Story originally appeared in BND’s Lipstik Magazine.
Back in the 80’s, Suzanne Somers did a pretty good job of convincing TV audiences that they could get fit at home with a simple gadget. By squeezing the Thighmaster between her knees, Sommers attained rock solid thighs and an overall incredible bod, making anyone who wanted a quick, cheap fix for flabby thighs and buns pick up the phone and say, “I want to look like that!”
Home fitness doodads have since spiraled into a billion dollar industry, with new “solutions” popping up every month. It’s impossible to try them all, so we’ve done some research to find out what’s worth buying, and what will end up in the back of your closet.
Ann Cygnarowicz, a Personal Trainer at the Monroe County YMCA, said that while it’s hard to stay motivated at home, there are a few staples that will work if used consistently. Most importantly, she said no weight loss plan is complete without incorporating cardio into your workout, along with a healthy diet.
“Everyone’s looking for an easy fix,” said Cygnarowicz. “If there was a magic gadget to make us fit, every person would have the same thing. But if you want to see results, the workout has to be challenging.”
A Stability Ball
These oversized bouncy balls can work your core, chest, buns, and legs. They challenge your body by putting it in an unstable environment.
“When you lie on the ball, your legs and abs have to contract to keep you from falling off,” said Cygnarowicz. “They’re also easier on the back if you have a hard time with abs on the floor.”
She suggested spending a little extra money on a better quality ball, which has thicker material to offer more resistance. The balls start at around $25.
“It’s important to have something you can take with you anywhere,” said Cygnarowicz. “And these light rubber bands offer the same toning benefits of weights.”
Just strap them on your feet or around the leg of a chair and you can work your arms, shoulders, and legs. You can find a good set for $30.
A Jump Rope
“There’s a reason these have been around for so long,” said Cygnarowicz. This portable cardio machine lets you burn about 150 calories in 15 minutes while toning all the muscles in your legs. At around $10 each, there’s no reason not to have one on hand.
Ever wonder why you see something on TV for a few months, then it seems to disappear? Angela Brown, a Physical Therapist and Personal Trainer at SWEAT in Clayton, said it’s because people find out that they don’t work.
“They don’t cause any harm, but they don’t have long term effects,” said Brown. Again, Brown said if it looks too easy to be true, it is.
6 Minute Abs
“The DVD offers a great ab workout for six minutes, but they don’t tell you on the commercial that you have to do cardio to melt the fat away from the top of your abs, and change your diet,” said Brown. “They just say you can look like this in minutes a day.”
Electrical Stimulaton Belts
Physical therapists use electrical stimulation on their patients in rehab. They do help stimulate muscles to keep them from wasting away while not being able to do intensive exercise. But now, some fitness companies claim that by wearing a stimulation belt for minutes a day, you can strengthen abs and even melt away fat. Brown said that’s just not possible.
“The frequency that the machine needs to get up to in order to build abdominal muscles is not possible, and truthfully would be unsafe if it did get up that high,” said Brown.
This is one of the biggest sellers in stores right now, but the people who use them are not looking for an easy workout. The handles rotate as you push up, targeting more muscles than an old-fashioned pushup. But although the commercial says this tool takes strain off of the wrist, Charlie Rivers, Personal Trainer at the Monroe County YMCA, said it could cause more harm than good.
“The rotation causes extra stress on your chest muscles that isn’t necessary,” said Rivers. “You can do pushups on a stable set of dumbbells instead, but I prefer the regular floor push-up.”
What’s Good For Your Sole
The experts haven’t weighed the benefits of all the newest gadgets, but consumers still empty them from store shelves. Skechers first started the “shape-up” sneaker trend by introducing shoes that supposedly give you a workout simply by wearing them. The claim is that having a rocking-chair-like sole can work your legs and glutes while walking and even going about your daily routine.
Skechers say their Shape Up Shoes are a “combination of a balance board and a Stairmaster.” Tammy Ennor of Smithton saw the commercial and decided to try them.
“I had been walking 3-4 miles on the treadmill, but my knees hurt after each workout,” said Ennor. “I thought the shoes might help, and they’ve really worked. My knees don’t hurt, and I can feel my calves and thigh muscles getting more toned.” Ennor said they also help with her posture when lifting weights with her trainer.
“They take a while to get used to – but once you do they are very comfortable. I wear them all the time now, even in my job doing home healthcare.”
Other companies have since jumped on the “work out as you walk” bandwagon and invented shape-up clogs, flip-flops, and pumps. They claim to offer “killer workouts,” but it looks to me like you’d kill yourself just by wearing them. I just have one question: Are we so desperate to skip a workout that we’d prefer to spend all day in hideous shoes rather than an hour in sneakers? It’s something to think about!