Kangoo Jumps. The Bowflex. The Body Dome. The Ab Away. You've seen them on TV. You've heard the promises -- tight abs, sculpted arms, supercharged metabolism, burn calories like a furnace. But do these products really deliver?
For feedback, WebMD turned to two experts, both with the American Council on Exercise (ACE): Cedric Bryant, PhD, ACE's chief exercise physiologist, and Sal Fichera, MS, exercise physiologist and certified personal trainer with Forza Fitness in Manhattan.
Here's their advice on several "As Seen On TV" products: the Ab Away, the Body Dome, Body Flex, Bowflex, the Gazelle, inversion/gravity tables, Kangoo Jumps, indoor-cycling bikes, the Total Gym, and trampolines (mini).
The Ab Away
Bryant: "This is an abdominal 'training' product that focuses on the lowering action of a sit-up. That's fine, it's an important aspect of exercise, but there's nothing magical about it in terms of sculpting. The ads say the product is safe because of the cushioned back support. But given the dimensions of the device, it would seem that for individuals of average height or taller, it will be too short to provide any real support for the back."
Fichera: "The problem is, you are seated almost upright during the movements. I don't think that's necessarily good. In order to activate abs, you need to bend from the mid torso. If you bend at the hips like old-fashioned sit-ups, you're going to use hip flexors, not abdominals. You could do a full range of ab exercises using just your own muscles, with no machine, and get more results."
The Body Dome
Bryant: "This is a 'stability ball' but with a stable base, which allows you to do push-ups and other exercises. This kind of apparatus can be used effectively for muscle conditioning exercises. However, the infomercials hype that it can do everything -- like converting fat to muscle. That's impossible; those are two distinct tissues. Also, it claims to supercharge metabolism, which may lead people to believe they will burn calories like a furnace. That would be nice, but it won't happen."
Bryant: The inventor of this program "alleges that so-called aerobic breathing is key to weight loss -- that it speeds up metabolism, allows you to burn more calories. That's really nonsensical. She says that performing 15-minute exercises is the key to stoking metabolism, which has no scientific basis."
Bryant: "This is a system that involves resistance rods or bands. It's been around awhile and is good for resistance training. It's reasonably compact and can be used to do a variety of exercises. More experienced users might be more critical -- they won't experience what they get in a gym. But for the average user, it would be good for resistance training."
Bryant: "The Gazelle really tries to provide low-impact exercise, but the swinging movement is not necessarily great because it can be quite uncomfortable. The advertisements really play up the successively wide range of motion you can get. But it could be difficult even problematic if you do it repeatedly. They also tend to over-hype what you can expect to achieve."
Bryant: These have been marketed to people with back problems and for exercise. When the body is inverted, or turned over, the spine supposedly gets some relief from stress of gravity. People perform abdominal exercises and others from the inverted position. His concern: "The blood pressure in your eyes and blood vessels in the head and neck area are increased, which could be dangerous for individuals with heart disease, stroke, or glaucoma risk factors."
Fichera: "I was advised never to exercise in the inverted position. Inversion puts a lot of pressure on the lower back. Men especially have this problem because they hold a huge portion of their weight in the upper body region. When they are inverted, the pressure shifts to the lower body, which can put pressure on the spine. For a certain percentage of the population, this could be very hazardous. There are other ways to strengthen the spinal muscles."
Bryant: "These aren't shoes, they're devices you wear on your feet. The intent is to lessen impact associated with weight-bearing exercise. Some preliminary research conducted at a couple of universities has shown they may be right. But one concern might be that it alters a person's gait, which could cause other orthopedic problems."
Fitness means being able to perform physical activity. It also means having the energy and strength to feel as good as possible. Getting more fit, even a little bit, can improve your health.