exercise ball were found to be highly effective, and one of the best abdominal strengtheners doesn’t require any equipment at all: the bicycle maneuver. To do it, lie on the floor in crunch position and put your hands beside your head. Then bring your knees up to about a 45-degree angle and slowly move your legs as if you were pedaling a bicycle. As you move, alternate touching your left elbow to your right knee and your right elbow to your left knee.
Our verdict: Skip it!