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Mar 29, 2010

Infomercial fitness: Those 6-pack abs as seen on TV


NEW YORK - You're bemoaning your tummy roll when on the TV appear exquisitely toned specimens working out with gadgets that promise to rock, roll or wheel those love handles into abs to die for. Should you go for it?
Experts say all infomercial machines are not created equal. Some are mere gimmicks, some actually work. But targeting one area, such as the midriff, is no way to get fit or lose weight.
"These ads communicate to the public the flawed notion that spot reducing is possible," said Jessica Matthews of the non-profit American Council on Exercise (ACE). "Research has shown that's not the case."
She added that a well rounded program includes cardiovascular work and strength training of all the major muscles, not just the abdominals.
"The more muscle mass we have the more efficient our body becomes and that's when we start to lose body fat so we can see that definition," Matthews explained.
And those buff and smiling TV exercisers?
"The ads say that if you want six-pack abs, spend 10 minutes a day using this equipment," she said. "Those people are not just doing 10 minutes a day."
Matthews cited an ACE-commissioned study that concluded you don't need to purchase a piece of exercise equipment to strengthen your abs.
"The abdominal rollers and rockers tested were not any more effective than a traditional crunch, and some were much less effective," she said.
The study also advises that strong abdominals are important for long-term health, good posture and the alleviation of lower back pain, so if a particular device inspires you, it may be worth it.
Before you phone in the plastic, Henry Williford, an expert with the American College of Sports Medicine, has some advice for evaluating infomercial claims.
"You have to be very careful," he said. "Qualitative terms like improved muscle tone don't mean anything. In the lab we can measure body fat and body composition, but there's no way to measure muscle tone, so there's no way to evaluate."
He added that there is also no evidence for another claim that suggests people will lose inches.
"They don't have any data. Where do the inches go? They use those kinds of claims a lot," he said. "Then they'll tell people that a low intensity exercise will burn fat. Well, it doesn't matter if youre burning fat or no fat. The important thing is to burn calories."
Williford said a product can be good if its used correctly but it is the amount of exercise that's important.
"Stay away from gimmicky things," he advises. "Don't trust testimonials by individuals that aren't based in research."
And know what youre buying. Even Williford who is an exercise physiologist and researcher at Auburn University in Montgomery, Alabama, has been burned.
"We did an evaluation of these little exercise balls they were making all kinds of claims about," he said. "So we ordered the ball. But according to the fine print we had also ordered a new DVD every month for a year."
So what is the secret to six-pack abs as seen on TV? Williford is skeptical.
"A lot of them are photoshopped, to be honest with you," he said.

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