Photo: Hemant Mehta (Getty)
If you’re like many other Americans, you probably made a resolution to get into better shape for 2017. And if you’re like most other Americans, that resolution will probably crumble into a Doritos-covered mess by February. Surely there must be an easier way to get rock-hard abs and bulging biceps than by… gulp… working for them? The designers of these ten ridiculous gadgets want you to think so. They claim that you can get in shape with little to no actual physical activity. Let’s strap them on and see how they do.
If you watch as much late-night TV as we do, you’ve seen dozens if not hundreds of ridiculous fitness gadgets. A few years ago, one of the hottest on the market was the Hawaii Chair, a piece of furniture that takes inspiration from hula dancing to allegedly tone your butt and belly. All you need to do is sit on the thing and switch it on and it does all the work. That work, unfortunately, is really hard on your spine and doesn’t actually help you lose weight. The only possible health benefit is potentially increasing blood circulation for people with mobility issues. In addition, the Hawaii Chair advertises itself as being quiet enough to use in an office, but unless you work in a place full of mechanical bulls and carnival rides that’s not very likely.
The Holy Grail of lazy exercise is a machine that builds muscle and burns fat without moving at all, and at the top of that mountain is the Abtronic. As seen on TV, this device claims to use “electro muscle stimulation,” sending small, short jolts of current into your body to make your muscles contract and release on their own. You have to rub a conductive gel on the target area first, which is pretty gross, but to be fair this stuff simply doesn’t work. There have been lots of rumors of Eastern European countries using it to boost athlete strength in their dark science labs, but this home version isn’t the kind of weird science you’re looking for.
In the 21st century, exercise is all about the “core,” that network of muscles in your torso that keep you standing upright. Sure, big muscles are cool but without a meaty core you’re not truly healthy. To really build your core, you need to engage a ton of different muscles with a wide variety of exercises. Or you could sit on this weird fake horse. The OSIM iGallop, aside from its Apple-derivative name, is a ridiculous no-effort exercise device that asks you to simply sit with your hands on your hips while it rocks and swivels your body around. Horseback riding can actually be good exercise, as it requires active muscle tension to stay upright and communicate with your mount. This thing’s just like you gave a mechanical bull a Xanax.
The placebo effect is a powerful thing – if you convince the human brain hard enough, the body can sometimes play along. That’s what happens with Power Balance bracelets, cheap rubber baubles with a hologram embedded in them. Armed with a bunch of paid celebrity endorsements, the manufacturers of these claimed they would boost performance and improve your natural strength, balance and flexibility. Needless to say, they don’t do anything of the sort and the company got whapped with a $57 million class action lawsuit. The brothers who founded Power Balance made a public statement that they were full of crap, but somehow people still buy these things and swear by their imaginary effects.
Many civilizations around the world testify by the sauna’s ability to make you sweat out toxins and cleanse your body. But you kind of need an open room for a sauna, despite what the makers of Sauna Pants want you to think. These plastic shorts are skin-tight and fitted with a heating element that raises their temperature. The end result is insanely sweaty legs and not much else. The reason saunas work is because you have space to sweat out those nasty toxins, instead of just trapping them against your skin in a pair of rubber shorts. All these things will do for you is make you clammy.
Skechers Shape Ups
When the grand story of human life is finally told for the last time, a strange footnote will be written as to why exactly Skechers shoes were so popular. The California shoe company built a massive brand on ugly celebrity-driven advertising, but when they tried to get into the exercise business things went south for them. Shape Ups were a line of shoes that claimed you could lose weight and tone your body simply by wearing them, with a rounded sole that allegedly made you work to maintain your balance. Needless to say, those claims were bogus and the company had to pay out a $40 million class action lawsuit. Even worse, some people sued for stress fractures in their hips that they claim the shoes caused. When a lazy exercise gimmick breaks your bones, you know the thing’s trouble.
If you look at these gadgets, a trend starts to become visible: people aren’t happy with their abs. It’s not surprising! With many Americans eating nutrient-rich diets, we’re packing on extra pounds, and whatever muscles we’ve got going down there are hidden by unsightly layers of fat. The makers of the Ab Lounge promise to change all that with their device, which looks a lot like a lawn chair. You sit in this thing and essentially do crunches in it. Unfortunately, crunches don’t do much to burn fat, and because the Lounge stabilizes your core you’re not working as hard as you normally would, getting even less in the way of results. Infomercials used to say you could even use it as a normal chair when you weren’t exercising, which is a selling point only for the very laziest among us.
Damn, infomercials! Back at it again with the ab exercises that don’t work. The Flex Belt is another on the list of “do-nothing” devices that claim to require absolutely no effort from the wearer to create rock-hard six-pack abs. What makes the $200 Flex Belt different is that it claims to be “cleared by the FDA.” Unfortunately, the Food and Drug Administration says on the website that “no EMS devices have been cleared at this time for weight loss, girth reduction, or for obtaining ‘rock hard’ abs.” So “cleared by the FDA” basically means “the FDA says our product doesn’t work.” Nice to know. If you want to send electrical shocks through your tummy, there are cheaper ways to do it.
Athletes are celebrities for a lot of reasons, but an advanced knowledge of medical science isn’t one of them. So when football and baseball players started sporting Phiten titanium necklaces in 2008, claiming they promoted healing and enhanced muscle power, people should have been skeptical. The device, first released in Japan in 1982, promises to “stabilize the electric flow” of your nervous system, which can apparently get upset from too much exertion. Needless to say, this is both impossible and ridiculous, and the magnetic necklaces didn’t do anything but trigger the placebo effect. You can still buy them, of course, and people do.
The world of Eastern medicine is deeply attractive to crappy exercise gadget manufacturers. Who needs to know how things work when you can just talk about some mysterious energy that runs through your body, hook up a few motors to pieces of plastic and call it a day? The Chi Energizer Machine promises to “give you the opportunity to achieve a new level of health and vitality at any age,” which is saying a lot. To operate this thing, you lay down on the floor and put your ankles in the leg rests, and then let it move your legs back and forth in a sort of fish-swimming motion. Except you’re not actually swimming, or doing anything but laying on the floor letting a weird gadget wiggle you.