Between Shape-Ups, sauna suits, and the infamous Shake Weight, it seems there’s no gizmo, gadget, or get-skinny-quick gimmick we won’t try. In fact, Americans spend upwards of $30 billion a year on weight loss products (clearly those late-night infomercials are doing something right). But as the saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Read on to see how Greatist ranks the biggest fitness flops, fails, and what the f*#!s?! of the last few decades— and how to avoid getting duped.
Do Not Try This at Home — The Flops
1. The Shake Weight Spoofed by Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show, and South Park, the wildly suggestive Shake Weight needs no introduction. And while the benefits of spring-loaded 2.5-pound dumbbell remain questionable, more than 2 million units sold in its first year on the market, and sales have more than doubled since (making our gag gift theory a bit of a stretch).
2. The Free Flexor If the Shake Weight is rated R, the Free Flexor gets a big neon XXX. With its patent-pending Circular Strength Technology, the world’s first (undeniably phallic) flexing dumbbell is said to set the forearms ablaze and “make your muscles cry.” Not exactly our idea of a happy workout. (NSFW: Best spoof ever.)
3. Vibrating Platforms Can couch potatoes really shake themselves stronger, healthier, and slimmer? Yeah, we didn’t think so Effect of 12 months of whole-body vibration therapy on bone density and structure in postmenopausal women: a randomized trial. Slatkovska, L., Alibhai, S.M., Beyene, J., et al. University Health Network, Mount Sinai Hospital, and University of Toronto, Toronto, and McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2011 Nov 15;155(10):668-79, W205. The Effects of Whole Body Vibration in Isolation or Combined with Strength Training in Female Athletes. Preatoni, E., Colombo, A., Verga, M., et al. Sport, Health & Exercise Science, Department for Health, University of Bath, Bath, UK. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2011 Nov 4. Epub ahead of print. And while some athletes might show improved performance after stepping off shaky ground, the jury’s still out on whether shelling out thousands for platforms like the Power Plate will bring better results than other conditioning methods.
4. Sauna Suits No, that’s not a trash bag. We’re just happy to smother you. These rubbery waterproof suits are designed to make people sweat out several pounds per session. Problem is: There’s nothing safe about that (think: heat stroke, muscle cramps, and fainting). What’s more, those lbs are typically gained back immediately after eating or drinking.
5. 8 Minute Abs Don’t kill the messenger here, but eight minutes cannot a six-pack make (no matter how serious that spandex is). The 80s “8 Minute Abs” craze was essentially just that. Crunch all you want, but a washboard stomach requires full-body conditioning including strength training, cardio, and a healthy diet to match.
6. Exercise in a Bottle Yup, that’ll be the day. And the Federal Trade Commission was just as disappointed as we were. In 2000, Enforma, the company behind Exercise in a Bottle and other weight loss “miracle drugs,” was forced to hand over $10 million as consumer redress. Do not pass go, do not get America’s hopes up.
7. Toning Shoes Tried wobbling around town with the best of them? Turns out these unstable, curved soles are little more than a fashion faux pas (honestly, no real woman looks like this in Reebok Easy Tones). Recent studies reveal that “toning shoes,” including these and the original Sketcher Shape-Ups, don't help wearers exercise more intensely, burn more calories, or improve muscle strength and tone.
8. Power Balance For $29.99, this performance bling claims to improve balance, strength, and flexibility through special hologram frequencies. The reality: Studies have found that Power Balance bracelets actually work no better than a placebo Effect of the Power Balance® Band on Static Balance, Hamstring Flexibility, and Arm Strength in Adults: The Lifespan Wellness Research Center. Verdan, P.R., Marzilli, T.S., Barna, G.I., et al. Department of Health and Kinesiology, The University of Texas at Tyler, Tyler, TX. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2011 Oct 24. Epub ahead of print. So any improvements to that game are, as they say, all in the head.
9. Ab Rocket Five minutes a day to “sizzling rock hard” abs? After a $14.95 30-day trial, some users beg to differ. And while the Ab Rocket might do something for that midsection, the neck and back supports aren’t exactly cushy, and the whole “workout-plus-massage” part? Talk about failure to launch.
10. Big Wheel Skates Whoever said bigger is better wasn’t referring to the in-line skates on Venice Beach. Still, monster-wheeled Chariot Skates and LandRollers went big, making those trips, slips, and falls 900 percent more embarrassing (and likely more painful).
11. ThighMaster Suzanne Somers may be the face of 80s “As Seen on TV” fitness, but there’s a reason her ThighMaster is collecting dust in most attics across America. All that squeeze, squeeze, sqeeeezing is kind of exhausting. Skeptical? Why would you be? Its developer, Joshua Reynolds, was also the mastermind behind the (wait— why’s it always blue?) Mood Ring of the 70s and 80s.
12. Vibration Belts Marky Mark once told us to feel the vibrations. But we’re pretty sure he wasn’t talking about these. While vibration belts continue to captivate the late-night market, the FTC isn’t buying electronic muscle stimulation as a means of melting abdominal fat Comparison of two abdominal training devices with an abdominal crunch using strength and EMG measurements. Demont, R.G., Lephart, S.M., Giraldo, J.L., et al. Neuromuscular Research Laboratory, University of Pittsburgh, PA, The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 1999 Sep;39(3):253-8..
13. Toning Apparel While less studied than the kicks, toning clothing raises a few red flags, too. Take the FTC’s $25 million settlement with Reebok for “deceptive marketing” of their toning shoes and apparel. The built-in resistance wear may have potential, but until we see hard evidence, we’ll keep that money in the bank.
14. Ab Lounge Last we checked the “lean back” wasn’t exactly for the abdominals. But if the sight of a flimsy lawn chair just makes you want to bust a move, go ahead, get your crunch on! (No money-back guarantees, of course.)
15. Phiten Carmelo wouldn’t lie— would he? These celeb-backed titanium bracelets are supposed to reduce pain and fatigue, improve strength, and aid “bioelectrical flow” (sound fancy, huh?). But according to the research, there’s no All-Star easy button— at least not yet.
16. Ab Circle Whipping around on a circular track looks fun, but does it really work the abs? Backed by The Hills alum Audrina Patridge (sold, right?), the Ab Circle promises to banish jiggley love handles with its Circular Force Technology. Trouble is: there’s still no research that proves this device does more than whip that hair back n’ forth.
17. Dumbbell Utensils Believe it or not, these weighted utensils aren’t just for laughs. The creator of the 1.5-pound Knife and Fork Lift says the idea was born from frustration in diets that ultimately didn’t work. So he made each bite harder work. Unfortunately, hard work never fazed us.
Don’t Get Got — How to Avoid Getting Scammed
Ready to throw in the towel on all fitness products? Not so fast— shaping up doesn’t have to mean getting burned. Just keep these tips in mind before handing over that first easy installment.
- Don’t believe the hype. If a product boasts “secret formulas,” “magic unicorns,” and other equally far-fetched claims, just stay calm and carry on. Chances are, the latest greatest magic weight loss pill is too good to be true.
- Remember, results take time. Three minutes a day to washboard abs? Rome (a.k.a. this rock hard bod) wasn’t built in a day. According to the research, putting in work is the key to seeing— and sustaining— real results Physical activity and training against obesity. [Article in Hungarian]. RISK Egészségügyi Szolgáltató Kft. Budapest, Hungary. Orvosi Hetilap, 2010 Jul 11;151(28):1125-31.. That means cardio, strength training, and a healthy diet— not just the all-abs-all-the-time workout routine.
- Be weary of reviews. Don’t let celebrity endorsements and customer testimonials sway you one way or another. (Of course, we’ll make an exception for anything The Rock is cooking.)
- Check the books. Not familiar with the product’s maker? It’s always best to check the company’s track record with a trusted consumer agency. And FTC lawsuits are always a red flag.
- Stick with what works— for you. Go ahead, mix it up with new equipment, workouts, and training plans. Just remember that no single product will likely “revolutionize” your anything. So keep on keepin’ on with whatever keeps you happy, healthy, and on the move.
Did we forget your pick for biggest As Seen on TV exercise bust? Tell us your favorite spoof-worthy products in the comments below!