It’s practically the American dream: eat anything to your heart’s desire, exercise to a minimum or not at all, and still attain an athlete or a model’s body. The downfall to that is that many companies prey on the lazy and the naive to sell them the latest fitness craze, often backed up by celebrity endorsements and too-good-to-be-true scientific research. Many of the products sold involve minimal effort on the consumer’s part to workout, yet will see results in a brief time. Ironically, some athletes -- the very people that understand it takes a change of philosophy, discipline and diligence in order to accomplish a healthy body promote fitness fads that appeal to consumers’ sense of comfort.
Though the health club industry is a thriving industry, Americans still don’t get enough recommended exercise. The worldwide fitness industry generates more than 75 billion U.S. dollars in revenue, according to 2013 global report from the International Health, Racquet & Sports Club Association, which serves the industry. Statistics gathered by the President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition show that less than 5 percent of adults participate in 30 minutes of physical activity each day. The council also reports that only one in three adults get the suggested amount of weekly exercise.
The best way to approach any fitness fad is with a grain of salt. Despite celebrity endorsements and shady scientific research, it’s best to think of the common sense behind the marketing. Talk to your doctor, a fitness expert or a health-conscious friend about these trends. You can test the product if you think it will benefit. If it doesn't, forget about the fad for a more conventional way of exercising.
The following list of the 10 worst fitness fads of all time includes clothing, accessories and exercise equipment.
Famously endorsed by “Three’s Company” star Suzanne Somers in the early 1990s, the ThighMaster tones the hips and thighs simply by putting it between the thighs and squeezing. “We may not have been born with great legs, but now we can look like we were,” Somers says in the commercials. What’s more, the ThighMaster workout is simple enough you can do a second sedentary activity like watching TV, for only $19.95.
In a May 1992 Entertainment Weekly article, Somers says the ThighMaster is “like Kleenex. It’s cheap and it works.” Somers even claims she uses the device at least twice a day and keeps one in her handbag, in her car and next to her bed.
The complaint people have about the ThighMaster is that with its rather limited range of motion, it doesn't do much to strengthen the thighs.
9 The 24-Hour Arm Workout
The 24-Hour Arm Workout promises individuals they will see their arms grow by 3/8 of an inch in just 24 hours. Consumers not only have to do a workout per hour but also adhere to a particular diet. There is half-truth to the workout's claims: arms do get bigger, but this is due to tissue damage and water retention, not actual muscle growth. Though one can get larger muscles in 24 hours, true muscle development comes from a continuous and repetitious strength training regimen that damages muscle tissue and repairs it.
8 Ab Rocket
The Ab Rocket is designed to not only give the user hot abs in a few minutes a day, but also to massage the back. Some users, however, beg to differ. Mixed consumer reviews claim the Ab Rocket has bad construction and gives users bad backs. Another issue opponents say is the commercials don't mention upfront that sensible eating habits also contribute to toned abs. Like several workout products that have celebrity endorsements to fuel its “wow” factor, former Spice Girl Melanie "Scary Spice" Brown endorses the Ab Rocket. "Once you buy it and try it, you'll be like, uh, where was my life without it?" she says in one commercial.
7 Vibrating Platforms
Manufacturers of the vibrating platform (think a stepping machine with a huge plate in place of the steps) claim that their products help athletes up their game. Athletes like Serena Williams and the United States ski and snowboard teams for the 2010 Winter Olympics use vibrating platforms, companies say. Though vibrating platforms may help improve performance, there are different exercising methods used to achieve the same results.
“There is something to it ... If you think of conditioning as a toolbox, there are lots of tools. But when companies are selling something, they want to pretend that one tool does everything,” William J. Kraemer, a kinesiology professor at the University of Connecticut and the editor-in-chief of The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, tells The New York Times.
6 Shake Weight
The Shake Weight is like a regular dumbbell, only the user holds the Shake Weight and the contraption shakes in their hands. The equipment uses a “revolutionary new technology called dynamic inertia (whatever that means!). The equipment is marketed on the idea that the consumer will get toned arms in six minutes a day. TV programs including “The Daily Show”, “South Park” and “Saturday Night Live” parodied the Shake Weight for its rather sexually suggestive usage. Originally, the Shake Weight targeted women with 2.5-pound weights, but now a 5-pound weight is available for men. The question remains: what can the Shake Weight accomplish that normal dumbbells can’t do? Once the person has the Shake Weight in hand, he or she can do curls to get the same results.
5 Electrical Muscle Stimulators
Manufacturers of electrical muscle stimulators (EMS) say customers will get six-pack abs because electrical currents from the stimulators will make muscles contract and release, thus burning body fat. At this time, no EMS has been proven to benefit calorie burning, size reduction or six-pack abs.
Besides the fact that a gadget alone won't help reach fitness goals without proper diet and regular exercise, EMS can also be dangerous. The gadgets were so controversial the Food and Drug Administration regulates them because of various bodily injuries they cause. In some cases, the injuries required medical attention. The FDA emphasizes the importance of law-compliant mechanisms and clear, full instructions to accompany EMS.
4 Toning Shoes
Toning shoes are immediately recognizable by their curved soles. The design, many companies like Skechers and Reebok say, helps the individual tone muscles and even burn calories. This is because the soles cause unsteady walking and therefore take advantage of muscles that would otherwise go unused. The American Council on Exercise released a study that debunks endorsers' claims. The research, WebMD.com reports, shows that in general, toning shoes don’t come close to the high-flying claims of effective muscle strengthening and weight loss. Other than getting the wearer to get moving by walking, toning shoes do nothing for the individual.
"Toning shoes appear to promise a quick-and-easy fitness solution, which we realize people are always looking for," ACE chief science officer Cedric X. Bryant, PhD, says in a press release, as reported by WebMD.com. "Unfortunately, these shoes do not deliver the fitness or muscle-toning benefits they claim."
3 Toning Apparel
On the heels of the toning shoes craze come toning apparel. Companies like Fila say their line of toning wear will "improve your workout's effectiveness and the way you look while doing it," writes Sarah Jio of Glamour.com. She tries a pair of pants from Fila's Body Toning System line and wears them for a week on and off. She has done yoga and jogs in them.
Jio’s overall thoughts about the pants?
"But, whether the toning pants had any magical powers beyond looking great and feeling great? I'm not so sure. And until they're tested in a scientific way, I'd chalk them up to the Spanx of workout apparel--they feel great, look great, but probably won't do much more," she concludes.
2 Power Balance Bracelets
Making the leap of all leaps in advertising, the manufacturer of Power Balance bracelets tote these as using holographic technology that improves the wearer’s athletic abilities. A long roster of athletes including soccer star David Beckham and various football, baseball and basketball players wear these bracelets.
Skeptics call these bands gimmicks, reports The Daily Telegraph.
"As with many of these gimmicks, athletes look for a quick and easy solution to avoid having to address the real issue – whether that is a lack of effort or a lack of talent – or to enjoy the sense of belonging to an elite group, and having the false idea that it must work if elite athletes are wearing it," says Roberto Forzoni, who has worked with British athletic governing bodies the Football Association and the Lawn Tennis Association.
Even a Power Balance representative admits it doesn't have any scientific study to back up claims the bracelets help athletes. Instead, the bracelets’ concept is based on ancient Chinese philosophy.
“Many people are skeptical about the product as there isn't any research to back it up, but if you've seen it working and can feel it working then you can't deny what it's doing,” the spokeswoman told The Telegraph.
1 Phiten Necklaces and Bracelets
According to the official Phiten website, the products’ technology lies within Aqua-Metals, which dissolve in water so as to "enhance the user's quality of life." The Society for Aqua Metal Research performs research regarding this technology; the group’s website makes technology reports available.
Phiten bracelets and necklaces have grown so much in popularity The Sioux City Journal has covered the trend among Briar Cliff University campus.
“I'm a man of steel now,” one BCU senior tells The Sioux City Journal. “It says these (accessories) are supposed to help with your energy level. I can say that I've got a lot of 8 a.m. classes this year and I haven't missed one yet.”
Those who doubt its true effectiveness say the bracelets and necklaces are at most placebos, accessories that have no effectiveness other than getting the wearers to believe they work.