5 most useless workout products

Infomercial-plugged fitness equipment often falls short

As any late-night TV enthusiast or insomniac can tell you, the overnight airwaves are full of infomercials promising you easy ways to shed pounds in just "minutes a day."

But wait, there's more.

The reality is many of the workout products being pitched in late-night infomercials overpromise at best and simply fail all together at worst.

Sure, everybody loves getting something for nothing, but when it comes to "as seen on TV" fitness equipment, remember there's no such thing as a free lunch.

It's true that even the most useless workout products out there might provide some benefit when paired with diet and exercise, but hardly any of them are the miracle fat-melters society seems to be yearning for.

Just something to keep in mind the next time you reach for the phone while watching an infomercial for one of these five worst workout products ...

No. 5: Shake Weight

If you haven't made fun of the Shake Weight and its slightly suggestive yet hugely popular infomercials, you're in the minority.

More than 4 million people have watched the Shake Weight ads on YouTube, and even more tuned in to see the workout product mocked on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and "Saturday Night Live."

The Shake Weight is a 2.5 pound spring-loaded dumbbell device that users grip two-handed in the middle and shake up and down. But our words fail us; watch the ad to truly grasp the ludicrousness.

While the ad promises a full-body workout in "just six minutes a day" through something called "dynamic inertia," the oxymoronic, seemingly made-up term has been ridiculed by various fitness experts and authors.

The jury may still be out on whether the Shake Weight delivers on its promises, but for all the joy and laughter it has provided us, we'll give it a break for now.

No. 4: The Hawaii Chair

The world of infomercial workout products is dominated by promises of results without much actual work, and no product illustrates this more than The Hawaii Chair.

What is there to say about a product that claims, "If you can sit, you can get fit"? Are we really that lazy, America?

The Hawaii Chair is a chair with a 2,800-rpm motor strapped underneath it. The base of the chair gyrates you around in a hula motion that supposedly tones muscles.

However, the best thing about The Hawaii Chair is its promise you can shape your body while at work, keeping fit while you sit at your desk. Supposedly you can answer the phone, do paperwork and conduct meetings all while gyrating from the hips down. Good luck with that.

Here's hoping your workplace archenemy in the next cubicle over gets one of these, because laughter really is the best revenge.

No. 3: Electric ab belts

You want a quick fix with minimal effort? The Hawaii Chair has nothing on ab belts, which again promises the benefits of exercising without all that nasty, sweaty exercise.

The belts claim to use electrical impulses to make your abdominal muscles contract, squeezing hundreds of sit-ups in just minutes. Sounds great, right?

The problem is you can't burn fat by just making your muscles twitch for a few minutes.

A University of Wisconsin-La Crosse study in 2002 found that even after eight weeks such machines produced "no significant changes in weight, body-fat percentage, strength or overall appearance."

And while some electrical muscle stimulators have actually received FDA approval, most of them were designed for medical rehabilitation and require a prescription.

The bottom line? The small print in ab belt ads suggest combining the belt with good old-fashioned exercise and eating right. Go ahead and try that, minus the belt.

No. 2: The Ab Rocker

When you spend your hard-earned money on exercise equipment, you generally want one that will show results, right?

So why buy a product that's actually shown to be less effective than simply exercising without the pricey equipment? Ab Rocker users, care to field that one?

The Ab Rocker, a machine designed to work your abdominals through a rowing-like rocking motion, does provide some benefits. However, a San Diego State University study ranked it dead last in a test of 13 abdominal exercise products, branding it 80 percent less effective than the traditional abdominal crunch.

Fellow ab exercise machines the Ab Roller and the Torso Track performed a little better, but still were not much better than the basic crunch.

The results support the American Council on Exercise's stance that it's not necessary to spend big bucks on ab exercise machines. Instead, ACE recommends that if you are going to invest in a piece of equipment, make it a high-quality exercise ball.

No. 1: ThighMaster

If you watched TV at all in the 1990s, it was nearly impossible to avoid Suzanne Somers -- and we're not talking "Three's Company" re-runs.

The idea used to sell the ThighMaster was simple: If Somers has great legs and she uses the product, it must work.

Just one look at Somers' thighs, or watching the men in their lives paying a little too much attention to her infomercials, was enough to send women scrambling for the phone and their credit cards.

No doubt the $20 piece of equipment, which was basically a spring-loaded, foam-covered piece of metal, ended up in the back of a closet or in a yard sale before too long.

That's because, as any health or fitness expert will tell you, working out a specific area of your body won't melt the fat away there. Sure, the ThighMaster might make the muscles in your thighs firmer and stronger, but it's not the miracle fat-burning cure many were hoping for.

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