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The Good, Bad and Ugly of Home Fitness Equipment
Len Kravitz, Ph.D.

While many Americans have chosen a lifestyle of inactivity, getting in shape has become an obsession for others. Although the motivation of this passionate, sometimes obsessive, group of fitness enthusiasts may vary, their zeal to reach some health or aesthetic goal is unblemished. A deceptive barrier to this fervent audience has been the barrage of infomercials and commercials of home fitness equipment touting marvelous benefits, with minimal time investment. In reality, many of these products are doing more to tarnish the image of fitness by their less than satisfactory design and exaggerated benefits.

How Exercise Equipment Quackery Harms
Although some fitness professionals believe that most advertising, good and bad, brings positive awareness to physical activity, this perception can be challenged in a number of ways. Some home exercise devices are poorly designed and break down regularly, which could lead to physical harm to the participant. We test new exercise equipment in our laboratory and have found close to 50% of new devices to have structural defects, leading to equipment failure. Exercise equipment costs money, and the money spent on ineffective equipment is a loss to the consumer. As professionals, we challenge ourselves to bring innovative health and fitness programs to our clients. In many ways the credibility of our profession is smudged by the dubious claims made by a bevy of ‘fitness professionals’ associated with exercise products. Our clients’ failed attempts to reach a goal, due to unrealistic seller claims, may lead to lowered self-esteem, depression and displeasure towards the fitness industry. And what about lost time? It usually takes 4 to 6 weeks for delivery and another 2 to 4 weeks to realize the product doesn’t live up to it’s promotion, which is time that could have been directed towards a more positive outcome. Finally, in a global sense, bits of distorted information presented by some of these manufacturers contributes to a confused public, already trying to discern mixed messages about health and fitness.

Here are some practical tips to share with your clients before purchasing home exercise equipment.
Identify Your Goals
Clearly establish your personal goals before purchasing. Do you want aerobic or resistance exercise? One of the most touted claims of equipment manufacturers is that their product produces both muscle toning and cardiovascular effects. The infomercial shows an exercise model working out on the product with most of the major muscle groups being used, visually substantiating the claim. Physiologically, the overload for resistance training requires short submaximal efforts while cardiorespiratory exercise demands rhythmic, sustained, continuous exercise. These are two distinctly different types of exercise. The only exercise devices that can authenticate this claim are some of the home gyms that include aerobic exercise features, such as a rowing or cycling component.

Looks Are Deceiving—Try Out the Equipment First
Often times fitness enthusiasts workout on industry standard equipment at a club and desire to purchase similar equipment for the home. Although many home exercise products appear to function similar to their club associates, the differences are sometimes quite dramatic. Before purchasing any equipment, make an attempt to try out the actual product at a respectable sporting goods or exercise equipment outlet.

Don’t Be Baffled by the "Easy Payment Plan" and "Purchase Add-Ons"
Be careful not to get swept into the ‘easy payment plan’ that many product manufacturers offer. For example, sellers have found that it is much easier to offer a product for three easy payments of $29 as compared to one payment of $87.00. In addition, at the point of purchase most direct phone sellers recommend you purchase an "add-on" (known as an up-sale item) product that compliments the product. Unfortunately these "add-ons" are often no better than left-over inventory or a component to the product that was discarded. Make sure you verify the guaranty and return policy before purchasing to assure your investment. Also, inquire about all costs such as shipping, handling and taxes.

Be Weary of Testimonial Selling Techniques
Most manufacturers don’t want to spend the money and time to adequately test a product. Therefore, they often only use testimonial-based support for their product. This provides a convenient safeguard for deceptive claims made by the manufacturer, yet has an overpowering influence on the buyer at home. However, the success of one person is no indication you will attain the same results. Look for some published research results, as some companies will present their own research which, in many instances, would not meet the scrutiny of the peer-review process.

Who Is Selling the Product?
Celebrities have enormous selling power, but often times know very little about the product. Much of their involvement may be for financial gain, as it is for other "credential wielding professionals" associated with the product. Ask yourself how believable are these individuals? The usual persona of a good seller in an infomercial is an enviable enthusiasm packaged with an abundance of self-confidence.

How Colossal are the Claims?
Exercise, losing weight, getting in shape all take allot of effort and time. Be weary of the usual "effortless" claims and statements that suggest results can be achieved in less than five minutes a day. If this were true we wouldn’t be residing in a society where obesity has become a national crisis.

Equipment Assembly Woes
In our lab we often get equipment directly from the manufacturer to replicate the same conditions of the consumer. Some equipment is remarkably easy to assemble while other home exercise devices are incredibly confusing and difficult. In addition, the assembly directions scan the limits of dreadful to satisfactory.
Finally, Shop Around
Infomercial exercise products are initially only offered via direct phone sales. However, you are very likely to find a similar, and often times better, product at local sporting goods, department or discount store. Take the time to compare prices and products. It’s your health, invest wisely.
Federal Trade Commission web site:
Barrett, S. and Jarvis, W.T. The health robbers: A closer look at quackery in America. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.

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