How to Buy Fitness Equipment on TV
Part One

No fail, I get at least three queries a month on what kind of exercise machine to buy from cable TV infomercials. Here's an example: "I just wanted to know which type of exercise machine would be more effective in helping me lose weight - a "rider" or a "strider"? I plan to purchase one in the near future and don't want to get stuck with a lemon."

I'm not surprised at the growing interest in exercise machines being sold on TV. What with traffic and pollution, people now want a practical and affordable way to keep fit at home.

In addition, more consumers than ever are exposed to an amazing variety of exercise gadgets and contraptions through the home shopping channels. So -- which are the effective ones and which are the duds that will just gather dust under your bed?

Top five mistakes.
According to IDEA, the International Association of Fitness Professionals, the top five mistakes people make when buying fitness products are:

All about infomercials.
According to Liz Neporent in her book, Fitness for Dummies (an excellent resource for anyone interested in starting an exercise program), infomercials started in 1984 when the Federal Trade Commission abolished limits on the amount of commercial time a television station could air. These half-hour commercials typically masquerade as talk shows.

Ms. Neporent, who has a master's degree in exercise physiology, says they are typically filled with "exaggerated claims, shameless testimonials, outlandish stunts, and lots of scientific gobbledygook - all intended to separate you from your dollar".

She says that the enthusiastic audience members you see in the background are usually paid and the "experts" and individuals that offer testimony are always paid. One woman she interviewed who had given an emotional testimony for an exercise video had never even watched it, much less, tried it. The woman said she "just wanted to be on TV".

Neporent also recounts the time she questioned an infomercial executive at a trade show about a particular product that appeared to be a waste of money. "I wouldn't disagree with you," he said, smiling, "but we've sold 20,000 units in the first month." When she mentioned that the product appeared flimsy, he agreed and said, "Well, 80 percent of these things are never even used."

Federal Trade Commission cracks down.
The Federal Trade Commission has made an effort to crack down on the infomercials that cross the line from exaggeration to outright lies, according to Neporent. She reports that the producer of a European diet patch that was supposed to suppress appetite was slapped with a $1.5 million fine because the product didn't work.

According to the June 18, 1997 issue of the San Diego Tribune, the latest infomercial product to be penalized by the FTC is the Abflex abdominal machine. Attorneys for the FTC found that the makers of the Abflex exerciser couldn't substantiate their advertising campaign's claim that the Abflex could produce a "flat, sexy stomach in just three minutes a day."

The FTC said there was no proof that the abdominal machine could by itself cause weight loss or spot reduction. The manufacturer of the exerciser has agreed to stop making the claims. Expect more infomercial health products to be penalized. It's about time, too. There are some effective products that are available over those home shopping channels but there are also many that are ineffective, unsafe, and shoddily made.

The Ten Commandments of buying TV fitness gadgets.
According to Liz Neporent who was written extensively on the subject of exercise machines sold on TV for fitness magazines, keep the following tips in mind:

  1. If the advertisement claims that you can tone up while lying in bed watching the tube save your money for the Miracle Mop. There's no such thing as "the no sweat workout that works." If there were, don't you think you'd have done this workout by now?
  2. Beware of the phrase guaranteed or your money back. Read the fine print. The manufacturers may promise that you'll lose four inches in one month - if you stick to a low-fat diet and a far more extensive exercise program.
  3. Don't be impressed by the "expert" endorsements. Don't think for a minute that some three-time Mr. Universe built his biceps with some plastic contraption that looks like a model of the Star Ship Enterprise. And never buy anything hawked by an actress who hasn't had a decent gig in more than five years.
  4. Don't whip out your credit card just because a product is not sold in stores. Truth is, most of these gizmos are sold in stores - or they will be in a month or two. Sometimes the product is actually cheaper at the store; plus, you can test out the product.
  5. Beware of phrases like three easy payments. One gadget claims to cost "Not $60! Not $50! but "just two easy payments of $19.95". Add in shipping and handling, and it costs $46.85.
  6. Don't be impressed that a product was "awarded a U.S. patent." You could patent a nose-hair clipper for mice if you wanted to. To get a patent, you need to have an original idea, not necessarily a good one.
  7. Don't believe that a gadget will enable you to build strength and lose fat simultaneously. Some products make this claim blatantly; others use a more subtle approach. Consider the ThighMaster commercials: A svelte model zips up her pants, and says, "Thank you, ThighMaster. I never thought I'd fit into these jeans again." The ThighMaster may help you tone your inner thigh muscles, but it's not going to slim down.
  8. Don't be swayed by scientific terminology. Product manufacturers love to throw around big words. Some of these terms, such as omnikinetics, have no accepted meaning in the scientific community.
  9. Don't believe some new contraption is better than free weights or real weight machines. One product manufacturer claims that "with free weights or machines, getting the right form is impossible, " but with its gizmo, "there's no way to use the gadget improperly."
  10. Hide your credit card between 12 a.m. and 4 a.m. At that late hour, everything kinda looks good. Go to bed.

Neporent says the bottom line is to exercise extreme caution when buying fitness equipment from TV infomercials. According to her, you have no way of judging the quality of a machine or gadget - everything looks better on TV!

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