Are fitness devices worth the cash?

January 23, 2009 4:00:11 PM PST
It may be the last thing you want to see late at night when you're tired -- advertisements for exercise equipment that can get you into shape in just minutes each day. But can they do what they promise? Fitness machines in TV infomercials promise to make exercise fun and easy. Consumer Reports tested several heavily-advertised devices. Some promise a cardiovascular workout, while others claim to strengthen your abs.

While panelists worked out, Sue Booth with Consumer Reports measured their muscle activity and the number of calories burned. She compared that to the workout they got on a standard treadmill and using nothing more than a floor mat.

The $100 Ab Rocket proved slightly less effective than traditional abdominal exercises. Even less effective was the $230 Rock-nGo. None of the panelists who tried it said they'd buy it.

Tester Eugene Chin said, "It didn't feel like I was doing any exercise at all while I was using it."

"I don't think it is even worth it if it were free," tester Dirk Klingner said. "No exercise at all."

Two of the cardiovascular exercisers gave a pretty good workout. The $200 Cardio Twister and the $80 Rock N Roll Stepper burned about the same number of calories as walking briskly on a flat treadmill. The Bowflex TreadClimber turned out to be even more effective.

"Walking on the TreadClimber at the highest speed burns about the same amount of calories as running on a treadmill at six miles per hour," Booth explained.

But the panelists had to really concentrate to stay on the belts. And the Bowflex TreadClimber is also the most expensive machine in the tests at $2,500.

Consumer Reports has some advice -- before you buy any exercise equipment, ask about return policies, and be wary of promises like a 30 day money-back guarantee. It sounds good, but returning the product is not easy if it's heavy or bulky.

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