Pump Fiction, Exercise Ripoffs
The benefits of exercise are well-documented. Unfortunately, that's not
always the case with advertising claims for exercise equipment.
Some advertisers claim - without evidence - that their exercise products
offer a quick, easy way to shape up, keep fit and lose weight. The truth is,
there's no such thing as a no-work, no-sweat way to a healthy, toned body.
Deriving the benefits of exercise requires doing the work.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has sued several promoters of electronic
abdominal exercise belts - also known as electronic muscle stimulators (EMS) -
for claiming users could get "six-pack abs" and lose inches in a short
time. The Food and Drug Administration has never cleared any kind of electronic
abdominal muscle stimulator for weight loss or obtaining "rock-hard"
abs. While some electronic muscle stimulators may temporarily strengthen, tone
or firm muscles, they will not lead to major muscle-toning or a major change in
So, before you jump into the next home fitness fad, the FTC offers this
advice: Exercise good judgment and evaluate advertising claims for exercise
Read the performance claims critically. Be leery of those that say the
equipment or device can:
- provide easy or effortless results or burn excessive calories. The claims may
be true for athletes in top physical condition, but not for most people.
- help you burn more calories or lose weight faster than other types of
equipment. In general, exercise equipment that works the whole body or major
parts of it probably helps you burn more calories than devices that work one
part of the body. And, the more you use the equipment, the more calories you'll
burn. That's a good reason to select equipment that suits you and your
lifestyle. A study might show that one type of equipment burns more calories per
hour than another type. But if the exercise is uncomfortable - or the equipment
hard to use - chances are it will gather dust - not help you burn calories.
- help you "spot" reduce; for example, help you trim your hips or
lose the proverbial "spare tire." Toning and losing weight in one
particular area of the body require regular exercise that works the whole body.
Your weight depends on the number of calories you eat and use each day;
increasing your physical activity helps you burn extra calories.
Always read the fine print. The advertised results may be based on more than
just the use of the machine; they also may be based on restricting calories. The
fine print may explain this. Even if it doesn't, keep in mind that diet and
exercise together are much more effective for achieving a healthy, toned body
than either tactic is alone.
Be skeptical of testimonials or before-and-after pictures from
"satisfied" customers. Their experiences may not be typical: Just
because one person had success with the equipment doesn't mean you will, too. As
for those popular celebrity endorsements, they, too, are no proof that the
equipment will work as claimed.
Finding the Right Equipment
After you've evaluated the advertised claims - but before you make a final
purchasing decision - consider these options:
- Will the equipment help you achieve your desired goal - whether it's to build
strength, increase flexibility, improve endurance, or enhance your health?
- Will you stick to the program? Keeping with an exercise program can be rough:
Think of all the basements, rec rooms and yard sales stocked with costly
stationary bikes, treadmills and rowing machines that have gone unused and now
serve merely as places to hang clothes. Before you buy, prove to yourself that
you're ready to act on your good intentions.
To help you choose the best equipment for your needs, check out consumer and
fitness magazines that rate exercise equipment. Then test various pieces of
equipment at a local gym, recreation center or retailer to find the machine or
device that feels comfortable to you.
- Shop around: Exercise equipment advertised on TV or in newspapers or
magazines may be available at local sporting goods, department and discount
stores. That can make it easier to shop for the best price. Don't be fooled by
companies that advertise "three easy payments of ..." or "only
$49.95 a month." The advertised price may not include shipping and handling
fees, sales tax, and delivery and set-up fees. Ask about the costs before you
close the deal.
- Get details on warranties, guarantees and return policies: A "30-day
money-back guarantee" may not sound as good if you're responsible for
paying a hefty fee to return a bulky piece of equipment you bought.
- Check out the company's customer and support services. Call the advertised
toll-free number to get an idea of how easy it is to reach a company
representative and how helpful he or she is.
- You may get a great deal on a piece of fitness equipment from a second-hand
store, consignment shop, yard sale, or the classified ads. Buy wisely: Items
bought second-hand usually aren't returnable and don't carry the warranties that
new equipment does.
Whether used or new, home exercise equipment can be a great way to shape up -
but only if you use it regularly. Don't be taken in by claims of quick, easy and
effortless results: There's no such thing as a no-work, no-sweat way to a toned
For additional information, please visit the following areas:
Portions of the above information was provided with the kind permission of the Federal Trade Commission (http://www.ftc.gov/)
Last Editorial Review: 9/5/2002