interesting blog on home fitness gear!
Infomercial Fitness Gadgets: Do they Work? Tips for Outfitting Your Home Gym
Jun 15, 2011
Cable television serves up an infinite loop of taut tummies, bulging biceps and sculpted buns that can all be yours for the low, low price of just five easy payments of $39.99… if you believe the hype. But, do any of these products actually do what they say?
Consumer Reports assembled a panel to test some of the more popular pieces of infomercial workout gear. Some products, like the Ab Rocket, were less effective than standard bodyweight exercises, while others, like the Tread Climber, were shown to be about as effective as machines costing much, much less (or free if jogging outside is an option for you). Still others, like the Perfect Pull Up and Perfect Push Up, were as effective as other products on the market, but have experienced recalls due to manufacturing and safety issues.
Making an investment in home exercise gear is really making an investment in your heath. It’s a great way to make working out more convenient and tailored to your needs. However the big promises made by infomercials makes it far too easy to become that person with the spare bedroom full of dusty gizmos and fitness gadgets that barely made it out of the box. Too often, frustrated folks look at that pile of failed late-night fitness purchases as a failure of determination or commitment within themselves, when really it’s a failure of the product to deliver what it promised.
Here are my tips if you’re in the market for home exercise equipment:
- Don’t buy something you can’t touch, feel and test. You wouldn’t buy a car without taking it for a test drive, the same should hold true for workout equipment. Until you get your hands on it, you don’t know if it feels sturdy, whether it’s the right size for your body, how large a footprint it’s going to take in your home, how noisy it might be, etc. Even if an infomercial product catches your eye, “As Seen on TV” stores are popping up all over the country so there is no reason to skip this crucial step.
- Don’t rely on the “30 Day Moneyback Guarantee.” Don’t buy it if you haven’t already tried it out and aren’t certain you will use it day after day, year after year. Moneyback guarantees are littered with exclusions and hidden details. Not the least of which—having a 200-pound piece of equipment delivered to your home is one thing, finding a way to get that 200-pound piece of equipment packed up and back to the post office to ship back out is something else entirely.
- Beware the “one trick pony.” I don’t care how spacious your home is, pieces of freestanding exercise equipment that do only one thing are not an efficient use of space (think the whole Ab Coaster, Ab Rider, Ab Circle, Ab Lounger, Ab Whatever). Doubly so since studies have shown time and again that good ol’ crunches are just as if not more effective than these machines and that spot targeting fat loss doesn’t work anyhow.
When planning your workout space, think of equipment that has multiple uses—For beginning home exercisers, a set of free weights, a yoga mat and a balance ball are a great place to start. If you want to do your cardio indoors, there are cardio DVDs to suit any interest (you can even check exercise DVDs out on Netflix before investing). If you want a piece of cardio equipment, stick with the time-tested, widely available cardio machines, or think about how to use what you already have— I recently bought a used magnetic trainer for my road bike so I can ride it indoors. It’s a space- and energy-efficient cardio option for only $80!
Bonus tip: A balance ball is inexpensive, portable and compact. You can use it to work your whole body, it costs less than twenty bucks and can even be used to accomplish what a recent study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy called “The Single Most Effective Ab Exercise You Can Do.”
- Don’t be fooled by novelty. There are some real downsides to bells and whistles. First, the more you add, the more there is to break. The Perfect Push-up and Perfect Pull-up are a great example of this. Standard, stationary pull-up bars and push-up stands made of steel or sturdy plastic without moving parts are available at any sporting goods store for a fraction the cost… and no moving parts means they aren’t going to be as prone to breakage and potential safety issues as the Perfect Pushup and Pull Up have proven to be.
The other downside of novelty is that the more novel the movement, the less versatile the equipment becomes. With something like the Tread Climber, once you are locked into that specific “Tread Climbing” motion, that’s all you can ever do and the machine maxes out at 4.5 MPH. A solid treadmill will cost a fraction of the Tread Climber’s price and let you run and walk through a range of inclines and speeds, forwards backwards and sideways if you so choose, up to 12 MPH. There’s even a guy at my gym who skips on the treadmill. Even a standard elliptical trainer will let you go forwards and backwards at a range of heights, resistances and speeds.
Another way of wording this tip might be: “Have you ever seen it in a gym?” If not, good chance it's not the kind of proven, versatile, durable and time-tested equipment you want to invest in long-term.
I hope those tips help as you move towards finding the fitness situation that will work the best for you!
Heather Hawkins is fitness and wellness coach who works to educate and empower people to find a path to fitness that works for their lifestyle. She is a certified personal trainer and fitness nutrition coach based in San Francisco, CA and runs FitLifeSF.com. Please send your fitness and nutrition questions to Smurf@FitLifeSF.com for use in future blogs.