It all started in 1996 with the Ab-Flex, that plastic spaceship look-alike that promised to give users a “flat, sexy stomach in just three minutes a day”. The “amazing” claim is what spurred Richard Cotton, then Chief Exercise Physiologist of the American Council on Exercise (ACE) to commission the first scientific study on a fitness product sold on TV.
Exaggerated promises in infomercial ads are what convince consumers to buy their products. The Ab-Flex ad was so successful at it that their sales reached $320 million.
Six months after the ACE study was released, the Federal Trade Commission stepped in and penalized the company for making unsubstantiated claims.
Since then, the non-profit fitness advocacy organization has lived up to its reputation as a “workout watchdog” by sponsoring other university-based studies to determine whether infomercial products really live up to their claims.
Here are their more of their findings from the ACE website. To see a full report, go to www.acefitness.org. Click on “ACE Fit Facts”, and then click on “research studies”.
The Claim: “The most effective stomach firming exercise product on the market today.”
The Bottom Line: Effective at isometrically recruiting ab muscles, but no more effective than using a large book or block of wood in a similar way. (1996, California State University, Long Beach)
Aerobic Riders: Cardio Glide, E-Force and Health Rider
The Claim: A critical look at three popular aerobic riders and their relative effectiveness.
The Bottom Line: Novice exercisers will get the most out of the aerobic riders, but consumers who are already fit are better off working out on a treadmill. (1996, California State University, Northridge)
Abdominal Trainers: Ab Roller Plus, ABSculptor and ABWorks
The Claim: “Trim 4–6 inches off your frame” and give you “the World’s Greatest Abs.”
The Bottom Line: None of the ab trainers were more effective – or as inexpensive – as the good old-fashioned crunch. (1997, California State University, Northridge)
Aerobic Gliders: Airofit and Fitness Flyer
The Claim: A full-body workout that’s fun and effective, adaptable to all fitness levels and enjoyable enough to do every day.
The Bottom Line: “Can be less effective than a quick walk or slow jog for most exercise enthusiasts.” (1997, California State University, Northridge)
Elliptical Trainers: Ellipse, Health Rider, Elliptical Cross Trainer, Power Train and Cyclone
The Claim: “Burns five times more calories than a treadmill at 2.7 mph.”
Power Train: “Burns 35 percent more calories than a treadmill or stationary bicycle.”
The Bottom Line: Although elliptical trainers provide a low-impact, effective workout, both claims are inaccurate. (1998, University of Mississippi)
The Claim: “Total-body fitness in just four minutes a day” and “lose pounds – minute for minute, burn nearly three times the calories of a treadmill, rider or strider!”
The Bottom Line: The Time Works’ claims are false and misleading. (1999, Appalachian State University)
Tanita Body Fat Scale
The Claim: A quick and easy way to measure body-fat percentage at home.
The Bottom Line: It’s difficult to achieve an accurate reading every time and it’s nearly impossible for the very lean or obese to get accurate readings. (1999, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine)
Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS): Ab Energizer, AbTronic, Fast Abs.
The Claim: Get “rock solid abs” and firmer thighs and buttocks – all without breaking a sweat.
The Bottom Line: Home-based EMS units are ineffective, time-consuming and – at times – even painful. (2000, University of Wisconsin, La Crosse)
The Claim: “Lose at least two inches from your waist in just ten days or your money back.”
The Bottom Line: AB-DOer provides a low-intensity workout and does not live up to its claims. (2001, California State University, Northridge)